Thursday, June 30, 2016


This is the story of the Reynolds family, the nuclear age and a brave wooden boat. 

In the 1950s, the Reynolds family consisted of Earle, a professor of physical anthropology, his wife Barbara, an author, mostly of children's books, and their three children, Tim, Ted, and Jessica. (That's me.) 

Daddy had been sent by our Atomic Energy Commission to do a 3-year study on the effects of the A-bomb on Japanese children. In his spare time, he designed and built a 50-foot yacht. She was christened "Phoenix of Hiroshima" and launched in 1954. Daddy took a sabbatical and the Phoenix took our family (except for Tim, who went back to the States for college) around the world. I was 10 when we started the trip. Ted was 16.

Our voyage was for pleasure and ended up taking almost 4 years. We arrived in Honolulu with just one more leg to go to get back to Hiroshima and make the circumnavigation official. But it was 1958 and the United States was testing atmospheric nuclear tests in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our government had declared 390,000 square miles of the ocean off-limits to American citizens. Our necessary route back to Japan (winds, currents, time of year) went right through this zone.

Four American men in a small yacht, Golden Rule, down the dock from us were preparing to sail into the zone as an anti-nuclear protest. On June 4, on their way out of the harbor, they were intercepted by the Coast Guard, brought back and jailed.

Now our own voyage took on a more serious purpose. My father was an expert on the damage radiation causes to everyone and everything exposed to it. He was a scientist, not an activist, but he knew even nuclear tests released death into the air and sea currents around the planet.

We sailed from Honolulu bound for Hiroshima and on July 1 we entered the test zone to protest the exploding of radioactive bombs. Three years later we would sail from Japan to the USSR for the same reason. . .

The Golden Rule and Phoenix were only together for those few weeks in 1958. They changed owners. The crew members lost touch with each other. Some of them died.

Then, out of the blue in 2010, 60 years later, the two boats were together again--at least in the news. The Golden Rule was found abandoned, stove in, lying on a beach in northern California. Almost at the same time,120 miles away, an ad for the Phoenix appeared on Craig's List, "FREE: 50-foot yacht." The man who answered the ad towed her up the Sacramento River to work on her, hit a dock. She sprung a leak and sank. He abandoned her.

The Golden Rule was restored by Veterans for Peace ( ) and re-launched in 2015.

The Phoenix is still at the bottom of a tributary of the Sacramento River in California. In her day she changed our family's lives and then thousands of other lives. We hope she will change thousands more. This boat gets into the blood and imagination of everyone who comes to know about her. 

But first we have to get her out of the river. A small but swelling group of us is trying to get the word out, get set up as a non-profit so donations can be tax-deductible and raise interest and money to restore the Phoenix as a (mobile) historical monument. There is lots of enthusiasm to see the Phoenix rise over the next 4 years, to sail with the Golden Rule again for a nuclear-free world.

We have a Twitter account at and hope to be on Facebook soon.

To be added to our email list for updates on the Raise the Phoenix saga, contact me at

Jessica Reynolds Shaver Renshaw
Extra Ballast,
Phoenix of Hiroshima,1954-64

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Growing up in Hiroshima - (1st of 2)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt ruined my first birthday.

I'm sure he didn't mean to. He died. News of the president's death reached the mothers in the neighborhood while they were at my party, bringing it to an abrupt and tearful halt.

The second World War was two-thirds over then, although no one had any way of knowing that. Four months later his successor, Harry S Truman (Truman arbitrarily added the "S" and it doesn't stand for anything so it's not supposed to have a period after it) ordered a secret weapon dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The weapon was so secret Truman himself knew nothing about it until he was suddenly president.

Dad (Dr. Earle L. Reynolds) and Mum (Barbara) were away at a writers' retreat when the news came that a new type of bomb had obliterated Hiroshima. They felt relieved. Not because they had anything against the Japanese. But maybe this would end the war. Mum went back to polishing the novel she was writing, Alias for Death. Dad went back to working on his latest play. Bite the Dust, maybe. Or, I Weep for You.

