Captain Don at a young agehow my cookie crumbled

There seemed to be no memorable life prior to December 7th, 1941. The chill I felt at the news of Pearl Harbor was no different than that of a Nation. I thought my karma had arrived, and I reached out to embrace our Navy’s retaliation. They said seventeen, with parents’ consent. I had six months to wait.

I was living in Los Angeles at the time, Hollywood in fact. I had been born further north in the Bay Area. 1925, a Cancer, and a real depression kid. My Mom died in 1932. Dad was forced out to hunt. Was raised by a succession of friends and relatives. I was a very disturbed child, as schools, no matter which, failed me, and vice versa. I was a total scholastic failure, hated sports, regimentation and Mrs. Mosgrove, my math teacher. There was something scrambling my brain's ability to comprehend certain things. Strangely, I excelled in all technical matters. Then came the inevitable, I became a teen aged dropout.

On my 17th birthday I took the oath. The Navy promised if I were to survive, I would be out on my twenty first birthday. A week later my hair was on the barber shop floor. Arms hanging limp from injections, San Diego became my new home for the next few months. Through mysteries that only God and the Pentagon can explain, my aptitude test revealed outstanding scholastic abilities while my mechanical skills failed horribly. I was shocked, especially when I was told that I was to commence training to become a doctor.

Don in the NavyQuite contrary to government bureaucracy, things moved surprisingly swiftly, and within a few months I was a navy doctor, hustled aboard a troop ship bound for ?. More magic, I graduated medical school in the top ten. I was still a fifth grade reader. All 49 of the other students were Georgia mountain boys.

I was stationed in a strategic position and ordered to repel the Japanese invasion of the Panama Canal. However, I found myself defending marines against advancing venereal diseases. Still dreaming of fast boats and thundering guns, I became the Chief Medical Officer of the USS Persistent PYC 48, a 130 foot old wooden yacht. I had just turned 19. The best part was the jungle shore leaves. I marveled at the massive foliage, alligators, birds, bugs and snakes. The yeoman aboard, Bill Reese, a Ph.D., found me dyslexic, and I become his challenge. He taught me things the schools had ignored. He taught me about the typewriter and, with considerable skill, taught me about girls.

A year later, a new job, the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Now 20 and still the joker, sent beer to the lab instead of my own urine and blood, just for fun. The results showed hops in the urine and high eosinophiles in the blood. That caught my attention. This was the first step that lead me to the discovery that I had a terminal lymphatic cancer. Truman shot off his bomb, and I got a medical discharge. Then everything started to change. I was a believer in psychosomatics, and simply refused the disease and went about the business of growing up.

Summer 1947, I was at the Los Angeles harbor where I kept a small boat. Met a Dentist called Harlan. He told me that he was going to become a deep sea diver. He had some mimeographed pages of instructions for SCUBA. We arranged to swap boat rides for some dental work and a try at this SCUBA thing. The Marine environment dwarfed the jungles, and I became a hooked diver.

The following years I thought a fortune awaited the finder, and spent months on the Mojave desert prospecting for uranium. Later started a small one man fix-it shop, and met a Charley Moriati, whose dream of sliding glass walls had baited me into inventing a screening device to match his dreams. I patented the idea and within six years became famous in the screening industry. For example, Sears & Roebuck was a major account. Bored sick with quick success, ever thirsting for adventure, I took a sabbatical and sought the Mississippi with a small boat. Bought a portable typewriter and wrote my first novel. It was a pity that Reese had never taught me to spell.

The Valerie QueenAddicted to the quest for adventure, I sold the company and purchased an old 1912 wooden 70 foot topsail schooner, and convinced Hollywood that I had an adventure scheme for them. Spent a fortune, had a fine time, and wound up in the slush pile. Renamed the schooner Valerie Queen after a Welsh girl friend, whom I married in 1955. Then spent good years romping the California coast as an illegal charter boat. Valerie had two children, a Kevin, then a Gwen.

The Queen being a blue water boat, I put her to sea where she belonged. On St. Patrick’s Day 1960, sailed south with a crew of willing bohemians toDon at the wheel wherever. Valerie and the children went to Wales. Then on impulse I took off for the Caribbean to become a pirate. Antigua, said the manifest. A second novel was written. Percy, a young Aruban, became my friend and mate and sailed with me into a new sort of adventure. Latins, redheads and a loose cannon hurricane, "Anita" in Jamaica. The ship damaged and sinking, we ran for Columbia and repairs.

On the 21st of May 1962, my wonderful Queen leaking and its crew exhausted, we came upon a small magic island deep in the Dutch West Indies, its vast bay like a blue shimmering mirror. We drifted in across its magnificence to discover the small town of Kralendijk, on an island called Bonaire. No way of knowing, but my rightful karma had honestly arrived. A small island, only 112 square miles, maybe 4000 souls, with a large bay of pristine waters and a massive field of living corals.

I was 37 then, with only 63 cents in my pocket and the ship’s papers in the safe. Spear fishing and the exporting of small tropical fish became a new way of life.

The Governor said, “a bum you become, you’re out. However, if my island is better off because of you...” A challenge made.

A WWII German Detention Camp on BonaireA WW II German detention camp turned hotel, my karma shifting gears. I hosted the Caribbean’s largest spear fishing contest, like Americans killing buffalo. Later I had only shame. God sank my ship and all I possessed, two finished novels and my wonderful Olivetti to the bottom. As a born again conservationist, my destiny set in stone, I made a promise that all within my influence shall strive to save this sea, and my spear gun went on the wall.

I founded under-sea tourism and dozens of other things. Designed safeguards to protect us. Island, man and reef went public and put Bonaire on the tourist map.

Captain Don StewartAfter nine years my wonderful hotel was sold. There is a time to come as there is a time to go. The best thing that had ever happened. Now full attention to the building of a proper under-sea industry. Aquaventure became the avenue to that end, a diving industry second to none in the world. My mind ever expanding. A better divers conduct-- the Council of Underwater Operators to unify underwater procedures for Caribbean divers. Expanded the mooring program, to protect the coral from anchors. And assuredly, a better understanding of the man/sea concept evolved.

Thirteen years now into the Challenge. I envisioned a total resort for the Diver. 1976 saw my dream, Habitat hotel, the home of diving freedom, become a reality.

Don with a "friend"I introduced computerization to the island. Became involved in a salvage project of an ocean going raft, Dutch Tiki, seriously injuring my foot and ankle. A special swimming cast was required, for six long years. Built the island’s first shade houses, propagated plants, and reestablished my wet photography. Then wrote Whores Horror, my fifth book. My typing getting better. The next ten years saw three more books and a bundle of short stories. Not a book published, nor even rejected, as none had ever been submitted.

 

Don on the cover of Skin Diver Magazine
Don and his first shore diving truck
Taking a break in-between dives

 

With the underwater world now running on automatic, I was free to move in another direction. 1989 ushered in another new era, that of the horticulturist. I built a sizable nursery and commenced greening the island. However, my heart ever for the sea and its safety. Thus this exciting book, An Island Adrift.

Bonaire's lush reef

Captain Don Stewart

And so is life.

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