Friday, May 13, 2016

PHOENIX and GOLDEN RULE (11) Arrest

      On the night of July 1, 1958, the Phoenix ghosted across the finish line.  We were officially within the "zone," having crossed a line as invisible as the equator or the International Date Line.
      The next morning, 85 miles later, American Coast Guard cutter W307 which had been following us for two nights came alongside.  The captain shouted, "Heave to, and prepare to be boarded."  (Heave to means to pull around into the wind and stop.)
Coast Guard cutter Planetree overtakes us
Armed guards
    "What is your authority?" Skipper responded.  After all, the cutter was 2000 miles from the nearest American coast.
     The master of the Planetree read out some figures and Skip obeyed "under protest."  Two armed men came aboard and put Skipper--only Skipper--under arrest. They couldn't arrest Nick, because he wasn't an American citizen--and in fact, they couldn't even legally detain him (though they did).  They couldn't arrest me, since I was a minor.  And they could hardly arrest Amya, our current feline mascot.  But they didn't arrest Mum or Ted either.  They ordered us to sail to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.  A Navy destroyer USS Collett appeared on the horizon to make sure we did.
     Ted was on watch at 4:30 on the morning of July 3 and Mum was in the cockpit with him.  Suddenly the sky lit up to the west (the direction of Bikini Island, 200 miles away) as if with a "gigantic flash bulb, oval in shape and at about five to fifteen degrees above the horizon," according to Ted.  Although the explosion was not reported by our military or in American newscasts, a Japanese station announced that the United States had exploded another bomb in the Bikini test zone.
     We now know the bomb was code-named "Cedar."  (The date given by the military is July 2; they were probably going by Stateside dating. We happen to know it was July 3 local time!)  Cedar was equal to 220 kilotons of TNT--that is, 14-18 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.  Of the 72 bombs exploded in Hardtack Series I, the largest was 9.3 megatons.
USS Collett "escorts" us to Kwajalein
     You can read details of all this in The Forbidden Voyage if you can find a copy.  As a teenager I was curious about First Petty Officer Acree and Boatswain Laflin. Besides the guns, they had brought their own canned food and water with them.  By July 2, they had kicked off their shoes, impractical on a yacht (although they hastily put them on whenever the Collett came close), and removed their sidearms.  By July 3, they were still drinking their canned water but--Skip wrote "Barbara's method of breaking down their resistance was positively fiendish"--ate big bowls of Mum's savory spaghetti and meat sauce with us.
     The men thought we'd sailed into the test zone by accident and the Navy had assigned them to rescue us.  Their jobs, replacing buoys and marine installations damaged by the tests, exposed them to considerable radiation but they assured us everything was under control: "A man can take one hundred roentgens of radioactivity per hour without harm."
     "Oh?" asked Skip. "For how many hours?"
     "Well, five or six anyway."
     Skip pulled out his copy of Shubert and Lapp's Radiation: What It Is and How It Affects You and showed them that an over-all exposure of that much would probably be fatal.
     Laflin confided that some of the men, in order to get leaves, "cheated" by putting the radiation badges issued them in their shoes instead of on their shirts.  Skip pointed out that if the deck is the most radioactive place on the boat, the badges should be placed in the shoes.
     By the time we reached Kwaj on the 4th of July we were lifelong friends.    
Skipper and Mum at Skipper's arraignment, Honolulu
     On July 5, the Navy put Skipper on a MATS plane and taxpayers flew him back to Honolulu for trial.  Mum and I went with him, leaving Nick and Ted to guard the Phoenix.

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