We had no way of knowing that the Hiroshima bomb would gradually come to profoundly affect our own family. The day would come when Mum would tell survivors of that bomb, weeping, "I too, am a hibakusha (explosion-affected person)" and they would design a monument to her with those words on it in her handwriting, to be erected in the Peace Park (their Ground Zero).

But for the next six years we didn't think about the bomb. We lived a normal American life in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Dad--who was a physical anthropologist--worked at Fels Research Institute and taught at Antioch College. In 1951 that changed forever. The National Academy of Sciences through the Atomic Energy Commission, assigned Dad to conduct a three-year study on the effects of the first atomic bomb on the growth and development of surviving children.

Each of us had to get passport photos taken, apply for visas--and worst of all for a terrified seven-year old, endure a series of ten injections, for everything from typhus to typhoid, yellow fever and smallpox. Then, complete with our "Woody" station wagon and our dog Cappy (short for Caprice), we packed up to move to Hiroshima.

We drove to San Francisco and steamed across the ocean on the President Wilson to Yokohama. We drove the Woody carefully down the length of Honshu, the main island, because the only road was often only one lane wide, and even where it was wider, one of the lanes was always under repair. Large chunks of the road had been blown away. Perspiring laborers were lugging the chunks back from the fields in baskets swinging from each end of a stick across their naked shoulders. Beyond them, ankle-deep in mud, their wives stooped to transplant spears of rice.

We passed through towns that were clogged with cars, bicycles, oxen-drawn carts and three-wheeled "bata batas." Once Daddy had to back up and he asked me to look and see if there was anything behind us.

"No, Daddy," I said. "Nothing but people."

People. Wherever we stopped, children, their eyes bright with curiosity, crowded around our car, greeting us with a chorus of "Harro, Harro!" They jostled each other aside and held out grubby hands, grinning and clamoring eagerly for "Chu-in-gu ga-a-mu!" That's all the English they knew. Chewing gum. The only Americans they had ever seen were soldiers. We were a family. A father who was not wearing a uniform. A mother. Kids, like them. (Later, when our grandmother Diggie Dee came to visit, her soft white hair made a sensation throughout the country. Even grown women wanted to touch it.) And a dog! There were no dogs, cats or birds left in Japan after the war. Rumor had it they had all been eaten. 

Every child had a runny nose.

Japan was still occupied by Australian and American forces. The Australians were finishing up and would be gone in a year. Although Dad was coming to Hiroshima as a scientist we lived on the nearby Army base, a community of pastel-colored houses called Nijimura (Rainbow Village).

Families in Nijimura did what families were probably doing back in the States. The men went to work every day and the women got together for bridge and gossip. We kids went to school--all in one room--and attended Saturday matinees at the one theater on the base, even though there were only enough of us to fill the first few rows.

The base effectively insulated us from Japan and the Japanese people, except for those who cooked our meals and mowed our lawn.

It was fun living in Nijimura because we had a maid.  Mum didn't have to cook or do housework and I didn't have to wash the dishes or clean my room. Miss Dote (Dohtay) couldn't read English so the first night she worked for us, she opened all the cans to see what to serve for dinner.

Once she forgot to cover the pitcher of syrup and when I poured syrup on my pancakes, a two-inch-long shiny black cockroach washed out and lay in departed dignity atop them, thin little contracted legs in the air. Little brown roaches, of no consequence by comparison, never bothered me after that but it took me a long time to like pancakes again.

My brother Ted, who was absent-minded long before he became a professor, wore the same shirt every day. At night Dote-san would wash it, iron it, and place it folded back in his drawer on top of the others, until Mum instructed her to put the clean shirt on the bottom. My mother was a genius at some things and avoiding confrontation was one of them.

We kids made fun of the maid but Mum tried to get to know and befriend her. Miss Dote was young and overwhelmed, trying to survive in a foreign world within her own devastated one. The Americans she had been taught to hate were now the employers she must learn to respect and serve.

Most people in Nijimura paid little attention to the world outside the gates. They didn't go outside if they didn't have to and on the anniversary of the bombing, everyone was warned not to leave the base. The Japanese might be hostile. 

