In January 2010, the Gemini was moored in the Swinomish Slough on a Native American reservation near Anacortes, Washington. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the rusted and dilapidated boat was in fact the most famous fishing vessel ever to have sailed: the original Western Flyer, immortalized in John Steinbeck’s nonfiction classic The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
In this book, Kevin M. Bailey resurrects this forgotten witness to the changing tides of Pacific fisheries. He draws on the Steinbeck archives, interviews with family members of crew, and more than three decades of working in Pacific Northwest fisheries to trace the depletion of marine life through the voyages of a single ship. After Steinbeck and his friend Ed Ricketts—a pioneer in the study of the West Coast’s diverse sea life and the inspiration behind “Doc” in Cannery Row—chartered the boat for their now-famous 1940 expedition, the Western Flyer returned to its life as a sardine seiner in California. But when the sardine fishery in Monterey collapsed, the boat moved on: fishing for Pacific ocean perch off Washington, king crab in the Bering Sea off Alaska, and finally wild Pacific salmon—all industries that would also face collapse.
As the Western Flyer herself faces an uncertain future—a businessman has bought her, intending to bring the boat to Salinas, California, and turn it into a restaurant feature just blocks from Steinbeck’s grave—debates about the status of the California sardine, and of West Coast fisheries generally, have resurfaced. A compelling and timely tale of a boat and the people it carried, of fisheries exploited, and of fortunes won and lost, The Western Flyer is environmental history at its best: a journey through time and across the sea, charting the ebb and flow of the cobalt waters of the Pacific coast.
About the Author
Kevin M. Bailey is the founding director of the Man & Sea Institute, was affiliate professor for over thirty years at the University of Washington, and was formerly a senior scientist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
“Well-researched and written with deep passion and knowledge for the boat and the fish harvested from it, Bailey’s short book is a fine tribute to the Western Flyer, as well as a poignant warning about humanity’s impact on the globe.” — David B. Williams
“[Noted in] Think Green: A Sampling of 2015 Titles.” — Publishers Weekly
"Interspersed with quotations from Steinbeck, as Philip Hoare’s The Whale references Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, this well-written book will appeal to readers concerned with fishery conservation and the importance of fishing to the local economy. . . . Of interest both to Steinbeck fans and readers of Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish." — Judith B. Barnett, University of Rhode Island Library, Kingston
“Deserve[s] a space on your eReader or on your nightstand. . . . Any devoted Steinbeck fan should be familiar with The Western Flyer, the ship at the heart of The Log from the Sea of Cortez, one of Steinbeck’s nonfiction works. In this book, Kevin M. Bailey ties the narrative of the legendary boat with the spread of Pacific fisheries and, ultimately, their downfall thanks to absentminded overfishing.” — Mike Newman
"Bailey rekindles the vibrant story of the Western Flyer, the fishing vessel that carried John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts across the Sea of Cortez. The vessel, once earmarked to become part of a restaurant, is now scheduled to be used for marine education." — Seattle Times
“A worthwhile addition to the environmental canon, and while it builds off of The Sea of Cortez, it stands alone as its own work. . . . Through Bailey’s summary of Steinbeck and Ricketts’ explorations we find humans capable of understanding the natural world on which we all depend. His history of the boat’s trajectory through collapsing fisheries, however, shows humans as stubbornly unwilling to learn many simple yet crucial lessons. It’s a sad but necessary book.” — Alaska Dispatch News
“Bailey’s clear and concise account of her complicity in the serial destruction of crucial fisheries in the Pacific Northwest after her role in the romantic, literary, philosophical, and ecological immersion of Sea of Cortez cannot help but drive a conscientious reader toward Bailey’s goal: to understand, as Ricketts and Steinbeck did, that the oceans and their fisheries must survive or we do not. Thus the Western Flyer story, so full of irony, will have a happy ending after all. A player in the mindless, greedy, irresponsible damage of untold natural fishery resources, so near death from neglect that some said it couldn’t be done, The Western Flyer rises again, this time as an icon of ocean-life preservation: a seagoing classroom for students of ecology and the marine sciences. Kevin Bailey’s little book has the tight, complete, joyful feeling of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Yet it’s so packed with helpful information and remarkable detail that my copy was well marked up, underlined, and highlighted when I finished. Yours will be, too.” — Michael Kenneth Hemp, founder of The History Company and Cannery Row Foundation
“Steinbeck and Ricketts’s six-week adventure dominates the early part of the book . . . , but the author, a Pacific Fisheries scientist and a founding director of the Man & Sea Institute, also discusses the plight of the Pacific Fisheries. He easily segues from one to the other. . . . The narrative has turns that are anecdotal, gossipy, speculative, and analytical.” — Frank Caso
"A rich blend of philosophy, ecology, history, and first-rate literature lies behind the unassuming title. . . . Bailey uses the odyssey of the Western Flyer to illustrate the exuberance that accompanies the exploitation of a newly discovered fisheries resource, the all too common depletion that ensues, and the ongoing struggle to exploit natural resources in a sustainable way. . . . The final pages of this book are lyrical prose at its finest, and almost seem to channel Steinbeck." — Donald Gunderson, University of Washington
“Bailey works hard to uncover the Western Flyer’s life apart from its celebrity status. Salmon, crab, and tuna flipped, skittered, flopped, and then stilled on its deck; its succession of captains wielded it with bravado or sold it out of despair. Bailey shows that the life of the Western Flyer mirrored that of the fishing industry, promising endless riches, yet, in reality, often facing a near-fatal decline.” — Hakai Magazine
“Bailey, a former fishery biologist, presents expert descriptions of West Coast fisheries that were overexploited and eventually collapsed. The chronology begins with the sardine, once one of the world's largest fisheries, and continues with the ocean perch, king crab, and finally the salmon. In essence, the book is a valuable conservation lesson, one that should be read by every aspiring fishery biologist. . . . Recommended.” — J. C. Briggs, Oregon State University
“A superbly researched and illustrated book.” — WoodenBoat
“From shrimp in the Sea of Cortez to sardines and Pacific ocean perch on the West Coast, from salmon to king crab, the story of these fisheries is consistent with the spread of fisheries—and overfishing—in general, from coastal waters near major population centers to areas that are increasingly farther offshore, deeper, and more remote. Along with the effects this approach has had on marine life, The Western Flyer also illuminates the impact it has had on coastal communities. Kevin M. Bailey uses this boat to help people see how we have serially depleted one population of marine life after another, and how we have repeated the rationale justifying it all across time and place without learning from past experiences.” — John Hocevar, Oceans campaign director, Greenpeace USA
“There are many ways to write about this lovely book. Piecing together the history of the Western Flyer—the boat made famous by John Steinbeck’s voyage to the Sea of Cortez—Kevin M. Bailey delivers a fascinating, complex, and compelling portrait. Bailey weaves together illuminating stories of how Steinbeck’s time on this sturdy, seaworthy vessel is reflected in his writing with tales of fishermen who skippered the boat, the seas they fished, and the fish they caught and ultimately didn’t catch, assembling a powerful and evocative history that might otherwise be forgotten, but which must not be lost if we are ever to return our once-plentiful ocean to abundance.” — Deborah Cramer, author of "Great Waters: An Atlantic Passage" and "Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water, Our World"