The Adventures Of A Pro Sailor
Wednesday - March 18, 2009
Few people will say coming up short on an Olympic dream is a blessing. Professional sailor and island boy Andrew Lewis is one of them, and he has no regrets.
“I just missed making the U.S. Olympic team in 2004, but not making it was one of the best things that happened to me,” says Lewis. “It opened the door to many opportunities that I would not have had. Sometimes things happen for a reason.”
The reason surfaced shortly after the Olympic trials when the 2002 Assets School graduate was invited to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race. The prestigious yacht race around the world is held every three years and features the best sailors on this planet.
“During my run to make the Olympic team I caught the attention of the right people, and I was chosen to be the tactician on the junior team,” says Lewis. “The Volvo was eight months of pure adventure.”
Eight months, eight stops. The event starts in Spain and takes the sailors to South Africa, then on to Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. From Rio de Janeiro, teams sail to Baltimore on the U.S. East Coast before returning to England, the Netherlands and finishing in Sweden. It is a demanding race that tests physical and emotional strength.
“We encounter many different conditions over eight months,” says Lewis. “One day we’re dodging icebergs, the next we’re reaching 40-plus knots in perfect conditions.”
Lewis recalls being a part of history during the 2005-2006 race.
“We set a record by covering 563 miles in a 24-hour period,” Lewis says proudly. “We were doing 23 knots for nearly an entire day.”
The Volvo race is a long way from his humble start. The 26-year-old Lewis took up the sport of sailing when he was 11 and says the decision to give it a try was an easy one.
“My parents gave me the choice of going to summer school or sailing classes at the Waikiki Yacht Club,” he laughs. “It was an easy choice.”
It also was the right choice. Today, he is one of only a handful of professional sailors from Hawaii who get paid to roam the globe to compete at the highest level. So far this year, he’s raced professionally in South Africa and Jamaica.
“I know everyone thinks sailing is sitting on the deck of a boat having a mai tai, but there’s so much more to this sport,” says Lewis. “It’s a full-time job, and I’m hired by a lot of people to help them race.”
In case you’re wondering (and I was), professional sailors make a fantastic living. Most are privately contracted and charge daily rates from $300 to $3,000. Companies or private boat owners also supplement housing and absorb other expenses including airfare to get to events.
“One year I traveled 180,000 miles just to get to the races in Europe,” says Lewis. “The economy has had an impact on the sport and some owners have backed off a bit, but there’s still a lot of racing.”
And that’s good news for Lewis and for Hawaii’s future. Those in the industry say Lewis provides motivation for young local sailors and is proof an island boy can make it to the top.
“Sailing is one thing that clicked with me, and things fell in place in the right order,” he says with gratitude. “I said no to the right things and yes to the right things. I was lucky, but I also worked my butt off and gave up a lot of things to get here. I can honestly say it was all worth it!”
There is no Olympic gold to this tale but, for Andrew Lewis, his story is more than golden.
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