In the spring of 1958, four pacifists including David Gale,who grew up in Carver, Minn., set sail from California to the Marshall Islands to protest nuclear tests conducted there by the United States. Their 34-foot boat was named the Golden Rule.
Gale, then 25, became gravely ill and the boat developed mechanical problems, and a huge storm on the Pacific Ocean forced the crew to turn back. A second trip was launched, this time with another pacifist replacing Gale. But the crew was arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard near Honolulu and went to jail.
On Sunday, the newly refurbished Golden Rule will set sail again to protest nuclear weapons, this time setting out from St. Paul down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. It's the start of a 15-month, 11,000-mile journey sponsored by Veterans for Peace that will eventually take the crew up the Eastern Seaboard, through the Great Lakes and back to the Gulf of Mexico, with stops in 100 towns and cities.
"We want to put pressure on the United States to sign the United Nations treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons," said Helen Jaccard, the trip's project manager.
Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa of Hawaii will captain the boat for the first five months, taking it as far as Jacksonville, Fla. He was working last week on some rigging lines at the St. Croix Marina in Hudson, Wis. "I've been interested in peace work and nuclear disarmament since I was 15," he said.
Mike McDonald, past president of the Twin Cities chapter of Veterans for Peace, which is sponsoring Golden Rule events in the metro area, will be on the boat for the first leg of the trip. "If somebody starts a nuclear war, it isn't going to be good for anybody," he said.
The 1958 voyage of the Golden Rule to the Marshall Islands was a national news story. During the previous 12 years, the U.S. had dropped 67 nuclear bombs at Bikini and Enewetak atolls, equaling the energy yield of 7,000 Hiroshima bombs, according to Scientific American.
Gale died in 2016 at 83, but his family remains enthusiastic that the Golden Rule is still making a splash — and carrying the anti-nuclear message.
"I'm thrilled it is being renewed," said his widow, Margaret Gale of Princeton, Ill., also a committed pacifist. "I still believe in what that boat stands for."
"This is who he was," said Andy Gale of San Diego, one of David's sons. "He was a pacifist and felt strongly against war his whole life."
Saving the boat
David Gale and his crewmates were unsure what they would encounter on the sea, according to "The Voyage of the Golden Rule," a book by boat captain Albert Bigelow.
Gale, a graduate of Chaska High School and Macalester College, was living in Pennsylvania working with the American Friends Service Committee when he volunteered for the trip. He wrote his parents in Minnesota "that he might never return, that he was not afraid, that it was the right thing to do," Margaret Gale said.
The Golden Rule set out first on a 2,300-mile trip to Honolulu, where the crew planned to stop and take on additional provisions before heading to the Marshall Islands, 2,500 miles farther. But on that first leg to Honolulu, Gale got sick.
"He was pitifully weak," Bigelow wrote in the book. "His courage though was as strong as ever. He'd heave himself out of his bunk; force his way slowly into his foul-weather gear, torturously slowly hand himself up the companion ladder, make his way to the helm on hands and knees; clip on his safety line, and relieve the watch."
Gale's crewmates urged him to quit the trip and transfer to a nearby Coast Guard ship with which they were in contact. But he insisted on staying aboard. After the crew returned to California, he was replaced by Orion Sherwood, 28, who had been teaching at a Friends school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
This time they got to Honolulu, where they docked for more provisions and repairs. But as they set off for the Marshall Islands, the Coast Guard arrested the entire crew. They spent 60 days in Honolulu city jail, putting an end to their voyage.
The Golden Rule was sold and the crew lost track of where it was. But in 2010 it popped up in northern California, where it had sunk during a storm. Leroy Zerlang, who operates a boatyard in Samoa, Calif., said the boat was owned by a man who didn't pay docking fees and neglected it. Zerlang went to take a look at the boat.
"A dock went on top of it and crushed it pretty bad," he said. "We sent a diver down and pulled it onto the beach. It was pretty banged up."
But after finding out on the internet that the Golden Rule once had been famous, Zerlang decided to try to salvage the boat rather than destroy it. He contacted Chuck Dewitt, a friend who belonged to Veterans for Peace. Zerlang, who describes himself as a "pretty right-wing Republican," asked Dewitt: "You want to save it?"
Dewitt did. Some local members of Veterans for Peace chipped in $1,000 apiece and made a wider appeal for more donations. "We eventually sank about a quarter of a million dollars in the restoration," Dewitt says. "We had three highly trained boatwrights working on it."
Since then, the Golden Rule has been sailed up and down the West Coast, conducting educational programs about nuclear war.
With a host of volunteers and fundraising efforts, the Golden Rule was trucked east to Minnesota for its trip down the Mississippi. After it goes up the East Coast as far as New Hampshire, it will double back to New York City, go up the Hudson River, take a left at the Erie Canal and then go through the Great Lakes to Chicago.
From there it will go down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, up the Ohio and Tennessee rivers and then down the Tombigbee River to Mobile, Ala., on the Gulf Coast. Various crew members will be added along the way, and Johnston-Kitazawa said there's still an opportunity to apply for a slot.
"I can't wait," said Johnston-Kitazawa, 64. "Even getting ready is great. I'm really looking forward to it. I have grown to love this boat. It has a good feel when it is moving in the water, but the best part of it is that it may be helping to avoid a nuclear catastrophe."
One of the crew members is Stephen Buck, a Vietnam veteran from Eureka, Calif. A former nuclear reactor operator in La Crosse, Wis., and Sacramento, Calif., Buck said he is pro-nuclear power and anti-nuclear weapons.
Sherwood, now 92 and living in Salt Lake City, is the only crew member from the 1958 voyage still alive. He has no regrets about his participation back then. "It was very important for those who are committed to a world without war," he said.
There will be a Golden Rule Project program at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Crosby Farm Regional Park in St. Paul, with a potluck and an opportunity to meet the crew before the boat departs.
Staff librarian John Wareham contributed to this report.