"On the last day of October 1927, as the big freighter MARGARET DOLLAR, Seattle-bound from San Francisco, approached Cape Flattery, a small two-masted, weather-beaten craft, with tattered remnants of sails blowing in the breeze, was sighted off the mouth of Quillayute R. rolling in the long ocean swell and steadily drifting toward the shore, six or seven miles away. The hoarse whistle of the big boat stirred no evidence of life on the drifter, so a boat was lowered and pushed off to investigate.
As the boarding party approached the small craft, the characters on her stern identified her as Japanese, and her hull, encrusted 4-inches deep with barnacles, and seaweed 2-ft long waving to and fro in the heaving waters, proclaimed a vessel long in salt water, while the damaged rigging and sail tatters, told of fierce struggles with the elements.
When the boarders climbed her side they were greeted by bleaching bones scattered about the deck, but not a sign of life. Empty fish holds, fore and aft, and fishing gear carefully coiled in baskets on top of the cabin, showed the derelict to have been a fishing boat, and a dismantled gas engine revealed the cause of its plight; while huddled in a corner of the little cabin, the mummified bodies of two men showed the fate of the crew.
Disabled engine, sails carried away, empty water casks, absence of every trace of food, weed and barnacle loaded hull, and shriveled human forms, told plainly a story of terrific tragedy--accident, struggle, drifting for months, and thousands of miles, starvation, and death.
But where were the rest of the crew? Clothing scattered about indicated the presence of a number of men. The small boat was gone. Had those two figures in the corner been abandoned by the others? And what were those bones on deck--so many, and all so clean?
Search furnished no information. Letters and papers in a rattan basked in the cabin were in Japanese, as were the inscriptions painted on a cedar board in the cabin, they could not be read without an interpreter.
|RYO YEI MARU|
"Japanese fishing schooner, 10 Nov. 1927,
after her 4,000 mile voyage across the Pacific Ocean."
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The message painted by the captain of the ill-fated boat on the piece of board revealed the name of the boat to be RYO YEI MARU, meaning 'good and prosperous', and that, with a crew of twelve men, she had sailed from the village of Misaka, Japan, for the tuna fishing grounds on 5 Dec 1926, 11-months before. While fishing, the engine had broken beyond repair, a fierce hurricane had driven them off the banks, and in time their store of food, eight bushes of rice, was consumed. All hope was gone when the captain painted his message on that piece of board on 6 March 1927, and death was awaited by the despairing men.
A tragic story with all the details to be read between the lines.
A later and more careful search by the US Customs officials, after the boat had been towed to Seattle, added much to the story, for a diary was discovered in the effects of, presumable, the last survivor, which detailed the whole harrowing tale from the time the little craft sailed from Japan, until the date of the last entry 11 May.
The staunch little boat, 86-ft L x 15-ft B x 12-ft D, was powered with a 2-cyl gas engine, supplemented by the sails characteristic of the native boats.
The diary told of its departure from Misaki and that five days later an engine valve broke, leaving the boat at the mercy of the hurricane. On 13 Dec a Japanese fishing boat was sighted, on the 16th, another fishing boat and a big Japanese liner were sighted, but none of them paid heed to their signals of distress, it they saw them, and even a fire built on the deck, failed to attract. Those were the only boats sighted during all the terrible months of starvation and mental agony.
Friends and relatives of the members of the crew in San Fran and Seattle, have furnished information that when all the other fishing boats had found their way back to port after the storm the RYO YEI MARU was given up as lost, and on 16 Dec. services were held for the dead. Not long afterwards, insurance on the craft was paid by the underwriters to some thirty stockholders in Japan and in CA and WA. The same informants have told that boat was ill-fated from the first. She was an innovation from the old Nippon construction in many respects. It was the first 'great ship' to be built in the village of Wabuka, was five times the tonnage of the native boats, and was considered a palatial affair. She was also the first 'company' ship to be floated in that locality; the first to carry ice for the preservation of her catch; and the first to be equipped with an engine.
