The Story of Dr. James Andrews's Challenge for the America’s Cup

The America’s Cup is the most prestigious yacht race in the world, and this fall, America’s Magic hopes to be the challenger that brings the Cup back home from Barcelona, Spain. I was elated when I learned that Pensacola had landed a 10-year agreement to have America’s Magic train in Pensacola. America’s Cup challenges are not for the faint of heart.

After hearing the news, one of the first people I thought about was Dr. James Andrews. Jim to his friends, is a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon who competed in 2000 to be the challenger representing the State of Hawaii and the United States to win back the America’s Cup from New Zealand.

I scheduled a lunch meeting to hear Dr. Andrews’s story of how he became a potential challenger while juggling a sports medicine juggernaut and treating some of the most famous athletes in the world. During our visit, I soon learned that he enjoys being a competitor at the highest levels regardless of the pursuit. At age 81, he retired from surgery but has not slowed down a bit. 

James Andrews, with his wife Jenelle and their six children, is a dedicated family man. As the late Paul Harvey said, you are about to hear the rest of the story, and it’s a fascinating tale. I knew Dr. Andrews by his reputation as the pre-imminent orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine when he first began practicing at the Hughston Clinic in Columbus, Georgia, in 1973.

His sailing prowess had an inauspicious beginning. Growing up in the small town of Homer, in north Louisiana, he attended LSU on a track scholarship as a pole vaulter. Soaring to high places must be in his blood. After college, he was accepted into LSU Medical School in New Orleans. He had never been on a sailboat and knew nothing about sailing. However, Lake Pontchartrain enticed him.

He became friends with a fellow med student, Chip Metz, who had briefly attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, a world-famous sailing community. While at school, the two became acquainted with the maintenance man at LSU Medical School, who was also a bookie at the Fairgrounds horse racing track in New Orleans. 

Through the bookie, Jim and Chip became intrigued with the ponies and would go to the track during their lunch break to bet on the first two races of the day, including the daily double, before rushing back to their anatomy class at med school. After class, they ran back to bet on the last two races. Since they couldn’t stick around for those races, their maintenance man/bookie friend would tell them if the Daily Double and Feature race had paid off. 

In 1964, Hurricane Besty devastated New Orleans. A short time later, Jim and Chip saw an ad on the bulletin board of the New Orleans Yacht Club offering the sails to a 15.5’ Snipe, an Olympic-class sailboat for $200, and with the sails, the owner would allow them to retrieve the submerged boat which had sunk somewhere near the New Orleans Yacht Club during the storm.

Jim and Chip decided they wanted that boat but didn’t have $200 to buy the sails. They scraped $2 together to place a bet on an old nag, Tom’s Gamble, with 100-to-one odds. It was the day's last race, and the track was muddy. It was still raining when Tom’s Gamble took the lead early and never relinquished. He won by 16 lengths, and Jim and Chip had the $200 they needed to purchase the sails to the Snipe, wherever it was.

They put on scuba gear and began searching for the boat. They found it in short order and were able to retrieve and repair it in Morgan City, Louisiana, which took them all summer. Once the boat was repaired, they took it back to New Orleans. All this time, Jim assumed Chip was an experienced sailor. “I mean, he went to the Naval Academy and lived in Annapolis.” 

It turned out neither of them knew the first thing about sailing. On their way to launch the sailboat, they bought a Dell Publishing book on How to Sail and read it. They went with friends to launch and sail on Lake Pontchartrain. The Snipe immediately took on water because they failed to fiberglass the centerboard. Even still, Jim was hooked on sailing.

He tells me that throughout his medical school career, he and Chip salvaged 3 or 4 damaged sailboats. One was a 38’ Tumlaren-class manufactured in Denmark that they purchased in his junior year. He and Chip would venture out and race with boats in regattas on Lake Pontchartrain even though they weren’t officially entered into the race.

During his med school days, around the holidays in New Orleans, the Southern Yacht Club held a big race called the Sugar Bowl Regatta. At the time, Ted Turner was one of Jim’s sailing heroes. Turner had just purchased a brand new Cal 40’ and used that boat to train for the impending America’s Cup.

