Ikkatsu Project update

Washington sea kayakers report from first expedition leg searching for tsunami debris

By Ken Campbell

The first leg of the Ikkatsu Project was a rousing success. Filming went well, the weather started out nice and ended rather burly (as all good expeditions should do), and we found a lot of debris. Which actually is not a “good” thing at all, but it certainly sharpened our focus. Although it would be difficult to say for sure how much of the flotsam we came across is there because of the tsunami, there were certain items that are beyond doubt.

First, a large, red kerosene container with a few quarts of kerosene still in it. This is a household item in Japan, not something that is typically found on board a boat. It is, therefore, most likely here as a result of the tsunami. But the single biggest find was a section of a house, shattered beyond recognition, on Cape B Beach, just north of Hobuck. To the best of our knowledge, and according to Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, marine current expert and key member of our advisory team, this is the first house or portion of a house that has been located to date. We found a large quantity of milled lumber, cut to metric dimensions, each piece marked with a Japanese stamp and serial number. (Preliminary research has suggested that the source was originally the Daiwa Pallet Housou Company of Osaka.) The reason we think the debris was part of a residential bathroom is that we found items consistent with this hypothesis: cough syrup bottle, iodine, a child’s potty seat, etc. The individual pieces of lumber were in relatively good shape, suggesting that the house, or portion thereof, washed ashore in one piece and then got shattered on the rocks.

Paddling conditions were good at first, a pleasant jaunt through the straits, a native-style salmon dinner on the beach at Cape Flattery, lots of meandering through the caves and tunnels under the tip of land at the corner of the country. It was even sunny.

Monday was sunny as well, and we had permission to go to Tatoosh Island, which was a rare privilege for which we were most grateful. We did a full survey on the beach there, followed by an I/C (Inspection and Collection) effort on one of the smaller pocket beaches of the island’s west side. Tatoosh is property of the Makah Nation, and access to non-tribal members is extremely limited. As with the other places we made landfall, flotsam was everywhere and most of it was plastic.

Hazardous items that we found, in addition to the kerosene container, included several containers of what we think was probably acetone, or something a lot like it. We took samples and it will all get tested eventually. The thing is, if this is the tip of the iceberg (so to speak), we are in a lot of trouble. This is an Exxon Valdez experience, just without the photos of oil-soaked otters and hay bales on the beach. The main mass is supposed to arrive in October, and all indications are it’s going to be huge. And, if you add “huge” to what we’ve already got onshore, the result is going to be nuclear. I don’t think I’m overstating this and I’m not making any money by being dramatic. It’s just true.

As more information comes in on the items we found, as things get translated and samples get tested, we’ll post the information on the expedition website HERE.  The next leg of the journey begins at Hobuck Beach on July 2 and will take the team south along the road-less Olympic coast to La Push, where I’m sure we’ll find even more debris.

I don’t want to end this on a downer … there are stories to tell of wild wipeouts at the Cape, salmon pasta alfredo and squid lights, but they will have to wait. Until the next installment.

Read more on the local news coverage of the expedition HERE, and Click HERE to listen to Campbell’s recent interview with Dick Gordon on The Story from American Public Media (Click forward to 30:35).

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