If dependents had to leave the base, they watched curiously through the glass of car windows, noting shops lining narrow streets, their fronts open to display fruit, vegetables or cheap trinkets. Men urinating along city sidewalks. Mothers nursing babies in public. How primitive, how offensive! Americans would never think of using public Japanese restrooms. They were just holes over mountains of reeking excrement. Every Australian and American would return to the base in relief.

But our family was an exception. Mum and Dad took us kids off base by choice.

Mum wanted to experience Japan. As a child, she had read a book called The Japanese Twins by Lucy F. Perkins (published in 1912) and she was fascinated with Japanese life. She had her mother strap a doll to her back and practiced using chopsticks. So she had never feared or hated the Japanese before or during the war and she was excited when Daddy was assigned to Japan and we were invited to go with him.

Mum had me take lessons in flower-arranging, calligraphy and dance (a far cry from the ballet and tap I studied during three months we had spent in Tucson).

While Dad was at work (ABCC sent a car and driver to pick him up), Mum would take us into Hiro, the nearest town. We would get out of the car and walk down the narrow roads and look at, even buy, the fresh fruit and vegetables. Japanese women behind the stalls would rush to help us, bowing a lot, carefully selecting the cost of the items from the coins we held on open palm. Others, in kimonos and wooden clogs, perhaps a baby asleep on their back, would sling dippers full of water on the dirt roads to keep down the dust. We'd smile and they'd bow, their baby learning social skills by participating in them.

Mum and Dad also hired a strait-laced little professor named Mr. Yamada. Impeccably groomed and proper, carrying a briefcase, he would come to our stucco block house in Rainbow Village once a week and teach them to speak and read Japanese. They would ask him all kinds of questions about the culture and the "inscrutable Japanese" mind.

After they felt they knew him well enough, Dad asked him how to swear in Japanese.

Professor Yamada's impassive expression betrayed nothing. "We do not have words like that in Japanese," he answered politely.

"Sure, you do. Every language has words like that," Dad prodded. "What would a workman on a ladder say if the man above him spilled hot tar on his head?"

Mr. Yamada was unruffled. "He would say, 'Please don't spill hot tar on my head.'"

"Come on, Mr. Yamada," coaxed Dad. "What would he really say?"

Mr. Yamada relaxed just a little. "Well," he admitted confidentially, "he might not say 'please.'"

Mr. Yamada lived into his 90s and became one of our best friends and strongest supporters.

Mum had written children's books for Tim, (Pepper, about his raccoon) and for Ted (Hamlet and Brownswiggle, about his hamsters).
Later she would write Emily San about a little American girl in Japan with her family, for me. It was translated into Japanese after her death and published as Rainbow Village.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Growing up in Hiroshima - (2nd of 2)

Sometimes when we went off base, we'd visit the local orphanage. At the time I didn't realize many of the children were orphans because of a bomb our country had dropped. Dad and Mum would invite girls my age, always two at a time for company,  to come to our house on weekends. Incredibly shy, they'd eat every bite of whatever we served (whether by personal choice or by order of their director, we didn't know), giggle at Cappy and watch amazed as I taught them how to bounce on the beds. (In the orphanage they slept on futon over hard wooden floors.) Mum and Dad even tried to adopt one of the little girls but had to give up. There was too much red tape.

During the week Dad studied children like those orphans at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.

ABCC, established in 1946, began as a five-man commission whose first research program was a hematological study. By 1950, it had expanded to include studies on radiation cataracts, leukemia and other cancers, survivors' aging and mortality rates, sex ratios of survivors' offspring and genetics.

Physically, it was a handful of quonset huts on Hijiyama, a hill in the middle of Hiroshima. When we first arrived, our family was welcomed by the ABCC staff with a party where we were handed ivory chopsticks and told to pick raw kidney beans, slippery as marbles, from one bowl to another. They had us race against earlier arrivals. It was more like an initiation, really. It gave everyone a chance to laugh at us and us to laugh at ourselves.
ABCC was where Daddy would be seeing Japanese children every day, measuring their height and weight, taking their blood and photographing each one naked, facing the camera. (On the film their eyes were blocked out, for modesty.)*

He would study 4,800 children over the next three years. Those were, of course, just the children who had survived. Many more had been killed and some of those Daddy examined would die of the residual effects of their exposure to radiation.

