by Joe Harris
As I prepare for my 10th Newport- Bermuda race, I can't help but reflect back on the rich history of the Harris family in this race. My father Woody Harris, was a very accomplished offshore sailor with 18 (!) Bermuda Races to his credit, and was largely responsible for getting me into the sport that has become such a passion for me.
Woody grew up in Greenwich, CT and learned to sail at the Indian Harbor Yacht Club. He became a seriously good junior sailor and was part of the winning Sears Cup team with his friend Skip Purcell as a teenager. While at Harvard, Woody was recruited by the renowned Dick Nye to be the bow man aboard his famous 'Carina' and they won the Transatlantic Race, Fastnet and Cowes Week. The Bermuda Race and pretty much everything they entered over an incredible six year period.
After Carina, Woody joined forces with Vince Learson aboard a Cal 40 called 'Thunderbird' and they won the Bermuda Race in 1966. There is a great picture of me on my Dad's shoulders at age seven onboard the boat after the race in Bermuda that ran on the front page of Bermuda's Royal Gazette newspaper. While I won't list every boat Woody raced to Bermuda on, a few notables were Nepenthe (Vince Learson), Kate (Bob Hubner), Tatoosh (Bob Hutton) and Lyra (Dan Gregory).
My first race to Bermuda was with Woody aboard Hays Clark's 50' 'Andrea', which opened my eyes to how cool offshore racing on big boats could be. I will never forget my first sail change at night in the gulf stream, with waves crashing over the foredeck as we wrestled one jib down and a new, smaller jib up. I was hooked- pure and simple. The action, danger, adrenaline and challenges of sailing a big boat at night consumed me... and still does. I guess I have my Dad to thank for this affliction!
Eventually I migrated away from the fully crewed racing to short-handed sailing, where you get to do everything. I bought a C&C 40 which I named 'Shiva' and Woody was my first double-handed sailing partner. Woody didn't really understand my passion for short-handed sailing as he always enjoyed the camaraderie of the large crew, but nonetheless we did two Bermuda races together as well as Marblehead to Halifax and Bermuda 1-2. Woody had great natural sailing instincts and was always on top of the weather and being prepared for anything the sea might deal us. He was a great double-handed partner and mentor and the time we spent together alone at sea was something I will always treasure.
Woody died in 2004- 10 years ago now- the same year I raced my first solo transatlantic from England to Boston in my Open 50. We knew he had a limited amount of time and we talked frequently on the satellite phone during that voyage and shared some great memories of past races together. In the 2006 Bermuda race, as we crossed the finish line off St. David's Light, I sprinkled his ashes in the water and said a prayer for his eternal peace. I miss the guy... and appreciate what he gave me... and I will think of him often as I sail in my 10th Bermuda race starting this Friday.
A race preview will come shortly, and I hope many of you will follow the race via the website.