In memoriam: Captain Donald Taube (1942-2007)

Don at work

I’m not the only one who can’t believe Don’s gone.

Don Taube — some call him Captain Don — was a fixture in our seaport neighborhood. He lived on a ship in the harbor. He drank tea and talked and checked his email at Fresh Salt, our local bar. (He loved the cookies, too.) He was a relief captain on the South Street Seaport Museum’s historic schooner, the Pioneer, as well as on the Poughkeepsie-based Pete Seeger brainchild, the Clearwater. In the photo above, he’s pounding cotton and oakum into seams on the Clearwater‘s deck, which he was restoring. “Oakum” is a word you like to throw out when you know somebody like Don. It makes you feel like something older than you are, something that matters.

Don died last week, at his home in North Carolina, where he’d return occasionally to cut the grass and such. He was cutting the grass when he was hit by a stroke. I’m sure he’d rather have gone while he was working, but nevertheless it was much too soon.

I met Don at Fresh Salt nearly three years ago, right after it opened. Along with the workers from the Fulton Fish Market, Don initially served, for me, as something of local character, one of the last vestiges of the Port of New York. But before long I counted him as much more than a prop, as more than a family friend, even. He’d become family. If I were at Fresh Salt without Stephanie he’d greet me with a handshake and ask when she was coming down; if we were both there he’d greet her with a kiss on the cheek and ask about the kids or about friends who weren’t there.

Don wore a full sailor’s beard, especially in the winter, though other times it might be shaved back just to the long, bushy moustache. Most days, he had diesel fuel on his fingers and his overalls. (If he wasn’t wearing overalls he wore red suspenders.) Unlike the fish guys, he drank tea instead of light beer or harder booze. He read the papers and could sit, a quiet presence on the corner stool, as long as he needed to, no matter what other clientele walked through the doors, day or night. Once the bar had established itself, picking up a regular happy hour crowd of city lawyers and occasional Wall St. types, it was refreshing to find Don there or to have him walk in while you were looking for a familiar face. When his daughter, Jessica, started tending bar there, he showed up even more regularly, stayed later. He never drank, and sometimes wished the music were lower, but the bar became, for him, an extension of home. He kept his computer in the back closet, with the board games. Some of the regulars helped him hone his online dating profiles.

Once, when a bartender came in sick, then nearly collapsed and had to lie down, Don called Jessica to have her come and fill in, then jumped behind the bar to pull beers until she got there, and though he didn’t drink, he somehow knew all the right prices. (I’ve heard it said that you know you live in a neighborhood when your butcher shows up at your funeral; I think you can tell it, too, when the regulars can staff the bar in a pinch.) If the place got packed — especially if Jess were working — he’d clear tables, stacking pint glasses and bringing them down to the bar. I’m not sure how the happy hour crowd took to a sailor busing their tables, but I’d like to think their corporate lives had a little more vitality for the interaction, however brief.

Don first let me have it over a bagel. Counting carbs and calories, I asked for butter and jelly rather than cream cheese. Don said, “Not from around here, are you?” The idea of butter on a bagel seemed, well, downright unkosher. In some ways, Don was traditional, but he never did anything simply for tradition’s sake. If he couldn’t make rational or emotional sense of it, it probably wasn’t worth doing.

Don wore a variety of hats, from the blue-and-white striped locomotive engineer’s to the broad-brimmed straw hat to the red bandanna tied tight, pirate-style. I’ve written about this here before, but he once told me that he categorized men based on the kinds of hats their faces can get away with, and Don, let me say it, was the kind of guy who could wear a range of hats and get away with each and every one.

He’d have a surprise in each one too. I didn’t expect it, just getting to know him, when he told me about his intense intellectual childhood in Washington. (His dad had worked on the Manhattan Project.) Another time he let it slip that he’d once planned to be a philosophy professor, and had dropped out of his own Ph.D. program at Columbia in the mid-60s after his adviser left the university. Before he was a professional sailor, Don had worked for IBM, teaching computer science. Though you’d guess none of these things when you were lucky enough to inhabit the next barstool, they became clear enough over time: Don was a walking google search, more than an encyclopedia. He could give you the right answer, or his own educated opinion, on just about everything, from the efficacy and limitations of religion to shucking oysters. And then he’d tell you how all the other theories on those subjects were flawed.

Last spring, one of my students interviewed Don for a couple pieces she had to write for journalism classes. Although I’d been friends with Don for more than two years, I still found a few surprises in what she came up with. Like the fact that his favorite novel was The Princess Bride, for instance. I’d also never heard the story about how he became a sailor: As a child in DC he’d suffered from acute asthma. His parents sent him to a camp in Canada to escape the pollen: “It was that summer at Camp Wabikon,” my student wrote, “that Taube first took control of a boat on his own. He learned canoeing and sailing, and for the first time in his life, he was freed of daily asthma.” When I imagine a ten-year-old Don taking the helm, I like to imagine that for the first time in his life he was free. (His friends know what it meant to him that in the last year he’d initiated the process of buying his own boat, a large flat-bottomed vessel that could ease in and out of any corner in the Brooklyn or Manhattan waterfronts. “We’ll get all the way back in the Gowanus Canal,” he said, with no small amount of glee.)

Though he’d lived in North Carolina for years, Don moved back to New York and took up a regular job for the Seaport Museum in 2001. He sailed as a relief captain on the Pioneer and did maintenance work on the museum’s fleet and on the Clearwater, with which he’d been associated since 1969. He came back to New York to be closer to Jessica, a dancer, who was at school at first in Philadelphia and then at Hunter College. His wife, June, had died of breast cancer the year before, something he didn’t like to talk about much, except for the fact that it informed both his abstinence from alcohol and his observance of high holidays. These were the times Don cleaned up nice. He’d show up at the bar to meet Jessica on their way to synagogue. In the last year Don had been going through his own cancer scare, something that he dreaded, most of all, for what it might mean for Jessica to go through such an ordeal again.

I’m in Boston this summer and feel somewhat helpless, removed from neighborhood gestures of grief and support. I can’t imagine heading down to the seaport in the fall and not finding him there, or going out on a harbor sail and not hearing his list of rules for the passengers. He always asked when my classes were meeting but we never managed to have him visit.

