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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 9, 2006

Around-the-world race thrills Hawai'i sailor

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Andrew Lewis is the navigator aboard the ABN AMRO Two yacht, which is crewed by young sailors, all under the age of 31.

ABN AMBRO TWO photo

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Yachting can be fun and relaxing. Then, there's the "extreme" type that Hawai'i resident Andrew Lewis competes in.

Lewis, a 2001 ASSETS graduate, is believed to be the first from Hawai'i to sail in the Volvo Ocean Race, a prestigious and dangerous yacht race that began with an in-port race at Vigo, Spain on Nov. 5. The first of nine ocean legs started Nov. 12, and the 30,000-mile race will circle the globe, finishing in June at Gothenburg, Sweden.

"It's fast, extreme, dangerous, the whole works," said the 23-year-old Lewis, a member of ABN AMRO Two, one of seven boats in the race, which is billed as the world's premier offshore yachting event.

The facts listed on the ABN AMRO team Web site are enough to make a person cringe:

  • Sailors can take little more than a toothbrush on board.

  • Bathing is not an option on board. For up to a month.

  • Ocean race yachts have no beds, no kitchen, no chairs, no stereo and only one toilet on board.

    Also, there's the danger sailors can encounter along the course:

  • Hitting a whale at full speed is a realistic threat to ocean racers.

  • Crashing into an iceberg or its ice babies (growlers) is also a grim possibility in the Southern Ocean.

    And Lewis loves it.

    "There's a lot of people who are getting hurt," he said. "Knock on wood, I've only jammed a few fingers."

    The hull of an average 70-foot ocean race yacht competing in this race, which was once known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, weighs no more than a large family car, according to the ABN AMRO Web site. It can travel at speeds of 15 to 30 knots, or 17 to 35 mph, sometimes surfing waves.

    Lewis, who returned home to Hawai'i for a week and half last month, figures it's the next step in ocean sports, calling it "extreme yachting."

    "That's what sailing needs," he said. "It came from such a proper, tie-and-suit-sailing background."

    Lewis said people are "pretty amazed" when they discover what the race entails.

    Sailing the Southern Ocean means icebergs and snowstorms.

    "It was really weird for us, because there are only certain size icebergs that can be caught on the radar. We never saw an iceberg, but we did have to avoid them. It was too foggy and dark," Lewis said. "I wanted to see one, but I'm glad we didn't."

    They wear firemen's helmets to protect themselves from the spray.

    "It's like being in a motor boat with a firehose sprayed in your face," Lewis said.

    Because of the constant wetness, sailors are "wet and miserable and nothing heals."

    Coupled with four-hour shifts and often-interrupted sleep, that means the sailors usually run on adrenaline and caffeine.

    "You kind of get into a rhythm and it's not that bad," Lewis said. "There's a lot of coffee on board."

    To keep up their strength, they also eat every six hours. Preparation of the food is basically boiling water and dropping in freeze-dried, prepared meals, and stirring for 15 minutes.

    "It's horrible," said Lewis, who is responsible for packing the boat with food.

    His favorites are turkey tetrazini and chicken a la king, although eating hydrated food is "hard to stomach so you have to be cautious to keep hydrated."

    Lewis is 5 feet 9 and usually weighs 185 pounds. He weighed 193 at the start of one leg before losing 11 pounds.

    Lewis earned his spot on the crew after being one of 20 out of 2,000 applicants in the United States. He joined those 19 and other applicants from three other regions, and the field was narrowed to two sailors from each of the four regions.

    "I knew I would always want to try to do this race," Lewis said. "Pro sailing is such an amazing career, but it's hard to crack. When this came up, it worked perfectly."

    He sees this race as the next step of what he hopes will be a prosperous career. At the very least, it gives him exposure in a sport where most sailors survive on sponsorships.

    "It's nice to do more professional sailing, when I'm making money instead of losing money," he said.

    The possibility of an Olympic berth in 2008 is on his mind. Lewis just missed qualifying for the Athens Olympics in 2004, when he finished third at the U.S. Trials.

    His parents introduced him to sailing "they lived on a boat before they lived in Hawai'i" and he got his start in the junior sailing program at the Waikiki Yacht Club.

    Lewis is the tactician on the ABN AMRO Two, meaning he is the navigator on inshore races and the crew's strategist, letting it know when it's time to turn or attack.

    "They are relying on me to make the decisions," Lewis said. "There's a lot of responsibility, because everyone looks to me to do well. It's a stressful position to be in sometimes."

    Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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