EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW : Gordy Bowers

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW : Gordy Bowers © JOY Related topics:

3 January 2005

EH: Hi Gordy and Welcome to the team in Zenda. I know everyone both at Melges Performance Sailboats and North Sails One Design are very excited that you have joined the team. Also, you will be the Sailing Director for the Minnetonka Yacht Clubs sailing school. Tell us more about your upcoming season.

Let me start out by saying that my schedule gets a little hectic at times. But, my life is much easier due to the love and support of my wife who understands me and loves to sail whenever possible.

My responsibilities with the Lake Minnetonka Sailing School, Melges Performance Sailboats and North Sails will make for a crowded schedule. Sailing School starts early with our High School Sailing Teams and University of Saint Thomas spring practice April and May. The core of the LMSS summer sailing school runs June to mid August for Optimists, X-Boats, 420s and Lasers. It also includes coaching at many regattas. High School and St. Thomas University fall practice starts after the E Scow Nationals in September and ends the last weekend in October. I am lucky to have an excellent Board of Directors, helpful parents, dedicated assistants and young sailors who want to learn.

Joining the Melges Boats/North Sails team will be enjoyable and challenging. Everyone has been very supportive and enthusiastic. I will be talking sailing with my friends over the winter months, teaching seminars, doing a little iceboating and maybe racing down south. My brother Mark and I are planning on racing our E-Scow at the Minnetonka Yacht Club and attending the Invitational, Inland and National regattas this summer. I also try to sail the other scows - A, C and MC as often as possible. Helping the team promote the new Melges 17 is also a goal. Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons I race with many keelboat friends in the J-24, J-22, Capri-25, and Sonar classes.

EH: You no doubt have one of the most impressive racing records over the years in the Inland Yachting Association. I think many folks outside the world of Inland Scow sailing though think of you as a Olympic sailing coach and group professional coach. It seems like teaching and coaching has always been on your sailing plate. Can you tell us more about what influenced you and drives you to always be teaching and helping others? 

GB: My father was a doctor and my mother was a nurse so it's probably part of my gene pool that I enjoy helping others by teaching sailing skills. After my brother Tom and I bought our first used C boat from Melges we had success at the Minnetonka Club races. We went to the C Invitational and Inland and were disappointed with our results, but we learned from our competitors. The next season, We decided to help ourselves by helping our C fleet - teaching what we learned at the regattas. We sailed evenings and talked about it after at our friends homes. After a couple of years we won our first C Invitational and the Minnetonka C Fleet began appearing in the top ten at the big regattas. By sharing we were part of a tradition of excellence that continues today at the Minnetonka Yacht Club.

EH: Who has had the greatest influence on your sailing career? Also, with this same question who are some of your heroes in sailing and folks you think really represent our sport well?

GB: My father and mother had a huge impact on my sailing. Our family moved out to Lake Minnetonka when I was ten. The excitement of sailboat racing at the Minnetonka Yacht Club unfolded right on our doorstep. Neither of my parents sailed! However, they allowed me to follow my dreams, bought our first X-Boat and invested in our education.

As a young sailor I had three sailing heroes. Ted Greer, an excellent C-Scow racer, was my first sailing instructor. Ted had in infectious enthusiasm for sailing and set an example of what hard work could do every day of sailing class. Next was Nat Robins Jr, our Club and ILYA E-Scow Champion. From Nat I learned the values of sportsmanship - how to win and loose with humility and respect for competitors.

Finally, Buddy Melges as competitor and friend has given me many valuable lessons. Early on I believed winning was the only path to racing success. Buddy won a lot in Scows, One-designs, Iceboats, Olympic classes and America's Cup. I learned how to sail fast by watching his sailtrim, steering technique and racing strategy as they played out on the race course. I became convinced that getting beat was all right if I learned something from every race and wrote it down. Every year I keep a racing notebook to improve my racing. We have become good friends by competing on the water and as sailmakers for many years. We share a sport we both love. I also get to race against his sons Harry III and Hans. It's nice to be on the same team after so many years.

EH: You come from a family full of sailors and you also had a very successful sail business in Bowers Sails. Give us a brief history of the sailors in your family and a little bit about how you became such a good sailmaker.

GB: I come from a family of six boys, enough for a whole hockey team and in Minnesota, that's important. As the first son my interest in sailboat racing transferred to my brothers. Tom, a year younger, became my C-Boat crew member winning four ILYA championships and my business partner. He is an excellent helmsman. The only time I crewed for him he won the ILYA C Championship. David crewed for Chuck Gorgen and won Inland championships in the D Class. Dan and Steve each won ILYA Championships in the E-Scow. The last brother Mark is the all-star crew in the family winning championships in the E, C and J-24 classes. He is my partner in our E-Scow and plays a major role in our racing success.

I came to sailmaking after being out of law school for several years. Tom and I loved to race and wanted to get into the business. The problem was neither of us had spent a minute in a sail loft. I read everything on sailmaking I could find. We got lucky with my design and won the ILYA Championship in the C-Boat with our second sail. It almost went up the wall in one corner of my Mom and dad's attic. There was no sailmaker in Minnesota so we sold sails to our friends and the business expanded. We worked very hard to make our sails, first Scows then other One-Designs, competitive with Melges and North Sails. You never get the feeling of being in a sail loft out of your system.

EH: What are some of the most important things we can do both as professionals and amateurs to grow our sport of sailing?

GB: I believe that as professionals and amateurs we have an important part to play in the growth of sailing. Like it or not the best sailboat racers are role models for sailing. You never know what impact you have on other sailors. Our best racers provide a standard of excellence by competing successfully according to the rules and the spirit of the rules. If you hit or foul, do your penalty turns because others are watching and learn good or bad values from your actions. It is a big responsibility.

Secondly, it is important that the professionals share the knowledge of sailing with all sailors young and old. Growing up, my heroes shared and changed the way I view the sport of sailing. I hope we can all do this as well. Finally, we need to demonstrate our enthusiasm for sailing by racing and donating our time and money to make sailboat racing a bigger part of the sporting environment. 

EH: You are big on goal setting to accomplish your sailing goals. Do you have a basic goal setting game plan to help folks get started with some focused sailing?

GB: My goals for sailing success are to first focus on boat speed, then boat handling and finally to develop the ability to observe the wind and waves better so as to be able to put together a consistently good strategy for every leg of the race. When it comes to boat speed and handling, I focus on the three basics: weight position, sail trim, and proper helmsmanship. Constant improvement in these three areas is the key to a lifetime of enjoyment and racing success.

EH: Gordy, on behalf of Team Zenda, Team Melges and Team North we thank you for you time here on this interview . You are a great addition to the strong team in Zenda. We are happy to have you aboard. Thank you once again.