CRESCENT CITY, Calif. -- On California's rugged, rocky north coast, the small boat that washed ashore at Crescent City last spring started something big.
"The boat came here for a reason," says high school teacher Joyce Ruiz. "There was a reason it was here."
That reason would become clear to Bill Steven and his son John: the boat came here to unite two towns.
"It was definitely mind blowing, thinking that this boat traveled upside down two years all the way across the ocean to get here," John Steven says.
John recruited five friends to clean off the barnacles. Through Facebook, they connected with the boat's owner: a high school in Rikuzentakata, a town in Japan not much bigger than theirs that was virtually wiped away by the tsunami of 2011.
"The boat was one of the few remaining things that had survived," student Griffin Walker says. "It was a big symbol of hope for them, and we wanted to give it back to them."
Through fundraisers, the students generated enough support to get the boat back to Japan - and even raised enough money to go themselves. Last month, they traveled to Rikuzentakata and were welcomed as heroes.
"I think when we all saw the cameras, we realized how big it actually was over there," John Steven says.
The students had an immediate bond from the classroom to the gym. And in spite of some differences, they have one big thing in common: tsunamis.
In 2011, the same earthquake that created the Japanese tsunami sent a wall of water crashing through Crescent City's harbor, destroying boats and docks. And in 1964, much of Crescent City was destroyed by a tsunami.
"The boat could have ended up anywhere in the world, and it ended up here," says student Halie Dearman. "It traveled over 5,000 miles and it made it."
"There was a reason it was here, because I believe things don't happen just because," Ruiz says.
Perhaps because this is a town that understands.