THE DERELICT DILEMMA
The cost of removing derelict vessels from our waterways, even abandoned
commercial vessels, often comes out of recreational boaters’ pockets
WITH THE EXCHANGE (right) by radio in 1940, the 76-foot Monterey sar- dine seiner Western Flyer headed on a 4,000-mile expedition to the Gulf of California carrying novelist John Steinbeck and his marine biologist buddy, Ed Ricketts. The resulting co-authored book, The Sea of Cortez, published the fol- lowing year, is noted today as “a useful work of travel literature [and a] pioneering work of intertidal ecology,” according to Steinbeck scholar Richard Astro of Drexel University.
Today the port that saw Western Flyer launched in 1937, Tacoma, Washington, celebrates
the vessel’s history and role in a seminal work of nonfiction in an exhibit at the Foss Waterway
Seaport. But in the spring of 2013, Western Flyer herself, renamed the Gemini, lay 80 miles to
the north, near La Conner, Washington, again collecting “bugs” and other marine growth, but
this time all over her hull, deck, and superstructure as she lay underwater in the Swinomish
Channel. Since raised, with a new owner and reportedly headed for restoration and return to
California, the ship came close to becoming one of the 140 or so derelict vessels scattered
about the backwaters of the Evergreen State, creating potential pollution and navigation hazards, not to mention putting financial pressure on its modest Derelict Vessel Removal Program.
Established in 2002, the program has successfully removed 495 vessels, both commercial and
recreational, in the decade since.
Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) operates the program using $3 of the
annual fee that boaters pay to register a recreational boat in Washington, which generates about
$800,000 annually. But the state has roughly 45 derelicts over 100 feet in length in its database
– hardly “recreational” by most definitions – and disposing of any one of these vessels could
AFFAIRS BoatU.S. SPECIAL REPORT By Ryck LydeckeR
“This is the Western Flyer.
Is that you, Johnny?”
“Yeah, that you, Sparky?”
“Yeah, this is Sparky.
How much fish you got?”
“Only 15 tons; we lost a school
today. How much fish you got?”
“We’re not fishing.”
“Aw, we’re going down in the Gulf
to collect starfish and bugs and
stuff like that ...”
“Western Flyer’s all clear now.”
The Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck
Exodus, removed in 2008, is
one of 10 abandoned, derelict,
or trespassing vessels taken
out of small bays on Puget
Sound. Five were removed
by owners while the derelict
Vessel Program paid for the