Anyone who has raced sailboats out of Puerto Rico's east coast in the last 40 years is sure to know Bob Fisher. This Indiana native, who settled on the island in 1951, has long been a driving force on the sailboat racing scene and has helped to put Puerto Rico on the map as a destination for some of the best yachting competition in the Caribbean.
Fisher started boating young. An Indiana native, he traveled to the Great Lakes and pleasure-sailed dinghies. "In spite of my last name, I was never much of a fisherman," he says.
Fisher enrolled in the University of Cincinnati to study architecture. Then came World War II. He served in the Air Force and was on Okinawa when the Japanese delegation passed en route to surrender. Back in Cincinnati, Fisher completed his degree in architecture.
"I wanted to work for a small firm and the only places I didn't need a permit to work were Alaska, Guam or Puerto Rico. I chose Puerto Rico."
Fisher played golf on arriving to Puerto Rico at first. Then, in the early 1960s, he and his wife Dottie would drive two and one-half hours one way on small two-lane roads from San Juan to the public pier in Fajardo, where Fisher had telegraphed ahead and reserved a 24-foot sloop from Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.
"We'd start early, come home late and enjoy the day swimming and sailing around the small offshore islands," says Fisher.
One day, Fisher was home sick and read in the newspaper of a 24-foot sloop for sale in Ponce for $750. The next day, he flew south, bought the boat and hired a father and son to help him sail the boat north and west to Las Croabas, near Fajardo.
"The three of us were cramped under the cuddy cabin when it rained, eating dinner that we cooked over sternos," Fisher says. "It took overnight and into the next day. My wife almost called the Coast Guard." Fisher anchored his little sloop off Las Croabas and eventually put in a mooring.
In the 1960s, there was a fleet of about five boats racing out of the Fajardo area. "It was a mish-mash of a group," Fisher says. "One steel-built 35-footer, a 22-footer and a couple of Cal 25s. We'd get the boys in Las Croabas to crew for us – and they've all grown up to be boat captains today."
Club Nautico de Puerto Rico (CNPR) was founded in 1966 with some 50 charter members. "Judge Juan Torruella and I are the only ones left of that group in Puerto Rico today," says Fisher. "We had developed a fleet and started PHRF handicap racing."
The 1970s ushered in the first "plastic boats," says Fisher. "I wanted to buy a Danish boat at the time, but Dick Avery from St. Thomas convinced me to buy a Pearson 10m. He was the Pearson dealer at the time and we were just starting to do more inter-island racing." Fisher called his new Pearson, "Dottie," after his wife.
"She's the only woman I know who doesn't mind it when the boat heels over," Fisher says. "She's never been a big racer, but she did sail the boat to weather better than I."
In 1976, CNPR started the Copa Velasco, which has since grown into Puerto Rico's largest regatta. The event was first staged out of Palmas del Mar in Humacao.
"We got too rowdy there with all the parties for the condo owners, so we eventually moved up and raced out of Puerto del Rey," says Fisher.
In 1977, Fisher retired from his architectural career and devoted his time to sailing. "I started as treasurer of Club Nautico, then was chief measurer and commodore for several years as well as regatta director," Fisher says.
Fisher gave up competitive racing nine years ago at the age of 80. "Chuck McLaughlin, a good friend and navy doctor, has sailed Dottie for us every year in the regatta ever since," he says.
Fisher and his wife now divide their time between Florida and Puerto Rico. The couple looks forward attending the Puerto Rico Heineken Regatta this month.
He says, "We wouldn't miss it for the world."