In 1945 Hiroshima was a city of considerable military importance, containing Japan's Second Army Headquarters, which commanded the defense of all of southern Japan as well as being a communications center, storage depot and an assembly area for troops. Hiroshima had been taken over by the Imperial Japanese forces during their war against us but it was really a city of civilians, like any other. The residents of Hiroshima had been taken over just like their city had and pressed into service for the glory of the Emperor.

Unlike our other bombings, the target of this one was not a military installation but the whole city. It was one of several Japanese cities deliberately left untouched by previous American bombing, allowing a pristine environment to measure the damage caused by the atomic bomb.

The bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been developed separately, from somewhat different recipes. The first, code-named "Little Boy," used 130 lbs of uranium-235 as its fission source. Unlike the Nagasaki bomb, "Little Boy" could not be tested because there was only enough uranium-235 for one bomb.

President Truman ordered "Little Boy" dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. It was carried by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393d Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. The release at 08:15 (Hiroshima time) went as planned, and  "Little Boy" took 57 seconds to fall from the aircraft to the predetermined detonation height about 2,000 feet above the city. It created a blast equivalent to about 13 kilotons of TNT. 

The damage from a nuclear bomb comes from three main effects: blast, fire, and radiation. The first effect of the explosion was blinding light, accompanied by radiant heat from the fireball. The Hiroshima fireball was 1,200 feet in diameter, with a temperature of 7,200 °F. The blast, the result of  X-ray-heated air (the fireball) sent out a hyper-intensified shock wave which traveled at slightly above the speed of sound, turning buildings within one mile from the epicenter into shrapnel.

This created fuel for a firestorm which consumed everything two miles (3.2 km) in diameter. Two-thirds of Hiroshima was destroyed. Within three miles of the explosion, 60,000 of the 90,000 buildings were demolished. Metal and stone melted. Clay roof tiles fused together. Near ground zero, everything flammable burst into flame, glass products and sand melted into molten glass. Any humans were either vaporized or turned to carbon in an instant.

One famous, anonymous Hiroshima victim left only a shadow, permanently etched into stone steps near a bank building downtown. During the three years we were in Hiroshima, we occasionally passed that building. I used to try to imagine the person who had been sitting there. A man, probably, waiting for the bank to open. Years later that part of the steps was cut out and put in the Peace Museum.

Thirty percent of the population of Hiroshima were killed immediately, and another 70,000 were injured. Over 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses in Hiroshima were killed or injured. The firestorm jumped man-made and natural firebreaks (the seven river channels in the city).  Debris-choked roads obstructed fire fighters. Broken gas pipes fueled the fire, and broken water pipes rendered hydrants useless.

Intense neutron and gamma radiation came directly from the fireball. Most people close enough to receive lethal doses of direct radiation died in the firestorm. Some temporary survivors on the edge of the lethal area and beyond died soon afterward due to acute radiation sickness.

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima with roughly half of the deaths occurring on the first day.

The U.S. Department of Energy adjusted early Army estimates of casualties, reporting, "By the end of 1945, because of the lingering effects of radioactive fallout and other after-effects, the Hiroshima death toll was probably over 100,000. The five-year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold."

When the bomb exploded, civilians died with the soldiers. In fact civilian deaths vastly outnumbered military ones. Housewives, schoolchildren, babies, the unborn. The A-bomb didn't discriminate.

Three days later, it all happened again in Nagasaki.

The memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the names of the hibakusha (explosion-affected people) who are known to have died since the bombings. They are updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings. As of August 2009 the memorials record the names of more than 410,000 hibakusha, 263,945 in Hiroshima and 149,226 in Nagasaki.

