Scuba diving pioneer Bob Soto passes at 88

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Bob Soto, one of the founders of recreational scuba diving and described as a Cayman Islands legend, died Tuesday afternoon. He was 88.

Mr. Soto, who opened one of the world’s first diving resorts in Grand Cayman in 1957, is revered as a pioneer of the sport and one of the founders of the Cayman Islands tourism industry.

Longtime friend Ron Kipp, a well-known diver who bought Mr. Soto’s dive operation in George Town decades ago, told the Cayman Compass, “The Cayman Islands has lost a legend. Without Bob Soto, there would have been no diving industry. He will be remembered all over the world.”

Mr. Soto, who served in the Home Guard as a 16-year-old during World War II, was later introduced to the wonders of the underwater world as a hard-hat diver in the U.S. Navy.

He returned to Grand Cayman to establish his dive resort, long before the sport took off globally and at a time when the tourism industry was not yet established on the island.

In a profile in Grand Cayman magazine in 2013, Mr. Soto recalled bringing five sets of scuba equipment to the island and charging tourists $7 per trip.

There was no certification for diving at the time, and he used his navy training guides to teach the basics to adventurous tourists.

“I built my own backpacks out of bits of plywood and aluminum metal, and made my own weights,” he recalled. “I would break up batteries, get the lead out and melt them down to make lead weights.”

Scuba diving went on to become a multimillion-dollar global industry and an integral part of the Cayman Islands tourism product, with Bob Soto’s Diving at the forefront.

“The scuba diving business took off, and I had faith that it would, despite people discouraging me and asking me, what I wanted to do that for?’” he said in the article.

“As the business grew, I got better and more equipment, compressors, and built up quite a large dive business with a lot of dive boats. We would be taking out over 100 to 150 people per day.”

Mr. Soto, who was made a Member of the British Empire in 1997, was also an avid wreck hunter, who helped salvage sunken ships across the world.

Mr. Kipp believes the dive industry in Cayman owes a large debt to Mr. Soto, who is also a member of the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame.

“I was proud to inherit the business from him in 1980, but I don’t know anybody else that could have carved the industry out of what was here in 1957,” said Mr. Kipp, pointing out that his friend had developed the sport at a time when the technology was still being pioneered and the Cayman Islands had just a couple of hotels.

He added, “Bob was a soft-spoken, thinking guy; 100 percent Caymanian – an honest and intelligent individual.”

Mr. Soto’s son Danny said his father died at the Cayman Islands Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by family members.

Mr. Soto, who is survived by his wife Suzy, had eight children, 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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Suzy and Bob Soto

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Mr. Soto passed away at the Cayman Islands Hospital on Tuesday afternoon.

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Bob Soto at his home, surrounded by the memorabilia of his life as a diver. – PHOTOS: CHRIS COURT
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  1. Hopefully this article will be read by many as Mr Soto was a pioneer and someone for which the country can be proud, a true hero.
    My sincere condolences go out to his family.

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  2. He certainly is a legend. My prayers and thoughts go out to his wonderful family. He made a difference in so many lives all over the world, as he brought to beautiful Cayman the ability to see also the beauty underneath the beautiful sea……

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  3. To the Soto family, my sincere condolence to you after opening my e-mail this morning and reading this sad news. Over the past years there were many in the Cayman community following my journey to bring electric vehicles to the Cayman Islands, Suzy and Bob Soto were one of my greatest fans and supporters. I will miss that huge smile when we would see each other no matter where, his message was clear, never give up. I will cherish this forever.

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  4. To Suzy and Bob Soto’s children and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren – how blessed you are to have had a great Caymanian hero as was your Father, Grandfather and Great-Grandfather. Bob Soto was one of the Cayman Islands’ most revered citizens – not just for the dive business he started, which went on to become a world-renowned sport and pleasure – the joy of diving! – but because he was a human being who treated all people with a spark of the divine within him. I remember well seeing him often on the Brac – his beloved Isle Cayman – and chatting with him about Brac issues for years. Bob Soto lived a long and wonder-full life and was beloved not just by all his dear family members, but by all Caymanians. We mourn the passing of a very dear man in full. God bless his memory.

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  5. Bob taught me to scuba dive around 1964, and I did enjoy various trips with him several times thereafter.
    Also enjoyed Suzy and their daughter at the Tortuga Club at times.
    Always had the greatest respect for Bob and his family.
    Now, at 87 years of age, having returned 4 days ago from a two-week stay at Harbour Heights, and visits with many friends from West Bay to East End, I missed Bob as well as Gleason Ebanks (and Elvet and Susy Conolly) but, by gum, I will get back to visit sometime, and I cannot find all the wonderful words to say how much I enjoy and adore Grand Cayman and the Cayman people.
    Joe Vesely

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  6. I’m very sad to hear that Mr Soto has gone on and left us, and I give my condolences to the family . I have to say that we have lost one of the best men of the Islands history, and loving, and caring pioneer and inspiring man . I personally knew Mr Soto all my life , one of the things that he did to helping other people , I seen him help my father around the clock to re float a 80 ft schooner the Wilson, and he did not charge my dad a dime. We have lost a true inspirational and a pioneer man in our history, again I give my condolences to all the family.

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  7. Sad to hear this. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Soto a few times and he was always willing to talk diving with me which is my passion. When I saw this I was deeply saddened as we have lost another great man in our community. My condolences to his family.

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  8. He will be sadly missed. He gave so many young Caymanians opportunities. Adrian Briggs, Atlee Evans, Clinton Ebanks, Don Foster , Peter Milburn, and myself were some that I can remember. We were the first Caymanian Dive Instructors/ Boat Captains.
    He had wooden Dive boats that were built by Viquez Miller, Holiday Diver, Reef Diver, etc.
    He had scuba diving all around Grand Cayman, ( East End, West Bay,South sound and North wall). He used foreigners and local people.
    The pay was small but I could go to Holiday Inn 5 days a week and pay all my bills.
    They should build some kind of remembrance for this great man. RIP Mr. Bob Soto.
    I am honored and blessed to have known Mr. Bob Soto. He was truly a blessing in my life I will miss him. My condolences

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  9. I worked for Bob Soto as a Dive master from Oct 1975 until May 1977. These were some of the best years of my life. Bob Soto was a wonderful person to work for and I am proud to have been associated with him. Bob, his family and the Caymanian people hold a dear place in my heart, may he rest in peace and I wish them all the good fortune that life can bring their way.
    George Jay Frame

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  10. Forty years ago, Mr. Soto was my landlord when I lived downstairs from him and his family across from the Lobster Pot. My roommate Ronnie and I spent time with him and his young family. He was always kind and gentle. He gave us diving lessons and took us on diving trips–at no cost–something I will never forget. Best wishes to his family!

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