A top-five finish against the best in the world and an experience he’ll never forget have inspired South African sailor Dave Shilton to go after even bigger and better things.
Shilton has just returned from his first Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. The Knysna sailor was part of a two-week Emerging Nations Programme before competing in the championships in the Finn class. He was invited to join a group of sailors from Bermuda, Cuba, Iran, Hong Kong, Serbia, Namibia and Venezuela, who all benefited from coaching and support before and during the championship.
‘Ever since I started sailing, I heard about the Gold Cup and the legendary Finn sailors. I watched videos and read about it,’ explained Shilton. ‘Since then it has always been a dream to sail in it. But I thought, realistically, it would never happen. The Emerging Nations Programme has made it possible for me. I still can’t believe it, I was crossing tacks with some big names in the sport.
‘The boats were great and the training and coaching was just the greatest thing for me. Our coach got me up to speed, he told me exactly where I was going wrong and showed me where I can improve.
‘I learned so much so quickly. By getting me up to speed, this programme has made me believe in myself, has made me confident in my own sailing ability. I’ve proven to myself I can actually be up there. I’m really grateful,’ he added.
The former navy diver claimed an impressive fifth place in his first race, and while his subsequent results weren’t quite as good (finishing 56th out of 90 sailors), he was still thrilled with his overall performance.
‘What a great feeling to finish fifth. I had a plan for the first beat and start. My plan just worked perfectly.
‘I was dreaming so big that night that I couldn’t sleep, but anyway that was a great day. Unfortunately I had a very bad day the following day. I was feeling a bit down that I didn’t keep it up, but towards the end of the regatta, I was sailing a lot more consistently with much better results, including a fourth place in the silver fleet.
‘I was very happy with my overall performance, everyone always wishes they did better. I do too but I finished feeling great, I felt I sailed well in this top level of sailing.’
Now Shilton is dreaming of taking this experience and making it count, starting with the national championships at the Vaal Dam from 21-24 September.
‘I’m most excited to race the South African nationals. I have once come second but never won it. I reckon this is my year for sure. The training continues as soon as I’m back. I’m just going to sail as much as I possibly can and get really strong for next time.’
The taste of international competition also has him hooked.
‘I’m definitely addicted now. I feel I can do much better next time. I’m already planning how I’m going to win the next one. My Finn has just become my No 1 priority, although I’m still figuring out how I going to work full time and sail my Finn full time too,’ he added with a laugh.
‘I always just wondered and imagined what it’s like and now I know exactly what it takes, what to expect next time and how to go about campaigning.
‘Also meeting and making so many friends, the other Emerging Nations guys, I feel we’re all top friends now. I’ve also met and spoken with some of the best guys in the business. They’re all such nice guys. It must be a Finn thing, I reckon.’
Photo: Shilton in action at world championships in Denmark, by Jesus Renedo/Sailing Energy/Aarhus 2018