Obituary Notice: Robert Haines, 1926-2019


Robert “Baines” Haines, a mariner whose decades-long career helped push Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s voyages to the farthest reaches of the oceans, died Jan. 26. He was 92.

Haines sat front and center at some of the greatest milestones of ocean exploration and world history of the second half of the 20th century. His career is storied with tales of daring ocean quests that are the stuff of any mariner’s best dreams and worst nightmares.

Haines was born Aug. 31, 1926 in Vallejo, Calif. His father was a Naval submarine officer, and the family settled in Coronado, which would lay the foundation for much of Haines’s life. He grew up sailing in San Diego Bay, and put high school on hold when he joined the Navy during World War II. Stationed aboard the USS Iowa, he was involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and the assault on Japan’s mainland islands, and would witness the end of World War II aboard the same ship, anchored next to the USS Missouri, where the surrender occurred.

He left the Navy after the war, but remained a mariner through his membership with the Coronado Yacht Club, which he joined in 1948. His interest in sailing would take him aboard yacht races from Long Beach to Catalina, beyond to the Hawaiian Islands, and eventually back home to San Diego. Haines joined Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego in 1950, launching a 35-year career with the institution.

Beginning as a deckhand, he quickly moved up the ranks from seaman to mate, and then to captain. He took a quick hiatus when the toll of being at sea for months at a time disrupted his family life. He decided to look for work on land to spend more time with his wife and four children, but after a year he returned to the sea. He came back to Scripps as a deckhand, but found himself climbing the ranks once again.

His time at Scripps was marked by more than just nautical miles sailed. Haines survived numerous typhoons and tropical cyclones, sailed through the eye of a hurricane, rescued distressed boaters, mapped the seabed, and hosted renowned newsman Walter Cronkite on one of his ship’s missions. His voyages stretched from the scientific to the top secret, from researching undersea volcanoes to watching a hydrogen bomb detonate over Eniwetok Island in 1952.

Many of Haines’s trips took him throughout the tropics, to remote islands such as Pitcairn and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). In order to provide power to a shore side laboratory, he once sailed his ship 1,500 miles up the Amazon River. He even helped Scripps make international headlines. While sailing in the South Pacific aboard research vessel Melville, scientists aboard the ship discovered that an underwater volcano was erupting. The crew on board Melville helped capture some of the floating volcanic debris and brought it back for study, gaining international attention throughout the scientific world.

Haines contributed significantly to the research advancements at Scripps, while never losing a man at sea and executing his missions repeatedly and flawlessly over the three and a half decades he worked for the institution.

He officially retired in 1985, but this didn’t keep him away from Scripps forever. On multiple occasions, Haines would return to missions as a member of the science party, and even step in as a relief captain when needed. While voyaging in the South Pacific on a geologic research cruise, Haines took over as captain when the ship’s leader had to return home for family matters.

Eric Buck, now port captain for Scripps, was second mate at the time of this cruise and remembers Haines’s leadership at one particular docking.

“I was the second mate on board, which means I had duties on the bridge when coming into the harbor,” he said. “Haines stepped away from the helm and looked at me and then said ‘tie the ship up, take control and dock it.’ He was known for unexpectedly giving the crew opportunities to take charge.”

After sailing at least half a million nautical miles in his lifetime and making a dozen or more equatorial crossings, it was hard to keep Haines from the sea.“It’s the solitude. The quiet,” Haines once said about the ocean. “The beauty of being at sea with no one around. It’s clean. It’s fresh.”

His love for the sea was not lost on his family. He instilled his love for sailing in his son, Robbie, when he gifted him a sailboat he constructed while voyaging through the Panama Canal. Robbie and two others would go on to win a gold medal in sailing at the 1984 Olympics.

Haines remained in Coronado, never too far from the ocean. “I would go back to sea in an instant,” he said, even in his final years. “The sea has always been my home, and I suppose it always will be.”

True to this sentiment, Haines’s last wishes asked that his ashes be returned to the Pacific at specified coordinates between Coronado, San Diego, and the nearby Coronado Islands of Mexico to the south.

Haines is survived by his wife, Barbara; children Robbie, Pam Hardenburgh, Caroline and Bunnie Hamilton; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

This story was adapted from an article in the Coronado Times.

– Chase Martin

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