August 25, 2022

Remembering Harris Gruber

Long-time volunteer, docent, and friend of the Herreshoff Marine Museum, Harris Gruber, passed away at the age of 88.

Harris Gruber, one of our long-time volunteers and respected docent at the Herreshoff Marine Museum since 2010 died on June 30, 2022 at Rhode Island Hospital Hospice at the age of 88, after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Harris was an integral member of the Museum family, attending the range of events, including benefits, lectures, researching for Project Reliance, using the extensive library to increase his knowledge of yachting history and the Herreshoff legacy, and briefly pitching in as interim volunteer coordinator when he was needed.

Harris was born on October 12, 1933, in Westport, Connecticut and was the oldest of four siblings (a sister Sara and twin brothers Gordon & Charles). In his 20s, he served in the Navy for four years, attending Language School and learning Russian. On his discharge from the Navy, he worked in his parents' retail department store until he was clear as to what he wanted to pursue.

Harris' interest and love of boating started young. His father had a variety of boats (sailing, motor, dinghies), and Harris quickly immersed himself in learning the waterways and skills needed to be a competent boater. He sailed with his father Peter and twin brothers, racing, cruising, and learning the waters around Connecticut and Rhode Island like the back of his hand.

During the 1960s, he turned that love of sailing into a full-service marine business – Coastwise Marine – launched in his hometown of Westport. On any given day, you could find family members helping in the store that provided marine supplies and services to boaters in the region. During the 1970s and 80s, Harris made Essex, Connecticut his home, and he and his family lived on a Christ-Craft houseboat for many years. Through his company Harris Yachts, he sold a variety of different boats, from Boston Whalers and Tollycrafts to the beautiful Sirena Sailboats that took him back to his youth. He also pioneered the "art" of selling used marine hardware, supplies and other hard-to-find "junk." Before "Pickers" was a thing, Harris was traveling around New England looking for treasures for Porthole Pete –the store in Essex where you could find any obscure cleat or shackle you might need.

Harris never lost interest in his love of “old wooden boats” and couldn’t pass a marina or waterway without investigating what treasures they might hold. At home he had an extensive collection of boating books and Wooden Boat magazines. He was always pleased that he had the pleasure of owning and sailing one of William Atkins Ben Bow, (a 28' 8" jib headed knockabout) which he bought in his late 20’s and used for a wonderful honeymoon cruise. Unique boat sightings was always a source of conversation between him and his son, Peter, who became a boat captain and travelled widely. Pete would send photos of special boats he came across and Harris would give him its history…designer, year made and where, and sometimes who owned the boat…His memory for details, dates and stories clearly contributed to his being a great guide and team member on historical projects at the museum.

Harris loved talking to people about boats and boating, and besides boating up and down the Intercoastal Waterway delivering clients their boats, he maintained many of these relationships for years, assisting in yacht care and maintenance, and became an expert hand at refinishing and refurbishing bright work on countless motorboats and sailboats alike. A true craftsman and perfectionist, he spent hours making sure each boat's railings cleaned like new.

Harris translated his love of travel and boating by living for years on his sailboat and traveling up and down the coast, from Florida to North Carolina. Always interested in being his own boss, seeing new places and traveling, Harris obtained a pilot's license and worked as a commercial courier in the northeast corridor for a number of years.

Deciding in his 70’s to settle down, he moved himself and his sailboat to Warwick, Rhode Island, then to Tiverton, and finally to Bristol, where he began volunteering at the Herreshoff Museum …this was a great fit - Harris’ outgoing nature and fund of knowledge made giving tours to visitors a win-win - great conversations were had and all parties were satisfied. Always wanting to share his enthusiasm and knowledge, Harris joined Second Half and facilitated a book group of devoted readers of all 20 historical seafaring novels by author Patrick O’Brien.

Harris is survived by his long-time companion Carol, his daughter Zoe, son Peter and his wife Liz, and Grandson, Nathan, and sister Sara.

Written by Zoe Gruber & Carol Hirsch