Bruce Ray, a true cruiser down


I never would have guessed that I would last see Bruce Ray on the September day that began with this misty dawn photo of his beloved sloop Zingara in Chesapeake City, Maryland. For a guy pushing 70 and burdened with damaged lungs, Bruce seemed phenomenally hearty. In fact, he’d just run solo for two long days and a night to get here from western Long Island, which meant he’d driven right through Cape May Harbor instead of resting there like Leonard and I had. But Bruce knew how to stop and smell the coffee too. Later that morning, the three of us old coots enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Bohemian Cafe and then walked around the harbor and admired the old-time engineering on display at the nifty C&D Canal Museum

I met Bruce in the early 70’s when we were both trying to maintain and improve old wooden sailboats while also living aboard as much as possible, earning a living, and trying to sneak an occasional winter jaunt to the Caribbean. Bruce’s first Zingara was a fiercely narrow-beamed English cutter and I recall that his enthusiasm about that project hardly waned even after he’d removed so much of the joinery that it felt like being inside an elongated teak barrel. And while we both eventually built homes in the Camden area and spent decades without sleep-aboard-size boats, Bruce never gave up his love for sail. I believe he was a hotshot on the local J24 racing scene and once he’d succeeded with his construction business — I’m told he was an exceptional designer/draftsman and a great boss — his cruising dreams started getting real again.
   If he’d made it, I think this winter would have been Bruce’s eighth straight in the Bahamas, where he loved volunteering at the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Every year he’d sail back to Camden or leave the boat in the Chesapeake — where he’d grown up and still the family seat — and drive up. Either way a regular summer feature around here was a cheerful and nut-brown Bruce, a veritable poster boy for the cruising life. We talked old times and electronics — he much appreciated his little Garmin 545 and then the 740 that followed last summer, and was just about to add an AIS receiver or transponder — but mostly I liked to hear about his adventures and especially about his keep-it-simple and keep-her-sailing approach. Bruce was not a braggart, but clearly his experience and style worked. He inspired me, no question about it, both to put some miles on Gizmo and to enjoy cruising solo if I felt like it. And I bet I’m not the only one.
   It was also Bruce who recommended wintering Gizmo at Osprey Marina and we were hoping to meet there in early November. But I was already back in Maine by the time he arrived and our last conversation was when he went aboard Gizmo and served as my intelligent remote camera for a few minutes. Thanks again, Bruce!  Apparently things went rapidly downhill for him after that. I understand that by the time he got to northern Florida he felt exhausted and thought he’d hurt his back messing with his anchor. Friends had to help him moor and get ashore. Then there was the damn cancer diagnosis, the medivac back to Maryland,  the second diagnosis just as bad, and finally the pain killers and the hospice. All bam, bam, bam fast!  Bruce Ray died on the day before Christmas, family by his side. I believe that many cruisers from Penobscot Bay to the Exumas lost a friend and an inspiration, and that we’re all hoping Bruce has found more good places to sail.


PS 1/19/2013: Bruce’s good friend Gregory Kontos sent a photo of the pilot whale skeleton exhibit that Bruce and other cruising volunteers built last winter at the Exuma Sea Park (like Mike and Angie Williams, who mention it in a comment below):

Bruce Ray whale case Exuma Park courtesy Gregory Kontos.JPG

Greg also sent this shot of Bruce where he so liked to be:

Bruce Ray at home courtesy Gregory Kontos.JPG

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

12 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    A telling coincidence, I guess: Leonard put up a heartfelt remembrance of Bruce on our local news site just about the same time I posted the entry above:

  2. Anonymous says:

    so sorry about your friend Bruce- I only wish to have had the honor of meeting him as well- alas, it sounds like he had a truly blessed life– and I know a man like that is truly at peace with his maker.
    Best wishes and prayers,
    Dave G

  3. Ben,
    Gretchen and I met Bruce in the Exumas last winter. When we were having issues with our engine, a fellow cruiser recommended that we talk with Bruce, as he had the same model on his boat.
    As it turned out, we shared friendship with some other fellow cruisers that we had met on the way down the coast, Julie and Mark aboard “Rachael”. Bruce was one of those people that was very easy to become friends with. We had him over on our boat a few times, swapped stories, and looked forward to meeting again after we last saw him in Georgetown. Again never happened, and now we feel cheated, as he was one of those folks that we looked forward to meeting when we got back out again. Our boat is still in Oriental, NC, and we are finishing up dealing with some summer storm damage from a hurricane-force-wind thunderstorm. If not for that, we most likely would have seen him again, for the last time, in Vero on the say south. Bruce was one of those people you could not help but love, and he will be missed, by those who knew him well, and those that wanted to.

