“I think the reason I sail is in large part the association with good friends and family who also enjoy sailing.” — Joseph S. Barr Jr., MD


Published 8/1/2008
G. Jake Jaquet

Setting the Barr high

Surgeon-sailor races for relaxation

In this era of record gas prices, would you be willing to share fuel costs for a 650-mile, fast-as-we-can-go road trip? If the ride is with AAOS fellow Joseph S. Barr Jr., MD, it would be a bargain, although you might need to allow a little extra time. The cost of the fuel is minimal (the engine is used only to charge the batteries), but the trip—racing from Newport, R.I. (or nearby Marion, Mass.) to Bermuda by sailboat—takes 4 to 5 days.

Dr. Barr’s outside-the-office passion is boating, specifically, sailboating, and even more specifically, long-distance offshore ocean sailboat racing. And although some sailors might derive satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from simply being part of even a single race, during the past 25 years, he has participated in no fewer than 10 Bermuda races, as well as the 350-mile Marblehead (Mass.) to Halifax (Nova Scotia) race and dozens of shorter races in the waters off the coast of “Down East” Maine.

Son of a surgeon
An orthopaedic surgeon for four decades, Dr. Barr began his residency in 1965 in Boston and became a member of AAOS in 1972. “I was trained as a general orthopaedist,” he recalls. “At the time I was trained, very few people did fellowships. Now, a specialty fellowship is almost universal. My practice was primarily adult with a special interest in hip and knee arthroplasty. Over the years, I added spine surgery and work in amputations and prosthetics.”

Today, Dr. Barr practices with Orthopedic Associates Inc. in Boston. “I stopped doing surgery 3 years ago, but I still do office orthopaedics. I also do a lot of forensic orthopaedics, which is medical-legal review with the legal profession, and is quite interesting and challenging.”

If the Barr name sounds familiar, it may be because his father, Joseph S. Barr Sr., MD, was president of AAOS in 1951 and a member of the inaugural Board of Trustees of the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation. There is also a third generation, Stephen J. Barr, MD, practicing orthopaedics in Portland, Maine.

Down to the sea
“I started sailing as a teenager,” relates Dr. Barr, “while spending a couple summers at Tabor Academy —that’s a prep school in Marion. I spent a lot of time as a teenager sailing with friends on Cape Cod. For years my family has had a place in Maine on the St. George River, just on the western side of Penobscot Bay. We sailed small boats and as time went by, larger boats, and eventually I wound up in partnership with a cousin owning a Bristol 32. That’s a 32-foot sailboat designed by America’s Cup designer Ted Hood.

“In 1982,” Dr. Barr continues, “we bought Trilogy, an Intrepid 35—a 35-foot boat made by Cape Dory—and sailed it for a number of years. We did two Marion-Bermuda races in that boat.”

By “did,” Dr. Barr modestly fails to mention that he and his crew not only finished first in the boat’s class in 1985, but also in the top dozen or so overall in a field of 120. In sailboat racing, size does matter, and a 50-foot boat is inherently much faster than a 30-foot boat, which is why the boats race in classes based on length, displacement, and other factors.

In 1997, Dr. Barr and his two sailing partners bought Finesse, a J/42. Perceptive readers might expect this boat to be a 42-footer, and you’d be right. J-Boats are designed with racing in mind but are also comfortable to cruise in. In Finesse, Dr. Barr finished third in his class in 2006, the centennial anniversary of the Newport-Bermuda race, when 260 boats participated. In the 2008 race held this past June, Finesse was 22nd out of 124 boats.

The Bermuda race
“My interest has always been the Bermuda race,” Dr. Barr explains. “It is a real challenge. It is a long race, and the weather can be severe—but in terms of strategy, the toughest thing is that you have to cross the Gulf Stream to get to Bermuda.

“The Gulf Stream is amazing; it is part of the ocean’s circulation system, moving water from the equatorial regions up to the northern latitudes. The Gulf Stream is what makes England and Ireland livable. On a map, both countries are well north of the northeastern United States and they would be pretty darn cold without the warm waters of the Gulf Stream affecting their climates.

“It’s also very complex,” he continues. “The Gulf Stream has meanders; it has pieces that cut off as eddies. Some go clockwise, some go counterclockwise, and they can be 60 or 100 miles across. In a race, knowing where its currents are is critical, and things change on a daily basis. Unlike years ago, we now have very accurate, image-enhanced satellite photos of the Gulf Stream.”

Because a sailboat might average a speed of only 6 or 7 miles an hour through the water, and the Gulf Stream current can move that water in different directions at speeds exceeding 3 miles an hour, the implications are obvious. “You have to know where the currents are and where you are,” Dr. Barr continues. “You have to plot your course to avoid going through the unfavorable side of the eddy or to make sure you’re on the right side of a meander. A lot of strategy is involved.”

Setting strategies is but one aspect of Dr. Barr’s interest in offshore racing. “The U.S. Sailing Association offers safety-at-sea seminars on an ongoing basis for sailing in general, and racing in particular. Safety is particularly important for long offshore races like the Bermuda race or the Trans-Pac Race from the Pacific Coast to Hawaii,” he says. “I help with the medical aspects of the safety-at-sea seminar for the Marion-Bermuda race. We help people prepare by discussing what kind of medical supplies they should carry, what kind of medical knowledge they ideally should have onboard, and so forth.”

Racing, though, is not Dr. Barr’s only enjoyment on the water. “Chartering” is at the other end of the sailboating spectrum, where getting from point A to point B falls toward the bottom of the list of one’s priorities. Get yourself to, say, the Caribbean, rent a boat, cast off, settle back and simply enjoy the scenery, the weather, and the food.

“I’ve done a fair amount of chartering over the years,” says Dr. Barr, “in the Virgin Islands, the Exuma Islands, the Grenadines, and the Bay Islands in Honduras. I’ve also had the chance to sail off both Auckland and Sydney in the South Pacific. Those have been fun trips.”

The point of it all
“I think the reason I sail is in large part the association with good friends and family who also enjoy sailing. To me, something like the Bermuda race combines the best of the best—a tactical, competitive race and a wonderful landfall. I’ve never sailed into Tahiti, but I’m sure that of the world’s landfalls, Bermuda has to be one of the best. When the race is over, you relax there for a few days and then have a leisurely sail home. You don’t have to race or push too hard; you can put the boat on autopilot, relax, and read a book.

“You see a lot of ocean life,” he continues. “Coming into Cape Cod, several years ago, we had 40 or 50 whales around us, completely surrounding the boat, leaping and broaching out of the water. They seemed to be having such a good time!”

The important thing, he stresses, is simply being on or near the water. “My favorite spot is our place in Maine, where we can go out for an afternoon and relax with friends. We’re away from the city, from the telephone, and all that kind of stuff. We have a small Herreshoff sailboat there and go out with one or two or three other people, maybe take a sandwich and a libation, and have a wonderful afternoon. To me, that is a great break from everyday existence.”

But Dr. Barr refuses to be pinned down about the “perfect” sail. “It could be an afternoon off the coast of Maine. Or it could be at night going to or from Bermuda, with a full moon and everything so bright. It might even be a night with no moon at all, and you can look up and see the Milky Way, which we city-dwellers don’t see very often. It is just absolutely amazing how many stars there are up there.”

Recalling his decades spent with a sail above his head and the wind on his cheek, Dr. Barr is both deeply philosophical and simply pragmatic. “I don’t know,” he concludes, “I just kind of grew up doing it, and it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t go sailing.”

G. Jake Jaquet is the executive editor for AAOS Now. He can be reached at jaquet@aaos.org