Dad's three years of research indicated that children exposed to radiation don't grow as tall as their counterparts, experience more fatigue and are more susceptible to disease, particularly leukemia and other kinds of cancer. Strontium-90, a product of nuclear fission, is a "bone seeker," just as calcium is, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow). Instead of building bone, however, the radiation deteriorates it and can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia. So the growing children Dad examined were showing abnormally high incidences of thyroid cancer.

I spent a lot of time sitting on the school playground during recesses, picking four-leaf clovers. Even as an elementary school  student I wondered whether the abundance not only of four-leafed but of five- and six-leafed clovers had anything to do with mutation caused by the bomb dropped six years earlier.   

I wondered about my own exposure when, in my thirties (thyroid cancer usually takes 20 years to show up), I developed nodules in my thyroid and had to have half the gland removed. But the nodules were benign so the question was moot.

Dad studied the physical effects of the atomic bomb on the bodies of survivors and became one of the world's leading experts on radiation. But it didn't occur to any of us to ask the real experts, "What was it like to live through an atomic explosion?"


This statue is dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. It shows a girl with outstretched arms, a folded paper crane rising above her, representing Sadako Sasaki, who was exposed to the bomb when she was two but showed no symptoms for ten years. She desperately wanted to live and persuaded herself that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes she would be cured.

We met Sadako in Hiroshima. She was working on her second 1,000 cranes when she died.

*Forty years later there was an angry backlash from survivors who felt they were used as guinea pigs because they were examined to provide data for the American military but were offered no treatment for their radiation-related illnesses.

More information about Dad

More information about Hiroshima bomb
More information about Nagasaki bomb
More information about ABCC

Monday, June 27, 2016

PHOENIX: The time, the place and the loved one (1st of 3)

"Never the time and the place
 And the loved one all together!" 
                        Robert Browning 

     Dad had a dream. Inspired by Joshua Slocum's autobiography, Sailing Alone Around the World, when he was 17, he had always wanted to build a boat and do it himself. In Vicksburg and Madison and Yellow Springs, Ohio, where the nearest bodies of water were lakes or rivers, he dreamed of sailing a deep-sea yacht around the world.
     While in Hiroshima he realized that the time, the place and the loved one, which the poet Browning said never seemed to come together, might be converging for him. He found he could have a boat built to his specifications, for about one-third of what it would cost in the States, by a local shipbuilder struggling to make a living after World War II.
     Even though he had never sailed anything over 18 feet and never on the ocean, Dad designed the sea-going vessel himself, patterning it after the Colin Archer design of rugged Norwegian fishing boats. When in doubt, he built it sturdier than necessary.
     He designed it to be so well-weighted that even if it were rolled completely over, it would right itself. The ballast was pig iron (or what Ted and I, as we painted them all orange to keep them from rusting, called "iron pigs.") It would be a double-ended (pointed at both ends) ketch, 30 feet long. At this, Mum put her foot down--but not in the way you'd expect.
     "If you're going to build a boat," she said, "build it big enough for all of us!" So he erased a few lines on the blueprint and made it a 50-footer. Years later I realized how much courage it took my mother to demand this. Her father had drowned when she was 15, after his canoe capsized in the icy waters of Lake Mendota, Wisconsin.
     Dad found a boat builder, Mr. Yotsuda, who was living, in the aftermath of the second world war "from fishing smack to oyster boat," as Dad put it. But he was willing to bring Dad's blueprint to life. Mr. Yotsuda's shipyard struck me, even as a seven-year old, as a most unpromising place. There was lumber scattered everywhere. If Dad had told me this used to be a shipyard, that the atomic bomb had been dropped directly on it, I would have believed him.
    Weekend by weekend, we drove our Woody about 90 minutes from Hiroshima to the stretch of land along the dusty road that was becoming the birthplace of the Phoenix. I explored the nearby rocks and caves, gazed at the famous, faded red archway of Miyajima shrine across the Inland Sea (this photo of a facsimile of the shrine was taken at Epcot Center), and studied curiously the red-aproned stone idol which blindly overlooked the Yotsuda property.
 Meanwhile Dad hunkered with three Japanese men around an open fire, drinking tea and learning patience. 
He knew what he wanted but he didn't know how to say it in Japanese. His translator knew English but didn't know nautical terms. A third man had been in the Japanese Navy. He didn't know English but he knew boats and he could guess at the proper terms from the second man's descriptions. Finally there was Mr. Yotsuda himself. He nodded a lot and plied the others with tea.

