Go, Speed Racer, Go

Cam Lewis says he knows the risks—and he's ready. Ready to sprint 25,000 miles in one of the fastest wind-driven vessels ever to grace the ocean, and become the first American skipper to set a round-the-world speed sailing record. That is, if he and his boat make it back in one piece.

Nov 1, 2000
Outside Magazine


THE BREEZE HAD BEEN BUILDING all day. By the end of the afternoon, it was flat-out honking at 25 knots plus, and Penobscot Bay, halfway up the coast of Maine, had become a sheet of windblown spume. As Cameron Lewis and Eric Cusin neared the first windward mark on Lewis's 26-foot Dragonfly class trimaran and the two prepared to set their spinnaker—the billowing, parachute-shaped sail that can add gobs of downwind speed—Cusin noticed that only one other crew was following suit. His first thought was one of intense pride; not everyone can handle a spinnaker in heavy air. Then he began to worry.

For the past couple of years, 15-year-old Cusin had worked as a summertime au pair for Lewis and his wife, Molly. The deal was that he would help look after their two young boys on weekdays and sail with Cam—a four-time world champion in small boats and a legendary multihull ocean racer—on weekends. But it wasn't until that windy day during the annual Camden-to-Rockland race that Cusin fully appreciated what he'd signed on for.

A few minutes into the first downwind leg, a big gust hit the fleet. The other crew with a spinnaker up momentarily lost control of the sail. As it ballooned, their mast suddenly buckled and crashed into the water. Cusin looked at his skipper, eyes wide. With a large lead and the rest of the field too cowed to put up spinnakers and give chase, he assumed Lewis would soon be dropping theirs as well. Nope. Lewis kept playing the huge sail, whooping gleefully as the trimaran shot across the bay. "The speed was insane," Cusin recalls. "We had the leeward hull completely submerged. I was pretty worried. It really looked like it was going to tear right off the boat. Finally I said something about it to Cam. He's like, 'Well, if it goes, just jibe over onto the other hull.'"

Looking back, Cusin laughs at Lewis's nonchalance. One of the hulls flies off? No problem. We'll just finish the race, then go back and pick up the pieces. Remind Lewis of the moment, however, and he tilts his head to one side, shakes it, then exhales through his nose in a bemused, slightly exasperated manner.

"Well, yeah," he says. "We were racing."


More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!