The Western Flyer and Sea of Cortez

In 1940, John Steinbeck commissioned The Western Flyer (76 ft trawler) for a 6 week, 4,000-mile ecological research trip resulting in the book,

“The Log from the Sea of Cortez.”

The Log from the Sea of Cortez is an English-language book written by American author John Steinbeck and published in 1951.


For anyone interested in reading a classic, the book details a six-week (March 11 – April 20) marine specimen-collecting boat expedition he made in 1940 at various sites in the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez), with his friend, the marine biologist Ed Ricketts.

It is regarded as one of Steinbeck’s most important works of non-fiction chiefly because of the involvement of Ricketts, who shaped Steinbeck’s thinking and provided the prototype for many of the pivotal characters in his fiction, and the insights it gives into the philosophies of the two men.

A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research, which was published by Steinbeck and Ricketts shortly after their return from the Gulf of California, and combined the journals of the collecting expedition, reworked by Steinbeck, with Ricketts’ species catalogue.

Their 4,000-mile trip aboard Western Flyer, Steinbeck, Ricketts, and four professional mariners ventured up and down the Sea of Cortez, including an eventful leg from La Paz to Puerto Escondido.


Old generator coming out of our new Western Flyer.   Boat yard at Rocky point wanted over $2000 to take it out.  We did it with some tools from harbor freight for less than $100 and a a little help from Home Depot.

The Western Flyer expedition discovered several new species, but that was not the goal. Steinbeck and Ricketts were early adherents to the notion of holistic ecologies that we take for granted today. They were more interested in seeing how different species in the inter-tidal zone related to one another—urchins, starfish, hermit crabs, etc. They collected thousands of specimens.
The book is a lively blend of travel narrative, philosophical musings and a brooding sense of history in the making.

1940 – Nineteen-forty was the “hinge year” of our 20th century; Hitler’s armies were rampaging across Europe, but the United States was still at peace, drifting uneasily toward Dec. 7, 1941.

Four years later, the end of World War II would set in motion the trends that created recreational boating as we know it and produced new cities such as Cabo San Lucas.

Today, the influx of gringo Baby Boomers is positioning historic La Paz as the Baja’s genteel alternative to the party-hearty environment at “Cabo Wabo.”“On the water’s edge of La Paz a new hotel was going up,” wrote Steinbeck, “and it looked very expensive.


New windlass going in today.

Probably the airplanes will bring weekenders from Los Angeles before long, and the beautiful poor bedraggled old town will bloom with a Floridian ugliness.” Steinbeck was referring to the Hotel Perla, and he need not have worried. La Paz was not ruined, old Perla is still entertaining guests, and though several new resort hotels, villas, and condo complexes dot the adjoining landscape, there is little ugliness of any sort.

About trawlercat

Retired and now moving on from the cruising life jeeps, adventure bike, gardening, and travel. Always in search of the next great adventure!
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