When peace activists aboard The Golden Rule sailboat set sail for the Willamette River Thursday they were planning to draw a contrast with the warships cruising the river as part of Fleet Week. They also wanted to protest nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Now they've been drawn into an entirely unexpected conflict.
On Thursday evening, peace activists say a patrol boat with the Washington County Sheriff's Office collided with their sailboat—a storied vessel that in 1958 attempted to sail to the Marshall Islands, piloted by Quakers, to thwart U.S. nuclear bomb testing. The boat was restored, beginning in 2010, and is now sailing again to promote a nuclear-free world.
At least for now, it also has a very small gash in its starboard side.
"They decided to come up on us without any warning or signals," says Helen Jaccard, one of the passengers with Veterans for Peace. "They were not in control of their boat."
Jaccard says she heard a person on the sheriff's boat shout "Don't hit them." The police boat then struck the wooden sailboat.
The Golden Rule passengers, who were uninjured, had been in communication (by radio and hand signals) with the other patrol boats on the Willamette on Thursday, including the U.S. Coast Guard. The other agencies treated the peace activists professionally, says Jaccard, and they gave clear directions about where the sailboat could move about to stay clear of the "secure zone" around the warships.
Mimi German, a Portland activist with No Nukes NW, was also aboard the sailboat Thursday. She doesn't believe the collision was an accident, saying the boat was moving fast in the sailboat's direction. "It was an act of aggression," she says. "They fucking rammed The Golden Rule peace boat!"
A Friday evening press release from the Washington County Sheriff's Office paints a different picture—and blames the sailboat. It says officers were attempting to stop the sailboat from entering the "secure zone" when the sailboat changed course.
"The Sheriff's Patrol boat made an emergency maneuver to avoid an impending serious collision," the press release says. "The port aft of the Sheriff's Patrol boat collided with the starboard of the sailboat." The office characterized the damage as minor. But due to the depth of the gash (about halfway through the boat's plank) the cost of repairs could run from several hundred dollars to several thousand, Jaccard says.
German says the version of the story from the sheriff's office just isn't true.
"Attacking us on a peace vessel," she says, "was incomprehensible."