Donald M. Green, one of Canada’s most successful offshore sailors and a key figure in its America’s Cup campaigns of the 1980s, has died at the age of 86. He had been inducted in the Canadian Sailing Hall of Fame in August of 2018. Among many civic distinctions Don received, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1980, the nation’s most significant civilian honour. “As well as being extremely active in community endeavours,” the office of the Governor-General notes of his membership, “he has brought honour to the country as a yachtsman, winning the Canada’s Cup in 1978 with his racing yacht Evergreen. ”
Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1932, Don Green was a graduate of Ryerson Polytechnic University in mechanical engineering and enjoyed business success as the chairman and CEO of Tridon, an auto-parts company headquartered in Burlington, Ontario, where he made his home. He grew up sailing at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. As a teen in 1951, Don sailed around the world on Irving Johnson’s 96-foot brigantine Yankee and published a book on his experiences, White Wings Around the World. At the RHYC, Don developed a reputation as a skilled club racer, and was campaigning a C&C 36 when he decided to mount a challenge through the RHYC for the 1978 Canada’s Cup, the match racing competition between Canadian and American yacht clubs on the Great Lakes. The trophy had been contested since 1896, and no Canadian club other than the Royal Canadian Yacht Club of Toronto had participated. The trophy was held by Bayview Yacht Club of Detroit, which had won the contest in 1972 and successfully defended against an RCYC challenger on Lake St. Clair in 1975.
Don approached C&C Yachts of Oakville, Ontario, to design and build his challenger, christened Evergreen. As in the previous series, the contest would be held in IOR Two Tonners, which were about 41 feet long. He gave the design department carte blanche to come up with a yacht that could win a match-race competition in predominantly light winds on Lake St. Clair. Many of her innovative features would soon be outlawed or made prohibitive by changes to the IOR, which made Evergreen one of the most technically advanced keelboats for some time. A young design team led by Rob Ball, which included Steve Killing and Rob Mazza, responded with a radical design with a gybing daggerboard and tiller steering. Green recruited Californian Lowell North of North Sails to sail aboard her as well, and to provide the sail inventory, which included one of the earliest Mylar sails in keelboat competition, a “garbage bag green” genoa. Steve Killing served as bowman and C&C project manager John Fitzpatrick was on board as mainsheet trimmer. The crew otherwise was mainly comprised of club sailors from Hamilton, and included a teenager, Allan Megarry, who occasionally spared off Don at the helm and would go on to be a headsail trimmer in two Canadian America’s Cup programs. The Evergreen program also proved to be the launch of the career of Don’s teenaged daughter Sharon as an internationally renowned marine photographer.
Unusual for this level of competition was the fact that in addition to being the owner, Don served as skipper and helmsman, accepting the challenge of steering a complex design in a match competition that involved sailing’s elites. To reach the finals, Evergreen first had to win the Canadian challenge trials against two RCYC contenders. One was Mia VI, a new Scott Kaufmann daggerboarder owned by Paul Phelan and helmed by Olympian and sailmaker Hans Fogh. The other was a veteran German Frers design, Impetus. Evergreen prevailed convincingly over both.
In the finals in September 1978, Don and Evergreen faced Agape, a new Ron Holland design that had been converted during the American selection trials from a daggerboard to a fixed keel. The points-based series awarded one point for course wins, one point for its middle distance race, and two points for its long distance race. Evergreen won the first two course races, to go up 2-0, then had to retire from the middle-distance race when a grounding tore off the lead shoe on the daggerboard. She was leading the long-distance race when a chainplate broke, causing her dismasting. Now behind 3-2, Don would have to win two back-to-back course races to secure the trophy, which he did, in an at times acrimonious conclusion to the series. BYC officials had a hard time believing that Don was actually steering Evergreen, and monitored her closely to be sure tactician Tim Stearn, an American, never had a hand on the tiller, in contravention of the nationality regulations of the contest..
Back home in Hamilton, Don served as commodore of the RHYC in 1978-79. Evergreen was part of Canada’s 1979 Admiral’s Cup team, again with Don as skipper. Changes to the IOR that were designed to discourage further daggerboard designs caused Evergreen to be converted to a fixed keel. The Fastnet Race in that Admiral’s Cup was marred by a storm that claimed the lives of 15 competitors. While Evergreen did not complete the course, Don brought Evergreen and her crew safely back to harbour from the carnage in the Irish Sea.
After the 1979 Admiral’s Cup, Don sold Evergreen to a buyer in Long Island. Her ultimate fate has never been fully determined and it is thought that she probably ended her career stripped and chainsawed for disposal. Don’s next yacht, Evergreen II, was a 45-foot German Frers design that he campaigned very successfully offshore.
In 1982, Don was brought into the Canada 1 challenge for the 1983 America’s Cup as an advisor on sails. Around this time, he became involved in the sailmaking business, playing a role in bringing Hans Fogh and his Toronto loft into the North Sails system and serving as a director of North Sails Fogh Ltd. Canada 1, designed by Bruce Kirby and assistant Steve Killing, reached the semi-finals of the challengers’ trials. After Australia II’s victory in 1983, Don mounted one of two Canadian challenges for the 1987 series in Perth. The True North syndicate secured Steve Killing as designer, Jeff Boyd (tactician of Canada 1) as skipper, and Terry McLaughlin (skipper of Canada 1) and Hans Fogh as helmsmen. A two-boat program was launched. True North I finished sixth in the 1986 12 Metre Worlds in Perth. True North II was under construction when a lack of sponsorship funds forced the her to be left unfinished and Canada’s two challenge programs to merge. Canada II, a revamped Canada 1, was chosen as the Canadian challenger.
Don was an outstanding competitive sailor with a strong commitment, on and off the water, to technology and scientific research as foundations of competitive advantage. He served as chair of Innovation Ontario Corporation from 1986 to 1982 and as governor of Ortech, the Ontario Research Corporation, from 1974 to 1984. In addition to a wide number of corporate directorships, Don gave generously of his time to public service. To name just a few roles he played, he was a governor of the Olympic Trust of Canada, president of the Greater Hamilton YMCA, founding chair of the Hamilton District Health Council, chair of Hamilton Civil Hospitals and its school of nursing, a director of the Canadian National Sportsmen’s Shows and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and chair of the board of governors of McMaster University, from which he received an honorary doctorate of laws in 2008. Don is survived by his wife Sandy, his son Stephen (Christine), daughter Sharon (Brad) and grandchildren Michaela, Michael, Kieran and Rachel.
In lieu of flowers the family encourages donations to the Able Sail or Junior Sailing program at RHYC.
Todd Irving present Hall of Fame plaque to Don Green, who was inducted by Steve Killing.