At the bar, I’ve heard from friends, there’s a vase of white roses and a candle burning at his corner stool. I hope his friends — from whatever realm of his multifaceted life — will feel free to leave their stories and sentiments here as another kind of marker.

My world’s richer for having had Don in it and a little more mortal — more damaged — when I think of him gone. Don Taube, salt of the earth, one of the good guys: I’ll look for you this fall in the stars over the harbor.

Capt Don onboard the Pioneer

85 responses to “In memoriam: Captain Donald Taube (1942-2007)”

  1. Scott Godfrey says:

    I feel a true loss for never having met your friend. If your portrayal does him any justice, the world is a little less authentic in his absence.

    Thank you Bryan and my condolences to all of Mr. Taube’s survivors.

  2. Dave says:

    It was always comforting to see Don at the bar, drinking his coffee and eating one of the oversized cookies they sell. He was always ready to engage in conversation on any topic; a great combination of salty experience and intellectual curiosity gave him an even-tempered but engaged approach to everything from politics to his trade.

    Once, when I was headed back to New Mexico for a visit, Don asked me to see if I could find any black mesquite, which he said was on the endangered species list but made the best head for some type of mallet — it was just hard enough to pound stuff without damaging it. Of course I had no idea how to procure illegal exotic wood in New Mexico or anywhere else, but Don and I had several interesting talks about it.

    Don had a ready smile and a kind word for his many friends at the bar. I’ll miss him.

  3. ssw says:

    Thanks Bryan for a beautifully written tribute to Don. I knew you of all people could do it just right. I want to simply say that I really cared about Don and loved him very much, both as a person and for how much he brought into our lives and contributed to our community.
    Don recommended a book to me a few years ago titled “I heard the Owl Call My Name” by Margaret Craven that I finally got the chance while we were in Tahoe in June. He told me I’d love the book, and he was right. The prose is delicate and subtle– it’s about facing yourself and learning through relationships, respecting nature, resisting too close an embrace of modern life, and making peace with death. (no small feat, eh?). I am happy that I had the chance to bond with Don about the book, and more importantly, to have had the chance to share many conversations, and hugs, and lots of fun times together down at the Seaport. He was a very special person to me, to many of us who knew him, and he will be missed. xoxo

  4. Marleyfan says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. This was very nice honor you gave for your friend.

  5. Mike N. says:

    Sigh. I definitely remember seeing him once or twice at Fresh Salt, but never spoke to him directly. I’m sorry about the news.

  6. Alison says:

    I sailed with Don when I was younger, he was quite the character! He loved his work.
    I remember his railroad hats and his suspenders, they were his trademark.
    He will be greatly missed!!

  7. lane says:

    Bryan, I glad I know someone like you, that cares so much about other people that you would write something like this.


  8. Stephanie wells says:

    So well said, Lane–that’s exactly how I feel even though I didn’t know Don–Bryan can bring anyone alive through his words. We are all charmed to know you, BW, as was Don.

  9. nice of you guys to say, stephanie & lane, but really, anyone who spent a considerable amount of time with don knows it has to do with him, not me. he was the kind of guy you wanted on your side. i think most of his friends right now are floundering, realizing what a steady presence he was in their lives.

    alison — thanks for commenting. am i right that you’re the alison who started sailing with don as an 8 year old? they didn’t get long, but i’m glad my own kids knew him well enough to be saddened by his passing.

  10. Beth W says:

    Bryan, you wrote a beautiful tribute. Even your comment made me weepy. I’m sorry for your loss.

  11. Ed Renehan says:

    Don, on top of being a particularly fine and generous human being, was an encyclopedia lore concerning sailing and wooden-boats. The guy was a true master of those low-tech and antique – but nevertheless complex and subtle – arts involved in maintaining a traditional craft, and navigating her from point A to point B. He delighted in the rush of silence after the mainsail and jib had been raised, and the engine switched off: the wrinkle of the wind in the sails, the splash of water against the bow. Very 19th century, but with all of modern New York lit up on the horizon.

  12. dth says:

    I am a member of don’s family and I thank you all for letting me into a part of don’s life that i didn’t know much about, but let me make a few brief factual corrections. He quit library school at Columbia, didn’t get that masters, probably saw no need for it. His father was a librarian working for the atomic energy commission Oak Ridge during part of the Manhattan project. Also we don’t know for a fact that it was a stroke, just that it seemed to be quick and painless.

  13. Bryan says:

    Thanks, dth. I remember Don talking about library school and philosophy, but I’d forgotten the library school part. I was going partly from lots of stories as he’d told them to me (and, admittedly, as I’d remembered them) and partly from the biographical details I gleaned from the interviews my student did, and so I appreciate the corrections. It’s still hard to believe he won’t be correcting them himself. From his friends in lower Manhattan, if I can be presumptuous enough to speak on behalf of others, we send warmest thoughts to his family members we haven’t met.

  14. dth says:

    thanks, I am in the process of sending your site to other members of the family so they can read the wonderful memories.

  15. Betty Ellyn says:

    You have written a wonderful eulogy for Donald, who is my first cousin. He was a free spirit from an early age. His parents were very disappointed when he left IBM because he could not stand the conformity in thought and dress there. Material weath was unimportant to him. He knew from then on, that he would receive great satisfaction from seeing the results of his physical efforts, whether building his own home in the woods of Long Island, or working on restoring and captaining boats. He had a wonderful mind, a generous spirit and a gentleness about him. He was very devoted to not only his immediate family, but to his extended family, and always attended every family get-together. I saw him last at his nephew Daniel’s wedding in May, and heard all about his intention of restoring a boat to take children along the Hudson River’s estuaries and rivlets to teach them about the environment and conservation. He was optomistic, enthusiastic and happy, and that is how I will remember him.

  16. Jane says:

    I’m another first cousin of Donald’s. I didn’t get to see Donald too often
    but most recently at our family reunion and his nephew Daniel’s wedding.
    He called me in March when my dad passed away and we had a long
    chat. He was very comforting. Just like his mom and dad, he left
    us way to soon. My heart goes out Jessica and my entire family and his

  17. I am married to Don’s sister, Susan and I am most appreciative of your kind words regarding Don. It is amazing how many friends he had all over the place. He was one of a kind and I am pleased to have known him and be part of his life.

