DEAD GUY: Donald M. Street, Jr.

7

May 17/2024:  So… it happened again. I go off on the good ship Lunacy for a month of the detached life afloat (more on that in a minute), and another important person in my sailing life crosses the bar. Thus… another tardy obit. Last time it was Patience Wales, my first boss at SAIL Magazine. This time it’s Don Street, who died unexpectedly, at age 93, very early on the morning of May 1, after spending the day before on the waterfront in Glandore, Ireland, prepping his antique Dragon Gypsy for yet another season of sailing and racing.

I experienced Don Street on several different levels—in the first instance, like so many of us, as simply a reader and cruiser. I carried his Transatlantic Crossing Guide with me during the years I spent exploring the North Atlantic on my old yawl Crazy Horse and studied it intently. I particularly appreciated his information on the Atlantic islands I learned to love—the Azores, Madeira and Porto Santo, the Canaries, and the Cape Verdes.

And it was entirely thanks to Don and his book that I seriously debated whether to try anchoring and going ashore at Isla Deserta, an ancillary islet just southeast of Madeira. I also went out of my way to attempt to visit, and failed to visit (long story that), the Salvages, a lonely few islands halfway between Madeira and the Canaries. Don had been to these difficult-to-access destinations, and I figured, of course, if he could do it—in a boat with no engine no less—so could I. It says something about Don as a sailor that, in fact, I could not.

Once I got to the Caribbean, like so many others, I of course relied on Imray/Iolaire charts to find my way around. These being the product of many years of intense surveying activity on Don’s part… the first really serious effort to survey the Caribbean in literally centuries.

Even better, pretty much the first thing that happened to me when I arrived in the Caribbean on Crazy Horse—in March 1997 after a 17-day passage from the Cape Verdes—was that I anchored next to Don in English Harbour, at Antigua. He was aboard his mini-yawl, Li’l Iolaire, and I caught only a fleeting glimpse of him, as he hoisted anchor and departed soon after I dropped mine. I assumed at the time this was because I may have anchored too close to him.

Not too long after that—miraculously, thanks entirely to Patience—I became Don’s editor at SAIL. This, without doubt, was the most demanding sort of relationship a person could have with Don. He was certainly an excellent nautical writer. He had a very distinctive, entertaining voice and was a fount of useful information. But he could not spell, punctuate, or usefully organize prose into sentences and paragraphs to save his life. The only reason he ever became a writer was because John Steinbeck, during a Caribbean charter in the 1950s, assured him he needed none of those skills, because that’s what editors are for.

Don loved to tell that story. He was literally overflowing with stories, a never-ending gushing fountain of anecdotes, many of which, sadly, never made it into print. I told him more than once that he needed to write a memoir, for truly he led a remarkable life. I urge you (again) to read this excellent profile by Andy Schell for some of the details. You should also check out this bio on Don’s website. I also knew, however, I myself could never muster the patience and perseverance to serve as editor for Don on such an enormous project.

Because I worked with him at SAIL, I also got a chance to sail with Don. First came an invitation to join him aboard L’il Iolaire for a surveying cruise in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the little wooden yawl was destroyed in a hurricane at Grenada shortly before I could join him. It wasn’t the first time he’d experienced tragedy there. His first wife was murdered on the island, and two houses he owned there were destroyed by helicopter gunships during the American invasion in 1983.

Don at the helm of L’il Iolaire. I wrote a profile of Don and this boat that appeared in the August 2002 issue of SAIL. She was a 28-foot plank-on-frame wooden yawl built in Northern Ireland in 1964. Photo by Nigel Pert

 

Later, I did get to sail with Don on big Iolaire competing (sort of) in the 2005 Fastnet Race. Certainly, this was an unforgettable experience. He was a ceaselessly inventive sailor, constantly thinking of better ways to do things, and spending time with him afloat was always illuminating.

Don at the helm of “big” Iolaire at the start of the 2005 Fastnet Race. We weren’t rated and sailed in a special “demonstration class”

 

We stopped at Glandore for a pint during the race, and Don’s son Don (known to all as “D3”) immediately rowed out to hand his dad a cold Heineken from the pub

 

Lastly, Don and I became neighbors of sorts. Like Don, I married an Irishwoman (his was the endlessly patient Trich, his second wife), and fairly recently we bought a house in the village of Castletownshend, one harbor over from Glandore, where Don lived for decades in a modest cottage, footsteps from the water, right next door to the Glandore Harbour Yacht Club. I went to visit him twice last summer, and marveled that he was still sailing Gypsy and also climbing a very steep ladder, unassisted, to reach his office in the attic of his house. I marveled, too, that he was still pitching me, very earnestly, on eight different stories he thought the magazine should hire him to write.

Don at the helm of Gypsy last summer

 

Up in his attic

 

When we parted for the last time he promised me he’d be sailing Gypsy at the 100th anniversary Dragon regatta in 2029, when he himself would be just one year shy of 100. I had no reason to doubt this would happen and told him I’d be happy to crew for him. He seemed so immortal. It is a shame, but inevitable, that he’s proven not to be. Sailors everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude.

A service for Don was held at Christ Church in Glandore on May 4. I obviously couldn’t attend, but our mutual friend (and esteemed sailing journalist) Tim Zimmerman, whose family also owns a house in Glandore, was there and snapped some pix for me

 

Front page of the service program

 

After the service everyone went down to the harbor and poured in a dram of whiskey in his honor. Don was always big on pouring booze into the ocean to propitiate the fickle gods that live there

 

Condolences to all the family Don leaves behind: his beloved wife Trich, daughter Dory, sons Don, Richard, and Mark, and all his grandchildren.

RIP: Donald MacQueen Street, Jr., July 26, 1930 – May 1, 2024

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