'Rocky' Harris, Longtime Ferry Captain, Dies at 68

Robert "Rocky" Dennis Harris, a longtime captain for the Harbor Bay Ferry, died Tuesday, June 27 after a long bout with lung cancer. He was 68 years old.

BY BOBBY WINSTON

 

Robert “Rocky” Dennis Harris, a longtime captain for the Harbor Bay Ferry, died Tuesday, June 27 after a long bout with lung cancer. He was 68 years old.

 

A formidable mariner with outsized flinty personality to match, Rocky Harris led a life straight out of a Jimmy Buffet song. He restored a replica of the  Spray—made famous by Joshua Slocum and his first-ever solo circumnavigation of the globe—and lived aboard it, sailing far and wide for years. He served as a master shipwright on the reconstruction of the Balclutha in the formative days of the San Francisco Maritime Museum and sailed the restored Golden Hinde to Japan.

 

Dubbed “Prince of the Waterfront,” Rocky’s haunts were the Eagle Café (before its move to Pier 39, where it is now preserved in amber) and the Audiffred Building (definitely pre-Boulevard Restaurant). It was a time of pre-gentrified San Francisco, with the smells of the Beltline Railroad hauling tanks of chlorine gas down the San Francisco Embarcadero and the sounds of tugboats and working machinery.

 

Rocky rubbed elbows with characters named Bill the Bum, Johnny Rotten (not that one), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (a volunteer on the original restoration of the Balclutha) and the actor Sterling Hayden. After such a colorful life, becoming a ferryboat captain for the Harbor Bay Ferry in 1994 amounted to a kind of settling down.

 

Hardly one to suffer fools gladly, his withering look regularly sent deckhands, executives, union heads and this writer scuttling for cover. Yet his generosity of spirit was palpable. Colleagues would crawl across broken glass to work with him or, in retirement, enjoy a drink with him at one of the rotating watering holes at which he would hold court.

       

Rocky Harris was pre-deceased by his beloved wife, Cameron, and leaves behind a brother, Gene; sister, Starla Rose; and three sons.