  18. AW says:

    I enjoyed this remembrance, Brian, and all the responses. I am also sorry for everyone’s loss. From what people have written, I gather that Donald was both big-hearted, and an original. I have known a few folks like this in my own life. Whenever I see people embracing and living their own lives so fully, I am reminded to try to do the same. I am grateful to Donald Taube, and his example, in this regard.

  19. lisa t. says:

    I’m stunned by the comments from the family of Don in this post. Bryan, your ability to expand the GW community comes straight from the heart.

  20. Adam says:

    As a relief deckhand aboard the schoonerPioneer, I’ve had the privledge to have sailed with Don numerous times over my five years at the Seaport, and I consider myself very fortunate to have known him. He had the unique ability to simultaneously by everything and nothing you’d expect him to be.
    Every time he gave the safety speech to passengers, he’d tell the same exact jokes. And every time I’d hear them, they somehow always made me smile.
    Fair winds, Cap.

  21. I hope even more family and friends and pioneer crew (thanks, adam!) and Fresh Salt regulars and museum staff who make their way here all feel free to post. Don deserves some sort of place where people can lodge these sentiments and I’m grateful that so many people have done it here. As George said above, it’s amazing how many friends Don had in so many places. And then again, it’s utterly predictable. Who couldn’t encounter him without developing a soft spot?

  22. dth says:

    dth: I am Debbie, Don’s younger sister. One thing I never got to do was sail with Don on the pioneer or the clearwater. reading the comments from those that did makes me regret it even more. know that the family has shared this forum and welcome all your memories.

  23. Jessica Taube says:

    Dear Bryan,
    Your beautiful tribute to my father has made me smile and weep uncontrollably at the same time. When my beloved mother died seven years ago I was twenty years old, just beginning to embark on my adult journey. I have always wished that I had just a bit more time to get to know her, so that I could understand myself better. I wonder now if I spent so much time regretting time lost with her, that I forgot to sit back on a barstool at Fresh Salt and learn a bit more about my father. I always called him “my encyclopedia”, I sometimes called him three times a day with various questions that I may have been able to find the answer to somewhere else. Sometimes I interrupted him while he was welding or caulking or sailing, but he always answered, always made time for me. The few weeks before he died I had begun to be a little bit jealous of his project with the new boat, the Indy. Several times when I asked him to have dinner he was up in Kingston with the boat and couldn’t meet me. I had mentioned to him that I wanted to join the Peace Corps but was worried that he might not be able to handle my absence from the country for two years. Despite my jealousy, I was comforted by the fact that he was embarking on a new adventure with the Indy, and that he had also created a new extended family at Fresh Salt. It seems that while I was off dancing or traveling or bartending or dreaming about my next step in life, I missed out on learning a few more details of my father’s past life. But perhaps it doesn’t matter. I never missed out on his love for me, his generosity, his intelligence and compassion. It turns out that it was most likely a heart attack that killed him- perhaps his capacity to love and reach out to others extended what his heart could take. Perhaps we should all learn from him, and my mother, to open our hearts to others. Perhaps each day that he smiled and shared his wealth of love and knowledge with us, his heart still ached for my mother who he loved so dearly, and he could no longer exist on this earth without her. How can we begin to understand why he was taken from us with no warning? I spoke to him just a few hours before his death and told him I loved him. I never parted ways with him without speaking those three precious words. We should all remember that in any moment our reality can change- things are graciously given to us or violently taken away. These things we may not be able to control, but we can try to control how we distribute the love in our hearts. I miss my mother and father every minute- they loved and cared for me in ways beyond explanation. I only hope I can carry this legacy with me as long as I am on this earth. We may never be able to understand or agree upon how we as humans began to inhabit this earth, but we can do our best to leave it a better place than it was when we entered. Thank you Bryan, for your memories of my fantastic father, Donald Taube. May he and my mother, Ola June Clifton, rest in peace, holding hands, and watching over me.

  24. Michael Kortchmar says:

  25. Michael Kortchmar says:

    I first met Don Taube in 1979, when I was hired to run the Pioneer. This was before the Rouse Co. had “developed” Pier 17, and colorful characters like Ed Moran and Jerry Driscoll roamed the waterfront. Don needed to log some time for his license, so he spent the season as my mate –though I assure you the teaching went the other way!!

    At that time he, June and Jessica lived in Hudson, NY. (off the grid , of course). Don led a group of us in a repair of the Richard Robbins, a charter schooner whose owner didn’t agree we had to replace half the hull (we did).

    Meanwhile, Don moved to East Marion, on the North Fork of Long Island, and found shop space. With a new baby and wife I followed. Our first job there was the repair of a mast ( reputed to be from a J-Boat, shortened and rotted by partial burial). I mention this project as yet another learning experience, which I would never take on a dare!

    I think you can understand Don if you can understand his truck. It is the bed, not the motor or the brakes, that he looks at. He’s replaced the bed at least four times. What he knows, he knows. He knows welding, metalwork, shipwork and caulking. He knows about oysters, and many other things. – But when he is out of his field, he has no desire to pretend. That’s what makes you trust him –that and liberal politics, and the desire to put them into practice personally.

    You can see from my prose that I haven’t been reconciled with Don’s passing. I miss him.

  26. Jess — Thanks for that comment. We miss you and look forward to seeing you in September. Don’t leave for the peace corps before we get back!

    One of the pleasant surprises that came along with writing a terribly hard couple paragraphs about your dad was that I googled him looking for information and details and stumbled into an obituary for your mom. It opened up a lot for me and made me sad I’d never met her. It certainly helped me understand the reverence he obviously felt for her.

  27. Jessica Taube says:

    Don’t worry Bryan, no peace corps for me right now. I’m going to stay where I am, surrounded by love and support.

  28. Victor Stanwick says:

    I first met Don around 1983 when I was working on John Street. It was a cold-ass winter day, and Don was out on Pier 15 looking for a particular coil of line (that was back when Pier 15 could still suport the weight of a person). I got speaking with him, and after a couple months I was so entranced by the characters in and around the Seaport that I quit my job fixing computers and came to work for Jakob Isbrandtsen, just so that I could spend more time around people like Don. Real people. Don will be sorely missed by many. What an absolute treasure he is.

