This weekend, Don Anderson's ashes are being scattered in his home waters near Oxnard, California. Don analyzed weather data and shared the information via radio "nets" to cruisers around the north Pacific, particularly Mexico. Our introduction to Don was through the Amigo net, a daily marine maritime net we participated in for the better part of two years. We were dedicated listeners and participants from the days before we first entered Mexico, in late 2008, through our departure in early 2010.
La Gringa, one of many anchorages where we listened to Don's forecast
Don didn't just bring dependable interpretation of weather data. He seemed to take his role as an educator of newbie cruisers to both radio and to the real (and unpleasant) possibilities of weather seriously, to the benefit of all. Nobody would ever tell you that Don held back when offering his analysis. He also didn't let proper radio handling protocol slide.
This wasn't just edifying, it was refreshing. Cruisers on radio nets tend to "go with the flow" rather than voice disagreement or challenge the view of another. It's a gross generalization, but I can't think of any instances from the Nets to the contrary. The truth is, these things are extremely important. It wasn't a picnic to be the target of his ire, but Don's frank corrections helped many cruisers get over the hurdle of participating and figure it out. I remember thinking it felt a little bit like a badge of honor to be taken to task by Don for a lapse in my radio handling (the particular infraction was using Ham jargon on a marine SSB frequency).
With many cruising miles under his own keel, I think Don understood better than most just how critical his information was to boats "out there," especially those getting their cruising feet wet in Mexico- a common first stop (and for many, the last one as well). The schedule of nets he participated in attest to the many hours he gave to his volunteer role - as much one would give to a full time job. He did this year in, year out, with few breaks. If you asked for his help, he gave it, and offered support outside the schedule for cruisers needing different tuning and timing to make a connection. His volunteerism is admirable, and it's inspiring.
For someone who we never met, his personality loomed large for us as it did for many others. Don's forecasts were often shared in a way that could be particularly...enthusiastic, especially when severe weather loomed. I'll confess that we let the tone of Don's delivery color our conversations long after the Net was over. Can he have any idea how many times his name was invoked over a few Pacifico ballenas in a Baja cockpit? During the 2009 hurricane season we spent up in the Gulf of California, one member of the fleet even composed a song in his honor: the Don Anderson Rag could be heard at cruiser potlucks and floating sundowners all season. Jamie (who has a similar propensity to be energized by the delivery of severe weather information... I may have referred to him as Calamity Jamie before) took to using deliberately Don-like tone and cadence to share his own weather opinions.
If someday we can give back to the cruising community at a fraction of the level Don achieved, I'd be very proud. I wish we could have told him in person how much he gave to our little floating family on Totem, but it's some comfort to share that with his family. He leaves some big shoes indeed.
Did you benefit from Don's contributions? His family set up an email address to share your thoughts with them. It would mean a lot for him to hear from cruisers who have benefitted from his knowledge over the years. Send yours to SummerPassage@gmail.com.