Debris from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011 has been slowly slogging long miles across the Pacific Ocean to U.S. shores.
This past April, a small wooden boat caked with barnacles and sea life drifted onto a beach in the small coastal town of Crescent City, California, some 350 miles North of San Francisco.
The worn Japanese characters on the side of its hull revealed it as another refugee from the tsunami’s wrath. Researchers translated the boat’s lettering to mean “seagull” in Japanese, and students from Del Norte High School in Crescent City scoured its hull mostly clean of the debris accumulated during its two-year journey.
“The boat then survived this unthinkable journey across the largest ocean on the planet,” said Robert Reed, spokesman for San Francisco’s Recology waste management company.
Researchers posted a picture of the weathered vessel to Crescent City’s Facebook site. The town learned the boat belonged to a high school in the Japanese fishing village of Rikuzentakata, the second hardest hit town by the disaster.
Crescent City shares more than just a current with Rikuzentakata – the California town’s harbor was badly damaged when a tsunami created by the same earthquake in Japan smashed its boat docks to splinters.
“They are a huge earthquake and tsunami area, and we are as well,” said Lorie Poole, a Recycling Coordinator with Recology in Crescent City.
Students at Del Norte High School launched a campaign to return the boat to its owners. Recology donated a truck that happened to be in the area to haul the boat to the Bay Area. It now sits in a Menlo Park warehouse where the Japanese shipping company Yamato Transport has donated its passage back to Japan.
On Sept. 19, the boat will be loaded into a shipping container in Oakland and begin the last leg of its long, strange travels.
“And now it’s taking another journey,” said Reed. “It’s going home.”
Students at Del Norte created a video to accompany the boat on its way to their high school counterparts in Rikuzentakata. In the video, student John Steven said he hopes the boat's return will bring comfort to a town that lost so much.
“I think for the kids it would just be a symbol of hope that people haven’t forgot about,” said Steven. “People still know who they are.”