Legends of Diving Articles

 

Captain Don Stewart
Underwater Environmentalist, Resort Owner, and Writer


Valerie Queen

Captain Don

Captain Don was born in the San Francisco Bay area in June of 1925. He had a rocky start, losing his mother when he was only seven years old in 1932. It was the time of the Depression and he was forced to stay with friends and relatives while his father would look for work. By his own admission, he was a scholastic failure and hated sports, but excelled in technical matters. He became a teenage dropout and it wasn't until later in life that he discovered he was dyslexic and was able to deal with his learning problem successfully.

In 1941 the world was changing rapidly… Pearl Harbor had been bombed and World War II was calling his name, but Don was only sixteen and the Navy wouldn't accept anyone under the age of seventeen. On his seventeenth birthday Don joined the Navy and ended up in San Diego taking a test which revealed he had outstanding scholastic abilities, while his mechanical skills were terribly lacking. The Navy decided he should commence training as a doctor. Don ended up in the top ten of the class and was sent to the Panama Canal. He became one of the first to use penicillin in the war because he was trained in venereal diseases. He spent two years in Coco Solo treating Marines and Navy personnel. Stewart eventually became the Chief Medical Officer of the USS Persistent PYC 48 at the age of 19. He became friends with Bill Reese, a PhD, who realized Don was dyslexic and taught him the skills of the typewriter.


Captain Don knighted (2008)

At the age of 20, Don found himself working a new job in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Always a practical joker, when asked to send a sample of his urine to the lab, he sent beer instead. However, the results of his blood test were no laughing matter; he was diagnosed with terminal lymphatic cancer. The war was over and he was medically discharged. According to Don, a believer in psychosomatic illness, he simply refused the disease and lived to prove it.

1947 found Don in Hollywood looking for work. He was hoping to make it in the movies but feared his good looks were dimmed by his less than perfect smile. He bought a new floating apartment and named it the USS Persistent after his first station as chief medical officer. It was this 24 foot narrow keel, powered by a Model A engine that drew him to the sea which he never left after joining the Navy.


Captain Don

One day a dentist named Harlan came up to the boat while it was docked in Los Angeles Harbor with a business proposition for Don. He would swap dental work for boat rides, so that he could try his hand at scuba diving. This sat well with Stewart who was well aware of his need for a better smile if he was ever to make it in Hollywood. Harlan exclaimed enthusiastically that he was going to be a deep sea diver. He proceeded to show Don some mimeographed pages someone had given him on how to scuba dive. The deal was sealed and they were to leave the next morning for Catalina. Harlan explained that some of his patients had worked as engineers for Lockheed Aircraft. They had devised some makeshift scuba equipment which he was going to use.

This "adventure" was Don's introduction to scuba. Harlan was fearless and felt no trepidation as he attached wrinkled hoses to a small yellow fire extinguisher. Don merely looked on in amazement as Harlan pulled from a dark canvas bag a short length of inner tube with a small glass porthole glued in to one end. Harlan's swimming fins were rubber paddles which Don was to tie onto his feet right before he got into the water. His dry suit consisted of a flimsy mass of rubber, made from a handful of blown motorcycle tubes. He put on a pair of long woolen underwear that was to be worn under his makeshift dry suit. Next Harlan produced a large can of talcum powder that he shook liberally into the gaping wounds of the rubber tubes. This was absolutely necessary, according to the instructions of his diving patients, Harlan insisted.


Captain Don comic

Don asked skeptically if the suit fit and Harlan merely shrugged and said he borrowed it from a guy about his size. The hood appeared to be too small. Harlan's pudgy face squished out, forcing his lips into a grotesque pucker. Before his maiden dive, Harlan exclaimed with enthusiasm, "Diving is the newest sport, just wait and see! You can try it after I finish." Try it Don did and dove the rest of the summer with Harlan, dive for dive. He was hooked.

Don spent the following years searching for uranium in the Mojave Desert and built a fix-it shop. He met a guy named Charlie Moriarty, whose dreams of developing a sliding glass wall inspired Don, who eventually patented the idea himself and became famous in the screening industry. Sears and Roebuck was a major account for his design. Infected with wanderlust, Don soon tired of the business, went on sabbatical, and cruised the Mississippi with a small boat. It was then that he bought a portable typewriter and wrote his first novel.

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