Robert Carter was born in Sydney in 1931. He claims that his genes are well soaked in salt water as his father was a shipwright and naval architect and his grand father was a master mariner in British sailing ships.
Growing up on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, he developed what became a lifelong interest in maritime affairs. As he says – “I spent my boyhood surfing, sailing and ‘messing around in boats’”.
He has always had a passion for the sail-driven ship. An amateur marine historian, sailor and boat builder, he followed an engineering career, whilst at the same time painting ships and the sea. Small boat sailing, three years in the Naval Reserve and crewing in the barquentine New Endeavour in his early life, has given him a close understanding of ships, the sea, wind and wave. His advice has been sought by museums and institutions involved in sailing ship restoration and was one of the original founding-members of the Australian Sail Training Association. He is also a member of the Sydney Heritage Fleet (formerly Sydney Maritime Museum), where his engineering skills also allowed him to contribute to the restoration of the steam tug Waratah.
To assist in his research into the last commercial sailing ships he became a member of the Australian Cape Horners Association (AICH) and was secretary for many years. This experience brought him into contact with the last living men and women from around the world, to round Cape Horn in a commercial sailing ship. As a result he has written a book titled Windjammers – The Final Story, a collection of stories and anecdotes from contact and interviews with these last living windjammer sailors. In 1995 he was awarded the prestigious St. Malo medal by the International Association of Cape Horners in France, for his contribution in recording and illustrating the existence of the commercial sailing ship in its final years.
In 1996 he founded the Australian Society of Marine Artists. In 1999 he was commissioned by the Aland Post in Finland to paint a picture for a stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last ever voyage by commercial sailing ships, carrying a cargo of grain from Australia around Cape Horn to the UK. It was subsequently voted the best stamp of the year.
In 2006 he was appointed Fellow of the International Society of Marine Painters.