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Andrew Campbell is taking the international regatta circuit by storm.

With winds reaching twenty-two knots in Nassau at the Western Hemisphere championships for Star Class sailboats, Andrew Campbell and his crew, Brad Nichol, were threading the needle through big waves and unsteady competitors when another boat came barging toward them. Its sweeping boom knocked Campbell in the head, turning his blue hat dark with blood before it was washed away by a hungry wave. As Campbell regained his balance, he noticed the same boat, manned by Canada's Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn, heading straight for them again. This time, though, Clarke was missing, and Campbell and Nichol, rounding up quickly, barely avoided plowing over the sailor bobbing in the water. After finishing eighth and ninth that day and a trip to the hospital to patch up his head, Campbell jokes, "We'd love to call it 'no blood, no foul,' but I guess we know who's buying the first round."
Welcome to the world of competitive sailboat racing, a world that Campbell, twenty-six, has inhabited for most of his life. Campbell comes from a family of devoted sailors—his parents met at a regatta and his father raced in three America's Cup matches—so it's no surprise the waves are in his blood. He spent a decade solo racing thirteen-foot Laser boats, which took him all the way to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Afterward, looking for a new challenge, he switched to the ultracompetitive Star Class of bigger keelboats with two-man crews.
So far, so good: Campbell finished eleventh at the 2010 Star World Championship, in Brazil, inJanuary; he now ranks in the world's top twenty; and he earned a Best Performance by a Newcomer award from the U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee this year. Although he's traveled far and wide for his sport, Campbell says, with the matter-of-factness of a true devotee, "There's lots of sailing still to do." He spoke to RL about his sailing career, his Olympic goals for 2012, and his (mis)adventures on the international circuit.

Campbell's successful Laser-class solo sailing career culminated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
You come from a sailing tradition. What was your experience like when you were growing up?
I was in the junior program at the San Diego Yacht Club since I was five or six years old. [By the time I got to high school,] there were only four kids on the school team, but we still managed to do OK. We were top ten at nationals for three straight years. During the high school season we were sailing twice a week at the yacht club, and then most of the other days I was sailing on my own. I started racing Lasers when I was sixteen. And I ended up doing fairly well at a young age, so I stuck with it through the Olympic Games in 2008.

What are the different kinds of boats that you've sailed? How are they different?

In college you end up sailing in double-handed boats, with yourself and a crew. I was sailing with my Georgetown team during their season, and in the summer I would be in Europe, racing Lasers and training over there. The Laser took me places that I never would have imagined, but I felt like I was ready for a change and ready to try and get into a class that better suited my strengths—my tactical awareness and my capacity for making a boat go faster. A lot of the guys that race in the America's Cup will race Star boats in the Olympics. [Because] you can sail the class for a fair bit longer, there are guys in their forties who are racing Star boats at a very high level. Those guys bring a lot of experience that is hard to get around.

How would you describe the mental strategy involved in racing?

Before every race we have to decide which sails we're going to use, because certain shapes optimize different amounts of wind. We decide which direction we would prefer to go after the start, which end of the starting line we should use, which forecast we should trust, which way the current is going. There are hundreds of variables to optimize the boat's performance, but ultimately it comes down to a steady hand on the helm, good trimming, and anticipation of what's going to happen next. And at the same time, you know, we're racing with sometimes seventy or eighty other boats, so it's a moving chessboard on a moving surface.

What is your favorite place to sail?

Racing in Sydney Harbor is incredible. There's just so much traffic. There are huge ferryboats that are running really fast—and they're not going to get out of your way, so you have to get out of theirs. The traffic makes it really fun.

It seems like you get to do a lot of traveling.

Yeah, but it's a blessing and a curse. There is a ton of traveling, and we get to be in some amazing places. I was in Rio in January, and I'm on my third trip to Miami since the beginning of the year. It's a fun time, and I get to see a lot of cool spots, but I don't get to spend as much time at home as I want.

Where is your home base?

I'm living in Washington, D.C., where my fiancée, Jackie, and I have an apartment. I'm not quite sure how long we're going to be there, but I can get out and get to events I need to get to very easily. There's not a ton of good training there necessarily, but most of the valuable training that we do is overseas anyway.

How did you train for the Beijing Olympics?

Time on the water is by far the best training I can do. Cross-training really consists of lifting to stay up to weight for the Star Class rules. Before the Olympics I was running and cycling a lot to lose about twenty pounds, since we were anticipating light winds in China.

What was your Olympic experience like?

China was an incredibly hard place to sail. I practiced in China for basically two months collectively over the course of a couple years. I felt like I was prepared. But the way sailing is scored, the difference between being on the podium and being twenty-fifth is slim. In the last race I was disqualified for committing a foul that I contested, but I lost in the protest hearing. If I'd won the disqualification, maybe I could have gotten into the top ten and done another race; but because I lost it, I was twenty-fifth.

What was the highlight for you?

Absolutely the opening ceremony. Being in the stadium with a hundred thousand people and watching the Olympic flame being lit was the most humbling thing. Because at that point you realize that that's the reason you came, and you're there among all the other people getting ready to compete.
Winning one of my races was a huge moment, too. My family and my friends who were over there were just through the roof. I kind of felt vindicated because I wasn't having a great series. And the cool thing was that it happened on a day when a whole bunch of Americans in the other classes won races as well. So it was a big push from Team USA, and it really bonded a lot of us in a way we'll never forget.

Looking ahead, who is the team to beat at Weymouth in the London 2012 Olympics?

The British team has been strong during the last two games. In 2004 and 2008 they were by far the strongest team, so all the more reason that they're going to be very good at home. That's going to be a very tough team to beat. The Australians are also a very strong team in general.

What would you be doing if you weren't a professional sailor?

I've luckily never really had to consider it. I do some writing for magazines and my Web site, so that would lead somewhere, ideally. My degree set me up to take the foreign-service exam and start down the diplomatic path—but the only diplomacy I have to worry about now is at crowded starting lines in international fleets or organizing international training partners.

Do you ever go sailing just for fun?

Yeah, absolutely! But even the pleasure sailing that I do is racing oriented. Jackie and I will go racing against other people in Washington or the Eastern Shore of Maryland or something like that and just have a total blast.

On that note, how do your competitors on the international sailing circuit kick back? Do you have any wild stories from any of the big regattas or races?

We do manage to have a good time off the water—we are a bit of a traveling circus! The Olympic and Grand Prix circuits are fairly established, so we really are a small community of athletes who compete and see each other often. We've stormed Australian pubs at six in the morning trying to get an NFL game on TV, and once convinced Polish cabbies that we spoke Polish when we most certainly did not. We befriended Italian restaurateurs in China to the point where our photos are on the walls. We even had to make a 'pants passback' to some friends who couldn't make it into an Irish bar because they were wearing shorts. We've overwhelmed towns and been overwhelmed by others, but always together as friends and competitors.

What's your favorite aspect of sailing?

Every time I get out on the water, I really try to take a minute to remind myself how lucky I am. Even on crappy weather days or in cold conditions or in relatively high-stress scenarios, I know that as soon as I get out on the water, I'm doing what I do best, and one of the things I love most. I always look forward to the next opportunity to get on the water.

Follow Andrew's sailing adventures on his blog,, and at these summer regattas

Written by Bailey McAllister works for Assouline Publishing and lives in New York. She has previously written for New England Home magazine.

Article courtesy of Ralph Lauren Magazine.

Posted By O. Cavanaugh

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