Person of the Week
Carter Gowrie: On Sail!
Carter Gowrie is a lifelong sailor who has crafted a career around his hobby. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier)
Some people are lucky enough to discover what they love to do when they are young—really young. In the case of Carter Gowrie, his father snuggled him in a basket and took him out in a sailboat when he was three months old. He has been sailing ever since.
“I was so young I can’t even remember when I started sailing,” Carter says.
On the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, Carter will be sailing towards a special goal, raising money for leukemia and lymphoma research in the upcoming Leukemia Cup Regatta on the Connecticut River.
“It’s a good combination, a race and a great cause,” he says.
The event is sponsored by the Essex, the Essex Corinthian, the Pettipaug and the Frostbite yacht clubs.
The Leukemia Cup sailing challenge is a national event that has taken place for some 30 years with yacht clubs throughout the United States holding annual regattas. The first event in Birmingham, Alabama in l988 raised $146. Since that time, Leukemia Cup regattas throughout the United States have raised about $62 million for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to support the society’s research, education, and advocacy programs for victims of blood cancers.
The statistics on blood cancer deaths are sobering. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, every nine minutes, someone in the United States dies from a blood cancer. That makes some six people an hour or approximately 160 every day. Blood cancers caused the deaths of an estimated 58,100 people in the United States in 2018.
There are several ways to contribute to the upcoming Leukemia Cup fundraising effort: enter a boat in the competition, pledge funds to one of the competitors, or raise funds as a “virtual boat,” and enter without sailing at all. The virtual boat that raises the most money will be declared the winner.
For sailing participants, winning comes the old-fashioned way: over the finish line first. Carter says organizers hope that some 50 boats in various classes will participate. Any one-design class that has five boats gets its own start and there is a handicap class for other entries.
The Saturday night party that is part of the regatta weekend features a boat as well, albeit once at anchor at the Essex Island Marina. The party will take place on the Becky Thatcher, the boat that takes visitors up the Connecticut River as part of the Essex Steam train excursions. The event is open to everybody, whether or not participating in the regatta, and funds from the $25 tickets also go to leukemia research.
Sailing is not only Carter’s hobby; it inspired his business. He founded Gowrie Group in 1974 as a marine insurer, though now the company has branched out into many other areas of insurance. The Gowrie Group insures not just individual boat owners, but the United States Olympic Sailing team and yacht clubs throughout the United States. Every once in a while, Carter says, a prospective client will call and say he needs insurance for a new, large boat. Carter asks the caller what his sailing experience has been.
“He tells me ‘none,’” Carter says. “I tell him to go get a captain or a smaller boat.”
Carter sees similarities in the advice he gives both in sailing and in business.
“I tell people you have to have a plan and you have to be able to shift if the wind deviates,” he says. “I think sometimes people in my office get sick of all the sailing metaphors.”
One thing Carter never gets sick of is sailing, whatever the weather. In winter, he frostbites—yep, sails on the Connecticut River as long as there’s no ice.
“Of course, I’d rather be sailing,” he says, adding that there is a reward for sailing in the wintry chill. “I love it; it’s a great group that’s out there and then you come back and have a dark and stormy.”
For nonfrostbiters, that’s a drink made with rum and ginger beer.
When he’s not sailing, Carter likes to play his guitar and sing. He recently performed at the Essex Library Association’s indoor miniature golf event. Every year he appears as one of the local artists in a benefit concert at The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook for The Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries. In addition, the Gowrie Group is the lead business in sponsoring a matching funds challenge for the soup kitchen.
Often singing is a family affair. After he recently moved to a larger home in Essex, his children came down, helped him unpack, and ended the day sitting around singing as he played. His requirements for his new home reflected his ongoing passions: near the water and enough room for grown children’s visits.
For Carter, the Leukemia Cup Regatta combines sailing and family. His oldest son Casey is also one of the competitors and his younger son Scott is crewing for him.
“I love sailing with my kids,” he says. “They all have crewed for me.”
Sailing, Carter points out, is a sport for all ages.
“One great thing about sailing is that you can keep on doing it. You’re not on your game the same way as you were when you were younger, but you have the advantage of being at it a longer time,” he says.
Carter has sailed international competitions, but what he really loves is racing closer to home.
“I don’t have any ambition to do ocean races out in the Atlantic; I like going around the buoys,” he says, referring to the pattern of a sailing race.
He has had his share of victories, but he says now he usually gives any trophy he wins to his crew.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t value winning.
“I love the fun and the camaraderie. In sailing you make friends for life,” he says, but that’s not the end of it. “I am still competitive.”