Captain Stephen Harris of Golding Barge Line

Oct 28, 2019

Captain Harris, one of the industry’s rising stars, was chosen as a presenter for SCI’s 2019 Maritime Training Benefit Luncheon held in Houston. He delivered a speech along with two other inland captains as part of our year-long celebration of the mariner. Possessing the demeanor and deep baritone of a heroic sheriff from the Old West, Captain Harris shared the story of Christmas at Sea’s impact on his first Christmas as the leader of a boat.

Both of his children were young. At age two, his daughter was anticipating Christmas for the first time, and excited about opening presents. Captain Harris had already missed his son’s eighth birthday party on December 15, and would still be working on the boat during his wife’s birthday on December 29.

“Anybody who hasn’t been home during the holidays knows what it is like when you have kids. I went to a really dark place. I started wondering if I was just selling my time. Was I carelessly relinquishing time with my family; something that is so sacred and precious to me? Facetime and talking on the phone weren’t doing the job,” says Capt. Harris. “However, as Captain, I am responsible for the morale on the vessel. There was no one on the boat to confide in without jeopardizing morale.

The good part of working on the water when you are on for 28 days and then have 14 days home is that home becomes a vacation. Every homecoming is a party and a honeymoon rolled into one. But I wasn’t thinking about that my first year as Captain. I just wanted to be with my family and I felt so disconnected from them.”

For the sake of his crew, Captain Harris adopted a festive appearance when the CAS packages arrived. He ceremoniously read the Christmas cards in the care package aloud to the group while donning a CAS hat and scarf with a candy cane in his mouth. By the third name in the cards, he was puzzled by the coincidence. By the fifth name he realized it wasn’t a coincidence. “My son’s second grade class had made those Christmas cards for mariners, and put them in the box not knowing their destination. The experience of discovering that the cards were from my son and his class is something that will stay with me forever.”

Years later, Captain Harris still remembers his hat from the box. It was a two-toned purple cap. “That beanie became part of my uniform on the boat. I wore it every day until spring arrived!”

This story first appears in SCI's Christmas at Sea Fall Newsletter. To receive a complimentary subscription to the print piece or our email communications, please email [email protected] with your contact information.