The little stake that could

The survey stake was a casualty of a typhoon that occurred in the south of Japan, six months prior to the tsunami that ravaged the country.

The survey stake was a casualty of a typhoon that occurred in the south of Japan, six months prior to the tsunami that ravaged the country. The seven-inch stake had to travel down stream through an industrial area, rice patties and estuaries before reaching the sea. Then it drifted for nearly a year and more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Through violent storms and calm flat waters and under the light of sun and stars, the stake floated until it came to its end one morning.

“For that to get under my dock at Deer Harbor,” said Averna. “It boggles my mind.”

Nearly two years ago, Averna fished out what appeared to be a survey stake with Japanese characters under his office at Deer Harbor Marina. He thought it must be debris from the tsunami that ravaged Japan in 2011. It turns out the item was detritus from an earlier typhoon. The stake would eventually become a symbol of more than a victim of a storm but as a sign of friendship between two people on opposite sides of the globe.

“It has all kind of amazed me,” said Tom.

After finding the initial stake, the Sounder ran a story about the discovery and soon after KIRO TV also interviewed Averna. The story made national news and caught the attention of John Hohol from the Land Survey Association in Wisconsin, who recognized the stake as belonging to the RIPRO Corporation in Japan, a company that he has worked with.

Kengo Okada, RIPRO’s president, was delighted to find that the stake had made such a journey. Okada and Hohol each booked a flight to Orcas to meet Averna and retrieve the item. Okada was so inspired he created a traditional Japanese cartoon book chronicling the stake’s journey. The book included a fictional killer whale that ends up carrying the stake to Deer Harbor. Okada also presented Averna with a replica stake and a plaque with Averna’s name and the date he found the stake. Okada hopes that someday Eastsound will be a sister city with his hometown in Japan. Averna, in turn, wants to visit Japan someday in the future. The last time he visited the country was in the 60s while he was in the Army.

“I felt a deep connection,” said Averna. “I continue to feel that connection.”

What he finds interesting about the object, besides its long travel, is that stakes are created for marking boundaries. Averna said it was the best item one could find to literally expand boundaries between the two men and their two countries.

For Averna, the stake not only crossed the Pacific Ocean, it also floated across government boundaries.

“The stake created a lasting friendship between two men from different countries and cultures,” he said. “It showed me that we as humans can all be one family. It’s government politics that get in the way.”

Okada sums up his feelings about the stake and meeting Averna in the cartoon book’s epilogue:

“I connected with people who have never been connected before and gone where no survey stake has gone before. This journey has taught me one thing: to always look to the future yet never leave the past behind.”

Averna said if anyone is interested in making a sister city possible, contact him at