Why Restore the Phoenix?


The “brave wooden boat” Phoenix of Hiroshima is a part of world history and of the international peace movement. She protested nuclear weapons during the Cold War and delivered medical supplies to North and South Vietnamese victims of the Vietnam War.

The Phoenix was designed and built in Hiroshima, a city reduced to ashes by the first nuclear bomb dropped on human beings. She was built by a scientist, my father, who had been sent to Hiroshima by the American Atomic Energy Commission in 1951 to do a 3-year study on the effects of that bomb on 4,800 children who survived. 

She was named for a mythical bird that rises from the ashes of its own burning (Western mythology) and appears only in times of universal peace (Eastern mythology).

Launched in 1954, the Phoenix took our family, Dad (Dr. Earle Reynolds), Mum (Barbara Reynolds), Ted (16), myself (10) and three Hiroshima yachtsmen on a pleasure cruise around the world.

In Honolulu, on our way back to Hiroshima in 1958, we met the four-man crew of a smaller yacht, Golden Rule, intent on sailing into the Pacific Proving Grounds to protest the dangers of atmospheric radiation from nuclear testing.

The U.S. had just issued a law making it illegal for U.S. citizens to enter an area covering 390,000 square miles of open ocean–the very part of the ocean we had to sail through to return to Japan.

Listening to these courageous men give their reasons for putting their lives in harm’s way for humanity changed our lives. From seeking our own pleasure, we were now concerned about the health and safety of everyone in the world.

My dad was one of a few men in the world to know the dangers of nuclear radiation. Within a month the scientist became an activist-–and so did the rest of our family. For Niichi Mikami, our one remaining crew member from Hiroshima, it was obvious that he was anti-nuke—his uncle’s body had never been found in the rubble of the atomic bombing.

When Golden Rule attempted to sail and was towed back to Honolulu and its crew jailed, they gave their charts of the Marshall Islands and their (four) gas masks to the five of us. The Phoenix set sail for Hiroshima, Japan in June, 1958 and by the end of the month we were on the edge of the zone–being followed by a Coast Guard ship.

Next morning, when we were well within the forbidden zone, the ship pulled alongside. Two armed sailors in white uniforms jumped aboard and put my father under arrest. An American destroyer escorted us to Kwajalein, where three of us were flown back to Honolulu for Dad’s trial. Ted and Niichi Mikami stayed with the ship. (My mother flew back to Kwaj later to help them sail the Phoenix back to Hawaii.

Dad was tried, convicted for entering the zone and acquitted on appeal. We sailed back to Hiroshima, completing our circumnavigation. In 1961, when the USSR resumed atmospheric nuclear testing, our Reynolds family sailed the Phoenix to Nakhodka to protest Soviet nuclear testing. Again we were stopped and this time turned away by the captain of a Coast Guard vessel.

In 1963, the USSR, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. Golden Rule and Phoenix may well have helped bring this treaty about.

In 1967 Earle and a new crew sailed the Phoenix through the American 7th Fleet to North Vietnam to deliver medical supplies to civilians injured by American bombing. Two additional trips to Vietnam followed in 1967 and ’68 …

Fifty-two years after the Phoenix and Golden Rule became a tag team united in history, long after the original crews had lost touch with each other, both boats were found derelict on the California coast in 2010, within 225 miles of each other.

Golden Rule had been beached and abandoned, her masts gone and her hull stove in. Veterans for Peace adopted her as their project and restored her over the next 5 years.

Meanwhile Phoenix was in the same sad shape, underwater…

The yacht Golden Rule has been restored, re-launched, and is a “mobile” peace monument of the Cold War era. We hope the Phoenix will also rise again to once again sail for peace and a nuclear-free world. She will challenge the use of radioactive materials both for war and peace. Her crews will educate the public not just on the dangers of radiation but on other environmental hazards to life, calling people to “wage peace, not war.” We want to be able to bring humanitarian help where needed.

Brian Cowden, CEO of the Phoenix of Hiroshima Project, Inc. is organizing an international festival, CROSSROADS 2020, to bridge Cold War Nuclear Testing to Climate Change. He is hoping the Phoenix and Golden Rule will be able to sail together to the Marshall Islands in the former nuclear test zone we sailed to in 1958—and from there to Hiroshima.

Jessica Reynolds Renshaw, first cabin girl, Phoenix of Hiroshima 1954-64

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