  4. Gregory Kontos says:

    It was summer of 1969 when I first met Bruce. Actually, my wife to be met him first and called me saying “I think you will like this guy”. This began our 43 year friendship. Carol & I moved to Vermont that fall and during the winter and the next one, Bruce would bus up to Barre, Vt and I would pick him up at the VW. We’d ski the weekend and then send him back to Boston. The spring of the second year he showed up in a panel truck that used for delivering flowers. I’m going west he said. He came back with Karen during the winter of ’71/’72 and decided that Maine was his next adventure. When they arrived in Camden, Karen went into Camden bank, talked with a loan officer and came out with a $100.00. Try doing that today. The rest of Bruce’s life in Camden is well known. He was one of the most talented people I had ever met. He was uncle Bruce to our kids. It may have been Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday or just any day, Bruce would show up and share his stories, stay a while and then move on. In 1985 he designed our house as he did many in the Camden area. We sailed many miles together over the years. The last trip was south this September when we ran from Falmouth to Pt. Judith. I left him there knowing we would talk every other day during his trip south. I talked with him after he met up with Ben and Leonard for breakfast in MD. Guys, it was suppose to be dinner you were buying Bruce, remember. The time of day wasn’t right he said for dinner. He had run two days straight to make the meeting. Carol and I last saw him 12/07/12 in the hospital in Vero. When we saw him in the hospital his first words were, “I have no regrets, and I don’t have a boat anymore. Already made arrangements to transport it to Oriental and sell it.” Pam, a good friend in Vero and two others that knew Bruce well packaged Zingara for transport for an early January trip north. There is great sadness with Bruce’s death, but I will continue to smile at the life that was. A memory I will always keep is one of an early October day 1981. Carol & I drove to Camden for an outing and upon arriving I asked on the docks if anyone had seen Bruce. Yes, someone said. Look towards Curtis island, and you’ll see him turning the corner heading south. Sure enough, he had just jibed over running toward his new adventure. Sail on Bruce, you will be missed by many.

  5. Gregory Kontos says:

    Town Dock shipping news did an article on Bruce when he passed thru Oriental, NC with his Rival 34 in 2010. The article is in the archives and can be found by searching “Bruce Ray”, or the link below should get you there. Bruce just ran out of inches.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Very good tribute to what appears to be a helluva sailor and a wonderful soul. RIP mate… you made the lives of many measurably better.

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thank you, Greg. I love how Bruce called himself “a fair weather sailor” in the Town Dock profile (which is nicely done). His modesty extented to his taste in boats, too, though he liked them fast and strong. Do you recall the size and builder of the first Zingara? Also, do I recall correctly that the third one, shown in these pictures, is a Contest 35?
    Now, about that dinner in Chesapeake City 😉 It’s true that Bruce was slightly miffed to learn that we were finishing our entrees on the porch of the Bayard House when we finally saw his running lights in the Canal. But we did deliver a fresh dessert to Zingara, and it was us who had to catch up with him on Delaware Bay. He didn’t want to stop in Cape May because the forecast was “decent” but it actually turned out to be much better conditions for a powerboat like Gizmo.

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I was forwarded a nice note from the son of a friend:
    “Will always remember him fondly as the guy who let me swing my first hammer, summer of ’86 in Thomaston, I think. Always picked me up and dropped me off at Lake Ave. Very nice guy with a pleasant disposition. Some of the others on the job enjoyed making fun of me (primarily for having a 16-oz hammer). But never Bruce, not once. I recall with gratitude that he let me drive the mini-compactor, as well as a powerful blue Chevy pickup that had ‘3 on the tree.’ Like a construction fantasy camp! Bruce Ray, great guy.”

  9. Mike says:

    We met Bruce at Cumberland Island where we shared Thanksgiving 2011 with the crews of Rachel, Osprey,Jesse Welch, Mercy and Zingara. That Thanksgiving dinner on picnic tables outside, near the ranger station was one we will hold dearly in our memories. We saw Bruce again at his beloved Exumas Land and Sea Park, at Deltaville last spring, at the Annapolis boat show, and again this December at Vero Beach. As I landed the dingy at Vero, some other folks were securing their dink on the next dock over. My attention focused, I didn’t notice who the other people were, until I heard a voice. It was Bruce. He said his back hurt and hoped to take it easy until he recovered. Within a couple days he was in the hospital. We visited him there. He was hurting but in good spirits, the sparkle in his eyes intact, seeminly satisfied that he had done what he wanted to in life. Bruce was always good company, always had something good to say. He did what he loved as long as he could. In these ways and others, Bruce showed us a lot about how to live and how to leave.
    As we departed Vero, Zingara was still moored to ball number one, one last physical reminder of our friend.
    Farewell Bruce.
    Mike and Roberta
    Green Turtle Cay

  10. Harriet and Skip Hardy says:

    We are so sorry to hear about Bruce. We met him several times over the past 5 years cruising to the Bahamas. It was comforting to pull into Exuma Park and see Bruce’s boat on ‘his’ mooring. We last heard him on the VHF around Savannah and didn’t have a chance to chat, just hoped to see him later in the trip. What a nice man; always friendly and full of life.

  11. Mike and Angie Williams says:

    I can’t believe that Bruce is gone. We met him annually in the Exumas Land and Sea Park between 2006 and 2011. He knew that we understood his Rival, Zingara because of our UK origin and a similar style of modern boat.
    He worked tirelessly for Exuma Park each year using his carpentry skills mainly. Over the last winter we worked with him daily while we reassembled a juvenile pilot whale skeleton and Bruce built the support framework and display cabinet. An incredibly pleasurable project which went on display at Park Headquarters.
    Bruce will be missed by many and rightly so.
    Mike and Angie Williams
    Lady of Lorien
    (Now back in the UK)

  12. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Mike and Angie, it’s wonderful to think of Bruce and you building that exhibit. Gregory Kontos sent a photograph of it which I just added to the entry above.

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