Captain Tom Harlan is at the helm this month. You can find him on the early morning Tiburon Ferry service, Monday through Friday. How early you ask? About 4:30 a.m. "You have to be a morning person to be on this run," he said. "Itís a requirement."
Captain Tom Harlan on the 7:50 a.m. Friday morning commute from Tiburon to San Francisco aboard the Zelinsky. Photo by Matt Larson
By Matt Larson
Published: July, 2012
Captain Tom Harlan is at the helm this month. You can find him on the early morning Tiburon Ferry service, Monday through Friday. How early you ask? About 4:30 a.m. "You have to be a morning person to be on this run," he said. "It’s a requirement."
Harlan said that one of the best things about the early morning run is having the luxury of witnessing a Bay Area sunrise on a daily basis. "You can never have a bad day after seeing the sunrise," Harlan said. "It wipes the slate clean. It’s a really magical time of day."
Spending day after day cruising the waterways, Harlan has come across a number of other magical occurrences. "Last year we had a ton of whales in the Bay, and there were a handful of times I had to pull back and stop the boat because whales were in our immediate vicinity," Harlan recalled. "It is really moving to see such a huge creature up close in an area where you don’t normally see them. I imagine it would be like seeing a lion on the Serengeti. It’s pretty awesome."
For those inclined to discover new and fascinating sights around the Bay, Harlan suggests taking the time to board the Angel Island Ferry, just for the experience. "Angel Island has to be the best kept secret in the Bay," he said. "The Ferry Building is spectacular, going under the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t half bad, but pulling into Ayala Cove is a really unique experience. It’s mystical. My first reaction coming around the bend is to alert the passengers to the beauty of the approach." From the fog creeping over the top of little canyons to the scenery basking in radiant sunlight, "it’s just a really spectacular, very picturesque landing."
A San Francisco native who grew up in Pacifica, picturesque landscapes have always been a part of Harlan’s life. "From our house in Pacifica you could see Pedro Point out to the Marin headlands," he said. "When I was a little kid I’d eat my Cheerios over the heater as I watched ships go across the horizon." Now an established ferry captain with a degree in marine transportation from the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo and over 105,000 ferryboat landings to date, Harlan is truly living the dream.
"Every landing is a new experience," Harlan said. "The direct connection to the rhythms of the ocean and the Bay still holds my fascination. Having a sense of what the water and wind are doing, and being able to react to that, puts you in direct communication with nature. It’s something I’ve never lost passion for."
When he’s not navigating through the waves on the Bay, Harlan can often be found surfing them in his downtime. "I’d like to say I’m an avid surfer, but I have a wife and two daughters, 3 and 5, so they’ve become the primary wave that I surf." He still manages to get out on the surfboard once or twice a week.
At the job now for about 20 years, Harlan is officially a man of the seas and is now getting involved with the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival. "I can’t believe it’s been under my nose all these years," he said, as the festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. "I’m in the process of helping them raise funds for the film festival. It’s a really neat way of celebrating ocean cultures, highlighting the importance of stewardship, ocean acidification, the land-sea relationship—bringing awareness through the vehicle of arts and entertainment."
Harlan continues his early morning Tiburon commute with a smile, Peet’s Coffee in hand. If you see him, say hello. "A really great part of the job is getting to know people, sharing different perspectives of work and family life with people you wouldn’t normally come into contact with," he said. "I truly enjoy my interactions with some of these really unique characters, and I like to let them have a sense that they are truly appreciated."