Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Ordinary Life Of Extraordinary Sailor

Published on October 9, 2013 by   ·   No Comments

At first glance Toby Lewis is an ordinary electrician working at the Sunseeker factory right on his doorstep in Poole.  But when he’s not wiring motoryachts, the 32 year old is a proficient and decorated sailor.  We get his story…


ML – How and when did you first get into sailing?

TL – My father has been sailing for over 40 years, first sailing in the Merlin Rocket, Fireball, Osprey (winning the nationals) and now in the Flying Fifteen (competitive sailing dinghy classes), so right from the start I was destined to have sailing as a hobby.

I started learning in a kid-friendly Optimist (“Oppy”) beginners boat and then onto a Mirror dinghy, which I sailed with my little sister Jenny.  My first go at racing was when Jenny and I, aged 8 and 12 respectively, competed in a Club event in the Mirror and we won.  The prize was a trophy and an article in the local paper – I had my first taste of victory.  From here I moved onto helming in Toppers and 420 dinghies – so called because they’re exactly 420 centimetres long.

I started crewing when Jon Gorringe, who used to race with my father, decided to take up helming on a RS400 dinghy sailboat and needed a crew.  He asked me to sail with him and I jumped at the chance.

We started going to open meetings around the UK and competed in our first nationals 14 years ago in 1999.  I was 18 at the time and it was my first experience of racing in a fleet of over 100 boats including some of the UK’s finest.  We finished the week in ninth place.  I had now fully caught the racing bug and went on to crew for lots of people, racing in different classes around the UK, Europe and the world.  I still race with Jon Gorringe and nearly won the Merlin Rocket class this year, settling for second due to breakages.

ML – How often do you go sailing?

TL – I race most weekends, team racing in the winter, and then basically use all my work holiday entitlement (plus some unpaid leave) in the summer to enjoy fleet racing.  And then there’s race training in the evenings and weekends that I am not actually racing… fortunately I have a very supportive and understanding girlfriend.

ML – What are your greatest sailing achievements? 

TL – I have raced in lots of different dinghy fleet racing classes (RS200, RS400, Enterprise, Lark, Merlin Rocket, B14, National 12 and International 14) as well as team racing which involves three dinghies in a team pitting themselves against another around a challenging course.  I have really enjoyed the variety over the years going from small 16ft two-man dinghies up to substantial 95ft yachts with thirty crew all working together.

In terms of victories I’ve won the Wilson Trophy, an annual event in West Kirby, Merseyside, where over 200 competitors race in teams including some Olympic-class sailors, and I’ve also won fleet racing in RS200 and RS400 Nationals, the Enterprise Worlds and the B14 Nationals.

By far my greatest achievement in sailing to date has been winning the Endeavour Championship three times.  To become eligible for the Endeavour, you have to have won a national competition in one of the dinghy classes in that same year.  Part of the prize for winning was a trip to the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands to spend a week racing against America’s Cup helms.  It was an amazing experience.


ML – What are your plans for the future?

TL – This winter I’m planning to do some more team racing with West Kirby Hawks, for whom I crew, and then next year possibly racing in the Merlin, RS200 and RS400 dinghies, and whatever opportunities come my way.

Whilst dinghy racing has been my main hobby, I have made passages on Tall Ship ‘Winston Churchill’, raced yachts at Cowes Week, Cork Week, completed the Around the Island Race (Isle of Wight) and competed in classic yacht regattas, firstly on Mariquita in the South of France and then the Blue Peter in Sardinia this summer.  This larger yacht racing is something I would like to do more of in the future.

It would be a thrill to race in the Dragon class or on super-sailing-yachts, possibly as tactician and trim.  I would also love to get the chance to race on the Extreme 40 catamarans that are often used as training boats for the America’s Cup – and the ultimate dream would be to take part in the America’s Cup.  I could happily make a career in sailing.

ML – Any advice for people that want to get into sailing, old or young?

TL – Sailing is a unique and very fulfilling sport and I haven’t found any other like it.  Every race is different with varying sailing conditions; so many skills are required and used.  With the massive range of sailing boats on offer, the sport is truly open to all ages and physical abilities – I’m passionate about it and always will be.

ML – And if you’re not sailing where will we find you?

TL – Sailing aside, I enjoy rock climbing around the south coast, mountain biking and unicycling – I even unicycled coast-to-coast across the UK.

ML – And, to finish, have you ever sailed in Gibraltar?

TL – I’ve never been to the Rock, but would like to one day.  I haven’t done much offshore sailing but sailing through the Strait sounds like a good challenge and I’m always up for one of those!

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