Interview with Andrew Lewis

Photo by Sailing Energy

How old were you when you started sailing and how did you get involved? It feels like I started sailing way back when I was in my mother’s womb when she and my dad would go on the yacht. When I was born, we would spend many weekends on the yacht which started my love affair with the sport. While growing up, my Dad would ask me to help with different things on the yacht, like tie a knot, so from early I started to learn about what the sport was about.

Why did you first decide to sail the Laser? And what has kept you sailing it since? When I was growing up in Trinidad & Tobago in the ’90s, we had access to Optimist dinghies, Lasers, Sunfishes and one 505. Once I was introduced to the Opti, I became addicted to it. I was obsessed with that 8 ft. box and was eager to learn everything about it to be the best I can be. While the younger sailors would be out on the Optis, I would see the older ones in the Lasers flying past me every weekend when they came out to race. One day I tried out the boat in light wind and then that was it. I was converted. I said from that day on, the Laser would be my next move.

When you were getting involved in Laser sailing, were there any specific sailors you looked up to? The legend Brazilian “Uncle” Robert Scheidt! Growing up he was the sailor I looked up to as he was a professional when I started the sport and much older than I am. As soon as I started sailing the Laser, I would look at Robert to see the perfect way to sail the Laser. I have respected him ever since and that continues to this day. When I was still very young in the Laser game, I also met a sailor named Bruno Fontes, another legend from Brazil who is ten years my senior. Bruno Fontes is a fierce competitor, full of energy, but also compassionate and nurturing. I still look up to him as he is both a close friend and a mentor.

Last month you secured the final North American qualification for Tokyo in a tight battle with the Canadians at Sailing World Cup Miami. Tell us about that regatta and how did you manage to finish ahead of the Canadians in the end? To be completely honest I never expected this to happen. I am a practical person and try to use data and certain criteria to recognize trends. Of course, you can’t predict the future so anything can happen. My team and other Olympic hopefuls from the Pan American region that had not qualified yet had the understanding that the quota for the region was two spots. There was a very confusing line that said “In the event that there are no eligible NOCs at any of the continental qualification events above, the quota place(s) will be allocated to the same event, irrespective of continent, to the next highest placed NOC(s), not yet qualified, at the 2019 World Championships.” What eventually happened was that El Salvador (Enrique Arathoon Pacas) got the first spot and we believed that the next spot would have gone to the next in line which in this case was Canada, as they passed passed me overall in the medal race. The spot was eventually given to Slovenia, leaving Trinidad & Tobago (TTO) and Canada (CAN) without a spot.

I needed to strategize and did calculations of which Canadian sailors I needed to have on my radar. The only problem was that Canada was sending over 20 sailors to Sailing World Cup Miami where we would all end up battling it out for the spot. Team racing is not allowed in the fleet racing but there is a fine line of when team racing is going on and when it’s not.

For the opening series of the Sailing World Cup Miami, they all sailed their own regatta and I have a lot of respect for them for that. When it came to the medal race they came to attack which put me in a dangerous position after the first start. Thankfully that race was recalled. I have so much respect for the race official for making the decision to restart the race due to the shifty wind conditions. I was also relieved because things were not looking good for me after the wind shifted and left me stranded.

At the second start of the race, I needed to protect myself from the Canadians who were now attacking with purpose. I positioned myself near another boat in the fleet to shield myself and avoid the Canadian onslaught. I was able to get a clear start and picked some good shifts early which put me ahead of four out of the five Canadians. This was good, except that I was in seventh and the Canadian sailor ahead of me was not only winning the race but, if he put five boats in-between us, he would beat me and win the spot for Canada.

We more or less maintained this position until the last leg of the regatta. I was in fifth place but the sailors from El Salvador and Peru passed the Canadian who was in the lead while all the others were still behind me. I maintained my composure, reading the conditions and finishing overall in fourth place. It was an exciting, emotional roller coaster of a race, but one that I will never forget. 

How did the feeling of achieving this qualification compare to qualifying for London in 2012 and for Rio in 2016 so soon after your horrible accident? Qualifying for London was my biggest dream come true. It’s still the kid-in-a-candy-shop-feeling event. It demonstrated to me that hard work and perseverance really is the answer to fulfilling your dreams.

