The Western Flyer

Kevin M. Bailey, The Western Flyer: Steinbeck's Boat, the Sea of Cortez, and the Saga of Pacific Fisheries, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 2015.

Bailey - The Western Flyer
OK, to be honest, I knew very little about Steinbeck's adventure in the Sea of Cortez. I had read some of Steinbeck's novels, but I found this book from a review in a boating magazine and picked it up primarily because of an interest in wooden boats. I did, however, have the sense to obtain a copy of The Log from the Sea of Cortez and read it before tackling Bailey's book.

There is a lot about Steinbeck, Ricketts and their scientific explorations and discoveries that does not come through The Log. Bailey's book definitely adds a great deal more to the understanding of what was likely a breakthrough expedition in the story of the developing science of ecology. More than the actual expedition, however, was the remarkable meeting of brilliant minds and expansive thinking as the work of the Biologist Ricketts, the novelist Steinbeck, and the philosopher Joseph Campbell.

This is a great book for Steinbeck fans as well as a book for fans of wooden boats, and also an important volume for ecologists, not for its scientific observations, but rather to put the study of ecosystems into perspective in the scope of American History. The Western Flyer probably wasn't that remarkable as a fishing vessel. Its trawler design with a flying bridge made it particularly well suited, however, for the adventure on which Ricketts and Steinbeck took her. The fact that she remains, though in derelict condition, is a tribute to the strength of her design and construction.

The book is an easy read and a suitable companion for Steinbeck's other writings.