My first impression of 1984 Olympic Gold Medal-winning sailor Robbie Haines from our interview at the Coronado Yacht Club last week, was, ‘What a great guy.’ My educated guess is when the seven-time World Champion, is at the helm of a multi-million-dollar racing boat, his demeanor becomes a tad more aggressive.
Haines is the son of Bob and Barbara Haines, and is the oldest of four siblings, with his three younger sisters all born one year apart. Robbie’s earliest influence in sailing was his father. “I started sailing when I was eight and my fondest memory initially of sailing was when Dad built me a Sabot on one of his around-the-world Scripps expeditions. He built the Sabot on the ship, we launched it at Point Loma and sailed it together to Coronado. I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Haines graduated from Coronado High School (CHS ’72) and was candid about his high school years. “I wasn’t real interested in school during that time. I was more interested in sailing. I did that some out of the Coronado Yacht Club (CYC) and the San Diego Yacht Club along with Rod Davis and Eddie Trevelyan. We started sailing with and against each other when we were 12 years old at the CYC. The high school didn’t have a sailing team at that point. We sailed different boats against each other. Eddie won two Junior Match-Racing National Championships and Rod may have crewed for him.” Haines has been a member of the CYC since 1971.
Haines, Davis and Trevelyan competed in the Sears Cup for young sailors and the Mallory Cup, which was a men’s championship and admitted, “We never had good luck in those events.”
Ironically in 2001, Haines’ son Brian (CHS ’02) was a skipper on Coronado High School Team that captured the Mallory Cup, one of the highest honors in prep sailing. His crew was Blaire Herron. The team included Mike Anderson-Mitterling, Lauren Usrey and Tinja Anderson-Mitterling. The same team won the Baker Team High School Regatta, another major sailing competition.
Haines outlined the beginning of his post-CHS career. “I started school at Southwestern College and went there for a couple of years. At the same time, I was working for North Sails part-time, which was owned by Lowell North and became the largest sail manufacturer in the world. In 1976, at the age of 19, I started an Olympic campaign with North and he crewed for me. I was in utter amazement when he asked me. At the time he was an Olympic Gold Medalist and in the Who’s Who of sailing. We finished second in the Olympic Trials, and I was chosen as an alternate, but I got to be with the full Olympic Team for the Montreal Games. I was just standing around waiting for someone to get sick. It was a real good experience. Going through the Opening Ceremony in Montreal and walking into the stadium was something else.”
North, who is now 88 years old and the owner of both Gold and Bronze Olympic medals, in addition to four Star World Championships, is an important figure in Haines’ life. “Lowell and my Dad were my mentors. Certainly, Lowell helped with the finer points of sailing and Dad was an overall mentor. Dad was well-known as a navigator on big boats and he sailed the Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac) four or five times. His forte was being a navigator, which is the second most important job on the boat.”
In 1980 the trio of Haines as skipper, with Davis and Trevelyan as crew, combined on an Olympic Campaign for the Moscow Olympics in the three-man Soling Class boat and were the heavy Gold medal favorites as the Olympics approached. Haines described the sloop-styled boat as being 27-feet long, weighing 2,300 pounds and was designed by Norwegian Jan Linge. The Soling Class was an Olympic Class boat from the 1972 Munich Olympics through to the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
Unfortunately, President Jimmy Carter declared a boycott of the 1980 Olympics over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. As you might expect, Haines isn’t a big fan of that decision, but more for the impact it had on others. “There are sports where the athletes are only good for one Olympics, like gymnastics. There are Olympians who trained and had one shot, maybe two and aren’t given another chance. In sailing, you can go to the Olympics five times, because it’s not as physical a sport as others are. That’s who I felt sorry for.”
The consolation prize for the Olympians who couldn’t compete in Moscow was a Congressional Gold Medal, which was presented by Carter at a White House ceremony. Haines, who is disarmingly honest said, “It didn’t sink in that we had won a Congressional Gold Medal until years later. I Googled it and didn’t know we had won that. At the time it was so disappointing. We went and scrounged around and found the Congressional Gold Medal that was in a box with other stuff in it.”
Starting in 1983, Haines mounted his third Olympic campaign, training for two years. Trevelyan and Davis were committed to sailing in the America’s Cup, with Trevelyan sailing with Dennis Connor and Davis sailing with another syndicate. Haines said, “It took 10 years to win the Gold Medal. We were more favored to win the Gold in 1980 then we finally won it in 1984.”
Haines was inducted into the San Diego Sports Hall of Fame last week. When asked where his Olympic Gold Medal was located, Haines said, “If you had asked me three days ago, (before the induction ceremony) I would have had no clue. It should be in a safe deposit box. I have a copy of the medal here (in the CYC lobby) and I have another copy to show kids when I give talks. If I didn’t have that copy, the ribbon would be in pieces.”
His Olympic victory eventually led to an association with Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney, that in turn led to competing in sailing events all over the world. “We started working together in 1998,” Haines recalled. “And we were together until he passed away in 2009. I have been working for his son Roy Patrick Disney. There were five “Pyewackets” (racing boats owned by Disney) and I was involved in four of them. I was a consultant on all of them with Roy and I was by his side helping him through all of them.”
Haines holds the titles of Project Manager and Sailing Master for Disney and described his responsibilities. “I basically put the schedule together and invite the crew. Roy Patrick is a hands-on owner who likes to be involved in all the decisions and I run everything by him. When we are on the boat, he relies totally on me. It’s a fun job, I love it, and I’m pretty good at it.”
While Haines and I were in the beginning portion of our interview, CYC Head Sailing Coach: Jon Rogers performed a verbal drive-by and commented on the importance of Haines’ mentorship and outreach over the years. Haines said, “I love doing that and I have probably worked with 15 kids over the years. I worked with Phillip Lozier, who sailed in the Nationals in the Laser Class. He went on to do quite a bit of racing after his Junior days in Coronado and he is now a graduate of the Naval Academy. I have helped kids in Newport Beach and one young boy from St. Martin in the Caribbean. Then there is a young man from inner-city Baltimore who I mentored after working on the Disney movie “Morning Light.” There have been quite a few different kids I have tried to help, primarily educationally and not necessarily in sailing, to get on the right track after high school.”
On the home front, Robbie and his wife of 40 years Amy, have two children and four grandchildren. Their daughter Molly Haines McKay (CHS ’01) is a real estate broker associate with Berkshire Hathaway locally. She is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall University in Pennsylvania and with her husband Bud McKay has two children. Brian Haines, mentioned earlier is a 2007 graduate of Stanford University. He works for San Diego Gas & Electric and with his wife Katie, also have two children.
Robbie lists his favorite areas to sail as being Hawaii and the Caribbean because of the wind and water conditions. He added, “I’m not doing any other sailing other than with Roy Disney, and I love it. I spend so much time with the grandkids and kids, I don’t have much interest in doing more sailing. But, I’m still too young to completely stop competitive sailing.”
Haines maintains an office in the Point Loma area, which is just fine with his wife Amy. Robbie said, “My lovely wife of 40 years is a huge supporter of me and my career. Amy says she loves me dearly, but the checks she writes for my office rental, is the best money she has ever spent.”