  29. Jimmy Walker says:

    It really is amazing that he connected with so many people. We all considered him a friend and appriciated his integrity.
    I do have a story about meeting someone at a party aboard the Peking and after a brief conversation we were leaving together…until she saw Don heading for the party. She left with him !!!!

  30. Jay Kapner says:

    I’m Donald’s friend from Wilmington NC. Lee and I met Donald many a Friday night at B’nai Israel Congregation. There were a number of times when we all had dinner, Donald and June, Lee and I, and Donald and I would talk about many of the books that he had read. Donald recommended quite a number of classic books to me – books that I’ve read and will always cherish because it was Donald who recommended them. Lee and I were BBYO advisors with Jessica in our chapter. When we needed help from a parent, it was always Donald that we could count on. We recently moved from Wilmington to Atlanta to be closer to our daughter and grandson. It’s hard to believe that Donald was back in Wilmington when he passed away and it’s hard to believe that he’s gone. We were there when June passed away. It was so sad for Donald and Jessica and for us; and it’s so sad to have lost Donald.

  31. linda goldsmith says:

    There are only good things that come to mind when I think about Don Taube–his wonderful wife who predeceased him, his daughter who is the embodiment of his spirit, his generosity, and his patience. He never criticized anyone, and let people be themselves.
    I am selfishly thinking about something that I wanted his assistance with–and wishing that traffic had moved faster a few weeks ago when he was at my home visiting with my family and I was “up island.”
    There are many more things about Don that are truly unique and special–and later on I will write of them.

    Love you Don from all of us–


  32. john watson says:

    The first time I met Don was in the mid 1970″s. The Pioneer had “broken” the jib boom again.
    He came with a log and made a new one. He was primarily a Clearwater crew at that point.
    From that point until his passing I always knew Don. Even the day I watched the PBS show about the MImi. I had it on for noise when I got home. All of a suden I reconized the voice. When I looked up all I reconized was the railroad conductors cap. The rest was hair.It was wonderfull to read all the comments. Some presented a side I didnot know after 30 years.

  33. ursula verduzco says:

    I did not have the chance to get to know Don, I met him oance when he gave me and Jess a ride somewere, but I know that he is and must have been an amazing person because Jessica is the way she is. I am sorry for the loss of an ovbiously good hearted human being, capable of raising a daughter like Jess, full of dreams and with a powerfull heart full of kindness. Jess, all my love for you now and always. Ursula.

  34. I’ve loved hearing from people who knew Don much longer than I did — and in so many different phases of his life and geographical locations. Thank you all for sharing.

  35. Jack Putnam says:

    Like many others, I first met Don on PIONEER, in 1982. We spent a lot of long nights on a photo shoot that summer, stemming the tide on the North River to maintain contiunuity for endless retakes of Jaclyn Smith and somebody else with the World Trade Center or the Statue of Liberty in the background. The gams we had during those long hours were the first of many with a rare kindred spirit, and it wasn’t long before I came to realize that that was what made–and makes–Don so rare: he was–and is–a kindred spirit to all. And not just to his fellow humankind: I remember that part of his pre-sail routine was to tell everyone to field-strip their cigarette butts and put the filters in a pocket so that fish wouldn’t be tempted to ingest them. He cared for eveerything and evereybody–machines, materials, wildlife, and most of all, people. The mosaic that emerges from all these tributes and memories show us only a piece of the great and gracious spirit that was Don.

    In recent times I saw Don mostly over breakfast at the Pearl Diner, on his frequent visits to the Museum office, and especially aboard W. O. DECKER on our harbor history tours. He knew the harbor intimately and reveled in sailing where otheres seldom thought or dared to go, and always with the right sory to illuminate the place we were. Only one of so many things I’ll miss.

    We also shared and commiserated about those common maladies of aging males, cancer and heart ailments, but he faced them with the same blend of curiosity, concern, and wry wit with which he took on everything else in life. He abounded with knowledge and humor, and had a gracious plenty of those other great things–love, wisdom, and wonder. We are blest to have known him

  36. Susan Schwelling says:

    I’m Donald’s other sister. I’ve been reading the memories and comments everyday with great gratitude and appreciation for those who have shared their feelings, especially Bryan and Jessica. There is not much to add. I was in NY at the beginning of June and shared a Sunday brunch with Don, Jessica and other passing friends and acquaintances near the Seaport. Don was a neighborhood fixture and knew and was known by lots of folks. I am so glad to have a recent memory of him in the NY neighborhood that was so much a part of who is. I can picture him perfectly there and know his spirit is still roaming all his favorite haunts (in the most positive sense of regular places, not ghostly!) I made a few comments about Don’s childhood at the Wilmington memorial service and I am stunned by the consistency of other people’s memories and reflections, which mirror and expand upon my own. Donald and June both had special gifts that have blessed our family and the world. I have thougth about June very often since her death and now add Donald to that store of precious memories and values that help to inspire my life. I look foward to meeting many of you NY friends and associates at a memorial there sometime in the fall.

  37. Amanda says:

    Don’s daughter, Jessica is a dear friend of mine. I have not seen her or Don in quite some time, but memories of Don are clear and vivid in my mind. I read a comment from someone else pertaining to Jessica being the embodiment of Don’s spirit and that is so true, along with her mother’s as well. They raised her with so much love. I was not fortunate enough to have had such loving parents as Don and June, but it’s almost as if they were my own for a time when it was as though Jessica and I were unseperable. That is what I will remember. A calm. loving and patient man. He will be greatly missed.

  38. Risa Lax says:

    I have read through this article several times now . . . it so perfectly captured Don. And reading all the other recollections of Don is so very heartwarming. As a South St. Volunteer I’ve enjoyed many a sail with Don and even got a tug boat driving lesson from him . . . I feel as if there was so much more to learn from him . .. Jessica, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  39. Miller says:

    I think that, in 2007, the Most Moving Post and the Best Comments Post (for everyone, especially Don’s family, who lent their thoughts and appreciation) goes to this one. You all have got my vote.