Jim set his sights on sailing his Tumlaren against Turner in that regatta. It was an around-the-lake race, and as they were approaching the finish line, Turner missed the finish gate, and Andrews and Metz sailed inside of him and won. That was one hero down. Turner later competed twice for the America’s Cup, first losing in 1974 yet winning it in 1977 in his 12-meter Courageous. 

After med school, newly-minted Dr. James Andrews was assigned to the Public Health Service in San Francisco for his military duty during the Vietnam War. He sold the Tumlaren to a member of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. After two years, he returned to New Orleans to do his residency in orthopedics at Tulane Medical School sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Services. After the Vietnam War ended, he luckily was relieved of his payback time in the Public Health Service.

After his residency, Dr. Andrews did two fellowships in sports medicine: one at the University of Virginia and one in Kyon, France. In 1973, he joined the Hughston Clinic in Columbus, Georgia. There, he began to build a national reputation as one of the top sports medicine doctors in the country. 

His reputation began to grow worldwide due to his mentor, Dr. Jack Hughston, who was the team doctor at Auburn University. Along with increasing his medical practice, his love for competitive sailing also grew. “After entering the  orthopedic sports medicine practice, I purchased a 40’ Columbia family racer and started competing in regattas.”

Dr. Andrews's next boat was a 43’ custom boat, which was being built in Norwick, Connecticut, for an individual who backed out of his contract. Jim purchased it specifically so he could compete in the Southern Ocean Racing Conference, and had it shipped to the St. Pete Yacht Club. “We had the marine architect who designed the boat, Barnard Nivelt, from France, sail with us, and we began winning races.”

This boat became the first Abracadabra, a name that started with the letter “A” because all six  of Jim and Jenelle’s children's names began with the letter A.  “Archie, my youngest son, looked in the dictionary to find a suitable name for the boat that began with an A and he found “Abracadabra.” By then, we lived in Birmingham, the “Magic City, so the name stuck.” Every boat I’ve owned since has been named Abracadabra.”

“My goal was to compete in the Southern Ocean Racing Conference,” says Jim. It began in St. Petersburg and was raced on the weekends, with the first race being to Miami. Through a series of races over four weekends, it ended in Nassau, Bahamas. “Competing in the 43’ Abracadabra, I was the overall SORC Champion on my first try. With sailmaker Mark Plough as my skipper, I was able to win SORC for three different years.”

Jim traveled from Birmingham to St. Pete, or wherever the boat was for the next leg of the race. Between a grueling work schedule of seeing patients performing surgery and sailing in races on weekends, it became second nature to him. 

Jim joined the New York Yacht Club and built a 50-foot Abracadabra. He competed in the International 50-foot Class with America’s Cup Skipper John Kolius at the helm. “My 50-foot Abracadabra was built in Sydney, Australia, and won several world championships from the U.S. to Japan to Europe. It was proclaimed the top offshore racer in the last 100 years on the cover of Sail Magazine.” 

Jim met billionaire Bill Koch, a Kansas rancher who invited him to be on his America’s Cup campaign board. Jim first tasted the America’s Cup in San Diego. Koch’s is a phenomenal tale of “the hick from Kansas” who beat the odds of competing against the “establishment” and won the America’s Cup Campaign in 1992 with America3. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club and was also the first to field an all-female crew in 1996.

As Jim’s sailing career unfolded, he told me that it had always been his goal to have his own America’s Cup campaign. Dennis Conner, another of Jim’s sailing heroes, won the America’s Cup four times in 1974, 1980, 1987, and 1988. He also won over 100 America’s Cup Trial Races and made it to the America’s Cup finals in 1983 and 1995. To say he is America’s sailing icon is an understatement, and he was in Jim Andrews’ sights to beat as well.

Jim’s goal to have a campaign in the America’s Cup grew stronger. He sailed a race from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii, and joined the Waikiki Yacht Club. Every America’s Cup contender must be affiliated with a home base yacht club, and this was the beginning of his journey to win the Cup back for America and race it in Hawaii. 

