On a baking-hot day in the Sacramento Delta, a graceful sailboat floated over a calm stretch of the Mokelumne River as her crew tossed rose petals into the murky waters. With tractors rumbling past and airplanes spraying pesticides on the fields beyond the levees, a handful of peace activists celebrated the reunion of the Golden Rule and her sister ship, the Phoenix of Hiroshima, which lay 20 feet below.
July 8 was the first time they had been united since 1958, when a crew of pacifists tried to sail the Golden Rule to the Marshall Islands to protest atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. That voyage was halted by the U.S. Coast Guard and the captain, Albert Bigelow, a Quaker and former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, was thrown in jail.
The international publicity the confrontation attracted helped spur the growing opposition to nuclear tests and the arms race. It also inspired another boat, the Phoenix of Hiroshima, to complete the mission, sailing into the atomic test area and initiating a tradition of protest boats carried on most notably by Greenpeace.
Today the Golden Rule is once again inspiring the Phoenix. It was restored by Veterans For Peace in a five-year bootstrap operation accomplished through dedication to and love of wooden boats. Those who are working to raise and restore the Phoenix include Jessica Reynolds Renshaw, who was 14 when her family sailed into the restricted atomic bomb test area in the central Pacific Ocean.
Renshaw, who was on hand for the reunification ritual, is committed to returning the 50-foot yacht to its mission: sailing for a nuclear-free world. The Golden Rule has just launched its third voyage as a floating peace museum raising awareness of the threat of continuing nuclear weapons development and the importance of "cleaning up the radioactive mess we’ve made," said Helen Jaccard, manager for the Veterans For Peace Golden Rule project.
Among the challenges facing these good intentions are issues ranging from funding to restore the Phoenix, estimated at $500,000, to inspiring leadership. Remnants of peace and anti-nuke movements survive throughout the United States but they are anything but active.
Still, the reunion of the historic peace boats occurred on the very day the United Nations concluded creation of the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in over 20 years, and the first treaty ever to ban all nuclear weapons. The 122 nations that voted “yes” did not include the United States or any other nuclear-armed nation.