  40. Donald says:

    As the result of being intermittently active in the Clearwater organization over the years, I met and sailed with Don Taube a few times — far too superficial an acquaintance, alas, to feel real grief over his death. But I must say, as the father of two little kids, that the tribute posted above by Jessica Taube (whom I don’t know at all) to her dad knocked me right out of my chair. I love my two kids with a fierce, primal parental energy, and yet I know (because I had parents for a long time before becoming one) that even that elevated level of devotion does not lead inevitably to the kind of wise and generous parenting that Jessica Taube has described. Perhaps it is stating the obvious, but I cannot resist remarking that, whatever Don Taube’s accomplishments as a sailor, a worker and a thinker, he must have reached his apotheosis as a father. If I were inclined to pray, my prayer would be that my kids survive me and, at my death, feel moved to say of me just a little bit of what Jessica Taube has said of her dad. It is an honor to have even the most attenuated of connections to such good people.

  41. Pietro says:

    Summer of 1987, 88, 86??, Clearwater in New York harbor, summer, dead calm, all the sails up, full complement of passengers on board. Don was relief captain and I was relief mate (I was usually the bosun or engineer).

    Background: Don and I knew each other since 1982, the first year I work on Site Crew at the Revival. The crew chief, Jack Price, had asked Don if we could borrow his “small table saw”. Don showed up with a 12″ (very large), 240 volt, 3 phase, cast iron table saw that must have weighed a ton. I would have to rewire the dining room/workshop just to power it. All of us struggled with rollers and dollies to get it off the truck. Jack finally turned to Don and said, “Didn’t I say the the small one”. Don replied, “That is the small one”. Quiet, soft spoken, smart, educated, very strong, very good with his hands and his brain, patient, usually wearing greasy, tar stained work clothes; Don was what many of us aspired to. At dinner that night, Don and I immediately recognized the political activist in each other – he at Columbia University, me with the VVAW (Viet-Nam Veterans Against the War) and we launched into wonderful, spirited, sometimes raucous political discussions and downright arguments. We were fast friends and later ship mates ever since.

    Wind starts to pick up, clouds are blowing in and, from across the harbor, here comes an intense, black squall line. Oh shit! Don’s command: Drop sails! The top sail starts to come down and the American flag, now whipping about in the wind, gets rieved through the topsail sheet block jamming it. We can’t get the topsail down so we can’t get the mainsail down. A squall line is coming and we can’t get the sails down. Don and I grin at each other knowing what has to be done. He tells me quietly, “Cut it down.” I scamper up the shrouds as fast as I can. I step off the cross trees heading aft hanging by my hands from the mainsail halyard until I can get my feet on the gaff. I work my way aft until I can plant my butt on the very aft tip of the gaff facing forward. Holding on with one hand, I proceed to free the topsail sheet block by chopping the American flag to pieces. My hands now shaking from the adrenalin, I work my way back. As soon as I’m safely on the crosstrees, I signal to Don to drop sails and they start coming down around me as I’m climbing down the shrouds. The rain is pouring down now as we start to motor back to the dock. Don and I didn’t say a word about this but you couldn’t wipe the smile from our faces with a belt sander.

    Pietro Poccia

  42. Allan Goldhammer says:

    For now, I want to say to Jessica: I want to meet you again. The last time was when you were about three, when I got a ride from the Revival site to your house, and I wasn’t paying proper attention then.

    I worked with Don on site crew, as winter maintenance coordinator, and sailing crew on Clearwater. I figure you must be magnificent people, given the little bit I know of your folks, and I just want to say hi and maybe play a little bit.

    I have written about Don elsewhere, in a more collected manner. Jessica, I hope what I read reached you.

    life and light,

  43. Bryndis "Tise" Tobin says:

    I had the privilege of working with Don on winter maintenance and on Clearwater, and so I can say from experience it wasn’t only his own kids he was good with; he had the patience to teach even smart-aleck teenagers. As Pietro says, he embodied many of the qualities the rest of us aspired to then and are still reaching for now. May the good memories keep coming, and bring comfort to all who knew him.

    So, I’ll keep plugging on
    a smile will shine through all my tears
    and when I sing another little victory song
    precious friend you will be there!


    P.S. the incident Pietro spoke of was, I believe, in ’86 or ’87. Note that Don chose – without hestitation, in the few seconds available – the right person for the job, someone who was not only capable but likely to enjoy the challenge. Not everybody can use a knife quickly and effectively while being tossed around and wind buffeted 86 feet above the deck of a boat under sail, and even fewer would want to try, but doesn’t it figure that Don would know who to ask?

  44. Malcolm Martin says:

    I have struggled for some time to write something in memory of Don. So many have written so well about him and I hardly knew him at least by some standards. I have come to realize both from attempting many drafts of this and by reading what others have said that Don could hardly be summed up by any one brief (or long) essay. His life was a rich cloth woven of many threads and most of us only had the privilage to know a few of the strands that made up the person. So here are what yarns I have to share.

    I met Don around the Pioneer at South Street. First as a volunteer then again later when I was Pioneer’s Master. Don was a constant source of ideas and opinions. His history with the vessels and his technical know-how was a constant resource all of us there tapped time and again and which was always freely available to us. His underlying interest in environmental and social justice was always at the root of his approach and attitudes. His staggering experience and powerful intellect made him a valued member of the team of people there who actually liked ships and truly cared about environmental issues.

    You just couldn’t help liking him. He was generous to a fault, smart, handy, personable. His erudition and breadth of interests made him a lively and enjoyable conversationalist both at work and after hours. He always had a tale… One which may or may not have been appropriate or helpful, the telling of which may or may not have sped the tasks at hand but ALWAYS interesting and often quite funny. Best of all he could help you to laugh at yourself when appropriate chiefly because he was never afraid to laugh at his own follies. Don made a great teacher for the myriad volunteers and students on Pioneer. He knew what to do and when and never let the mistakes of others put him out of sorts. He enjoyed tackling the challenges and sharing in the joy of learning that is the regular fair on board the Pioneer.

    When I was an impending father Don shared his insight and delight in fatherhood. His excitement at my future experiences (especially once we knew we where having a daughter) was inspiring and comforting. It was impossible to not be moved by the close and deeply loving relationship he had with Jessica and June. His pride in Jessica’s accomplishments always buoyed his spirit especially in the sad time around June’s death. He set a benchmark for us fathers and husbands few of us can hope to achieve.

    I did a couple of transits between Croton and Kingston with him either delivering or returning the Indy for the revival. The din of the Indy’s 671 made conversation difficult but Don’s love of the river and the serenity it seemed to bring to him to be on it made those dark trips particularly memorable.

