Bob Soto was born in 1926 on the Isle of Pines to a Cuban father and Caymanian mother. He settled on Grand Cayman with his mother and brothers. Bob’s life was touched by adversity at a tender age. He had two older brothers, Rene (16 yr.) and Haldane (21 yr.) who were tragically lost at sea during the 1940 Hurricane Ivan while aboard the vessel, Hustler. Bob was only 14 yrs. old at the time and was now responsible for providing for his family. Young Bob made his own fishing hooks and worked hard to trade the fish he caught for daily goods the family needed.
In time, Bob served as a corporal in the Cayman Islands Division of the Jamaican Home Guard, which was responsible for guarding the island’s coastline during the latter days of WWII. Their goal was to prevent potential enemy ships from disrupting allied shipping lanes in the Caribbean Sea. Although he was just 16 years of age, he claimed to be 18 so he could enlist, as many young men wishing to serve did at that time. Years later, he would give a remembrance speech on behalf of his fellow guardsmen.
After the war ended, Bob joined the US Navy, where he learned to scuba dive. He spent much time on a salvage tug, the USS Worbler, and moved up the chain to hard hat diver. Their job was to find wrecked ships and patch them sufficiently to enable them to float to the surface.
Soto eventually joined the Merchant Marines, enabling him to travel the world over and experience diving in such places as the Red Sea and South America. After 30 years spent working at sea, he returned to his home of Grand Cayman. During his years away (1942-1957), Bob had sent quite a bit of money home to his mother, who still lived in Georgetown. She used some of the money he sent to build a concrete duplex on the family land. In 1958, Bob built a dive shop on the beach across the street from the duplex.
Bob started building a dive boat immediately, under the almond trees at Pageant Beach. He wasted no time and began teaching scuba diving. He would go to the hotels to solicit business and the hoteliers would joke that he was going to drown their paying guests. When Bob began his dive business in earnest, he brought five sets of gear to the island. The sport was in its infancy and he exhibited ingenuity in the face of every challenge. He built his own back packs out of plywood and pieces of metal. Determined and driven, Bob made 10 dive tanks from converted fire extinguishers. For dive weights, he would break up batteries, removed the lead, and melt them into the weights. The price for a dive trip with Bob in those early days was a mere $7/person.
At this time, the only scuba diving certifying agency was L.A. County. Bob, instructed by the Navy, taught dive tables and the Navy method of diving. His students were ‘Soto Certified.’ Many discouraged Bob when he started his business, but he persevered and Bob was soon operating the first successful dive shop in the Cayman Islands. As the business grew, he bought more equipment and air compressors. He was soon taking out 100-150 divers a day. From the very beginning, Bob was extremely conscious of protecting the precious underwater environment he so loved. He taught his divers and boaters to stay off the coral and spearheaded local marine conservations laws in the 1980’s.
By means of his skillful competence and quiet confidence, Soto built his little dive shop and Lobster Pot restaurant into one of the most popular dive destinations in the world. Jeff Rice, founder of this website, fondly remembers
his visits to Bob’s shop as some of his earliest diving memories in the 1970’s. One of his favorite souvenirs from his many visits to Soto’s was the famous t-shirt that Bob himself often wore. It bore an image on the back containing the Green Peace emblem alongside the Dive Flag. Rice remembers that though Soto was a soft spoken man, he was relentless about getting his conservation message out in every way possible, even by means of a t-shirt.