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West Coast Sailing Pioneer Donald Goring Homeless After Boat Fire

At around 10 a.m. on Monday, Donald Goring was taking a walk when his home of 30 years was destroyed by fire. The 93-year-old, who had lived aboard at the Fifth Avenue Marina since 2010, has now lost pretty much everything except the clothes he was wearing. Donald was an avid Bay Area sailor and racer, and founder of the Midget Ocean Racing Association (MORA). He was also a sailmaker, and opened his own loft at 730 Polk Street in San Francisco in the late ’60s.

Boat Fire
It is believed the fire was started by an electrical fault.
© 2022 Jeff Berman

According to a report in the East Bay Times, the Oakland Fire Department was called to the blaze at 10 a.m.. Crews from three engines and one truck took around 30 minutes to put out the fire. In that time, Donald’s boat was completely gutted.

Donald’s boat at its slip after the fire.
© 2022 John Fredricks
Nothing remains save charred woodwork and a brass stove in the corner.
© 2022 John Fredricks

Fifth Avenue Marina’s harbormaster, Bud Brown, was concerned for Donald’s safety, and went aboard the boat during the fire to look for him.

“I didn’t know whether he was on the boat or not, so I was trying to go and see if he was there. It was too smoky and unbelievably hot. It burnt all the hair off my arms. I figured if he was down there he was a goner. I pumped four fire extinguishers into it and a lot of water from the hose, and didn’t even slow it down. I felt the propane tank and it was really hot, and [I] thought it was going to explode and got everyone away from the boat. As you saw, it blew shortly afterward. They didn’t get the big explosion on film though. It was big. What was on film was just the venting. An interesting day for sure.“

The upside to this story is that Donald was not aboard the boat when it caught fire.
© 2022 John Fredricks
This painted tile is the only thing of value salvaged from Donald’s boat, Lipstick Liz.
© 2022 John Fredricks

Donald and his caregiver, John Fredricks, are currently staying in a hotel in Alameda while waiting for Donald’s passport to arrive. On Friday John will accompany Donald to Florida, where Donald’s son lives.

Donald’s friends have organized a BBQ going-away party for him at Fifth Ave. on Thursday at 2 p.m. John is asking everyone to write a poem for Donald, or to read him one of their choosing.

John has also created a GoFundMe page with the hope of collecting enough funds to help Donald settle into his new life in Florida. An update on the page says that Donald is finally beginning to realize what happened and that he’ll no longer be able to live on his boat.

John says Donald is currently in good spirits, but that the adjustments will be challenging.
© 2022 John Fredricks

We wish all the best to this West Coast sailing pioneer. He will no doubt be missed.

Jeff Berman captured the following video of the fire from across the water.


  1. milly Biller 11 months ago

    I love Don. Richard and I restored Starbuck when Don found her and brought her back to the Bay Area, putting the keel back on with new floor timbers and some new frames. then rails and the ‘ Sugar Scoop” that I think she still has. We traded straight across for sail for our 32’ Knud Reimers, no questions asked, no time or materials documented. It is still the best work trade I have ever done. If I get a few paychecks in the near future, I will contribute to Don’s fund for sure, and sure hope others will. How sad for him !i

  2. Tom and Sophie 11 months ago

    At least he is alive! Those stupid twist wire-nuts are garbage, please use the two/three pole terminal blocks for all marine wire connections. It may save your boat.

  3. Martin Thomas 11 months ago

    That marina is filled with liveaboards and slowly deteriorating boats that never leave the dock

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