America’s Cup : Cam Lewis, Hired Gun on Stars & Stripes, Is a Refreshing Breeze

Special to The Times

Cam Lewis, the mainsail grinder for Stars & Stripes, walked past some of the snazzy cars in the parking lot of the Americans’ compound.

What would Cameron, whose father once employed Dennis Conner, be driving?

A dust-and-rust covered bomber that has gone more than 300,000 miles.

Lewis probably travels that many miles in 2 years of his globe-hopping life. He is a sailor for hire. The length of his stay here for the America’s Cup--6 months--is extraordinary.

He settled behind the steering wheel. Car and driver both displayed a unique personality.

On the interior vinyl above the windshield, the following was penned with a thick, black marker:



+ 1 DOG



The reference is to the two American catamarans and one man’s opinion of the New Zealand boat, a 133-foot monohull, which will square off for the Cup next week.

Alongside the equation is a black arrow. Next to that is written:


On the back of the car, the following has been etched into the metal:


It’s good fun, and a bit brasher than the ubiquitous Kiwi bumper sticker, “I Like The Big Boat.”

If there is anything this Cup needs, it’s fun.

In what has quickly become a packaged affair, Cam Lewis is a refreshing breeze. And a variable breeze at that.

Tall and dark with sun-streaked hair, Lewis, 31, looks like he should be spiking volleyballs on the beach.

But then he speaks.

The jaw barely moves. The words come out starched. The dialect bespeaks classic Ted Kennedy-Massachusetts, where Lewis spent his childhood. He now lives--if you describe being there 4 months a year that way--in Newport, R.I.

Lewis can flat sail. Dinghies, Finns, Flying Dutchmen, Formula 40s (the catamaran class he founded and presides over), 75-foot catamarans, 60-foot trimarans. Most anything.


But you would not want to let him drive you around at night, says Lesleigh Green, a spokeswoman for Stars & Stripes. “You let him drive you around?,” she asked. “No one here will. He’s a terrible driver when he’s out having fun, which is quite often.”

Most important distinction:

At first glance, Cam Lewis’ life is just a blast. His home is the road, so he might as well enjoy the journey.

Has he been following the “dart-throwing,” as he calls it, of the Cup campaign?

“No, usually I don’t have time to read the papers. I go out Boogie-boarding off Coronado (Island) in the morning,” he said.

When his Cup ride ends, Lewis will head to San Francisco to be tactician on the 50-foot Infinity at the invitational big-boat series.

Then, in October, he will be in Valencia, Spain, sailing a French entry at the world Formula 40 championships.

A month later, he will tour Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania “to get away from boats and look for some undiscovered tribes.”


Finally, his journeys for the year will end in Australia for the world match racing championships. That’s four continents in four months.

The slice is indicative of Lewis’ life since 1977, when he competed in an international race in Brazil. He gets paid to sail all over the world, and the Cup is no different, though Lewis considers this, his first Cup, “a windfall opportunity.”

Lewis has always enjoyed distance events, such as the 3,000-mile LaBaule-Dakar race, in which Lewis sailed a 75-foot catamaran to a second-place finish, or a trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific race. These are grueling affairs. “Sometimes, you really miss a bed and a warm shower,” Lewis said.

They inspire Lewis as they would a Lindbergh. His goal is to beat the record (7 days 7 hours and change) for sailing from New York to England. He also is considering the Los Angeles-to-Honolulu record. He would sail each in a 75-foot catamaran, pushing his body and concentration to the limit.

Whatever the goal, he will be on the move.

“Life on the run can be hard,” Lewis said. “There’s not a lot of time off. Here, for example, I haven’t been able to go to the zoo or Sea World, the things normal tourists do. People don’t realize how much work it is. A lot of people don’t believe sailing can be a full-time job, but it’s turning out to be if you apply yourself.”

Lewis began sailing at the age of 4, in 14-foot dinghies. His father, George, who owned a 1-ton boat Conner once sailed, had Cam sailing “as soon as I was able to push and pull a boat” at the family’s retreat in Maine.


But there was a time when Cameron Lewis nearly took the Go To College and Get A Job route. He dropped out, though.

“I never went back to school,” he said. “Life is better. You learn a lot more. I have friends all over the world. It’s a privilege to see the world. I also think the next 10 years, corporate sponsors will become more interested in sailing.”

If that happens, then what?

“I will spend all of my time sailing.”

One other thing. When Lewis goes to Africa, he won’t make like that other free spirit, Hemingway.

“Oh, I won’t hunt,” he said. “I couldn’t shoot anything, couldn’t kill anything. Probably would hurt myself trying.”

America’s Cup Notes

Was that a Kiwi out on the hard-rig Stars & Stripes Friday? It was Chris Dickson, the young, boisterous counterpart to Dennis Conner on Kiwi Magic in the Challenger Trials last year. Dickson, 26, is the first Kiwi to ride on the boat. “That was definitely the fastest boat I’ve been on,” Dickson said. “They let me steer. We went reaching, and that scared me a lot. The hull got up to a 45-degree angle. Some of the guys were looking at me--I know it had capsized before, and I didn’t want to capsize it again. We were flying. The winds could not have been more than 6, 9 knots, and we went 10 1/2, 11 knots upwind, 17 knots on the reach--and that was just with the (108-foot-long) wing out.” . . . Dickson will compete in the Super Cup series for one-design 14s today at noon near Embarcadero Park. The catamaran should be so much faster than the monohull, Dickson said, that he is “thrilled not being here. I’ve been in 150 races this year. These people (both teams) spent all year to get in what, one or two?”