   First the keel, then the skeleton-like hull took shape in the midst of the chaos.

It was appropriate that we named her Phoenix of Hiroshima. That was Professor Yamada's idea. Dad wanted to call her Daruma, like the roly-poly plastic Japanese doll, because if the sea pushed her over seven times, she would come up eight. It turned out "daruma" also refers to women of easy virtue.

Prof. Yamada didn't object to the name outright. He just kept politely referring to the fact that the phoenix was a mythological bird which rises from the ashes of its own destruction and that in oriental mythology the phoenix appears only in time of universal peace. So Dad suggested the name "Phoenix" for the boat and Prof. Yamada bowed and sucked in his breath respectfully and said, in effect, "Good choice."
     As the Phoenix rose symbolically from the ashes of the city destroyed by the first atomic bomb it also rose, over the period of a year and a half, from the small unprepossessing shipyard of Mr. Yotsuda.
     In those days the label "Made in Japan" was derogatory. Shops were full of cheap paper parasols, flimsy toys and tacky souvenirs. But behind the post-war trash were centuries of craftsmanship. Even then tourists could buy superbly crafted wooden boxes with hidden compartments or vases inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
     It wasn't that the Japanese couldn't make elegant things. They just had to turn out junk to keep from starving as they bridged back to solvency.
     If you wanted something made, the Japanese could make it. With a sample or a blueprint or a description, they could make it. Eventually the whole world would have to revise their opinion of the label, "Made in Japan."
     When we left Japan in 1954, our family would be entrusting our lives to Japanese craftsmanship.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

PHOENIX: Rising (2nd of 3)

The Phoenix was constructed entirely of native Japanese woods. It was double-planked, mahogany over hinoki (cypress). The hull was hinoki above the water line, sugi (cryptomeria cedar) below. The cabins below decks consisted of mahogany, camphor, cherry, chestnut and Japanese cabinet woods. The phoenix figurehead was carved from camphorwood.

Everything was done by hand. One man's sole job, eight hours a day every day, was to saw planks from logs. Another planed the deck with an adz which he swung toward his own bare toes.

There wasn't a single nail in the hull, only pegs. The planks for the hull were fitted in from the top down and from the bottom up. The last plank fit snugly right in the middle. To check for leaks, the men simply pumped sea water into the hull and circled with chalk the few spurts of water. The mast was lowered with a primitive improvised crane.

She was set to launch at high tide on May 5, 1954. (The workers spent the previous night moving rocks from the sea wall and carrying them out of the way.) Our friends from Nijimura came, Dad gave a short speech, Mum helped me smash a bottle of champagne against the bow and a Shinto priest chanted a blessing.

Dad finished outfitting the boat from Army surplus in the city of Kure while five typhoons delayed our shakedown cruise, the typhoon season lasting almost until the winter storms began.

My first experiences with sailing were terrifying. First, we headed from the Inland Sea of Japan into the Pacific Ocean through a short cut, Naruto Strait. The collision of opposing currents at the change of the tide in the strait causes violent whirlpools. We are surrounded by them and I expect the Phoenix to be sucked into one and us to be swirled down to our deaths. I go below and hold our cat Mi-ke so I won't see it coming.

Second, when we are through the strait and our sails catch the breeze, the boat tips. I didn't know it was going to do that! Third, when the boat heels, cupboards and drawers fly open and everything we landlubbers had stowed comes hurling at us. Mum tries to make lemonade and the first pitcher, glass, shatters against a wall. The second, plastic, bounces off a bulkhead, its wet, sticky contents spraying in every direction.

Four weeks of storms followed but they did teach the men to sail and the women (Mum and me) to stow things properly. As Dad (now Skipper) wrote in All in the Same Boat, "The second half of our trip was not all smooth sailing, but we no longer banged ourselves up every time the boat rocked. Everything that could break had broken, and everything loose had been fastened securely. In short, we were well past the misery that had resulted from our early inexperience." Our last two weeks, as we curved south, was ideal sailing weather.

