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Rescued at sea after grand adventure goes awry

By Andrew Meacham, Times Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2008


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Their rescue at sea made national news.

In October 1973, a merchant marine vessel spotted a sailboat adrift in the Atlantic, 150 miles west of Bermuda. The Sealane Venture summoned the U.S. Coast Guard.

On board were a Tampa couple, Haven and Edith Harris, their French poodle and a cat. The Harrises had been adrift for three weeks, and were on their last day's supply of food.

Haven Harris, who had retired from the Navy as a master chief aircraft maintenance man, had spent two years building the 15-ton, 42-foot ketch, which he named The Ranger after one of his World War II aircraft carriers.

The idea, he told the Palm Beach Post- Times in 1971, was to hit a few of his favorite ports in Europe and South America -- not sail around the world. "We'll stay as long as we want and go wherever we please," Mr. Harris said.

They set sail on Sept. 11, 1973, out of Camden, Maine, for what was to be a 10-day trip to Bermuda. But on Day 6, they lost a cotter pin that secured the rudder.

Twenty ships passed them in the night, never seeing the flares they shot off the little Ranger's bow. One tanker came within Mr. Harris' rifle range, to no avail.

"You could hear the bullets ricochet off the side," said Edith Harris. She crocheted and washed clothes in rain water while Mr. Harris tried to fix the rudder.

"We got depressed once in a while," Mrs. Harris said.

A high point came when Mr. Harris managed to spear a 41-inch dolphin with a spear gun he had bought in Spain as a novelty. But after three weeks adrift, they were down to their last when the Sealane Venture finally spotted them.

Mr. Harris grew up in Revere, Mass., on the Atlantic Coast, the eldest of four brothers.

He admired his father, Haven Harris Sr., who won the Navy Cross in World War I.

Mr. Harris enlisted in the Navy in 1940. On the USS Ranger, he helped carry P-40 fighter planes to Africa while dodging German submarines.

After 27 years in the Navy, Mr. Harris retired from the Navy with the rank of E-9.

After building and living aboard The Ranger for 10 years, the Harrises built a home on the Withlacoochee River.

Mr. Harris outlived his younger siblings. He spent $100 a month to subscribe to Direct TV but only watched the Fox News Channel or easy-listening music stations, his family said.

He read National Review, Rifleman and Cruiseworld magazines. He enjoyed cooking and feeding birds and wild animals.

An old-school conservative, Mr. Harris was "not too happy that the conservatives had taken on a religious package," said Fred Alberg, 67, Mr. Harris' son-in-law.

On Thursday just before undergoing a risky cancer surgery at St. Anthony's Hospital, Mr. Harris declined a priest's offer for a prayer. He died on Friday.

Mr. Harris was 89.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or 813 661-2431.

BIOGRAPHY:

Haven F. Harris Jr.

Born: March 2, 1919

Died: March 7, 2008

Survivors: His wife, Edith; his daughter, Tina Alberg (Fred); numerous nieces and nephews.

Service: Private family gathering on March 23.

[Last modified March 11, 2008, 11:08:24]


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