Barry Pickthall collaborated with Bob Fisher on numerous books. He looks back at the life of the sailor and journalist
Bob Fisher, the larger-than-life yachtsman, journalist, author and raconteur, died at home in Lymington in January, sparking tributes from around the globe.
He was 85.
Three days before, Sir Ben Ainslie had called him from Auckland where he and his INEOS British America’s Cup team had just won what was probably the most exciting race in the 170-year history for the ‘Auld Mug’ to dedicate their victory to this fabled Cup historian.
He called Bob the ‘doyen of yachting correspondents and a very good yachtsman in his own right. Wherever you went in the world, Bob knew everyone… A real character…just a lovely man,’ said Sir Ben.
Born on 20 April 1935 in Brightlingsea, as a young boy he became fascinated by stories regaled by the professional fishermen from the town.
They had crewed on the big yachts of their day, including Sir Thomas Sopwith’s two British J Class America’s Cup challengers Endeavour and Endeavour II in 1934 and ’37, and for Bob, their tales began a lifelong fascination with the America’s Cup.
Bob first made a name as a top crew in the 1960s, winning 7 national and world titles in the National Hornet and Fireball dinghy classes, together with the Little America’s Cup in 1967, crewing the British C-Class catamaran defender Lady Helmsman with Peter Schneidau against the Australian challenger Quest III.
Controversial in word and mouth, Bob’s comments about the sport he loved invariably drew handshakes or anger in equal measure.
His detractors made much of his highly publicised escapades; hitting the Varvassi wreck close to the Needles lighthouse during one Round the Island Race, then running his 45ft Barracuda of Tarrant up on Bembridge Ledge at the other end while returning from a booze cruise to France.
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There was also the little incident between the maxi yacht Drum, which Bob happened to be helming, and the submarine HMS Otus during a cruise through a fog shrouded Mull of Kintyre.
The sub suffered £1m worth of damage to her periscope and antennae.
Bob treated all these misadventures as badges of honour.
David Latchford, the Commodore of the South West Shingles Yacht Club, whose membership is by invitation only to those who have performed humous or out-of-place incidents afloat, and has had such luminaries as Sir Ben Ainslie, Tony Bullimore and Harold Cudmore among its number, says of Bob: ‘He had to be reminded that it was not necessary to qualify every year!’
In later years, Bob enjoyed sailing the classic 1896 Solent One Design Rosenn, co-owned with Barry Dunning.
One inexperienced crewman, press-ganged to join her crew for the Round the Island Race one year, perhaps summed up the thoughts of many in a Facebook tribute: ‘Bob, you abused me the whole way round the Island…And I loved it!’
The author of 30 books covering all aspects of sailing, Bob Fisher’s greatest legacy is his two- volume opus An Absorbing Interest a definitive history of the America’s Cup which took 15 years of research to write.
Volume III taking the story up to the current America’s Cup series in Auckland is expected to be published this Autumn.
Bob Fisher is survived by his wife Dee, two children Alice and Carolyne, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Donations in Bob Fisher’s memory are welcomed to be sent to the Sir Thomas Lipton Foundation. www.sirthomasliptonfoundation.org
Bob Fisher 20.04.1935 – 25.01.2021
1958: 1 st HORNET WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP John Partridge/Bob Fisher
1961: 1 st Hornet National championship: John Partridge/Bob Fisher
1965: 1 st Hornet National championship: Mike Patten/Bob Fisher
1966: 1 st Fireball World Championship: Colin McKenzie/Bob Fisher
1966: 1 st Hornet National championship: Terry Wade/Bob Fisher
1967: Winners – Little America’s Cup – Lady Helmsman – Peter Schneidau/Bob Fisher
1969: 1 st Hornet National Championship: Colin McKenzie/Bob Fisher
1970: 1 st Hornet World Championship: Colin McKenzie/Bob Fisher
1989: 1 st Class IV – Doublehanded Round Britain Race: Bob Fisher/Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
1997: As navigator, broke the Transatlantic monohull record from Sandy Hook to the Lizard aboard the 80ft Nicorette
Trustee of the Sir Thomas Lipton Foundation
Former Chairman of the Yachting Journalists’ Association (YJA)
A founder member of the Society of International Nautical Scribes (SINS)
Founder member of the IYRU Womens sailing committee
America’s Cup Hall of Fame selection panellist
Rolex/World Sailing World Sailor of the Year selection panellist