Visit to Port Townsend

Before COVID-19 hit, Western Flyer had hundreds of visitors a month. These days, not so much. Access to the yard has been strictly limited for the past year — all it would take is one infection, and the livelihood of dozens of people would be threatened. I was lucky enough to be able to go for a short visit, my first in over a year. My mission was to get a clear idea of where we are in the project and its schedule, so we can plan with our partners and supporters for the upcoming year.

Progress on the boat has been steady, but slower than what we have been used to. This time of year, despite the pandemic, the Shipwrights Co-Op has been super busy, mostly with commercial boats, but also with a few recreational boats. Compared to the local fishermen, who depend on their boats to earn a living, we are not a priority and will have to wait our turn. 

Even if the boat were finished today, we would not be able to do our program: no one is eager to pack a group of schoolchildren into a small, tight boat while a pandemic still rages!

There are also issues with our Mexican partners. Most of them are small non-profits, which depend on donations from foundations and key donors who, understandably, have changed their priorities and are now focused on pandemic relief. Some of them have had to lay off up to half their staff, and are now fighting for their survival. Hopefully, in a year or two, the situation on the ground will have improved, and their capacity back up to normal.

In summary, like many other projects, the pandemic is in charge and has its own schedule. We will have to be patient and wait for things to run its course.

Nevertheless, work is proceeding. We have chosen a conventional diesel system driving a multi-section propshaft. This is reliable and proven technology, even in the remote locations that we plan to visit. Captain Tony Berry would recognize the new diesel, although he would be amazed at how much more compact and powerful today’s version is than the Atlas diesel he knew. No doubt, he would also appreciate having a transmission to reverse the prop, rather than having to stop the engine, then restart it running backwards. Makes approaching a dock much less stressful!

Besides the engine, work is focused on the pilot house and finishing the interior bulkheads. We hope to have the boat afloat sometime this summer, in time for the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, 10-12 September. Many of the staff and board will be there: if you make it to the Festival be sure to stop by the boat and say hello!

-Tom Keffer

Board President, The Western Flyer Foundation

Posted in Blog