Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Tsunami boat that washed ashore headed back to Japan

The small boat that drifted across the Pacific Ocean to the shores of Crescent City will start today on its journey back to the fishing village in Japan where it was ripped out to sea by the March 2011 tsunami.

Since the 20-foot panga boat was traced back to Takata High School in Japan, individuals and organizations on both sides of the Pacific have been working on a plan to return it to Rikuzentakata, a small coastal, fishing town in the Iwate prefecture where more than 2,000 people perished from surges that engulfed three-story buildings.

Rikuzentakata officials reached out to transportation companies and found a willing volunteer in Yamato Transport USA, which ships all over the world.

"We're just like UPS, but worldwide," said Hideki Sasa, the San Francisco branch manager of Yamato Transport, who described the free, cross-Pacific transport as a matter of course. "If there's some chance that we can help, then we help."

Bill Steven, commander of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office, has been involved with the tsunami boat's fate since local deputies encountered a group of ne'er-do-wells attempting to salvage it from the beach in April. On Tuesday night, he received a message that Yamato Transport was ready to ship the boat Sept. 16, but first it needed to be brought to the Bay Area.

Steven reached out to Lori Poole, from Recology Del Norte, who had previously said that her company might be able to help with transportation. After some calls to executives, Recology's corporate office said that an equipment truck driving from Portland to San Francisco could make the pick-up this morning.

Steven asked if employees from Crescent City's maintenance department could load the boat and soon enough the send-off was planned for 8 a.m. today at 3rd and J streets.

The commander's son, John Steven, has led a group of Del Norte High School students in fundraising to send a North Coast delegation to Japan to present the boat back to Takata High School, where it was used in a marine sciences program.

Locals involved with the tsunami boat are hoping that a relationship will be formed between the two high schools.

"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.

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