“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” former US president John F. Kennedy (1917–1963).
In October 2005, David Lewis brought his dream to reality by opening a sailing school at Vessigny Beach. This initiative, now led by his son and two-time Olympian Andrew Lewis, helped build dreams for many young sailing prospects – several of whom reside within the seaside community.
For the past 15 years, Lewis and his team of instructors have educated and inspired youngsters of Vessigny, and throughout TT, to chase their dreams.
They infiltrated the community and have since created talented sailors, some of whom have gone on to earn scholarships, study abroad and even become certified sailing coaches.
Twenty-seven-year-old Vessigny resident Emmanuel-Joseph Moraine is one of the Andrew Lewis Sailing Foundation’s many success stories.
Moraine started sailor training since the programme’s inception under the older Lewis. At that time, Andrew was still attending secondary school but also trained alongside his father and other potential sailors at the South beach.
Moraine, however, “was a bit miserable”, according to sailing school administrator and beach facility manager Betty Suite.
Over time, he settled down and shifted his energies towards learning to sail. Thirteen years later, in 2018, Moraine credits the academy for helping him achieve gainful employment within the TT Defence Force (TTDF).
He lauded the foundation’s drive to motivate and have a positive impact on the area’s young people while instilling valuable life lessons through sport.
“The Andrew Lewis Sailing Foundation is unique because it provides free access to the kids in the area (Vessigny). Nowhere in the world has such a programme for free. It has changed the way children view sailing. Most start off as a hobby.
“When they begin, students are given pointers on how to approach their schoolwork and other life skills. Sailing is considered somewhat an upper-class sport. Providing these skills to youths here was and still is a big booster. It changed the entire complex of the community,” he said.
At age 12, Moraine remembers building rafts and heading out to sea but staying close to the shoreline. When Lewis’ team introduced actual vessels for the young sailors to use, it was love at first sight for Moraine.
“When we got the boats, I sailed out further and immediately fell in love with it. I thought my boat could take me anywhere I wanted to go in life. We were accustomed with rafts but when the boats came it was so unique and more sophisticated,” he added.
The TTDF member learnt how to navigate, assess weather conditions, the tide and swimming in open water conditions. He also said that his career choice was recommended by someone who saw him in action, three years ago, during sailing along the beach.
Now a coach, Moraine says he is still learning.
“I always wanted to be a professional sailor as a youngster. When I began to coach kids I also learnt a lot about myself as well. It was a give-and-take situation where the children would come with their problems to you and you would have to give them your best advice. Sometimes the advice is applicable to you as well,” he said.
Similarly, Vessigny Beach Facility manager Suite sees the Andrew Lewis Sailing Foundation as a major positive influencer, especially towards young people. Like Moraine, she has been involved since the foundation’s inception.
The organisation has since produced over 20 sailing coaches; several coming from the tight-knit community. According to her, some graduates have gone on to become captains of entertainment/party boats and other marine companies.
She has even progressed to yacht racing having mastered the smaller boats over the years. Andrew and his father’s contribution to the community is immeasurable, says the veteran administrator.
“When David started the sailing school, he made a great improvement in sailing in the area. He also inspired the young ones to come out and sail to be away from the crime scene. He provided them with a positive aspect of life. It’s a big plus for us here in Vessigny,” said Suite.
Having spent the past decade and a half working with the Olympic sailor and alongside children from the community, Suite said the foundation’s social impact activities have been a breath of fresh air on residents.
Lewis’ approach to teaching sailing is always commended by villagers. The children always look forward to him because they know he has a busy schedule and takes time out to teach them. Parents have also come out in full support.
In the early stages of establishing the sailing academy, the Ministry of Sport and Ministry of Tourism visited neighbouring schools to encourage youngsters to take part in water sports,however, parents were sceptical.
Having seen the many successes and high level of professionalism, over the years, parents have given in and now trust the process.
“Working with him (Andrew) has been great. He’s different to a lot of people his age. He’s more focused, settled and driven to excel. Not only for himself but for the youths in the area as well. He’s a good role model for children here. We’re really lucky to have him here.
“There’s one (youth) in particular, Moraine. When he was a child, the way he was then, to now, is a great change. He was a bit miserable and we had to talk to him a lot. He now counsels youths and also became a role model to everyone,” said Suite.
In 2008, the laser class sailor established his foundation and included education and sport as key pillars.
After trying to set up sailing schools in Las Cuevas, Cedros, Point Fortin, Pointe-a-Pierre and even in Tobago, the older Lewis received the most resounding feedback from Vessigny. Each community had a chance to embrace it but, in the end, Vessigny became the pioneers. These projects take a lot of manpower, money and different elements to set up.
Without his dad’s vision, Andrew and the majority of TT’s upcoming sailors may not have been afforded certain opportunities. He hailed his dad’s plan as “visionary” and “bold” as he was able to secure support from the Government and corporate TT who helped offset equipment costs.
“Slowly but surely, sailing, and the vision I have for it, can become a top-ten sport in the country. We have all the water we could possibly need, all the right temperatures, sailing conditions and other natural elements to allow the sport to thrive,” said Lewis.
He was pleased to be a part of the foundation’s development stages in its entirety to see it all come to fruition. During his early stages of training in Vessigny, he thanked his father for coaching and assisting him in trying to build the dream he had.
To the residents, Lewis said, “When I connect with the individuals in Vessigny and I feel the whole love and support and experience around them it makes me want to do more and more of it.
“When we arrive in Vessigny, people from the community come out to help. Whether it’s parents, sailors or onlookers, it’s very interesting when I arrive down there. It’s like they’re ready to work with me.
“When someone wants something that you’re giving to them, and they receive it well, naturally you want to give more. The feeling I get from the community is that I’m very welcomed. That’s crucial for the growth for the sport and the community as a whole. It’s very healthy.”
Lewis is goal-bound to create Olympians and intent on increasing the human potential through his programme ‘Mentorship through Sailing’.
Looking ahead, he said he will continue to provide education, job opportunities and community building in the community.
He closed, “If we have an Olympian that comes out the Andrew Lewis Sailing Foundation, that’s the cherry on top. I will continue creating opportunities for human beings to grow.”