Scallop fisherman Kou Sasaki, of Ofunato, Japan, crossed the Pacific Ocean last week to arrive in the tiny village of Klemtu where his trusty fishing vessel was waiting for him.
Sasaki’s boat was swept out to sea four years ago when the tsunami struck his village. It drifted thousands of miles across the pacific, along with one million tonnes of debris, in the aftermath of the disaster which killed over 15,000 people in Japan on March 11, 2011.
After its lengthy journey, the boat arrived in Klemtu, where it was salvaged by a guide at the Spirit Bear Lodge in 2013. They cleaned it up for use in their bear-viewing tours, where tourists from all over the world come to view the famed Spirit Bears.
Tim McGrady, manager of the Spirit Bear Lodge, was curious about the vessel and had made some initial efforts to find the owner, but he didn’t get very far.
But last year a Japanese guest Yoshi Karasawa translated the boat’s name, “Twin Pines,” and was intrigued enough to spread the word to her contacts in her homeland. Sasaki was located and plans were set in motion to bring him to the tiny village to be reunited with his beloved boat.
“They keep meticulous records in Japan and she was able to track it down by its numbers,” said McGrady. “It took about a year to get him here and it was really fun, really worthwhile.”
Karasawa, the fisherman and his wife made the long trek to Klemtu last week and stayed for two nights at the Spirit Bear Lodge. It made for some emotional moments when Sasaki saw his boat again. He jumped into its bow and began to weep, saying “We are together again.”
The community of Klemtu came together to welcome Sasaki and his wife, taking them for a bear-viewing tour on his boat, and performing a welcoming and blessing ceremony in the Big House for their special guests. Sasaki and his wife were fortunate to view the spirit bears, witness spawning salmon, and experience the magic of the B.C. coast.
“This is a community that lives and breathes boats, for thousands of years,” McGrady said. “So I think people have a real affinity for someone like Mr. Sasaki. There’s a lot of common ground.”
While Sasaki thoroughly enjoyed his reunion with his boat and his visit to Klemtu, there are no plans to return the vessel to Japan. He’s already bought a new one, and is happy with the boat’s current dock. “He’s very happy that it’s being used here,” McGrady said.
In his home town, every fisherman raises their own flag on their boat at the start of the season, so Sasaki brought his flag with him to raise one more time, leaving the flag with his new friends in Klemtu.
“It was an emotional time for him and for us to witness,” said a guide. The lodge plans to continue using the boat in its bear-viewing operations.
With files from CBC News