We had left Japan on October 26; on December 10 we reached a position from which Ted had calculated we should be able to see Molokai. As Skipper wrote, "We all spent a great deal of time on deck and there was nothing casual in the way we searched the horizon. At 1445 we saw a long, low cloud ahead on the horizon. At first no one dared call attention to it, but when it did not change shape or melt away but grew, instead, larger and more distinct, someone at last found the temerity to voice the fact: 'Land ho!'

"There was no doubt about it now. As we drew closer we could discern the jagged white line of a waterfall marking a dark cliff, and later still a pencil-thin structure, obviously man-made, standing out against the somber background. A quick check of our light list identified it as the Molokai Lighthouse. Almost simultaneously, as the navigator let out a triumphant shout, the light began to flash in the early dusk. . .

"By midnight we . . .were lying off Diamond Head in full view of the lights, the beautiful lights, of Honolulu. . .We had no desire to attempt the harbor entrance in the darkness, so for the rest of the night we tacked, just offshore, from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor and back again. . . singing Christmas carols and smelling the flowers, the closest, happiest family in all the world."

Over the next 50 years, the Phoenix would take 4/5ths of our family plus three Japanese yachtsmen, around the world, be used to make protest voyages against nuclear weapons, be declared a Japanese national shrine—and would end up offered free on craigslist, gutted and stripped of masts, figurehead and every identifying mark but the words "Phoenix of Hiroshima."

(Details and photos from "We Crossed the Pacific the Hard Way," by Earle L. Reynolds, The Saturday Evening Post, May 7, 14, and 21, 1955 or from All in the Same Boat by Earle and Barbara Reynolds, New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1962. Photos not by my mother were taken by Werner Stoy.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

PHOENIX: Around the world in 2,125 days (3rd of 3)

Okay, so Jessica Watson, sailing Emma's Pink Lady, sailed around the world in seven months. It took us seventy months.

It took seven people to handle the Phoenix and there was only one of her.

I admire her feat and yes, indeed, she did genuinely go around the world but she wasn't exactly "unassisted"--at least not from our perspective. We had a compass, a sextant, a chronometer, an 18-hp kerosene engine, a generator, a radio receiver and some charts. She had radar, a self-steering windvane, an electric winch, an emergency beacon, wind instruments, solar panels, a diesel engine, a phone, a computer with internet, email and a blog, daily weather updates from Bob and a family flyover in a private plane.

We had to navigate, steer, raise and lower sail, cast or hoist the anchor and pump the bilge by hand. I get the impression Jessica Watson did all that by pushing buttons. I don't begrudge her that. It made her trip possible. But Dad would have said she cheated.

We sailed from Hiroshima to Hawaii, Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, Rarotonga, Samoa, Fiji; New Zealand (Auckland,  Wellington); Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns); Indonesia (Timor, Bali, Java), Keeling-Cocos Islands, Rodrigues, Mauritius, South Africa (Durban, Cape Town), Brazil (Fortaleza, Belem), New York, West Indies, Panama Canal, Galapagos, Marquesas. After 645 days, 1222 ports and 54,000 nautical miles, the Phoenix once again sailed into Honolulu harbor again, stayed two years and finished the circumnavigation back in Hiroshima.

Jessica Watson sailed from Sydney to--Sydney.

She had storms, we had storms. She had high seas and a wet bunk. We had high seas and wet bunks. She was becalmed, we were becalmed. She had amazing sunsets and starry nights. We had amazing sunsets and starry nights.

We had our share of publicity, too.

But she was racing; we were vacationing. She could motor out of the doldrums and her speed was apparently between 15 and 30 knots. We averaged four. A good day for us was one hundred miles. Sometimes the trash we had thrown overboard went faster than we did.

