Educational opportunity of Western Flyer work hailed in Port Townsend reception
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About 140 people gathered at the Port Townsend Boat Haven on Saturday evening for an update on the Western Flyer renovation project. — Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
The renovation project on the Western Flyer, seen here at the Port Townsend Boat Haven on Saturday during a reception, is expected to be used as an education tool.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — Those renovating the Western Flyer hope to use the historically significant vessel as a learning platform during the project's expected two-year duration.

“Since starting the project, we've had about 20 people a week coming by to look at the boat, and we show it to them,” said Shipwright's Co-op member Chris Chase, one of the project's leads, at a reception Saturday that was tied to the weekend's Wooden Boat Festival.

“We want it to be more open. We have a great project here and want it to be an educational opportunity for local students over the next two years.”

The 72-foot purse seiner was once used by Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, who used it as a basis for “The Log From the Sea of Cortez,” in which marine biologist Ed Ricketts played a prominent part.

About 140 people attended the Saturday reception which featured remarks by Chase, Mayor David King, Northwest Maritime Center Executive Director Jake Beattie and new owner John Gregg.

King lauded the project for its economic and educational benefit to Port Townsend.

“This represents a wonderful ongoing collaboration between all of our elected bodies, our organizations and school districts,” King said.

“It is a thrilling combination of recreation, commercial opportunity, educational opportunity and environmental preservation.”

Beattie said the Northwest Maritime Center would use its resources to inform people about the project and the boat's history while helping to bring in visitors who want to hear its story.

The vessel first arrived in Port Townsend Boat Haven in July 2013 under the ownership of Gerry Kehoe, who had plans to cut up the boat and ship it to Salinas, Calif., where it would be re-assembled as a theme restaurant.

That idea never came to fruition, and earlier this year Kehoe sold the vessel to Gregg, a California geologist, who announced plans to renovate the vessel and turn it into a floating education center at a projected $2 million cost.

Under Kehoe's ownership, the vessel was stored in a corner of the Boat Haven where it attracted periodic visitors.

After the purchase, it was moved inside and out of the public eye but still attracted curiosity seekers, Chase said.

The cloak of secrecy lifted in July, when the Co-op started leaving the door open and allowing people to observe and take pictures of the boat from behind a barrier.

Now that the project is underway, Chase said that he'd like to schedule regular educational field trips and allow people inside the shop at certain times so they can get up close to the vessel.

When the refurbished boat is launched and heads toward its expected destination in California's Monterey Bay, it will be about 75 percent new, Chase said, with materials matched to those in the original construction.

The reconstructed vessel will be active along the entire West Coast and will be used for day trips and short overnight voyages for educational institutions.

The ship's hold, once used to store thousands of fish at a time, will become a state of the art marine lab, according to plans.

Gregg acknowledged that his investment defied conventional wisdom, adding “If I had a board of directors, I'd be fired.”

He said he had “Forrest Gumped” his way into involvement with the Western Flyer, referring to the movie character who was an observer to many important historical events by happenstance.

“Without any forethought or planning, this ended up in the very place where it needs to be,” he said.

“I have passion about the project. I didn't want the boat to be cut up and turned into a restaurant, and I had the opportunity to come in.

“It feels like an honor to be involved with this.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 13. 2015 7:50PM
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