Thomas More pupil sails to title

2017-08-22 06:00
The world champions, Benji Daniel and Alex Burger at the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club having just won the Zhik 29er World Championships in Long Beach, California last weekend.Photo: Matias Capizzano

The world champions, Benji Daniel and Alex Burger at the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club having just won the Zhik 29er World Championships in Long Beach, California last weekend.Photo: Matias Capizzano

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AN astounding performance saw Thomas More College pupil Benji Daniel (16) and his team member, Alex Burger (21) from Cape Town crowned number one at the Zhik 29er World Champions.

The newcomers were the surprise package from start to finish in the weeklong event that took place at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach, California.

They finished third in the opening event, the U.S. Nationals, kicking off their phenomenal campaign. Following the nationals, they went on to the qualifiers where they earned a spot in the Gold Fleet and ending the fairy-tale week, taking the top step on the podium after three days of ultimate racing in a hot fleet consisting of the top 50 29er sailors in the world.

The new team of Daniel and Burger were the most consistent boat on the water, with only one slip up in the penultimate race, where they changed their tactics for a riskier start and almost blew their winning chances, ending with a disastrous 33rd.

With two race discards counting, they were lucky to have the 33rd and a 5th scored in the seventh race erased from their overall result.

The young team composed themselves in the 11th and final race, returning to the tactics that had worked the entire regatta by not taking any major risks, instead doing what they did best, sailing fast, and in so doing taking the title of 2017 world champions.

They led out of the starting blocks and didn’t look back, until 20 yards beyond the finish, when helmsman Daniel released his tight hold on the tiller and slid backward into the water in celebratory relief.

Back on the boat, the duo congratulated the other competitors, holding the South African flag aloft over their heads in celebration and later hoisted it atop the mast as they made their way back into the harbour.

A delighted Daniel representing Point Yacht Club said: “We’ve had worse days. We wanted to end in style.”

And that they did, annihilating the more experienced sailors, finishing with a marvellous lead of 33points over second placed French sailors, Benjamin Jaffrezic and Leo Chauvel who ended on 56points.

At the conclusion of the regatta, their scorecard revealed a fourth, five third places, a second, and two first places.

Their two discarded races were the seventh race which they clocked a fifth place and a 33rd in the tenth race, which was their only finish out of the top five, totalling 23 points.

The newly crowned world champs have only been sailing together for four months, this being their first major event together. With a result like this, it promises a bright future for the team. Burger stated that his experience in other world championships, and in other boats, helped overall.

“We came to the championship regatta with the goal of simply doing our best, but after a solid day of racing yesterday [Friday], and consistently placing in the top five throughout the finals, it occurred to us that we could win this thing,” said Burger.

Having only been sailing as a pair since the end of summer, the two have trained specifically eyeing out this event, sailing offshore of Durban and Cape Town, the boys’ hometowns.

Sailing in the mixed conditions prepared them well: “Despite the series starting with unusual conditions for Long Beach, the sailing conditions in South Africa are even more variable, which prepared us well,” said the older Burger.

“We complement each other as a team, not only physically in size, but in making smart decisions,” said Burger. Daniel, at the helm, is responsible for making sure the boat is going top speed all the time.

“Whoever sails the shortest distance at the highest velocity, win, speed makes you look clever.”

Daniel directed them along the shortest, fastest route possible, but credit he said goes to both team members for sharing responsibilities half and half on the boat – tactics and implementation.

Daniel and Burger are the first team in recent South African 29er history to take the top spot in the Zhik 29er World Championships that concluded on Saturday in Long Beach California.

For more information, visit www.pyc.co.za

- Supplied.

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