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The Little Ship That Could, Almost.


May 01, 2012

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- I don’t know about you, but I was kinda sad when the Coast Guard cutter Anacapa trained its 50 mm cannon on the Ryou-Un Maru and sank it a few weeks ago.
jpg Dave Kiffer

After all, that peristent litttle ship had sailed some 4,000 miles across the pacific with nary a helping sailor’s hand and was finally getting close to land in the Alexander Archipelago.

No GPS, no LORAN, not even a working engine. And what do we do? Deem it a hazard to navigation and sink it!

Sure I understand the “law of the sea” and that if an iceberg can sink the Titanic and a moron can sink the Costa Concordia, then a 164-foot steel fishing boat floating aimlessly in the Gulf of Alaska could cause some damage to another ship.

Although in all likelihood, a giant tanker or an ocean going tug and barge would probably have crushed and spit out the remains of the Ryou-Un Maru just like a Marine Highway fast ferry spits out ocean debris.

Hmm, maybe that was a bad analogy.

At any rate, we could have welcomed the Ryou-Un Maru just like our Prince Rupert cousins welcomed the Kazu Maru 25 years ago.

Of course, the Kazu Maru had more things going for it.

For one thing it was way cuter.

A twenty-some-foot -wooden Japanese coastal fishing boat certainly tugs on all our “lost kitten” heartstrings. It’s graceful, it’s small, it’s wood!

It certainly appeals to us more than a big steel deep-water boat that was destined for the scrap yard anyway.

Then there is the irony that the Kazu Maru was from Prince Rupert’s official sister city, Owase.

And of course, the tragedy of its owner, Kazukio Sakamoto, going out for a day’s fishing and never coming back. His boat left to drift until it reached the Queen Charlotte Islands 18 months later. After being repaired, it went on display in Rupert’s Pacific Mariners Memorial Park, where it remains a quarter century later.

Most of all, it also had the great good fortune of evading the itchy trigger fingers of the Coast Guard (Canadian and American) and ran aground undetected.

That’s like that weird rule they used to use with Cuban refugees. It they touched American soil, they were allowed to stay. If they were intercepted at sea, they had to go back. Totally unfair.

So the big rusting hulk of the Ryou-Un Maru had some serious strikes against it and was probably not going to end up as the centerpiece of any Alaskan or Canadian monument to the Vagaries of the Sea.

Still you had to admire its moxie.

Floating thousands of miles of stormy North Pacific seas at a couple of knots an hour shows grit and determination. How many times do you think some spectral hand grabbed the wheel and turned the bow into some giant wave that would have otherwise swamped the ship or turned it turtle?

As you can tell, I have a tendency to anthropomorphize boats (although I have never thought they were a “she,” I’m not sure that’s fair to either boats or womankind ) . It’s probably just a curse of sentimentality, or at the very least some sort of penance. Lord knows, my family has sunk quite a few of them over the generations.

Whenever my wife asks why my family hasn’t gotten rich during its century plus in Alaska, I point out that we have preferred to sink our resources  (J) into creating numerous artificial reefs and deep sea fish sanctuaries throughout the North Pacific.

You’re very welcome!

In reading about the Ryou-Un Maru, I think I was most struck – besides the tenacity of its voyage – by the fact that it had been headed for the break-up yard, when a massive tsunami  released it  from its anchorage and started it on its voyage.

So besides being on an adventure, it was also on the lam.

Now, who can’t love the idea of a ship breaking free from the “breaker” and heading across the ocean.

It sounds like a children’s picture story book, although the ship would probably look more like Thomas the Tank Engine than the Ryou-Un Maru.

As usual, I digress.

In truth, it’s like when you see those TV news videos of a bunch of cows or pigs running free when their truck gets into an accident on the freeway or when a bull escapes its fencing and is corralled in some subdivision cul-de-sac.

You always have that instant urge to shout “you go guy, keep running, dude!”

Of course, in your heart you know the reprieve is only temporary. The animal will tranquilized and delivered to the slaughter house eventually.

But you love that brief moment of freedom, as if you were the steer that was suddenly escaping – however briefly – the shackles of modern life.

And so it was with the Ryou-Un Maru.

Free to wander the seas, free from its fate.

At least for a while.

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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