    Don often said things others subsequently repeated. I remember one in particular I have repeated many times to both myself and others. It was one breezy evening Don was taking the Pioneer out for a charter. We had discussed the difficulty of the docking at the end of the trip due to the state of the weather, current and other vessels in the way. As he prepared to get underway he turned to me and said with a grin “I try to never let anxiety about the docking interfere with my enjoyment of the sail…” I think Don was giving me his secret to a life whose energy was well spent.

    I know Don has thousands of friends and admirers but I count myself very lucky to be among them. It was an honor and a privilege to sail with Don and to know him. I am sure I will remember him many times in the course of my life. I will always be grateful for having known him. We may never again have new memories of Don but his warmth and sincerity and the lessons we learned from him will remain. I hope more folks will share their stories of this one guy who left us too soon but in a world a fair bit better for his having been here.

  45. bryan says:

    I’m so humbled by the depth of emotion and eloquence of these stories, and so glad that people from so many realms of don’s life have continued to find this site and to leave their thoughts. i really could not have anticipated this outpouring and just want to say thank you to everyone who’s left something here. without fail they remind me of other experiences, stories, memories of my own, and i appreciate that very much. i can imagine don getting a kick out of them as well.

  46. Susan (Friedman) Eversole says:

    I am shocked, but thankful to have found out. My parents and I send Jessica our love.

    He was an active member of the Johnny community in NC, only a few years previously. It did not register that we shared him with the NY community, but it should not have been surprising considering the mark he left locally. He was a life-long learner with a love for life and books, driving the 3.5 hours from his home at the beach to attend seminars in Chapel Hill.

    I will miss him.

  47. Kathy Dwyer says:

    In Memory of Don Taube

    It is with a heavy heart that I reflect upon the fact that Don is no longer with us, but I do believe he still sails with us very much in spirit.

    Don represented, to me, the truest adventuresome and generous spirit of the South
    Street Seaport Museum and the Clearwater, being bright, thoughtful, forward thinking, practical, literary, idealistic, creative, charming, and having an incredible sense of humor.

    On my second day of work at SSSM (as the Director of Membership and Volunteers)
    approximately five years ago, I first met Don decked out in his very cool purple
    peace sign bandana, matching brass peace sign belt buckle, red suspenders, and unique
    (scary!) work overalls. He proceeded to welcome me to the Museum and told me about
    a casual “all staff sail” on the WO Decker tugboat where I could meet more fellow
    staffers. That evening, I met Don (in my newly purchased clothes from the GAP) on
    the tugboat, and he asked me to assist him with some “lines” (I thought I was going
    to be helping him prepare a speech). But instead, he proceeded to give me directions
    as to how to jump from the floating dock back onto the moving tugboat, how to set
    up the plastic chairs and the catered food, and how I would be serving the food.
    (I had worked at the Intrepid Museum beforehand, but they at least waited a few
    weeks before volunteering me for such tasks!). Well, after quick “staff” introductions (Don and I were the only “staff” people) was and serving food, I also found out quickly that I was “volunteered” for the charter with Don. For the next 5 hours, this experience should have deterred me, but thanks to Don’s charming demeanor and passion for his work, I was hooked.

    From my third day on, I made it a point to introduce all volunteers to Don as “a
    special treat”. Later, I became a Decker tugboat fanatic and spent as much time
    as I could volunteering there. I envied “his” tugboat staff Marie, Kate, Alice,
    Maggie and many others who shared his enthusiasm for the boat. And to this day,
    one of my most memorable moments was selling 200 Museum t-shirts at the “Tugboat
    Roundup” in Albany and then taking the three day trip down the beautiful Hudson
    River with Don. Also, he never failed to share his candid opinions and advice at
    the SSSM office, Carmine’s, Radio Mexico, Fresh Salt and the All State Café.

    Don was a passionate member of the South Street community, and was always talking
    about his beautiful, talented bright daughter, Jessica. I last saw Don joyously
    celebrating at the Clearwater Festival, where we made plans to meet at the All State
    Café later that month. He did not make it, but his light lives on though his daughter,

    I miss Don greatly, and wish all the best to Jessica and the friends and family
    he leaves behind.

  48. ray says:

    I remember sailing with capt Don! he was so easy to please. he knew how to bring the clearwater up along side a dock or pier! lol
    it makes me sad that he’s passed.
    my love goes out to his family, and to jess.

  49. Kate says:

    The strong memory I have of Don, sailing on Clearwater from Garrison down to Southstreet, was that his daugher “had sea legs before she could walk.” This was back in 94 – the CW 25th. Clearly he spoke about her constantly, and as she dances he gave her a great gift.

  50. Don was a good friend, a teacher, and mentor. We first met when Michael Kortchmar who I knew from volunteering on the Pioneer at the South Street Seaport asked me if I was interesting in working on the restoration of the schooner Richard Robbins, knowing that I had a background in wood working. I showed up in Newburg on the Hudson with my cabinet makers tools thinking we would be doing careful joiner work and Don a gracious as ever did not laugh at me as he was surrounded by the tools of the “restoration trade” — chain saws, sledge hammers, and crow bars. Don was a patient teacher, not just about cutting and fitting and caulking large timbers on big wooden boats, but on the ways of the Hudson and the Harbor. It was always a pleasure being a crew member of Pioneer when Don was the captain, not only did he always look the part, he was a skilled and tolerant mariner overseeing his volunteer crew sailing in some of the busiest waters on the planet. Don was also a fountain of institutional knowledge about the early days of Clearwater, and the South Street Seaport and shared that information in a combination of clearly articulated thoughts and yarn like stories. Don’s good friend Michael Kortchmar and I formed a small boat building business first in Staten Island and later in Greenport on Long Island, and whenever we ran into a complicated/impossible predicament on one of our wood boat restoration projects it was Don who had several solutions, and usually pitched in to fix the problem.

    Watching Don caulk was mesmerizing. There is a rhythm, and sound, that is ancient and meditative – but you always knew that huge skill was required and that the job would be done right. In the last few years Don and I talked about his dream of a boat to take people out on the Harbor and share his significant knowledge and stories. Just a week before his death we spoke about the vessel he had just bought, and you could hear the excitement in his voice, and the joy he was taking in this new adventure.

