Don Stewart with legendary dive pioneer Hans Hass in the 1970s.
|And the diving world is never the same again.|
Before a small bank of microphones, the Lt. Governor noted that "With your arrival, Bonaire became enriched with a golden piece of character, sensitive to its people, conscious of its economic development, and caring for its people...you are not interested in the gold, you are a piece of gold yourself."
Capt. Don, who has been described as "arrogant, macho and bumptious," admits even he felt humbled that day. He recalls his feelings rather poetically, a manner in which he often talks.
"As I listened to the governor, nostalgia commenced flow as if from a broken pitcher and my eyes quickly filled with tears, which soon found my cheeks and then my beard. Friends were watching, and I was too proud to wipe myself dry."
Then he laughs deeply. "I wonder if the Lt. Governor knew when he made that speech that when I anchored here in 1962 that I was nothing but a boat bum who possessed only 63 cents and a 70-foot topsail schooner."
Capt. Don was almost 36 when he and Bonaire found each other, another episode in his already conventional career. He'd joined the Navy at 17 during World War II, after the war patented a method that made it possible to fit screens into sliding glass doors, floated the Mississippi on a raft, and tried to become a Hollywood actor but claims "Lloyd Bridges upstaged me!"
Realizing he was never going to be another Errol Flynn (an actor he resembled closely) and "bored silly by instant success," Capt. Don sold his very successful screening company, set sail for the Caribbean and floated around for almost 2 years before stumbling upon Bonaire.
Capt. Don instantly fell deeply in love with Bonaire and its people. "I consider May 21, 1962, as my real birth day. Before that, there was nothing."
Only a few thousand people and a lot of goats and cactus live on Bonaire then. However, it didn't take Capt. Don long to realize that this desert island surrounded by an oasis of magnificent, reefs located an easy swim from shore offered plenty of diving potential.