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November 7, 2007 > With Steinbeck in The Sea of Cortez

With Steinbeck in The Sea of Cortez

A Book Review

By Robert A. Garfinkle

"With Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez: A Memoir of the Steinbeck/Rickets Expedition"
By Sparky Enea, as told to Audry Lynch
Sand River Press; 187 pages; $9.95

In the spring of 1940, John Steinbeck and some of his friends set out from Monterey on an expedition to the Sea of Cortez on the fishing boat "Western Flyer". This voyage became the basis of Steinbeck's 1941 book "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" (sometimes published simply as "The Sea of Cortez"). Horace "Sparky" Enea, the son of a Sicilian immigrant fisherman, and a fisherman himself, was a member of Steinbeck's crew on this famous voyage. In the late 1980s, Enea sat down with Steinbeck scholar and Bay Area author, Audry Lynch, and told her his humorous recollections of that famous trip and the times.

In 1940, the year after Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" had been published, the author was looking for escape from his new celebrity. He decided to take a trip to the Sea of Cortez with marine biologist, and friend, Edward F. Ricketts. While there, they gathered marine specimens for Rickett's Cannery Row laboratory. They hired Captain Tony Berry and his fishing boat for the expedition, along with "Tiny" Colleto and Sparky. Steinbeck's wife Carol came along to be the cook, but according to Sparky, she never cooked a thing on the trip. Sparky's friend, Hal "Tex" Travis, came along as the unpaid engineer.

Before he got to telling about the trip, Sparky talked about his early life and friends in Monterey and life around the canneries and the nearby brothels. He used to dance with the daughter of the prime madam of Monterey, Flora Woods, and Sparky spent a lot of his free time at the whorehouses. He told his stories to Steinbeck, but was disappointed when he read John's book about the expedition, because he felt the writer had left out too much of the good stuff he had told Steinbeck.

As Sparky tells it, the trip to the Sea of Cortez was a long rambunctious drinking party with some specimen collecting thrown in. One of the strengths of this book is the wealth of details about life in Cannery Row, the relationship between Ed "Doc" Rickets and John Steinbeck, and the women in their lives in the 1940s. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and times of the people who accompanied John Steinbeck and Ed "Doc" Ricketts on their famous scientific expedition and high jinks in the Sea of Cortez.

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