2017-04-21 / Neighbors

Sailor recounts his adventures on the sea

By Melissa Simon


OCEAN LOVER—Bill Harmon, 80, of Simi Valley has recently released “Knot For Sailors Only,” a book of poems, prose and photos about his sailing career. OCEAN LOVER—Bill Harmon, 80, of Simi Valley has recently released “Knot For Sailors Only,” a book of poems, prose and photos about his sailing career. Bill Harmon can still hear the creaking of the boat as it flipped over into the water, with waves crashing overhead and the smell of salt in the air.

In 2005, the then-68-year-old was making the nearly 1,800-mile journey back to Newport Beach, Calif., from Las Hadas, Mexico, where he and a crew had delivered a boat. This was the third such trip for Harmon, who was one of three crew members on board the delivery vessel.

A storm knocked the ship on its side about 100 miles off the coast of Las Hadas, and it took “some maneuvering to get it upright again,” he said. The crew then docked at a little port nearby called Bahía de Tenacatita that had no electricity.

“We couldn’t report our location, so as far as everyone else was concerned, we were lost in the storm,” the sailor said, adding that the tempest lasted three days. “It was one of the most dangerous situations I’d ever been in during my 30-plus years as a sailor.”

He’d run into rough weather, he said, “but when you’re talking about a knockdown like that, it’s not something you’re going to experience every day. As a matter of fact, you could go your whole sailing career without ever having that happen.”

That experience more than a decade ago is just one of many from which Harmon drew inspiration to create “Knot For Sailors Only,” a book of original poems and prose recounting his sailing adventures and lessons learned.

The book, which was released last August and is being sold on Amazon, also features photos of sea life and memorabilia Harmon took during years at sea.

“My grandchildren really motivated me to write this book because I wanted them to know what I’ve done in my life and to show them that many of life’s lessons can be correlated to proper sailing techniques,” the Simi Valley resident, now 80, said.

‘Serious sailing’

Harmon got hooked on sailing in the 1980s, when he bought his first boat: a 32-foot wood cutter. He sailed the boat more than 100 miles, from Santa Barbara south to Marina del Rey.

“I decided to try out sailing because I thought it was something that fit my interests and personality, but little did I know that it would become such a passion,” he said. “I fell in love with the feel of the ocean spray on my face and the smell of the ocean. Sailing is an exciting adventure and I just love it.”

What started out as a hobby, he said, soon became more “serious sailing” involving international boat races, ship deliveries and a 20-year career with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary unit.

Harmon joined the Coast Guard in 1992 as a flotilla officer and sailing instructor, where he was responsible for providing safe-boating classes and education to the public. He was also tasked with recruiting high school students through the Coast Guard’s Career Candidates Program.

He was eventually promoted to a coxswain, which is equivalent to the rank of captain, and commanded two vessels during search-and-rescue missions and while hauling in boats that got stranded off the coast. He retired from the Coast Guard in 2012.

In 1995, Harmon competed in the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race, a nearly 144-mile international race from Newport Beach to Ensenada in Baja, Calif., during which participants rely on wind to move their ships.

The veteran sailor has since participated in the race four more times, completing it twice.

Aside from spending decades on the seas, Harmon also produced two cruising guide videos about the Caribbean and a 90-minute presentation to introduce boaters to the basics of understanding weather.

He lives in Simi with his wife of 56 years, Martha. The couple have three daughters and five grandchildren.

To learn more about Harmon or to buy “Knot For Sailors Only,” visit dittybagsailors.com.

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