Sunday, May 1, 2016

PHOENIX: Historic sailboat vanishes from the Delta (Click on this link to see accompanying picture)

(Caption:) John Gardner sits with the ketch Phoenix of Hiroshima, famous for being used in pacifist infiltrations of nuclear test zones in the Pacific. The boat has disappeared from its Delta digs. Gardner was the last known owner; no one has been able to raise him. “He's dropped off the face of the Earth,” Leeann Roxx said. “I have four phone numbers for him, and none of them work. I have two e-mail addresses for him, and they don't work.”

Many hangdog old boats docked out in the Delta look abandoned and worthless. But some hulks bear fascinating histories, even historical importance.

The Phoenix of Hiroshima, for instance. A 50-foot double-end ketch - a sailboat - the boat played a significant role in American pacifist history.

For that reason, numerous institutions and individuals across the country want to restore and enshrine the Phoenix. The problem is, the Phoenix has disappeared.
Though long tied up on the Sacramento River, and on the North Fork Mokelumne, nobody can find the boat. Or its last known owner.

"There's a whole onslaught of people now who are trying to find her," said Leeann Roxx of Guerneville, a former owner. "Because she's such a historical vessel."
What is that history?

In the early 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission sent anthropologist Earle L. Reynolds to study the effects of radiation on Hiroshima's children. Reynolds took along his family.

While in Hiroshima, the Reynolds family commissioned construction of the Phoenix. A sampan builder on the Sea of Japan built the boat and launched it in 1954.
The Reynoldses and several other sailors embarked on a four-year pleasure cruise around the world.

They got as far as Honolulu on their way back to Japan, but found their way blocked. The U.S. was conducting nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll. A vast swath of the Pacific was off limits.

On the docks of Honolulu, the Reynoldses met a group of Quaker pacifists. The Quakers had sailed toward the test zone in protest. Uncle Sam turned them back.
Deeply impressed, the Reynoldses, too, decided to sail into the test zone in protest. On July 1, 1958, they sailed the Phoenix into the forbidden waters.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted them 65 miles inside it. Reynolds was arrested, ushered out by destroyer escort (!) and tried in Honolulu.

Perhaps because Earle Reynolds was a leading radiation authority, the protest and trial made global headlines. Reynolds became a world-famous pacifist.

His conviction was reversed on appeal.

The Phoenix became venerated in Japan. The Reynoldses sailed on another protest voyage, to Russia. But ultimately, the Reynoldses divorced.

Earle and his new wife, expelled from Japan for their political activities, sailed to Hanoi, to Shanghai and finally to Moss Landing.

Ultimately, they sold the Phoenix, which changed hands a couple of times.

The next-to-last owners, Roxx and her boyfriend, Al Hugon of Guerneville, unable to afford fees at Oyster Point Marina, tried to find a suitable home for the distinguished Phoenix.

Meanwhile, its masts toppled in a storm and were stolen. Much of its fittings were stripped.

"I had irons all over the fire trying to get rid of this boat," Roxx said. "Sea Shepherds, Greenpeace - I even went so far as to contact some museums in Japan. And got zero response."

So, in 2007, she placed an ad on Craigslist for a free boat.

A man named John Gardner of Lodi took it. A recovering drug addict, Gardner announced big plans to restore the vessel and sally forth on new humanitarian missions.

It never happened. The boat languished near Isleton and Walnut Grove.

Recently, interest in the Phoenix surged. Numerous prospective buyers contacted Roxx. A Bay Area writer expressed interest in writing a book about it.

"We would love to have it here," said Jim Boland, director of the Peace Resource Center of Wilmington College of Ohio. "And I have the perfect place for it."

But Gardner has gone incommunicado.

"He's dropped off the face of the Earth," complained Roxx. "I have four phone numbers for him, and none of them work. I have two e-mail addresses for him, and they don't work."

And the boat has disappeared, perhaps into a Delta backwater, or drydock, or somewhere ashore.

"I did see it," reported Mark Marias, owner of Giusti's restaurant on the North Fork Mokelumne River. "It was up in the Sacramento River. Then it moved here."

Then it sailed to parts unknown.

"We have a number of people who are going up the Sacramento River looking for it," said Jessica Renshaw, the 66-year old daughter of Earle Reynolds.

Renshaw, who lives in Long Beach, has a memoir of the Phoenix coming out next week.

A Google Earth satellite photo of the address believed to be that of Gardner's parents in Galt shows three boats stored outside on their land.

Trees, however, obscure the view. It was not possible to contact or visit the parents before deadline.

So, for the time being, the Phoenix of Hiroshima is the Flying Dutchman of the Delta.
"It's a shame," said Boland. "We'd love to have it. And in the perfect world, we would."

Michael Fitzgerald - Fitzgerald Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week, and he throws in a Monday mailbag if readers write him eloquent messages. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton, taking a hiatus only once to earn a B.A. in journalism at California State University, Fresno. He has worked at The Record since 1985. His column ranges through different beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. He also blogs at

     Jerry and I followed this bizarre turn of events as a young man with big dreams, John Gardner of Lodi, California, then 31, took over possession of the gutted hulk for payment of past dock fees.  He hoped to restore it and use it to rehabilitate other young people like himself recovering from substance abuse. We sent him money to have it towed up the Mokelumne River to a place where a friend owned land.  John could “park” it there until he could afford to replace the masts, re-finish the insides and restore it to its original, Yotsuda shipyard-made self, using the original Japanese woods.

     Unfortunately the towboat lost control of the heavily-built Phoenix on the way up the river.  The yacht collided with a dock and sprang a leak.  John got her settled in an isolated spot up-river and bought a battery-powered bilge pump.  He left it pumping around the clock.

     But the next time he visited the Phoenix, the pump was gone and the ship was lower in the water.  There was nothing he could do.  In August 2010 the Phoenix finally sank off Tyler Island.

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