But we also got to see a volcano erupting in Hawaii, watch the Bastille Day fete in Papeete, dance the hula with Tahitians on the dock of Haapu at dusk. I watched kittens being born in my bunk. We captured a Galapagos tortoise and an orphaned goat to add to the family. We caught albatrosses, shot at sharks, caught a prehistoric snake mackerel, played with a sea lion and a lion cub. We came that close to being hijacked by escapees from a penal colony. We participated in an ava ceremony in Samoa and were invited to travel by pony cart (a pony with bells on!) to a Balinese harvest festival at a ruined temple under the full moon. We met President Sukarno of Indonesia, the queen of the Keeling-Cocos and the Pulenu'u of Lauli'i.

She is 16. I was 10-16. She had the safety of both boat and trip to worry about. I got a free ride, with my family shouldering all the responsibility.

I liked it better our way.

Since then I have been to countries where all I saw of them was the inside of an airport. The other Jessica didn't even see that much. If you race around the world non-stop and all you see is ocean or distant, indistinct profiles of land in the distance, what's the point?

That's just my opinion.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Link to Jessica's Journal - Three Years Between the Masts

     Starting August 24, 1954, Mum assigned me to keep a journal as part of my "boat-schooling," as my husband calls it. For awhile she corrected spelling and grammar. After that, writing daily would become part of me and it wasn't schoolwork any more. Every evening at sea I would read aloud to the family my entry from one week earlier and after the first year we included the entry from one year before. There are seven bound ledgers covering our trip around the world--and close to a large spiral notebook every year for the 60+ years since then.   

     My book Jessica's Journal was extracted from my diary, typed up by my parents and sent to their agent in New York. (By this time they were both writers. They had collaborated on All in the Same Boat.) It covers our trip around the world from Hawaii to New Zealand, 1955-56.
     I was in junior high school by that time so I had my own busy life and don't remember their editing the journal, although there are pencil marks in the margins, sometimes whole pages X'ed out. I remember my mother typing it up--but then, she was always typing, when she got the chance, so I thought little of it.
     When a box of identical, colorful hardback books arrived from Henry Holt and Company publishers, books full of my own words, it was thrilling. My father's first words were a teasing, "When are you going to publish the next one? You can't sit on your laurels, you know!" (The next one, To Russia with Love, wouldn't be out until I was 17.)
     Although the book is out of print, Jessica's Journal is online at so you can read it--free! Thank you, Jerry my love, for your "skanning" skills!
     Note Peter Spier's illustrations. He wasn't well known when he illustrated my book but he later wrote thirty books of his own and won the 1978 Caldecott Medal. He also received the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (1977) for his book, Noah's Ark and a Christoper Award for his book People in 1981, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1982.
     Just a few weeks ago my brother Ted was interviewed by Brian Cowden, who is gathering oral histories for one or more documentaries about the Phoenix. Sitting before a bookcase of memorabilia or sprawled against big throw pillows on the floor of his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ted answered  3 hours' worth of questions about our circumnavigation. With his soft beard and soft voice, he spoke most of the time with his eyes closed, opening them only to make a point or a joke, at which time they were alight with earnestness or humor.
     At one point Ted referred to me as his "darling little sister, three years younger than me" (I'm six years younger) and to my journals as "a masterpiece." He has me choosing my own job description before we started the trip, "'I'm going to take care of the cats'--so we had to get cats," added Ted, "'and I'm going to keep a journal.' (As you know, that was actually Mum's assignment for me.) `I'm going to write all the interesting things that happen,' which she did--and all the interesting things from Jessica's point of view were at least 50% about what the cats were doing. But also she started a journal which she has now kept on for decades and I think it's a masterpiece. Certainly the parts of the trip around the world which I have read are one of the best travel narratives that I've ever read."
     Hearing Ted say this on the video I was floored (not in the same sense he was). Ted has read James Cook and Marco Polo! I had no idea he valued my diaries as "travel narratives."
     "Jessica's Journal?" asks Brian.
     "Well, I've read that," says Brian.
     "Well, that's just the first few months. But her whole journal itself is fantastic."
     Wow. Sometimes you don't know what a person close to you thinks of you until someone else asks them. And Ted usually has such good taste in books..