“The Log from the Sea of Cortez” by John Steinbeck

“Be careful when opening this book,” writes American author Lewis Buzbee in an added letter, “inside is a tiny sliver of wood, which is a veneer from the original planking of the Western Flyer, the boat Steinbeck used for this journey.” Gifts like these make me a grateful and happy sea librarian.

A sliver from the original planking of Western Flyer, the boat Steinbeck used for his journey, sailing the Sea of Cortez.

In the two years after the 1939 publication of Steinbeck’s masterful The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck and his novel increasingly became the center of intense controversy and censorship. In search of a respite from the national stage, Steinbeck and his close friend, biologist Ed Ricketts, embarked on a month long marine specimen-collecting expedition in the Gulf of California, which resulted in their collaboration on the Sea of Cortez. In 1951, after Ricketts’ death, Steinbeck reissued his narrative portion, The Log of the Sea of Cortez, of the work in memory of his friend and the inspiration for Cannery Row’s “Doc”. This exciting day-by-day account of their journey together is a rare blend of science, philosophy, and high-spirited adventure. This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction by Richard Astro.

The fishing boat the Western Fyler was crafted in Tacoma, Washington, in 1937 by the Western Boat Building Company. Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts chartered the Western Flyer in 1940 for a voyage to the Sea of Cortez. The journey ended on April 16, 1940 in San Diego, California, after a journey of 4,000 miles. Following Steinbeck’s voyage, the ship was returned to its main purpose: fishing. Over the ensuing years it was used to harvest sardines, perch, and crab, angling from California to Alaska’a Aleutian Islands. Called the “most famous fishing vessel ever to have sailed,” the 77-foot (23 m) Western Flyer is currently being restored in Port Townsend, Washington.

There are two books in the Sea Library written by Lewis Buzbee himself: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History and Steinbeck’s Ghost.

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