Oct. 17, 1944 – June 10, 2017
Robert L. Caetano joined the Sea Scouts as a teen, and it charted him a course he followed for the rest of his life.
He went on to become one of the pioneering community sailing instructors in the nation. As founder of the Seven Seas Sailing Center, he shared his love of being out on the water with scores of youth and adults.
Known as Captain Bob to his mates from Seven Seas, he died Saturday in his Town of Tonawanda home after a lengthy illness. He was 72.
The oldest of seven children and a native of Buffalo’s Old First Ward, he attended School 4 and Hutchinson Central Technical High School. He left school to join the Navy at the age of 17 and sent his pay home to support his single mother and his siblings.
A quartermaster and a navigator, he served aboard the USS Raleigh, an amphibious transport deck, in the Pacific during the early years of the Vietnam War. Because his skills were needed, he remained on active duty for a fifth year.
Returning from the Navy, where he earned his high school equivalency certificate, he sold sailboats and went to SUNY Buffalo State, completing a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education.
Mr. Caetano was a reading specialist in Buffalo elementary schools and high schools for 32 years and did additional instruction for jail inmates and home-schooled students. After school and on weekends, he was on the water.
He started his sailing school in Buffalo’s Small Boat Harbor in 1970, teaching classes on land, then continuing instruction on the water. He later transferred his operations to the First Buffalo River Marina on the Buffalo River, then had a houseboat and office in Erie Basin Marina, which became a mecca for aspiring sailors.
He set up special classes for deaf students and inner-city youth. He also taught classes in sailboat racing. Many of his students went on to compete in the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club’s Wednesday night races.
“He taught anybody and everybody. He was a wonderful teacher. He could make you thrilled about something you hated,” said his longtime companion, Lisa Seaman, who described him as “kindly, but gruff.”
In the late 1990s, Mr. Caetano retired to St. Petersburg, Fla., where he could sail year-round. He no longer gave sailing classes, but became an alternative education teacher in Tampa for 10 years, working with teens adjudicated by the courts.
“That was his specialty,” Seaman said. “He could get them motivated and get them reading.”
He returned to the Buffalo area in 2013.
In addition to his companion, survivors include two daughters, Laura and Marguerite Caetano Roloff; two brothers, Patrick and James; three sisters, Mary Lou Wascher, Jeanie and Patricia Wilgus; and three grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Our Lady of Charity Parish, St. Ambrose Site, 65 Ridgewood Road.