Captain Bob Soto: The Father of Diving

The late Captain Roberto “Bob” Mark Bodden Soto, often referred to as the Caribbean’s Father of Diving, is one of the most highly regarded pioneers of leisure diving in the Cayman Islands. During his long and full life, his love for diving and watersports was evident through his works as a seaman, ship captain and dive operator. He passed away on 31 March 2015 at the age of 88. He will be remembered for having single-handedly developed the dive industry in the Cayman Islands.

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The ex-USS Kittiwake is Cayman’s newest dive attraction, sunk off the western side of Grand Cayman

As a teenager, Soto served as a corporal in the Home Guard during World War II and later became a hard-hat diver with the US Navy. It was during this time that his passion developed for diving, an industry that had yet to flourish around the world. When he returned to Grand Cayman in 1957, he recognised the opportunity and, despite receiving several off-hand comments about his dream, he opened Bob Soto’s Diving, becoming one of the island’s first dive masters. Soto relied on his navy training to teach others and fashioned backpacks made from plywood and lead weights from repurposed batteries.

At the time, the tourism market in the Cayman Islands was virtually nonexistent, with only a few hotels on Grand Cayman. Over the years, this thrilling new sport and the mysteries of the ocean attracted visitors to the Cayman Islands and Bob Soto’s Diving grew into a very successful business. Thanks to Soto’s efforts, scuba diving was a vital part of the islands’ tourism industry.

In 2000, Soto was publicly recognised for his contributions to the growth of recreational scuba diving in the Cayman Islands at the inaugural International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame. In 2004, the devastating Hurricane Ivan blew through Grand Cayman and destroyed Bob Soto’s Diving. The hurricane debris eventually cleared and the islanders banded together to rebuild the community, but the doors of Bob Soto’s Diving never opened again. It was a great loss to the dive community, but not nearly as profound as losing Captain Bob Soto himself. He will always be fondly remembered among the community for his vision and devotion.

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Published: Visit Cayman Islands, 2016

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