Knysna sailor is new national champ
The day his childhood coach almost ran him over in a sailing dinghy was the day that local, Dave Shilton, knew he would be sailing for the rest of his life. Little did he know, however, that he would one day be the 2018 Finn National Champion at 29 years old.
Knysna-Plett Herald (KPH) caught up with him at his second home – the Knysna Yacht Club (KYC) – on a windy, overcast Friday. “Although it’s a bit cold, it’s still a good day for sailing, there’s a nice breeze,” Shilton said, his championship trophy shining on the table in front of him.
Shilton won an astonishing nine out of 10 races at the championships held at the Vaal Dam in Gauteng between 21 and 24 September, ensuring his name will be added on the EC Beningfield trophy – along with that of Knysna sailing legend Bruce McCurrach who won the trophy in 1964.
Me, myself and I
In this most recent feat, Shilton was alone out on the water – no team to back him up as in the Rolex Middle Sea Race of 2017 when he won with all South African crew “Team Music” – and said he just stayed focused and got in the zone for the race. “I went for speed – before the race it was very important that I set my boat up technically. It’s something I learnt when I was part of the two-week Emerging Nations Programme before the Sailing World Championships (August 2018). I think those two weeks put me slightly ahead of the rest of the field,” Shilton said.
There was this smile on Shilton’s face just waiting to break through when asked how it feels to finally win a national championship. “Jeez, it’s just amazing – this was lucky number seven for me (being the seventh championship he’s taken part in, and the first one he’s won). I always watched the guys lifting the trophy. Now it feels surreal having won it,” he said.
These championships were the perfect place for him to prove that he had upped his game, he said. “It felt great. I felt faster than I was in Denmark and my boat felt better prepared.” He beat 24 of the top sailors around the country to be crowned champion.
Having been roped into sailing as a youngster by his father Roy, Shilton remembers those days on Hartbeespoort Dam fondly. When his family relocated to Knysna at the age of about 15, Shilton took sailing up as a sport competitively. “I did some Saturday races at KYC, then some championships, I gradually progressed over the years. This was the best experience I could get – I kept going while a lot of guys just gave up,” he said.
He remembers the day Knysna local Dudley Isaac, who would form an integral part in Shilton’s sailing career, came flying over him on the start line of a race, “And he looked so cool,” Shilton recalls. “I remember the moment so clearly. His speed just pushed his boat right over mine. That was the moment I decided I would sail properly, and Dudley started guiding me, giving me tips,” said Shilton.
Isaac laughs when asked about the moment. He remembers Shilton was already sailing by the time he got to Knysna. “I knew his father and just helped out and gave Dave some pointers. He’s progressed a lot from then. I saw his talent and potential back then – soon he was finishing just one spot behind me, and eventually he came third at a championship. This year he beat me at nationals where I came sixth,” Isaac said.
From nipper to skipper
Shilton finished his schooling at Knysna High School. His parents Roy and Jan have always been his greatest supporters, he said, and bought him his first boat, a Laser. At 21 years old he would start racing his Finn, which he prefers.
A former navy diver, Shilton is now known as Knysna’s diver – he often dives the estuary or harbour to assist with maintenance, repairs and salvaging.
He is also one of the skippers for Springtide Charters, and heads overseas once or twice a year to race yachts. He has done the Cape to Rio twice and has also competed in the Trans-Atlantic race from the US to the UK.
Shilton’s next conquest? The Western Cape provincial sailing championships at Theewaterskloof in December.
Dave Shilton and the EC Beningfield Trophy he won at the National Finn Championships at the Vaal Dam. He said it already has an honorary spot at home.