Photo Credit: FRIED ELLIOTT / friedbits.com
Robbie Haines was almost pre-destined for a career in sailing. His father, Bob, was not only one of the most respected navigators in offshore sailboat racing, he also was a captain of research vessels for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
On one of his trips around the world, Bob Haines built an 8-foot Sabot for his young son on the deck of the Scripps research vessel.
“My dad launched and tested the Sabot in the Suez Canal,” Robbie Haines recalled recently. “When he got home, he put it in the water just west of Shelter Island. I sailed it to Coronado.”
By himself. At the age of eight.
Fifty-six years later, Robbie Haines will be inducted into the Breitbard Hall of Fame on February 1, 2018.
Established in 1953 by Robert Breitbard, the Hall honors athletes who have excelled athletically in San Diego or who are native San Diegans and have achieved athletic fame elsewhere.
Haines won seven world championships and an Olympic gold medal during a career that morphed from one-design sailing to long-distance offshore racing.
He’s best known for winning the gold medal as skipper in the three-man keelboat Soling class with fellow Coronado natives Rod Davis and Eddie Trevelyan in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Haines, then 30, had raced with Davis and Trevelyan since the trio were teenagers at Coronado Yacht Club. “Winning the Olympics was one of the highlights of my career,” Haines said.
Not that his career/life can be confined to one memory.
“Probably the highlights of my sailing career were my 21 years sailing with Roy Disney, the Olympics and my four-decade-plus association with Lowell North and North Sails,” Haines said. “And family. Amy and I celebrated our 40th anniversary on Dec. 30. And there’s always the memory of Dad making me that first Sabot.”
Haines was 16 when he first gained notice nationally while sailing with Davis and Trevelyan in youth championships.
“As a team, the three of us sailed in the Mallory and Sears cups,” Haines said. “Eddie was the only one of us to win a national youth championship while sailing solo.”
But the three-man national youth championships led to campaigns that resulted in two Olympic berths and the 1984 gold medal in the Soling class, which wasn’t as popular in the United States as elsewhere in the world.
“My dad bought a Soling for himself with me crewing when I was 15 or 16,” Haines recalled. “Then I started sailing it a bit, sold it, got a Star and sailed that for a while. Then in 1974, Lowell approached me to crew for me in a Soling Olympic campaign. I was stunned.”
North, who is also a member of the Breitbard Hall of Fame, was himself an Olympic gold medalist skipper and two years removed from his fifth world championship (claimed in San Diego) in the Star Class when he approached Haines about serving on the 20-year-old skipper’s crew in an Olympic bid.
Haines, with North and Rodney Eales as crew, finished second in the 1976 Olympic trials, and Robbie was selected as an alternate to the 1976 team.
Two years later, Haines reunited with Davis and Trevelyan to mount a Soling campaign for the 1980 Olympics. This time, the Haines-led team won the 1979 Soling worlds and the Olympic berth, and was a heavy gold medal favorite — only to be denied a trip to the Olympics when the United States boycotted the 1980 Games.
“I remember receiving the Congressional Gold Medal with other members of the Olympic team from President Carter,” Haines said.
The Coronado trio vowed to return in 1984, but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Davis and Trevelyan were sailing in the 1983 America’s Cup when Haines won his second Soling worlds with Vince Brun and Robert Kenney.
“In 1984, Rod, Eddie and I weren’t that consistent leading up to the Olympics,” he said. “We weren’t the favorites we had been in 1980.”
But they claimed the gold medal off Long Beach without having to sail in the final race of a very competitive series.
“My career changed after 1984,” Haines said. “I was burned out. I wanted to get a real job. I got a job as executive director with the North American Yacht Racing Union. Dennis Conner then lured me away to be involved in America’s Cup effort as the tactician on his ‘B’ boat.”
But while the Stars & Stripes team was training in Hawaii, North called Haines and offered him a position running the North Sails loft in Huntington Beach.
That opened the door to the most enduring part of Haines’ sailing career.
“I was sitting in my office one day, and Roy Disney called and said, ‘Can I meet with you?’” Haines recalled. “At that time, I was sailing just with North Sails customers. I had a feeling he was coming in to say I’d like to buy your sails.
“I remember him saying, ‘I want to switch my boats to North Sails and I want you to come aboard.’”
Haines spent the final 18 years with Roy Disney as the project manager and sailing master for the late Disney’s series of Pyewackets. Later, he served in the same capacity for Disney’s son, Roy Pat Disney.
Together, Haines sailed in 13 Transpac races from Los Angeles to Hawaii with Roy Disney. They were also together for 30 international races into Mexico, two Pacific Cups, two Newport-to-Bermuda races, a Trans-Alantic race, two CORK Race Weeks, one Sardinia Cup, one Chicago-to-Mackinac race, two Miami-to-Montego Bay races and one St. Tropez race.
Pyewackets won races and set elapsed time records.
“Roy loved being out in the middle of an ocean with his boat and his crew,” Haines said.
“My relationships with North and Roy were so great. I was aligned with North Sails for 41 years. Roy always wanted his boat to be able to win the Transpac race.”
Haines and his wife live in Coronado near their two children — Brian and Molly — and four grandchildren.
Previous inductees recognized for sailing achievement are Lowell North, Gerry Driscoll, Dennis Conner, Malin Burnham, Mark Reynolds, Joe Jessop, and JJ Fetter.
Haines will be inducted along with San Diego Padre Hall of Famer Garry Templeton and Claude Gilbert, who was the head coach at San Diego State from 1973 to 1980.