Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Funding acquired to send group to town hit by tsunami

Eleven students from Del Norte High, parents, teachers and other community members are planning a February trip to Japan after securing enough donations to visit Rikuzentakata, the tsunami-ravaged town where a boat was ripped to sea during the 2011 tsunami and washed ashore in Crescent City last spring.

In April, Del Norte High students scrubbed barnacles off the 20-foot boat, which was declared the first official piece of 2011 tsunami debris to land in California, and started fundraising to send the boat back to its owners: Takata High School in Rikuzentakata.

When international shipping companies volunteered to transport the boat, the funding effort transitioned to organizing a cultural exchange between the Del Norte students and students from Rikuzentakata.

The trip for the Del Norte delegation is being made possible by several small donations and a significant contribution from the TOMODACHI initiative, a public-private partnership launched by the governments of the United States and Japan in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

During the mid-February exchange, the group will meet with the mayor of Rikuzentakata, students from the town, Japanese diplomats and possibly even U.S. ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.

Across the sea, back again

When the lead diplomats of the Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco visited Crescent City in October to thank the town for its efforts in returning the boat, they were handed a unique souvenir.

Bill Steven, commander for the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office, handed Consul General Nobuhiro Watanabe some of the gooseneck barnacle shells that had been scraped off of the boat that the department recovered from the beach.

The diplomats delivered the shells to their counterparts in Tokyo who in turn handed them off to Caroline Kennedy before she visited the hardest-hit areas in Japan, including Rikuzentakata. Kennedy gave the shells to Mayor Futoshi Toba, who thanked Kennedy for the relief efforts delivered by U.S. forces after the catastrophe.

With 1,844 people counted dead or still missing, Rikuzentakata experienced the second-highest death toll of any Japanese city from the 2011 tsunami and earthquake.

The 'Miracle Boat,' as the town has started calling it, was returned last month in October and is considered a symbol of hope and resilience for the battered coastal town.

The boat, named Kamome (Seagull in Japanese), was primarily used by the school's marine systems department for students learning how to scuba dive.

After Humboldt State University geologist Lori Dengler posted photos of the boat to Rikuzentakata's Facebook page in April when it was first found, it was quickly identified and plans were made for its return.

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