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Don Croal: ‘After 45 years, it’s still an adventure, not just a job.’

By Hilary Reeves

Across the street from Dornsford (Don) Croal’s childhood home in Guyana lived a ship captain and merchant mariner who would one day change his life.

“Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America and is culturally considered part of the Anglophone-Caribbean sphere,” said Croal. “My father was in charge of a company that built and repaired ships. My parents encouraged me to explore many fields, but my neighbor, Captain David Pollard, filled my young head with stories of his travels, the different countries he was able to visit, and the adventures and fun that he had while at sea. That sold me on life as a sailor.”

Croal enrolled at the Marine Academy of Guyana, a maritime academy in Guyana. It wasn’t long before Capt. Pollard came calling.

“One day he came to me and said he was working at a company named Tropical Shipping and that they were looking for candidates to crew their vessels,” said Croal. “I started on Nov. 3, 1974, as a Third Mate.”

Croal eventually became a Second Mate, and then Captain of a Tropical vessel, the Tropic Haven.

“I can never forget hearing my father say how proud he was of me becoming a Captain,” said Croal. “I know my father loved me and I know my father was proud of all my accomplishments, but this was at the pinnacle of his and my life.”

Croal said he was happy during his years spent at sea, but life can turn on a dime.

Shipping shoreside

“I met and fell in love, and my wife wanted me on solid land,” he laughed. “Luckily, Rusty Birdsall and Rick Murrell believe in keeping their employees and finding a new perfect spot for them. I landed at Import Services as a cargo inspector just as we were opening the port of Belize.”

Don poses in front of a yellow Tropical trailer.

Cutting his teeth on frozen orange juice and produce imports from Belize, Croal’s shoreside shipping experience grew to include Auto Receiving and Handling (up to 150 vehicles per week), the Customs Exam Station (inspections of both import and export cargo for U.S. Customs and the U.S.D.A., fumigation of cargo, resolution of weight and HAZMAT issues), and the TL Transfer Station (transferring hazardous and non-hazardous materials to and from ISO tanks to over-the-road and rail tank transfers).

“Nine of the very best Tropical employees work with me and make me look good,” he laughed.

Croal said he’s been “blessed” with his wife of 16 years, Maxine, two daughters, Dominique and Faith, and, “best yet,” his grandchildren: Noah, who is seven months old, and Sharon, who is one month old.

“If I could change my past, I would have become more involved, spiritually and physically, in aiding and ministering to those with problems with drugs and alcohol. But those goals can also be part of my future,” he said.

“I have had the honor and pleasure of working with John Birdsall, Rusty Birdsall, Rick Murrell, and Jeff Fiser. At Tropical Shipping, you don’t work for them, you work with them. I’ve been blessed with co-workers that I respect and who respect me. After 45 years, it’s still an adventure, not just a job.

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.