    I also remember his generous hospitality whenever my young family came through Greenport, and his wonderful wife June and daughter Jessica welcoming us into their home and the hearty meals, and smell of home-made bread that always seemed to emanate from the kitchen. We will all miss Don the philosopher boat builder, and I will miss his friendship, his kindness, and his willingness to share his story telling and passion and experience of maintaining, and sailing big old boats on the Harbor and the Hudson.

    Andrew Willneer

  51. "Raybo" Minchak says:

    This comes as quite the shock to me since Don was one of the imortals when it came to my sailing experiences. I first met Don on Clearwater in early winter1981 at Saugerties, NY. Don and I sailed on and off together for the next couple of years ’till i swallowed that anchor and came ashore for employment out of my beloved Hudson Valley. I lost touch and found this by accident; kind of the way I found Clearwater. I am deeply saddened by his and his wife’s passing. My recollection that i wish to share is that when I knew don he always wore a white button down shirt with his work clothes. When i asked him about it he related he was an IBM refugee and had drawers filled with them and was going to wear them out. That and “get a bigger hammer”

  52. Bryan says:

    I love the idea that Don walked away from IBM because of the dress code, but still wore the damn shirts out because he had them and they served a basic function! That seems so quintessentially Don.

  53. gill says:

    i met don at fresh salt and will miss him dearly. i as so many am blessed to have called him a friend. i was away a lot this summer, but had the fortunate privledge to see and hang out w/ don a few days before his passing. as i reflect on the subjects we spoke about it gives me a strange sense of happiness. he was a great man, simple, true and utmost honest and i am a better man for knowing him.

  54. Bryan says:

    It was great to see so many people at Don’s memorial service last night on the Peking. It looked to me like somewhere between 100 and 200 people turned out — family, friends, crew of multiple vessels, bartenders, neighbors, singers of sea shanties, even an old coworker from !BM, who shared some of my favorite stories. The deck was awash in stories — I suppose Don is the kind of guy you just find yourself telling stories about. Sara talked to me after about helping him fill out his J-Date profile down at the bar. “Would you say I’m a sensual person?” he asked.

    Back at Fresh Salt, Sara had ordered a huge box of the cookies Don liked so much. (I thought of them as a guilty pleasure, but according to some on hand, he downed two a day: how much guilt could they have really packed?) The cookies were broken and passed around the packed room, like a sacrament. I finished a toast on behalf of his shore friends at the bar with a story Molly had told me as we left the memorial earlier that evening. She said that the last conversation she had with Don was, in fact, about the cookies. He told her the salt was more important than the sugar. He was right, of course, and you could taste it when we finally ate our bites. Like so many other of the stories people have swapped here and at the service and around the neighborhood, Molly’s seemed to be “so Don” (a phrase I heard more than once last night). It spoke to the fact that he couldn’t stand to have a conversation — and the man was a hell of a talker — without teaching someone something.

    A lot of people last night said they still have stories to tell. I say keep them coming as long as we have Web space to support them.

  55. Mike Marian "Rocco" says:

    Yes, Raybo, I agree. The first year back in 81 or 82 I met Don. Cold feruary night at Lynch’s marina. I was just hired and Raybo and Don made me feel quite at home. Don helped me understand everything I needed to know about the clear water alongside, Raybo and Peg Brandon, most of all how not to get hurt. I will always remember his long raincoat /slicker/ what ever that coat was. He is just one of those guys you will never forget Thanks for everything Don!!

  56. […] found a benefit LP for the Clearwater, one of the boats my friend Don had […]

  57. Annie Wynn says:

    I found out about Don’s passing just before my mother died this summer. I miss them both, even though I hadn’t talked to Don in over a decade. He encouraged my sailing career, especially when he found out I was another refugee from IBM. Jessica, if you’re reading this, I remember how much he loved you, how his face lit up whenever your mom brought you to visit the boat when Don was captaining. You and I once sat in the main cabin where you told me a long story about traveling to Planet Z in a dream. It remains one of my favorite Clearwater memories, along with working one winter with Don and Raybo in Saugerties.

  58. […] “In Memoriam: Captain Donald Taube (1942-2007),” by Bryan Waterman. […]

  59. Ed Glaser says:

    I’ve come to this so late – like most of the things that I do.

    I wish I could’ve been there for the memorial, but I’ve just discovered the news. I was only on the Clearwater for one summer and returned for a number of years for the Pumpkin Sails. But it would be pretty damn hard not to remember Don. I got to watch 5 or 6 different captains over the years sailing the same boat. It (and Don) taught me a lot about the different ways one can be a captain, and he was a good one. An easy manner that graced all he did.

    It’s odd that I just discovered this, earlier this week I was talking about him with another old boat bum I know.

    Annie Wynn, or Raybo, if you see this, you can get in touch with me, I’d love to hear from you. or anyone else!

  60. Jeff Cohen says:

    Apologies to Fast Eddie Glaser, but I’m going to put in a final word here. I met Don back around 1988 when I’d finally finished a six year reframing and replanking an old William Atkin America Junior Schooner. Don was hired on as the caulker and came all the way back and forth to the boatyard in Ossining NY from East Marion every day for about three weeks. Don was, as everyone has noted, more than a skilled ships carpenter, caulker, rigger and captain. He brought a great deal of his own organic philosophy and world-view to every task. On a technical level, he didn’t just caulk a boat. He was the final quality assurance team, sending me back to fix seams, install backing blocks, make everything ready for a good watertight job. I hadn’t seen him since he did that job for me, but he left a lasting impression as a great example for the traditional boat community.


  61. Richard Dorfman says:

    I first encountered Don at South Street around ’98 or ’99. I was a fairly new volunteer on the Pioneer and one Saturday during winter maintenance, I was assigned to help Don while he did some welding on the midship hatch coaming.

    We talked about all sorts of topics while I handed him tools and held this or that clamp or other widget for him. We talked about boats, of course, but also about dance, his daughter, the dancer (of whom he was clearly very proud), the theatre, and dozens of other subjects. I had a great time shooting the breeze with him then and for years to come.

    We later sailed together many times on Pioneer and we both worked on the Wavertree as well. He was the first Captain with whom I worked as Mate, and later when I was training to drive the Pioneer as a newly licensed Captain, he gave me loads of pointers, especially about how to and how not to dock the boat.