In Rio I was going there to target the medal race and super excited with the huge support that came my way one year before when qualifying. Getting the correct support to access high-level training had come to light. Then, the accident happened. It was a blessing in disguise. Yup, what that experience taught me was a lifetime of lessons in a very short period of time. Nothing is easy in life, but nothing is impossible. Everything is achievable, so I am living by that and will continue to do so until my last breath.

What motivated you most to keep pushing for a third Olympic Games? In London, I was 19 years old very and inexperienced. In Rio, I competed with half my body working. I knew I had to qualify for Tokyo to really see my true Olympic potential. I had to achieve it. I am on a journey to self-mastery and that requires me to be the best I can be in life every day. I am taking this approach on a daily basis to be ready for the regatta in Tokyo.

 Now that you’ve qualified, what are your next steps and your goals for the next five months? I have been training in the Canary Islands since January 2019 with Javier Hernandez Cebrian, 2008 and 2018 Olympian for Spain in the Laser class. Javier has and continues to bring out the best in me with the amazing partnership we have. I am quite excited to see what the future holds as we march on to Tokyo. The Canary Islands will remain my base where I would train and then go to various regattas in Europe. I will be attending the Sailing World Cup in Enoshima in June which will give me my first experience of the Olympic venue.

Do you have many training partners in Trinidad and Tobago or do you usually train solo? I don’t do much sailing when at home in T&T but most of the time, when I do sail at home, it’s mostly by myself. I usually attend training camps around the world but have only actively trained once in T&T with Enrique Arathoon Pacas. Enrique represents El Salvador, is my training partner, and a remarkable human being. I must make special mention of Olympians like Charlie Buckingham (USA), Rutger van Schaardenburg (Netherlands), and Bruno Fontes (Brasil) who at various times have taken me under their wings, not only as training partners, but more importantly, as brothers. I would also like to make special mention of Kairon Serrette, my manager since 2011, as he has been just as valuable as any training partner I have had to date and has been with me along this entire Olympic journey.

 In such a strong fleet of Laser sailors, how do you work at reducing mistakes or minimizing their impact? At this level, you realize that all of the sailors competing with you have been working extremely hard to get to this point and are all professionals. It is critical to maintain your composure and make the right decisions. In terms of reducing mistakes, you have to look at all the different aspects of the race where mistakes can occur that will cost you the regatta. Starting well is key. It is important to see your position amongst the other sailors and determine the best area. Trusting your ability is another important skill. During the race the nerves can get the better of you and you can make some decisions like tacking too much or going out too far. It is important to stay calm and focused and not be overwhelmed. What I try to remember is that regardless of any mistakes made, the race is never over until you are finished so sail hard until the very end.

You are one of the more experienced sailors in the fleet – how do you think that helps or hinders your sailing? Experience should always benefit someone. You can use things you have gone through to learn and to know what works and what doesn’t work. The only thing it may work in reverse is with added pressure as you grow older. For me I turn pressure into fire and that motivates me. My experience has placed me in a lot of different situations where I have had to think and fight to get out of. Those where I didn’t make the right decision at the time, I have been able to learn from and will know exactly what to do the next time it happens.

 What do you enjoy doing when you need a break from sailing? Besides the normal spending time with loved ones and friends, I am enjoying my work with The Andrew Lewis Sailing Foundation. I even tell people it is like my first “child.” The foundation holds a very special place in my heart as I want to use it as a vehicle to impact change in Trinidad & Tobago. The team and I are focused on improving the lives of people in Trinidad & Tobago through education on issues and motivational speaking in schools. The foundation has engaged in a mentorship program through sailing where we have taught over 3,500 students to sail, fully funded by the program. The foundation has also taught over 600 people to swim, as we needed to teach them these skills before teaching them to sail. This sailing school is financed by donations and driven by awesome volunteers.  

 Do you think there will be a fourth Olympic campaign for you?! I am the holder of both a Trinidad & Tobago passport and a French passport. Let’s just say it would be nice to experience racing in a county I could have represented.  

What would you like readers to know about Andrew Lewis as a person? Andrew Lewis as a person? I feel that can be a book in itself. In a short form we are ALL blessed with the ability to be great and to leave a great legacy behind by making a positive impact. I am determined to make a positive impact as an Olympic sailor and focused on achieving the ultimate goal. As a human being, I know the importance of helping others and I want to make as great an impact as possible off the water as I do on it. I believe that the world generally needs more people dealing in the currency of love and willing to share that with whoever they encounter. This is my belief and what I want to do to change things for the better, first in Trinidad & Tobago and then the wider globe.