1958–1961: Nuclear Protests

Golden Rule GG Bridge 300 dpi

The Ballad of the Golden Rule and Phoenix

Original song written by Michael Stern for the re-launching of the yacht Golden Rule June 20, 2015.

Voyage to Protest American Nuclear Testing

When the Reynolds family and Nick Mikami reached Honolulu again after circumnavigating the globe, they had one more leg of their journey to return to Hiroshima. But their plans–and lives–were changed drastically when they met the four-man Quaker crew of a smaller yacht down the dock from them.

The men on the Golden Rule had sailed from San Pedro, California, intending to enter the Pacific Proving Ground around the Marshall Islands, where the American government was testing the Hardtack series of atmospheric nuclear weapons. While they were sailing, the government issued a hasty injunction against American citizens entering that “forbidden zone.” When they stopped in Honolulu for supplies and tried to leave again to enter the zone, they were stopped by the Coast Guard and jailed–just the day before the Phoenix arrived.

In talking to the men, Jessica Reynolds wrote,  “Our own outlook on life became much more serious. From seeking our own pleasure, we were now concerned about the health and safety of everyone in the world.”

Within days the crew of the Phoenix were considering taking over the protest voyage of the Golden Rule. For First Mate Niichi Mikami, the one remaining Japanese member of the crew, it was a foregone conclusion that he was anti-nuke—his uncle’s body had never been found in the rubble of the atomic bombing.

For Barbara, the “coincidences” seemed to indicate the hand of One greater than man: Earle had been sent to Japan by the Atomic Energy Commission to study the effects of radiation on children; the Phoenix had been built in Hiroshima, one of the crew members was a Hiroshima citizen, the Phoenix was a sea-worthy ship with an experienced crew and they were on their way back to Hiroshima on a route which led directly through the forbidden zone.

Earle knew making this protest made sense and even seemed almost inevitable, but it meant moving from being a scientist and an academic to being an activist, acting on what he knew about the dangers of nuclear testing to the global environment. “I’m the type who always waits for the green light before crossing the street,” he wrote in The Forbidden Voyage. He knew it would mean the end of his academic career–since the Atomic Energy Commission which had hired him to research the effects of radiation was the government agency promoting the testing program.

Ted (now 20) and Jessica (now 14) felt strongly that carrying on the protest of the Golden Rule was right and they intended to be part of it. Jessica said, “It’s my world too and I have a right to fight for it.”

Leaving for Pacific Proving Grounds, 1958
Back row: Captain Earle, Jessica, 14, Barbara, Ted, 20. Front row: First mate Nick Mikami

The family spent days in research, thought and prayer and decided to head for Japan and decide for sure whether or not to enter the zone when they got closer to it. The crew of the Golden Rule bequeathed their charts of the Marshall Islands and their four gas masks to the crew of the Phoenix. (Which four of the five of them would use the gas masks if they needed them, family members each wondered.) The Phoenix cleared for Hiroshima, Japan in June, 1958 and by the end of the month were on the invisible edge of the zone—being closely tailed by a Coast Guard vessel.

On July 1,  Dr. Reynolds announced by radiotelephone, on the international frequency for ships at sea, “The United States yacht Phoenix is sailing today into the nuclear test zone as a protest against nuclear testing…” The Phoenix became the first vessel to enter a nuclear test zone in protest when they sailed into the test area around Bikini Atoll.

The next morning, 65 miles inside the forbidden area, the coast guard vessel Planetree pulled alongside the Phoenix. Two armed sailors in starched uniforms jumped aboard and put Earle Reynolds under arrest.


USS Collett

An American destroyer, Collett, escorted the Phoenix to Kwajalein, where Earle, Barbara and Jessica were flown back to Honolulu for Reynolds’ trial. Ted Reynolds and Nick Mikami stayed with the ship in the Marshall Islands. Barbara later flew back to Kwajalein to help Ted and Nick sail the Phoenix back to Honolulu against the wind—a trip that lasted 60 days. Meanwhile Reynolds was tried and convicted of trespass for entering the zone. He appealed and two years later the conviction was overturned. The injunction had been ruled illegal.

Phoenix-Return to JapanAfter the acquittal, the Phoenix sailed back to Hiroshima and Nick Mikami became the first Japanese yachtsman to circumnavigate the globe. The Reynolds family were welcomed by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki as their “voice” and the Phoenix was declared a Japanese national shrine.


Voyage to Protest Soviet Nuclear Testing

Poster12foregroundIn 1961, when the USSR resumed atmospheric nuclear testing, the Reynolds family sailed the Phoenix to Nakhodka, USSR to protest Soviet nuclear testing.

Phoenix to USSR Tom Yoneda 2017
Tom Yoneda, Lake Shore, California, August 2017

As the Japanese government would not give Nick Mikami a passport to travel to the Soviet Union, American citizen Tom Yoneda sailed with the Phoenix as the fifth crew member. Again, the Phoenix was stopped, this time within the 12-mile limit claimed by the USSR. They were turned away by the captain of a USSR 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 could well have helped bring this treaty about.