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Expanding horizons for the non-intrepid

Cruising Club of America salutes couple for taking others on voyages they wouldn’t undertake alone

John Harries had sailed some 60,000 miles, crossing the Atlantic and venturing into the northern high latitudes, but he never was cited by the Cruising Club of America until Phyllis Nickel, a landlubber, stepped aboard Morgan’s Cloud, his 56-foot aluminum cutter.

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Now, Harries, 57, has 100,000 ocean miles to his credit, Nickel, 47, has accumulated 40,000 miles of her own, and they have been presented with the CCA’s Far Horizons Award. The honor cites the couple’s “extensive cruising and voyaging, and some racing.”

At their Web site, www.morgans, the couple explain that the company they formed to capitalize on their cruising experience — Attainable Adventure Cruising — “is not about feats of derring-do; rather, this site is about gear and techniques that have let us, who are not particularly intrepid, cruise some of the world’s most remote and challenging places without exceeding our capabilities.”

The CCA lists among the couple’s achievements their two circumnavigations of Newfoundland, a cruise to Labrador, four trips to Iceland and two Atlantic crossings from Greenland. There was also a cruise along the east coast of England, followed by a passage to Norway, where they wintered above the Arctic Circle for two consecutive winters.

Harries, a Bermudian, says he was inspired in his early cruising by the adventures of several CCA members — among them Warren Brown, with whom he sailed aboard Brown’s yacht, War Baby.

“The first time I ever went north in a yacht, I sailed with Warren just briefly [to Norway],” Harries says. “Warren has done a tremendous job over 30 years with taking people sailing to places they wouldn’t have taken themselves. He’s a fellow Bermudian. I think it came up in a talk he was doing. He said, ‘Is anybody interested in going on this trip?’ And I put my hand up.”

On the Web site, Harries explains that he “worked up slowly to skippering a boat offshore by logging 10,000 miles of ocean sailing and racing before going to sea in my own boat.”

In 1991, Harries bought Morgan’s Cloud, named for a fair-weather cloud that hangs over Bermuda. He is the third owner of the boat, designed by McCurdy & Rhodes and launched in 1986.

“Right from a child, I’d been interested in reading about the northern latitudes,” says Harries. He started sailing as a child, racing locally in Bermuda and offshore. He has won the Newport-Bermuda Race twice in the double-handed class.

Nickel was born on the Canadian Prairies, according to information on their Web site, and had lived in Labrador for eight years. She had no sailing experience when she met Harries in 1996.

Phyllis Nickel and John Harries were given the Far Horizons Award for their

They were introduced by a mutual friend in Bermuda, where Harries, single-handing Morgan’s Cloud, had stopped over on his way from the Caribbean to Greenland, hoping to recruit crew from among his friends. He says all of his friends turned him down, unwilling to face the cold and the spring Atlantic gales.

“They said they knew better,” Harries recalls. “I had to find somebody who didn’t know better. She [Nickel] had done one-day sailing on a headboat in Australia. So she came with me” for a cold, five-day, gale-ridden passage to Maine.

“I think she had 20,000 ocean miles before I told her there was actually something called daysailing,” Harries jokes. “She’s very forgiving. She always says our relationship is based on sins of omission.

“She didn’t know what questions to ask,” Harries continues. “She’s now sailed probably 40,000 miles and crossed the Atlantic three times, so she’s now getting to the point that she knows the questions to ask.”

Harries says people are always asking if they plan to head south to Chile, but they still find “so much interesting to the north. We’re really home-waters cruisers,” he quips. “We try and really get to know the area. We’ve had luck finding some uncharted harbors, doing a lot of hiking, skiing in the winter time, and we like to meet the people, where there are people, and get to know them.”

Harries says he and Nickel don’t see their interest in the northern regions waning. “Western Greenland is practically uncharted,” he says. “Imagine navigating the coast of Maine on one chart that extends from Cape Cod [Mass.] to the Canadian border.”

The couple has taken over publishing the Norwegian Cruising Guide, a project that began for them in 2002. They have published an updated version every year since 2005, Harries says. That commitment alone keeps drawing them north, he says.

That said, Nickel and Harries have spent the last winter in Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, working on the next edition of the guide. “We really came down here to have a nice warm place to work on the guide … and a nice beach to walk,” he says.

This summer, Morgan’s Cloud will head north again — for Labrador.

The CCA awarded two other honors for 2008. The Rod Stephens Trophy for Outstanding Seamanship went to a married couple, each of whom sails a boat single-handed while cruising the world: Susanne Huber-Curphey, 47, and Tony Curphey, 63. On a passage from West Australia to Fiji, while Susanne, sailing a 1964 41-foot fiberglass Rhodes sloop, was leading by 150 miles, Tony discovered water coming aboard his 1957 heavy-displacement plywood cutter. She sailed back to him, took him in tow, and brought him to port in New Zealand, a 650-mile trek.

The CCA’s Blue Water Medal goes to William (Scott) Piper III, 69, a retired Florida orthopedic surgeon, for his “12 years of adventurous cruising and voyaging” in two boats, aboard which he has logged a “total of 180,000 miles.”

“Scott Piper has crossed the Atlantic eight times and the Indian and Pacific oceans four times each,” the CCA notes. “His routes have varied substantially, including high latitude crossings of the North Pacific and Southern oceans. His voyages have included roundings of three of the world’s great capes: Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope, and Cape Leeuwin on the southwest tip of Australia. While he usually sails with friends, some of his voyages have been solo.”

For information, visit the CCA Web site at

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.