The State of Hawaii offered him airplane hangar space on Barrier Point, Pearl Harbor, and agreed to match all funds he raised to sponsor the effort. He brought a team of 60 boat builders to Hawaii to design and build two monohull 74’ carbon fiber racing vessels. He formed a non-profit organization to support the project called the Aloha Racing Foundation. “Our credo was to save the oceans.”

He worked with Robert Wyland, an American conservationist best known for his more than 100 Whaling Wall outdoor murals of life-size whales and other sea life. Wyland agreed to paint the Abracadabra’s 74’ hulls with sea life images to call attention to the Aloha Racing Foundation. 

The project took three years and millions of dollars. “We were constantly trying to raise money. My wife, Jenille, reminds me that I had forgotten to ask for permission before diving into the project.  I asked for forgiveness instead,” says Jim. “That was by design!”

There was a series of races called the Louis Vuitton Cup, with 10 or 12 teams from different countries competing to become the Challenger for the America's Cup. The key is getting funding to build boats, field a racing team of sailors, and compete in the trial events. In the case of Jim Andrews’s team, he had secured MCI and HealthSouth, two publicly traded companies, as sponsors.

Then, three significant things happened that almost sank the Abracadabra team. Both MCI and HealthSouth went bankrupt, and the State of Hawaii reneged on its matching grants because the Japanese yen tanked, causing tourists from Japan, who are Hawaii’s largest tourism group,  to curb their appetite for travel, 

In the meantime, Dr. Andrews was performing surgery and seeing patients throughout the week, and then hopping a flight to Honolulu every two weeks to check on the boat's progress and pay the team of boat builders. He would leave Birmingham on Friday afternoon and be back in Birmingham on Sunday morning in time for church!

The pressure on Jim and Jenelle for funding was reaching a fever pitch. Fortunately, they met Richard DeVos, founder of Amway, along with his sons, Doug and Dick. They had been sailing competitors for years in the 50’ Association and had become close. They had previously contacted the DeVos family to get them to join his campaign and put up some needed capital but to no avail. 

At the time, Dr. Andrews was serving as the physician for Auburn’s football team. He was on his way to the Auburn vs. LSU game when he stopped by the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Secretly, he hoped that he would win enough money to have the special hull paint shipped from San Diego to Hawaii so Wyland could work on painting the boats. Funding was tight, and it was a stressful time indeed!

Jim and Jenelle decided to contact the DeVos family one more time for help. “It was decided that Jenelle and Dale Baker, Secretary and Treasure of Aloha Racing Foundation, would fly on our plane to meet with the DeVos family at Amway headquarters in East Lansing, Michigan, the next Monday morning.”

At the meeting, Jenelle showed them the books, which laid out exactly how the money had been spent, and shared their financials. She told them, “This America’s Cup campaign is like birthing a baby, and I’ve been in hard labor for three years. I’ve got to have some relief!” The DeVos family was so impressed with how frugal they had been with their funds, that Jenelle left that day with a sizable financial commitment from the DeVos family. They joined the Aloha Racing Foundation and the challenge for the America’s Cup.

The Abracadabra did beat Dennis Conner in the Louis Vuitton Cup held in Auckland, New Zealand, but then lost to Oricle’s founder, Larry Ellison, who eventually lost to France’s Prada Challenge who was swept by Team New Zealand in the 30th America’s Cup in 2000. 

It should be noted that Dr. Andrews and his team were so efficient with their campaign expenses that after the New York Yacht Club’s contender had been eliminated, they asked Dr. Andrews if he would join its board to help manage their next America’s Cup campaign challenge. They had invested millions more than Jim and Jenelle in their last losing campaign. He declined.

“As we wound down our campaign for the America’s Cup, I could tell that our sailing venture was almost over. Jenelle had laid down the law,” he tells me. “The final word came when Jenelle told me there was no room for permission or forgiveness. We both agreed that we had been there, done that!” 

Thanks for the memories!

Jim and Jenelle Andrews

Apr 17, 2024
Events That Inspire

Join Our Community

Sign up below to subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required

More from 

Events That Inspire


View All