Dive flags at Lobster Pot, the original home of Bob Soto’s Diving, and other dive operations were flying at half-staff this week as tributes poured in for the man dubbed a Cayman legend.
Mr. Soto, who died in hospital this week, is revered as the father of diving in the Cayman Islands and one of the founders of recreational scuba diving worldwide.
Dive shop owners from across the island hailed his influence on the dive industry and on tourism in the Cayman Islands.
Adrien Briggs, the owner of Sunset House and Sunset Divers, said Mr. Soto had been a big influence on him personally, teaching him to dive when he was 12 years old.
Mr. Briggs said he had served an apprenticeship helping out on Mr. Soto’s boats in the early days of scuba diving in the Cayman Islands in the 1960s, before buying a boat from him and going into business himself.
“He was a wonderful man and a unique individual. He had a wonderful personality. He was genuinely one of the best people I have ever known,” said Mr. Briggs. “He was a good friend and someone I looked up to. He is also the man who put Cayman on the diving tourism map.”
In the early days, Mr. Briggs remembers, the reef around George Town was pristine. The early pioneers of the sport discovered countless dive sites that have since been visited by millions of tourists as recreational diving has exploded in popularity.
“Cayman had a lot going for it as a dive destination, and Bob was the one who took it to the world,” Mr. Briggs said.
Giles Charlton-Jones, one of the owners of Lobster Pot Diving where Mr. Soto opened the first scuba business in the Caribbean in 1957, said the dive flags were lowered in tribute.
“It is a privilege for us to run the business out of his original dive shop,” he said. “He is a great man and has been a great landlord to us over the years. His influence has been incredible. Back when he started, the sport of diving didn’t really exist.”
Steve Broadbelt, owner of Ocean Frontiers in East End, said Mr. Soto’s legacy would never be forgotten.
“Bob Soto put Cayman on the map, and everybody in the dive business owes him an immense debt of gratitude. It is impossible to imagine a Cayman without Bob Soto, his vision and what he achieved.”
He said Mr. Soto was also the trailblazer for East End diving, as founder of the Cayman Diving Lodge in 1972.
Nancy Easterbrook started her dive business, Divetech, in the mid-’90s at Turtle Reef, next to the Cracked Conch restaurant owned by Mr. Soto, whom she remembers as influential in helping her make the decision to set up shop in West Bay.
“He was an inspiration for everyone that set up here,” Ms. Easterbrook said. “He was innovative and had the vision to look to the future and establish the industry long before my time here.”
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association released a statement Wednesday, paying tribute to Mr. Soto, saying: “CITA is grateful to Mr. Soto and his family, who have been instrumental in the development of tourism in these islands, including the formation of CITA. His legacy has left an indelible imprint on many lives.”
Funeral services for Mr. Soto will be held at the Cayman Islands Baptist Church at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 21.