Robert Doe (1942-2023): high seas adventurer
An intrepid Bermudian mariner who braved heavy seas on a solo trip for charity also pioneered the concept of the sail-training vessel for young people.
Captain Robert “Bobby” Doe was a commercial fisherman and builder of dinghies who made headlines in 2008 with his record-setting journey to Newport, Rhode Island, and back in his home-made 18ft dinghy, the Huckleberry.
Mr Doe was skipper of Bermuda's only tall ship, the Christian Venturer, in the years long before the Bermuda Sloop Foundation launched the Spirit of Bermuda training vessel.
A colourful character known to all as Bobby, Mr Doe was fishing and sailing from childhood, leaving school at Saltus aged 15 for a career on the water.
He spent several years working on the iconic Queen of Bermuda liner and got jobs on yachts sailing to the Caribbean.
His wife, Fiona, called him a “consummate observer” who naturally picked up the tricks of designing boats, with an instinct for what would work — dinghies in particular.
“He had an innate ability to match the ocean to a boat and how a boat would move through it,” she said. “It was a God-given gift.
“He was never reckless. He would do a lot of research, from weather patterns to fuel consumption.”
Nigel Prescott, a captain and fellow boat builder, recalled Mr Doe’s fascination with the use of fibreglass in his designs.
“He was my mate from when we were teenagers and my best man when I got married,” Mr Prescott said. “He was great, a really nice guy and a great seaman.”
Jobs on the land, where he cut a distinctive figure in his youth driving a pink Austin Cambridge car, included working as a bank teller and in air traffic control.
In later life he became fascinated with light aircraft, obtaining a pilot’s licence.
However, Mr Doe always preferred building boats, sailing and fishing.
His vessels, which were highly popular, can still be seen around the island.
Mr Doe specialised in deep-water fishing, including bringing up four species that were new to science — and catching six gill sharks.
He launched his tall ship, the Christian Venture, in 1978, and skippered the 72ft vessel in the 1980 Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race from Boston to Norway, winning the Admiral Perry Bowl for placing second overall.
He told The Royal Gazette in a 2000 interview of racing next in the Baltic: “We placed second in class and fourth over the line.” Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands presented the prize.
The Christian Venturer also participated in the 1984 Tall Ships Race, where she came second in her class and fourth overall across the line in the Bermuda-Halifax leg.
Mr Doe used the vessel to train young people in sailing.
The ship’s name came from his deep religious faith, which Mr Doe said also inspired an ambitious charitable mission to help Jewish refugees get to Israel from Russia.
“This quiet voice within me said that I should build a boat that would go from Russia to Israel,” he recalled.
“This was not as strange as Noah being asked to build an ark with no water in sight, but it was certainly odd.”
The couple began bringing people to Israel at the tail end of the Soviet Union, and then from Russia after the USSR broke apart.
Mr Doe’s record in 2008 was unofficial, but from the couple’s research, his solo, unsupported trip of three days and six hours to Newport and two days and 20 hours to come back was a new feat.
It was also a fundraiser for the Lady Cubitt Compassionate Association charity.
With his first wife, Penny, Mr Doe had two daughters, Tina and Jennifer.
He met Fiona, his second wife, while sailing, and the couple married in 1987.
The couple moved to Tasmania in 2009. His wife said she ultimately planned to bring his ashes to Bermuda for a memorial service at sea.
“He was a character and a man of honour,” Ms Doe said. “It has been 36 years of adventure with an honourable, honourable man.”
Mr Doe is also survived by two sisters, Judy, in Canada, and Betty-Joe, in Australia, as well as a brother in Bermuda, Edward, and granddaughters Christina and Caitlyn.
• Captain Robert Ross Doe, a prominent Bermudian mariner, was born on May 15, 1942 and died on September 23, 2023, aged 81