Hong Kong schoolboy Gillard relishing offshore challenge
RHKYC's brightest prospect Gillard earns place aboard Shahtoosh
A promise made four years ago will come to fruition for 16-year-old Aymeric Gillard when he joins the crew aboard Shahtoosh for the San Fernando Race on Wednesday.
"When I was 12, I listened to stories by Peter Cremers [skipper of Shahtoosh] about how amazing it was to race on the South China Sea and how beautiful the sunsets and sunrises were. I wanted to be a sailor since then and he [Cremers] promised me that one day he would take me along, and here I am," said Gillard, winner of Hong Kong's Young Sailor of the Year in 2012.
The South Island School student will be the youngest sailor among the crew of the 25-boat fleet that will take part in the biennial 480 nautical mile offshore race, when family friend Cremers makes good on his pledge.
Gillard is thrilled that he finally gets to fulfil his wishes. His parents - "who have alays supported me" - granted him permission right away.
"This is the first time I will be participating in an offshore race and I am sure it will be a great experience," Gillard said. "I have always looked forward to this experience and I'm delighted I have got the opportunity".
The San Fernando Race will be the first chance for Cremers to try out the "new" Shahtoosh, a Warwick 75, having purchased the boat last June.
Gillard earned the honour last year after he took part in the 29er World Championships with helm Henry Salmon, and was placed as the highest ranked Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club sailor.
He first represented Hong Kong when he was 13 but began sailing at a younger age back home in Belgium. He really got the bug when he became a member of the Sharks, the RHKYC's youth sailing squad.
"My passion still remains with small boats but I definitely enjoy sailing on large boats. This is the first time I will be in the company of so many adults and I think the big difference to racing dinghies could possibly be there might be a lot more swearing," joked Gillard.
Yet it will be a massive sea change for Gillard and he admits to a tinge of anxiety.
"In dinghy racing, you need to concentrate for a few hours only. In offshore racing, it is for a few days. My biggest challenge will be to get into the routine, and I think the night shift will be hard to get used to.
"I hope that I will play my role well and contribute to the success of the team. It will be really exciting, being in the middle of the South China Sea in a big breeze," added Gillard.