In October 1997 when I met Harry on his sailboat at Port Moselle in Noumea, he was 79 years old, going onto 80. He was slim, fit and in full possession of his mental capabilities. Managing the present and planning the future. He had plans. He enjoyed the challenges of his present life to the full. When I met him on the deck of his homemade yacht, he got talking of a problem with his main sail and of some rigging that gave him trouble. He asked where in Noumea he could find an English speaking chandler. And to whom he could talk to about his sail. We finally found a bilingual South African sailmaker and a chandler able to fix his problem.
His yacht, a cutter called Aureo, did not come from some expensive boat yard but from his back yard. Around the age of 50 he started building it in his spare time at the back of his place in Auckland, New Zealand. It took 10 to 12 years of work and when he officially retired from his work as an x-ray technician, he got it put on the water and declared he was sailing it to Fiji. He made a few long distance crossings in the South Pacific with a son or two as crew.
When I met him, he was in the process of making another crossing from Noumea down to Auckland with his youngest son. Very plainly he explained that he was an old man with terminal cancer of the marrow. He was heavily medicated and mentioned that he was the skipper but did not take part in any manoeuvers. He was very practical about all this. It was simply data and conditions that one had to account for. He was simply managing the present conditions.
He enjoyed telling the story of his departure from Auckland a couple of months earlier. As he went to his doctor for a check up, he announced that he was going to sail to Fiji... 'what do you think of it doctor' sort of things. The doctor answered: well, Harry, I'm only a cancer specialist... I think you ought to see a psychiatrist... When he got to Fiji, he sent a postcard to his doctor with the words: I'm fine, how are you?