Sutyi Izawa, the cook, started the diary in lead pencil in a little water-stained book, and it is a wonderful revelation of physical suffering and mental agony--click on "read more" button below--
On 26 Dec Izawa wrote, 'We prayed to Konpira and promised him that we would never sin again, nor would we ever again ask him for anything unreasonable. Even our deepest prayers do not draw pity from our angry god! Oh, Konpira! Have pity on us or we shall throw away thy charms! No! No! No! No! Oh let us not think of such heresy! Konpira is still here. He is right and justice. The evil that we think is in our minds. Have mercy on us, oh Konpira! We heed your warning and suffer in all humility. Please pity us and forgive us!'
On 27 Jan they thought they saw a ship and Izawa recorded, 'A ship! A ship!--The sea is mighty!--Oh Konpira, are you without mercy? Never again was mention made of their god. He had abandoned them and they lost their faith.
The captain painted his record on the board 6 March; three days later the first death occurred and the engineer, whose vain struggles to repair the broken engine had doubtless sapped his strength, passed out. The diary reads:
'9 March--This day Denjiro Hosai died of illness--big bird caught.'
Up to this point there had been much of poetry in thought and phrase, and frequent reference to their god, whom they worshipped and feared, but grim Death had started his harvest, and henceforth the diary became merely a record of facts.
As one after another of the crew gave up the struggle for life, Izawa, then Matsumoto, and last the captain, took locks of the dead men's hair and carefully placed them in small envelopes, that should chance make possible, they might find their way to the holy temple in the land of their fathers. Nine envelopes there were-one containing the locks of the two who had died the same day.
The last recorded death was on 19 April, and the last entry was made 11 May, when Matsumoto wrote that he was suffering from beri-beri.
Entries tell of their catching fish, and once they snared a big bird with a tuna hook. On another day they sighted a seal and the diary read, 'We are near Alaska.'
When the last entry was made, that ill-fated ship had been drifting helplessly for 5 months, and 2 months had passed since the last of their rice had been consumed. When the MARGARET DOLLAR brought the derelict into Puget Sound, it had been drifting for 325 days, and had traveled 5000-miles.
Captain Miki and Matsumoto were the last to pass, and theirs were the shriveled forms found huddled in the cabin; but what of the others? Where were they? Examination of the bleached bones on the deck accounted for eight human beings. Had the other two gone in the missing boat? Had they fallen overboard, or leaped into the sea to end their sufferings? It is not known.
Two mummified bodies in the cabin, two missing, and the scattered bones of eight others on the deck, account for all; but why the scattered bones? Who knows. The love of life is deep-seated, the struggle to prolong it is instinctive, and sentiment vanishes before it.
The diary carries two records--the written and the unwritten, and the unwritten would fill a big book. No mention is made in the diary of services for the dead--the bodies were not cast into the sea. Why? There can be but one conclusion. Did they draw lots in turn to see who should surrender his life that the others might prolong theirs? The diary does not say. Did those who saw dissolution approaching, bequeath their flesh to their companions, as has been done before by their countrymen? The diary does not tell.
The ashes of the dead and their locks of hair were faithfully borne to Japan by Sakahisa Tani of Seattle, to be deposited in the native Buddhist temple; and the letters, found in the woven basket in the cabin, were delivered into the hands of the captain's wife and children, to whom they were addressed, and were opened in the shadow of the temple. Such messages were held too sacred to be molested by others, even by the Japanese consul in Seattle, eager for information, so they had been carried with their contents inviolate across the waters of the pacific.
A Japanese newspaper received in Seattle reveals that the captain had written to his 6-yr old son, to his 13-yr old daughter; and to his wife...
Others of the hapless crew were sons and husbands and fathers, and to those left behind in the villages of Nippon, there were also hard times ahead, which their faithful countrymen have striven to lessen by generous contributions, even from these distant shores.
The RYO YEI MARU, the first of its kind, has expiated its heresy in violating ancient traditions. It has done penance to the end and at last has been secretly towed to sea and burned with its memories, so that it, too, may rest in peace.
Above text written by O. M. Salisbury
This Was Seafaring
Ralph W. Andrews and Harry A. Kirwin