    My wife and I kibitzed with Don sitting on the float between Pioneer sails on the Saturday of the weekend he died, and feel lucky to have to had a chance to say goodbye on happy terms, not knowing it really was goodbye.

  62. […] teacher with a flawlessly warped sense of humour.  I found two memorial pages — here: one, […]

  63. Jeff says:

    What a loss! Don was a genuine article, a crusty ol’ salt, but with an unexpected depth of knowlege & wit. He took the wheel with a calmness & unflappability that made his sails a pleasure for a novice to crew on.
    Kudos to Bryan for a great article! That was Capt’n Don, alright.
    OK, How many of you guys heard this before: “The cue for you to abandon ship…is when you see me waving from the lifeboat.”

  64. John Weeks says:

    I sure miss the guy………
    so does my family.

    Jess, thanks for sharing your family.

  65. Mark McNeill says:

    Something made me think of Donald this evening, 4 years after his passing. I used to sell him welding supplies in Wilmington, NC., in the ’90’s. I always knew there was “something” about Donald, that was different from my average customer. He always wore the engineer hat mentioned in a previous post. He spoke fondly of his sailing days in New York. I had no idea he was such a fixture in New York.. I wish I could have sailed with him. He is still missed, but more importantly, remembered.

  66. John Weeks says:

    5 years later and I still miss the old guy.

    Don, Olive has grown into a lovely 11 year old woman who STILL remembers you.
    I think about you all the time. I was just recounting some Don tales today to another super special friend and I googled you name so as to show him your picture. I stumbled across this page and read it only to realize I had been here before.

    Jessica does us proud as the new mother of a wonderful grandchild of yours. She will be as good a parent as you and June are.

    I think how sad it is that countries like Japan and Nigeria actually have “living national treasures” and yet you were only recognized as such by the people you actually met.

    Anyway, hang in there. all is well here, things just keep moving along and the blue crab is still a beautiful swimmer.


  67. Bryan says:

    Thanks, John. What an awesome comment. I miss him too and tell Don stories all the time. And hooray for Jess — I’m sure she’s an awesome parent.

  68. karen Hinderstein says:

    I still remember Don on the Clearwater nervously watching a two year old Jessica navigate the ladder from the deck to the galley and main cabin.
    I remember him solving most boat building or repairing problems with a call for (in his gravelly voice): “A bigger hammer!”
    I remember the Clearwater tossing and bucking at the end of an anchor line in the Tappan Zee after he decidedthat being tied to the dock at Piermont would decimate the rails of the sloop in such a storm.
    I remember what a good friend he was.

  69. Steve Kaplan says:

    Don Taub. Just hearing his name conjures up a whole host of feelings for I guy I barely knew. I watched him work with old tools in the old way, and marveled at his knowledge of wooden ships. When I caught him in a quiet moment and talked about some things of mutual interest, I felt that he was an able, knowledgeable, and connected conversationalist. Other times, only a word or two would do. Reminded me of talking with Al Nejmeh, for sure. Don Taub. What a guy!

  70. Tommy says:

    I just got linked to this story through Facebook. It’s been great reading everyone’s memories and comments. I met Don in 90-91 on the Pioneer. I give credit to a lot of Captains on teaching me how to stay out of trouble on a boat. I give Don credit for teaching me how to get out of trouble after ignoring my other lessons. Don showed me much kindness throughout all those years. It was a great joy working with him on Pioneer, Clearwater, W.O. Decker, and finally on Indy as his financial advisor. I am very thankful that Jessica let me keep one of Don´s hats. It was given its own place of honor at another captain’s wedding, and more recently it had a place of honor at my wedding. I still think of Don every time I give a safety speech and I still miss him. I am a better captain, a better man and a better dad for having known him.

  71. Bryan says:

    I’m so glad people are posting on this comments thread again. They don’t make them like Don any more. I miss him a lot and am glad to know so many other people do too.

  72. I grew up with Donalds’ baby sister Debby in Maryland….she was one of my best friends.We all went to Temple Sinai. I remember his transition from the square world to Seeger. I live in Paris now. Thank you for this sad yet rich news.

  73. Bryan says:

    I thought of Don today when I heard the news about Pete Seeger. They’ll always be tied together in my mind, even though I knew Don on the Pioneer rather than the Clearwater. RIP both of them — I wonder who’s calling out the rules of the boat now?

  74. Steve Scwartz says:

    It has been a long while since I last heard it, but Don’s voice still rings as clear and distinctive in my ears as a mallet striking an iron. I am happy to report that one of Don’s babies, the Sloop Woody Guthrie, built by Don and the Bearsville Woodworking Collective in 1978 and working steady until 2013, will soon be refreshed and will continue to sail and carry his spirit for years to come. Much of what he has left with all of you, he left with the Woody also, and many more folks will continue to benefit from it.

    Captain Steve

  75. vohair says:

    Drake, METZ, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Death From Above 1979, Whitehorse, Alvvays, Cold Specks moreover Jazz Cartier are not only found as one of the 40 artists in whose albums manufactured going to be the 2015 Polaris Music Prize long list,which was brought out Tuesday (June 16) upon Halifax, Nova Scotia

  76. Bridget Schuy says:

    Dear Bryan,

    Thank you for memorializing Don and helping me remember all the great things I loved about him 9 years later… The plague you had installed is long gone, the sketch of the character of that resembled Don was claimed by Sandy, nonetheless, yesterday I sat in Don’s seat at Fresh Salt. I think that we are better for having him in our lives. Fair winds, Don.

  77. Guillermo San Miguel says:

    I remember him…He like talk about certain interesting books…… And also said that love to sail in the Caribbean Sea near by the big Insulas… like Cuba and Jamaica and the Peninsulas of Yucatan and Florida….. :-)….I believe that he like steam or barbecue Caribbean rock lobsters with butter garlic sauce.

  78. Kate the Great says:

    It’s 2019, and this is still amazing.

    P.S. I just commented on a very well-read blog about this site. Prepare for more traffic from strangers. I still love all of you.

  79. Bryan says:

    Awwww. What a fun thing to click over here (unconscious habit) and see a comment from Kate the Great.

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  85. Jessica Taube says:

    It’s been 13 years and it’s hitting me hard this year for some reason. But reading all these comments is cathartic.