Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Officials decide Crescent City fire station the best location until its return to Japan

The small fishing boat that floated upside down from Japan to a Crescent City beach after being sucked to sea during the 2011 tsunami took on a symbolic nature to the people of Rikuzentaka who had lost so much.

The boat's Crescent City caretakers have been vigilant in honoring the vessel as a "symbol of hope" until it is returned to Japan.

On Monday, students from Del Norte High School and Crescent City public works employees cleaned and scrubbed the boat and then transported it to a new home at Crescent City Volunteer Fire Department, where it will be on constant display in the stall that usually houses antique fire trucks.

"I think it will be a big symbol of hope for the students and teachers of the high school that was destroyed and maybe the whole town," said John Steven, a 15-year-old sophomore at Del Norte High.

Steven's father, sheriff's Commander Bill Steven, asked if his son would be interested in heading up the project to return the boat as a way to connect the two high schools. The Sheriff's Office recovered the 20-foot boat from South Beach.

"It's cool because they're a small fishing community and we're a small fishing community, so we're helping out someone that's a lot like us," said John Steven, who compared the boat to Rikuzentakata's "miracle pine tree."

The 88-foot tree was another symbol of hope for the Japanese town, as it was the only one out of 70,000 pine trees that was left standing after the tsunami. When the tree started to die later from seawater damage, Rikuzentakata city officials cut it down, treated the wood with preservative, inserted a metal skeleton, and replicated the leaves and branches using synthetic resin. The restored tree was completed in March, just in time for the two-year anniversary of the tsunami.

Steven said that the town's efforts to restore the tree shows how important symbolism is to the Japanese and the lengths that they are willing to go.

Rikuzentakata city officials have already arranged funding and logistics to have the boat returned to them, but instead of throwing the boat in a box and sending it off to Rikuzentakata, the idea is to send a Del Norte and Humboldt delegation to present the boat to the town.

Funding is now being raised to send the seven Del Norte High students involved and city and county officials back with the boat. A further connection between students of the city and students of Del Norte might be forged from the experience, Steven said.

"Anything's possible at this point," Steven said.

"Since the earthquake, they don't have a lot left so it's important for them to get their boat back," said Karen Marquez, a Del Norte High senior helping with the project. More than 2,000 residents of Rikuzentakata died in the tsunami and almost every building was ruined, if not leveled.

A pair of filmmakers from Los Angeles were on scene Monday as part of their effort to create a video for a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. The filmmakers are offering their work to create a Kickstarter video in exchange for allowing them to use the event as a subject for a documentary.

Kickstarter is an online fundraising company.

Amanda Siegel and Drew Foster became interested in the project because of the way that social media, Facebook, was used to trace the boat back to Japan.

Humboldt State University geologist and tsunami researcher Lori Dengler posted a photograph of the boat to Rikuzentakata's Facebook page after recognizing Japanese characters of the town's name. Within hours the boat had been linked to Takata High School's marine sciences program. Federal agencies did not confirm the boat's origin through official channels until weeks later.

"I feel connected to this boat and I'm interested in each chapter," said Dengler, who drove up from Humboldt County for the boat's relocation.

Crescent City officials' original plan was to house the boat in the Crescent City Cultural Center, but due to concerns over the smell from the boat that still has ocean life remnants, it was going to be displayed in front of the building.

That plan was scrapped Monday over concerns about vandalism.

"It's very sacred to the people in Japan and we didn't want to take that chance," said Crescent City Councilwoman Kelly Schellong, standing outside the Cultural Center on Monday afternoon, where the decision had been made only minutes earlier.

After the awkwardness of lifting and moving the boat off a trailer, only to be placed right back on minutes later, the boat was successfully installed in the fire hall at 5th and I streets. The windows of the fire hall will allow the boat to be constantly on display.

Joyce Ruiz, a health teacher at the high school, is making sure the students take the reins on the project.

"Things like this help them grow and mature," Ruiz said.

Juan Ramirez, Joren Adams, Halie Dearman,Connor Field, Dakota Ford, Griffin Walker, Marquez and Steven are the high-schoolers involved.

"It gives you a sense of pride to see high school students want to be a part of this and knowing what it represents," said Jason Wylie, Crescent City public works maintenance manager, who ran the crew that helped with cleaning and transporting the boat Monday.

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