Volunteer Spotlight, Feburary 2016: Harris Gruber
Q: How long have you been a Volunteer at the Herreshoff Marine Museum?
A: I began as a Guide in June 2010…….this is my seventh season.
Q: Why did you decide to volunteer at the Museum?
A: I responded to a newspaper article about the Museum…..and its need for more Volunteers.
Q: Tell us a little about your background.
A: I’ve spent my lifetime on the waterfront. My Dad and I learned to sail together , did some racing, including early experiences with local frostbiting in the first fiberglass dinghies. After the Navy, I opened my own yacht brokerage business, then managed a yacht brokerage business in New York City for a few years, selling quite a few of the stock wooden sailboats and powerboats, some of them quite old; my favorites were the already-vintage schooners; the history lessons came fast and I had an 80-year-old mentor in the office, who regaled me with the boats and the people of the Gilded Age. I remember it well, but I was too young to retain much of it (shame on me!).
My next stop was selling large fiberglass powerboats in an emerging market at a prominent dealership. What stories some of the buyers told of the fiberglass failures! They came often, but the believers in the new technology vastly outnumbered them…….sales were good. After a few years of that, I acquired the small old-fashioned boatyard in my hometown. We modernized the yard, were dealers for a variety of power and sailboats, developed a booming service business, store and, of course, a vibrant brokerage.. After five years, I sold my interest and with my new family cast about in different parts of the country, always in the boat sales business.
After a few years of that, we spent about 20 years in Essex, Connecticut. Selling new and used boats of all types, power and sail, wood and fiberglass, large and small. I was a commercial pilot at the time, so we were often able to travel on short notice to southern waters to find boats for our clients. Most of that time, , we lived aboard a houseboat, winter and summer….a delightful experience, in many ways.
With my family now grown and gone, I spent most of the next 20 years wandering the Intracoastal Waterway, but soon developed my brightwork skills, finding substantial repeat business for several years each in the florida Keys, Charleston and Annapolis. Most of this time I was living aboard a sailboat or trawler.
The summer season of 2009 was the busiest I had ever been, but by the following Spring, it all abruptly disappeared with the economic crash and I found myself newly ashore. It was fortuitous that the Museum needed more help when I was looking about for something to keep me busy. It has been great fun learning about the Herreshoff legacy and great to meet so many people from all over the world. The Volunteer experience itself may be the best part of it.
As my specific knowledge of the Herreshoff story developed, so did a yen to know more about the history of the boats, ports and boatowners of a long time ago. There were a lot of colorful old boats that had touched my life, but I didn’t know much about them. That has now taken the form of occasional forums I facilitate on ‘Yachting and Waterfront History’ and doing the same with the historical novels of Patrick O’Brian. The latter series has been ongoing since 2013. I begin my sixth semester in a few weeks, with several folks who began at the beginning, still with me.
Q: What is your favorite part about your time at the Museum?
A: I have especially enjoyed the biennial Classic Yacht Symposia, hosted by the Museum, but the daily chance of meeting and exchanging information on old boats with visitors is an ongoing treat for me.
Being retired can take on a whole new life of its own.