World Champions, Benji And Alex Share Their Adventure With Durban Sailors

Point Yacht Club
Zhik 29er Worlds
Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, Long Beach, California: 31 July – 5 August
Two phenomenal talents collided in an impromptu pairing that resulted in the title of 29er World Champion last month.
This past weekend, a packed room at the Point Yacht Club heard the journey of Benji Daniel and Alex Burger’s adventure to California where they competed victoriously in the 29er World Championships at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach.
At the talk, Daniel was awarded his Junior South African colours and the Yachtsmen of the Year award for Point Yacht Club. This was the fourth time that Daniel (16) has competed internationally in the high-performance two-person skiff dinghy class, mostly as a junior. This is only the second time in the PYC proud 125 year history to have ‘bred’ a World Champion, and not only that, the two are the youngest SA team to win a worlds.
Helmsman, Daniel is a Grade 11 pupil at Thomas More College and his crew, Burger is a Mechanical Engineering student at University of Cape Town, they joined forces only four months prior to the regatta under the suggestion from Olympic sailor Roger Hudson.
A beaming Burger opened with, “One could say we came back quite successful!
“From the onset, it was an unusual campaign, very late compared to the usual, formulated and planned build-up. Luckily, we both had been doing loads of other sailing, so it was just a continuation from that.”
Daniel shared, “With the late timing, we battled to find a charter boat. Mom hunted everywhere, reaching out to teams from the UK, US, NZ and miraculously found a 2016 edition that team Hong Kong generously allowed us to make use of. We were set!”
Continuing, Daniel said, “We spent our first two full days readying her. She was slightly heavier than the 2017 edition that everyone else was sporting, so we spent a fair amount of time sanding her down. We meticulously got to know our chariot. And that paid off for us!”
The golden partnership’s first challenge was the US Nationals, all the contenders used this regatta as a warm up to the main event. Burger said, “From the first time we hit the water, we took it seriously. Trying to learn as much as possible, the exceptionally big fleets, the swell, chop and breeze. It took some time to settle on the set up for our boat, and once we had, we were both happy. It was interesting to see how other teams could obsess about competitors rigging, or get completely distracted about something so simple as tape on the boom while we just shrugged it off, and concentrated on sailing!
“Our result was a third overall, a surprise for all. It was a reassurance to us, but we didn’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves before the critical event.”
From the get-go, they quickly synced into a compatible daily routine: waking up early, Burger making breakfast, while Daniel cleaned and filled their water bottles. They cycled down to the yacht club on their rented bikes, fondly named Penelope and Veronica, until they were stolen from outside their accommodation. When they got to the club early each day, they methodically rigged their boat and then sat on the balcony, quietly eating their breakfast while observing the wind. In the evenings, they would dry their kit, eat dinner, briefly chat about the day.
“In a way, it was good that we didn’t have an entourage. We could relax and process things at our pace. We binged on episodes of Game of Thrones, ate dark chocolate and talked nonsense. Of course, the flipside was we had to do everything which took some navigating, but our synergy and determination made the challenges manageable.” Daniel said.
Talking about the weather, Burger stated, “Sailing in Long Beach was fascinating, analysing and getting familiar with the thermal sea breeze. Daily, the wind would gradually build as the day warmed up. There were small wind shifts. Conditions were quite like sailing offshore of Durban.
“Our results look glamourous on paper, but believe us, it was tough going. We had to constantly grind our way through the fleet. If we got spat out at the start, or got buried you had to climb your way back to a decent result! At the front of the fleet, conditions were easier, you had clean air, and it wasn’t a nightmare, traffic jam rounding the marks. But at the back, it was difficult.”
The main event started off with a three-day qualifier. 129 boats took to the water to be slotted into the three different fleets, gold being the best. Daniel added, “My personal goal was just to get into the gold fleet!”
Racing was held on a windward leeward course, and the short two lap races lasted around 25minutes. The starts were enormous, and critical, Burger stated, “In Durban there are only two competitive 29ers, Cape Town doesn’t have many more on the water, so to be jostling on a line with another 49 boats, it was vital to get ahead, and stay ahead. The more experienced guys left it till extremely late in the race to make their move, there was lots of pushing.”
We had three days of consecutive good scores during the qualifying which landed us in the gold fleet for the Worlds. When we got off the water each day, our mantra was, ‘Nobody remembered who lead at the half way mark.’ Our job wasn’t done.”
Two things stood out from the young world champions’ report back, basically hitting home about the basics. Consistency wins regattas, and Burger and Daniel certainly were that and more. With all their results being in the top ten, and the hot shots displaying results with double figures. They were 30points clear of their second placed rivals and didn’t have to compete in the last two races. They did, and rubbing salt in the wound, won the last race.
The second was their routine. As simple as it was, it worked for them. They referred to it as robot mode, and the habit that they quickly settled into gave them peace of mind to concentrate what they are both spectacularly good at, sailing!
Examining the trophy, their names join some truly historic sailors that have graced podiums at Olympics, Americas Cups or Volvo Ocean Races. One stand-out name is Kiwi sailor, Blair Tuke who crews regularly with Peter Burling on 49ers. They are multiple world champions, Olympic Gold medallist and Tuke was a critical crew on the Emirates Team New Zealand in winning the America’s Cup a few months ago.
Wrapping up, Daniel referred to their experience as a fairy tale experience. “You can’t describe the feeling. This is the most amazing sport. And winning the 29ers was a massive tick off the bucket list. Progressing from this, who knows what the future holds.”
In conclusion, Burger simply ended by smilling, shrugging and then saying, “Our story isn’t finished yet!”

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