By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Peninsula Daily News news sources
VICTORIA — The brotherhood of Harley motorcycle enthusiasts spans the globe.
And the 2004 Harley-Davidson Night Train bike that floated across the Pacific after last year’s earthquake-fed tsunami in Japan will be street-legal again.
A Victoria-area Harley dealer has taken the rusty hulk and will return it to its homeland, where Harley-Davidson Motor Co.’s Japanese division will restore it and give it back to its owner.
The bike could have the oddest journey of any Harley — anywhere.
A logger found the motorcycle in March in a foam storage container on an island of the Haida Gwaii archipelago — formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands, between Vancouver Island and the Alaska panhandle — in March.
The heavily rusted Harley was traced by its license plate to Ikuo Yokoyama, a 29-year-old Japanese man who lost three family members in the March 2011 disaster.
Since it was pulled from the beach on Haida Gwaii, the finder and a lifelong Harley aficionado have looked after the bike every step of the way to the Victoria suburb of Langford.
“I thought, you know, if I lost one of my bikes, it would be pretty important to get it back,” said Ralph Tieleman, a Tofino, B.C., who trucked the bike to Victoria.
After dropping it off at Steve Drane’s Harley-Davidson shop in Langford on May 6 and returning to his home on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tieleman figured that he traveled at least 1,850 miles on behalf of the encrusted Night Train and Yokoyama.
The bike may be one of the more unusual objects that have drifted across the Pacific from the tsunami disaster.
The magnitude-9.0 subduction quake and giant tsunami resulted in 15,854 deaths, 26,992 people injured and 3,155 people missing, according to the Japanese government.
While most of the debris has landed in Alaska and British Columbia, barrel-sized floats and other flotsam and jetsam has appeared on Pacific beaches of the Olympic Peninsula and up the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
And the most is yet to come, say scientists
The biggest collection of fishing floats — many bearing Asian writing and logos — has been found on Dungeness Spit, which juts into the Strait north of Sequim, said Dave Falzetti, refuge officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the lengthy spit.
“We’ve never seen anything like these before,” he said.
Falzetti said visitors to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge had been finding floats sporadically since January.
During the first official beach cleanup of the year May 5, volunteers recovered more than two dozen small floats, he said
On Saturday, Isaiah Goodman, 8, and Colby Taylor, 10, both of Port Angeles, were hiking with their family on the spit and found a large black float bearing the Japanese name “Musashi.”
“They rolled and dragged that thing for 4 miles to get it back to the [refuge] entry station,” Falzetti said.
The family goes to the beach every nice weekend, said James Taylor, the boys’ father.
They had been following the tsunami debris news and had a pretty good idea of what they had found, he said.
“They wanted to bring it home,” he said.
Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service is keeping the buoy — for now — to help track debris movement across the Pacific Ocean.
The buoy found by the Taylor family is nearly identical to one discovered on a Neah Bay beach in October that was traced to an oyster farming area in the hardest-hit part of the Japanese coastline by the March 2011 subduction quake and giant tsunami, which together resulted in 15,854 deaths.
A growing pile of marked floats is stored at the Dungeness refuge, said Falzetti, who said he is starting to become concerned about sensitive island seabird habitats.
The fishing floats aren’t much danger to the seabirds and will float away at another high tide, but what is coming later — kerosene cans, bottles of household chemicals and hundreds of tons of other wreckage — could cause a major problem, he said.
Cleaning up the mess while seabirds are still nesting could cause more damage than it would solve, Falzetti said.
Instead, he said, Fish and Wildlife will wait until the nesting season is over, and then crews can go in to clean up beaches.
For less sensitive beach cleanups, volunteers are needed, he said.
A regular cleanup is held the first Monday of each month from May through September, but that may need to change to twice a month, he said.
The next beach effort is scheduled for June 2 at the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge, 715 Holgerson Road.
The arrival of debris on beaches along the Strait of Juan de Fuca was forecast by oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who announced in December the identification of a Japanese oyster farming float, which was thought to be the first tsunami debris to be found on a North American beach.
It was found by a Surfrider Foundation cleanup crew near Neah Bay in October — exactly when Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham’s models predicted the arrival of lighter, windblown debris.
Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham have used flotsam and jetsam to track wind and water currents in the Pacific since 1970.
The pair modeled the way Pacific Ocean currents tie in with currents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, using historic records of the SS Pacific, a passenger ship that collided with another ship south of Cape Flattery, and sank in 1855.
Anyone who finds suspected tsunami debris is asked to contact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.
Ebbesmeyer can be contacted at CurtisEbbesmeyer@comcast.net.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.