B.C. woman finds tsunami boat, meets owner in Japan

A fishing boat owned by a Japanese couple and lost in the 2011 tsunami has brought two women together from opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean after the small vessel was discovered washed up on the B.C. coast.
B.C. resident Jeanne Beaver takes a picture of the fishing boat that travelled more than 6,000 kilometres from the coast of Japan. (Hans Vanderzande/CBC News)

A fishing boat owned by a Japanese couple and lost in the 2011 tsunami has brought two women from opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean together after the small vessel was discovered washed up on the B.C. coast.

"We were just going out in the dinghy, touring around a bit, and I just glanced over at the beach, and I saw what I thought was an odd-shaped, an odd-coloured log," said Jeanne Beaver, who with Rick Beaver lives in a floating cabin tucked away in an island cove east of B.C.'s Haida Gwaii.

"I didn't really say anything to Rick, just kept going. And the next day, he went out by himself to take the dogs for a walk, and he came flying around the corner and, "We've got a boat! We've got a boat!" 

The fifth estate host Mark Kelley traveled to Japan with Jeanne Beaver to help her find the original owners of the boat as part of a documentary marking the second anniversary of the disaster.  The boat belonged to Noriko Gotoh, 70, and her husband Takao, 73, of Minamisanriku, a small fishing port located on the northeast coast of Japan. The Gotohs made their living from the sea, fishing and harvesting seaweed. 

Dubbed The Glory Light, the boat had been ripped out of its cleats and swept away during the tsunami that leveled the town of Minamisanriku.

The 6,000 kilometre journey of the Glory Light, from Minaminsanriku, Japan to Aristazabal Island, B.C. (CBC News)

"The waves lifted our two-storey house and carried it away," Noriko Gotoh said.

Carried by Alaska current

With the help of oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the fifth estate was able to track the boat's 474-day voyage across the ocean, carried by the wind and the waves.

As the currents approached North America, they divided, one going north, one going south.

The Gotoh’s boat was carried by the Alaska current, which pushed it north of Vancouver Island towards the tiny Aristazabal Island on the coast of British Columbia, about 6,000 kilometres from its starting point on the coast of Japan.

More than  five million tonnes of debris was swept into the ocean after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  Experts say more than 1.5 million tonnes may find its way to the North American coast over the next two years.

Last June, the Beavers, who are ardent beachcombers, discovered the boat, which had survived more than 15 months at sea.

The Beavers reported their find to the Department of Fisheries. Using the boat's registration number, it was traced back to its owner in Japan.

Meant to come here

Late in January, Jeanne Beaver boarded a Japanese bullet train bound for the town of Minaminsanriku, hoping to learn more about the devastation of the tsunami and meet the owners of the boat to learn more about their loss and their lives.

"When we found the boat, [for] some reason I … had this feeling that I am meant to come here and see this for some reason. I don’t know what it is yet," she told the fifth estate's Mark Kelley. "There is a reason the boat came to our place."

Initially, Noriko Gotoh didn’t want to meet with Jeanne Beaver. Her husband Takao was deeply depressed after the tsunami washed away his fishing boat and his livelihood. And Noriko Gotoh was too embarrassed to meet Jeanne in the tiny temporary home where they now live.

But she later reconsidered and met Beaver in her hotel. While Takao didn't want his once-treasured boat back, Jeanne gave him a picture of the craft sitting on the dock in B.C., a safe haven after its epic journey.

Jeanne Beaver shows Noriko Gotoh a picture of her fishing boat during their meeting in Minaminsanriku, Japan. (Hans Vanderzande/CBC News)

"We see it every day, and we think of you and your husband," Beaver told Gotoh when they met. "And we are happy to have the boat, but it’s such an unhappy reason that we have it that it’s heartbreaking for us.

"I really am so glad that I could come here. And your boat, well, please think of it as having found a new home. And we’ll cherish it and take care of it."

"Thank you very much indeed," Noriko Gotoh responded. "I'm so relieved to hear that."

Jeanne said that she felt that the fishing boat had brought her here for a reason.

"It has given me a lesson in life. You can get over anything. If she can get over what she has gone through and still smile, what have I got to complain about in my life? Nothing."