x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Andrew Lewis: Azzam's young utility man

He may be the designated under-30 crew member, but 'there's nothing unproven about the guy'.

Andrew Lewis tried out for the Olympics before finding his way into the Volvo Ocean Race.
Andrew Lewis tried out for the Olympics before finding his way into the Volvo Ocean Race.

The peculiar value of shattering disappointment turned up at a pivotal juncture in Andrew Lewis's life.

It reared its tricky head in November 2003, as skilful sailors gathered at Galveston Bay in Texas in hopes of qualifying for the Athens Olympics the following year.

Lewis travelled to those Olympic Trials as a Hawaiian hotshot with a good cast of backers and a rational bale of hope, and he departed in some sort of a life crisis, provided people can have those at 21.

With talent and background and a top ranking in Lasers that made a berth in Athens plausible, Lewis instead wound up in fourth place "after four years of busting my [backside]," he said. He also wound up in an aimless phase spent mulling detours into possible careers such as the military.

"You sail in slowly, and you think about what's next," he said of the outcome. "You're disappointed, but in a way you're relieved it's over," meaning the tension.

"For me, I guess I started to think about trying for the next one. I think you're just so unsure what to do. You had a plan, and you wake up. In a way I was a bit lost on what to do."

He did feel happy for the winner, Mark Mendelblatt, who at 30 had earned his transatlantic flight.

As the blessing remained cloaked and the trail that would take him to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam remained unforeseeable, Lewis went home to Hawaii and worked with his accomplished parents, Richard and Rosann, who had spent decades steadily building a kingpin fitness-equipment company in Honolulu. That suited him fine, with the tightness of the family exemplified by the story that when Andrew was three or four, Richard used to take him surfing and tow him on a leash.

Well, in the vast oceans of the internet, a Hawaii sailing-business owner noticed that a Volvo Ocean Race team would consist entirely of the under 30 crowd and would hold tryouts for two slots. He wondered if Lewis had signed up. Lewis then did, and as the ABN Amro Two organisers whittled the candidates from 500 and then to 30 and then to two with exercises in Florida and Europe, he weathered all cuts and became one of the last two standing.

"No one knew me," he said. "They knew my name from being a dinghy sailor" with "strength in the driving and tactical side" and a "really good dinghy resume. They looked past me not being a boat builder and a guy that can fix things."

So he veered toward a fresh and global life that a gaudy trip to Athens almost certainly would have prevented.

"There are a lot of good sailors out there and getting a foot in the door to get on one of these is almost impossible," he said. "There were better things that would happen to me. This is the big leagues."

Aboard ABN Amro Two in 2005/06, Lewis shared a team with Azzam's Simon Fisher and experienced a profound gamut. In the southern Indian Ocean the greenhorn crew revelled in the 24-hour monohull record of 563 nautical miles.

In the eastern Atlantic Ocean it mourned the death of crewman Hans Horrevoets, most likely from head injuries sustained after the yacht burrowed into a wave in the turbulence.

"Hans and I were on watch together," Lewis said, "so I was right next to him when it happened."

Just finishing proved an emotional feat.

Plugged on to a different track, Lewis hurried home and hurried back across the globe for 18 America's Cup months in Spain. Now the man who once finished high school days at 11am to train, who once made sailing people say, "Who is this kid from Hawaii," comes to Abu Dhabi's Azzam with his experience richly varied and his question marks all straightened out.

"He's probably one of the few guys on the team that got hired on reputation," said Wade Morgan, the bowman and boat captain, so that even as Lewis remains under 30, Morgan said: "It's always good just to have a guy they know can cover a lot of areas.

"We need a guy we know we don't have to train or hold his hand or anything. We know he's going to do the job, know he's ready. There's nothing unproven about the guy."

He knows even the valuable way to disappointment and back.

His job: Under-30 sailor

That is Andrew Lewis’s description on the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing tasks chart, and it applies also to bowman Wade Morgan and media crew member Nick Dana. It is part of the Volvo Ocean Race’s requirement of three under 30s, up from two last time around. By the thinking of Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad, this reduces costs in the present and sets up the race for the future. Within the Azzam ranks, however, Lewis does have a specific task, of course, as a helmsman/trimmer: “I’m basically the one adjusting the mainsail,” he said, helping crew mate Rob Greenhalgh with its trimming.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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