I first met Don Street some 25 years ago, when he accosted me about an article that had appeared in the magazine I was then working for—I think the word “bulldust” or something like it figured strongly in the conversation. It took me a few moments to register who this skinny character, wearing a crumpled blazer, paint-spotted khakis, a disreputable tie and an undisciplined beard, actually was.
A newbie boating journalist having his first taste of a major international boat show, I was more than a little star-struck to meet the man who’d written the book that I had recently read from cover to cover during a lengthy transatlantic crossing. I still have that first-run copy of the Ocean Sailing Yacht somewhere, water-stained, slightly mildewed and dog-eared, and the lessons I learned from it still stand me in good stead.
Then, as now, Street wasn’t afraid to voice his convictions, and now, as then, his convictions are strong and uncompromising. He still calls in or emails from time to time to let me know what’s wrong with boat design, boat building and the mindset of certain modern cruising sailors. You might not agree with everything he says, but then again you can’t deny the decades of hard-won experience—and, whether you admit it or not, solid common sense—behind his opinions.
Nowadays the market is saturated with how-to books on sailboat cruising, some good, others not, but at the time the Ocean Sailing Yacht stood alone. It appeared near the beginning of the golden age of sailboat production—the decade and a half in the 1970s and ‘80s when baby boomers took to the water in their thousands and boatbuilders proliferated—and it became the blue-water bible for countless dreamers and doers.
That first iteration of the Ocean Sailing Yacht now reads like a historical document, its pages packed with boats and rigs and gear that are long out of date, but Street’s pithy observations on seamanship are still as relevant as ever they were: “Many a good sailor knows his own boat very well, but if thrown on another boat finds himself completely adrift because he lacks seamanship.” “The good seaman…comes prepared to do not just what is required of him, but much more. A ship crewed by a group of seamen each pulling more than his own weight is a happy ship. By contrast, the poor seaman is a pain in the neck.”
Today, Don looks much as he did when I first met him, and whenever he drops by the office to castigate us about one thing or another, I’m just as impressed by his vigor and passion for sailing as I was a quarter-century back. Read Andy Schell’s excellent portrait of the man HERE, and then find a copy of the Ocean Sailing Yacht. Depending on your age, it’ll either awaken old memories or pique your curiosity. Either way, you’re bound to learn something.
Peter Nielsen lives and sails in Marblehead, MA. He is SAIL's Editor-in-Chief.