He sold the company, bought an old 1912 wooden 70 foot topsail schooner, spent a fortune on it, and renamed the schooner the Valarie Queen after a Welsh girlfriend. He married her in 1955 and they soon had a son and daughter.
Don spent the following years as an illegal charter boat captain, running up and down the California coast. On St. Patrick's Day in 1960, with a crew of bohemians, he headed south and Valarie and the kids went to Wales. He quickly changed course and went to the Caribbean to be a pirate. A young Aruban named Percy sailed with him on this adventure. Hit by a hurricane named Anita in Jamaica, Don ran for Columbia for repairs.
On May 21, 1962, his schooner leaking and the crew exhausted, Don came upon a small island in the Dutch West Indies. They docked at the port village of Kralendijk on the island of Bonaire. Don was 37 years old with only 63 cents to his name. Undefeated, Don and Percy decided to start an export business of tropical fish which quickly became a new way of life for the rambler.
Captain Don comic
Upon arriving on the island, the Governor at the time challenged Don with words he would never forget, "You become a bum, and you're out! However, if my island is better off because of you…" Those words would prove to shape Don's future course on Bonaire.
Eventually he started a dive operation at the beach in front of Heit's Passport Studio, which proved to be the first introduction to the sport of diving on that 4,000 person island in early 1962.
Capt. Don held a spear fishing contest at the hotel Zee Bad, an old German detention camp on the island. It was during this event in 1963 that he had an epiphany and became a born again natural conservationist, hanging his spear gun on the wall in a symbol of his newfound belief. He recalls a deep shame that came over him when he realized that what they were doing with the spear gun was much like the Americans mowing down herds of buffalo with the rifle.
During the spear fishing event in 1963 his ship, the Valarie Queen, sank, leaving him homeless. The only things he could salvage were his Olivetti typewriter and two novels. It was at this point in his life that he crystallized his own personal mission, ‘to do all in my power and influence to save the Sea.'
Captain Don with Aquaventure truck
Stewart later joined the Flamingo Beach Club and ran the concession there with the only air station and what little dive gear was available on the island. Don's crew had excellent knowledge of the reefs and his friend, Ebo, was certified by Naui as a basic diver, but Don was merely "self-certified." For over eight years, Don ran the Beach Club dive concession.
A popular diver named Joe Strykowski was on his way to the Island with a group of divers. Bonaire at that time was devoid of any dive instruction manuals and certifying agencies. Don was eager to learn from Joe, whom he had learned of through the Dacor Diving Equipment Company, whose representatives would visit the island often.
Joe had authored a book called Diving for Fun, supported by DACOR in 1969. Don wanted a copy of that book. He was the first to admit that they had "been winging this diving thing." Though not certified himself, Don was a great diver and taught his students to swim like sharks, but he felt their knowledge of diving theory was weak and he was eager to improve upon that.
June 1st 1972 would see an explosive departure from the Flamingo Beach Club for Don. It was run by people from Caracas who were using the hotel for expensive call girls and Captain Don refused to be a part of this. Don got into a verbal exchange that led to a chair falling and the fight was on! The next morning at 7:30am found Don bruised from head to toe when he met Joe to go diving. On May 1st 1972, as Joe's group left, Don gathered his belongings and said farewell to the tall proud mast of the Valarie Queen standing sentinel in the Flamingo's gardens.