Sailing the ship down to dry dock is one of the highlights of the season for captain Thayer Harris of the Odyssey. He enjoys the regular routine of dinner cruises around the Boston Harbor, but taking the vessel offshore down the coast of Massachusetts to Cape Cod is an exciting excursion. Once at the maintenance facility in Fairhaven, seeing the large 175-foot long, four-deck boat hauled high and dry out of the water is remarkable, said Harris. “We can walk underneath the boat and see and touch the propellers. It’s really pretty cool.”
But Harris’ usual workday is still far from ordinary. He captains a 2-3 hour cruise from Rowes Wharf to the inner and outer harbor, then an outward spin around the Boston Harbor islands. It’s a route that he does 15-20 times a week during the peak season, as passengers – corporate groups, weddings, diners, and tourists – enjoy live music, panoramic views and meals. Harris spoke with Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about taking the wheel of such a large commercial vessel.
“Even in this day and age, there’s still something fundamental about being out on the water that speaks to us all in a way that’s hard to describe. But for me, it’s a certain sense of tranquility that’s hard to find elsewhere. Captaining boats for a living is in my blood; I come from a long line of mariners. I grew up on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island and began working on boats when I was 16 years old. With the exception of a quick stint in ‘corporate America,’ I’ve been doing it ever since. I started as a deckhand and mate aboard all the vessels in our Boston fleet – which is owned by Entertainment Cruises – but once I got my license three years ago, my time has been exclusively aboard the Odyssey. Unlike a passenger ferry or commuter boat, we carry passengers for hire; we’re not just shuttling people from point A to point B. Our marine crew wear naval officer-type uniforms with shoulder boards and hats, which is very official looking and caters to the guest experience. Although I’m involved in the boarding process, once underway, I’m usually relegated to the pilot house. We do, though, encourage our guests to visit the ship’s bridge. There was one evening when a young man proposed to his girlfriend. I was asked to participate in the proposal by directing the conversation, which eventually led to him getting down on one knee and proposing. Of course she said yes, and that was a pretty memorable night. But as far as our typical day, what most people may not realize is that the captain and crew are responsible for the general upkeep of the vessel’s outward appearance, including painting, rust removal, and cleaning. You’re just as likely to find me hanging over the side of the steel boat removing rust with a wheel grinder. We have to keep the starboard looking good.”