The Kazu Maru

At 0900 on March 26, 1987, the DFO patrol vessel Sooke Post entered Dawson Harbour in Skidegate Channel on a westerly swell. When the crew spotted an overturned hull they thought immediately of the Scotia Cape, as DFO had participated in the search for her just the month before.

Upon approach it was clear that this was something different. The 27-foot barnacle- and weed-encrusted hull was sleek and narrow. Unfamiliar fish in the holding tank and Japanese lettering aboard made Captain Ken Harley and the crew of the Sooke Post guess that the vessel had drifted from Japan, and from the growth had been in the water for about two years. They were proven right when the vessel was taken to Prince Rupert for identification.

Retired civil servant Kazukio Sakamoto sailed from Owase, Japan, in the boat his wife called “the love of his life,” on September 26, 1985. He went for a regular fishing trip and never returned. Sakamoto’s son, 34-year-old Mazaki, was first of the family to learn any clue of his father’s fate when he saw a story in the Japan Economic Journal about the DFO find. With the vessel identified, and the family not wanting it returned, the Kazu Maru was set for public auction.

The remarkable coincidence of this was that Owase and Prince Rupert had been sister cities since 1968. The common ground between the small port cities could not have been more poignantly highlighted than in this connection through a loss at sea.

A donation to North Pacific Cannery saved the Kazu Maru from auction, and it was displayed there until it became part of the plan to create Pacific Mariners’ Memorial Park. This was an idea that had first been floated with City Council after the loss of the Scotia Cape, and in 1988 Council had zoned the old Chatham House property for use as a monument to mariners lost at sea. “The park started with the idea of a statue honouring those lost at sea,” alderman and park champion Foster Husoy told Westcoast Fisherman, “but it just kept growing.”

Volunteers built the park. Local service clubs became heavily involved. A wall was built to display bricks naming those lost at sea, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board chose it to display a plaque commemorating Triple Island Lighthouse. Marine artifacts were added, along with other memorials and even a playground. But the park’s star attraction was soon Kazukio Sakamoto’s Kazu Maru.

In late 1989 DFO staff restored the boat, and Foster Husoy traveled to Japan to visit with Sakamoto’s widow, Eiko. “I asked her how she felt her husband would have felt to have the boat displayed in a park in Prince Rupert,” he told the Daily News, “and she said he would have done anything to bring our two cities closer together.”

August 1990 Owase Mayor Haruo Sugita was on hand for the formal dedication of the park, with the Kazu Maru in place. On Sugita’s third visit to Prince Rupert in 1997, leading a delegation of 18 young Owase business people, he joined Mayor Jack Mussallem in unveiling a commemorative plaque on the Kazu Maru.

I remember a friend of mine years ago always saying that I was going to run out of interesting stories for Prince Rupert THIS WEEK or ebb’n’flow, but of course it never happened. At Tourism Prince Rupert I sell the big Prince Rupert stories, the fishing, and Khutzeymateen, the museums, but I also tell travel writers about the many smaller gems that lie hidden here. They’re everywhere. One story I tell is of the Kazu Maru. It is such a simple story, yet so full of eloquent meaning, that it seldom fails to pique a writer’s interest.

First published in THE NORTHERN VIEW, August 18, 2010.

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Bruce Wishart
Whimsies. Sometimes about writing.
Sometimes about folklore. Sometimes
about the sea, or life on the coast.
And sometimes not.