Tom Pilkington: eSailing Champion

At eleven-years-old, Tom Pilkington has just become the latest eSailor to have success on the virtual sailing scene. Father, Guy Pilkington, is one of the New Zealand based Doyle Sails experts, and continues to support Tom on his sailing journey.

Debra Douglas from Breeze Magazine, the official publication of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, spoke with Tom and his family about his recent success.

Tom Pilkington 2
Tom Pilkington

“It’s a bit like playing Chess. It’s a technical game, a thinking game”, is how Jane Pilkington describes her 11-year-old son and RNZYS eSailing Champion, Tom’s interest in the sport.

“It’s great entertainment, so much better than Minecraft or other virtual games. Tom has made so many international sailing friends. We are very proud of him; he takes on some real rock stars of sailing”.

Interest in eSailing continues to grow in popularity as yachties look to get their sailing fix online. According to Yachting New Zealand, there are now more than two million players worldwide. Clubs throughout the country have established races for their members and also have found them to be useful coaching tools.

One participant described eSailing as an “opportunity to take risks without the possibility of spending a week post-collision in the shed epoxying things back together and buying some drinks as an apology”.

Tom, a pupil at Helensville Primary School and son of Guy Pilkington, a former coach of the RNZYS Youth Training Programme, started sailing on the family’s Townson sailing dinghy when he was three years old. He went on to a Learn to Sail course at Murrays Bay Sailing Club when he was five and has sailed Optimist and P-Class ever since. He is currently ranked 12th in New Zealand in the Optimist and also a regular crew on the Pilkington’s Stewart 34 Playbuoy in the RNZYS’s Club Series.

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Stewart 34 Playbuoy // Photo Credit: Suellen Hurling, Live Sail Die

Tom says he was attracted to eSailing a year ago because the Sail GP boats were taking part. “I’m often competing on my iPad against sailors who are much older and more experienced than me both on and off the water. I get nervous, but I try to stay calm”.

Tom’s nerves were kept at bay as he successfully made his way through the recent Zhik New Zealand eSailing Championship rounds. Governed by World Sailing Virtual Rules of Sailing, the challenge closely matched the real-world rules and formats that govern on the water racing.

Round one involved club championships, with one club champion proceeding to the regional championships. The top three from this round then went on to the National Challenge, from which the best six sailors took on the six best sailors in Australia for the Zhik Trans-Tasman eSailing Championships.

Tom Pilkington
Tom Pilkington

Tom: “Sailing a j70, Star, Nacra 17, 49er and offshore racer, the Sqaudron’s competition was the hardest. I had to do a lot of sailing to get through and sailed against some great sailors.

“I started by doing the Lockdown Series on the Stewart 34 on Monday and Wednesday nights for five weeks, with two races a night. My placing got me into the Club Lockdown Championships. I then raced in two round robins of four races each time and was placed first in the semi-finals. I raced another fie faces in the RNZYS club final and came first”.

Tom went on to take the top spot at the regional championships and was placed third at the nationals. His placing put him in the NZ team for the Zhik Trans-Tasman eSailing Championships.

Unfortunately, the kiwis lost to the Aussies in the Trans-Tasman event, Tom, who came sixth, says their competitors sailed better in the final taking the first three places. “I made a couple of mistakes in a couple of races that cost me good results, which was disappointing”.

Undeterred, next up for Tom is the 2020 World eSailing series, which in its inaugural competition in 2018 saw more than 170,000 players from 74 nations race. With on the water challenges including the NZIODA Optimist Nationals in November in Wellington. In between times, Tom plays Soccer, touch and takes part in athletics and swimming.

“My ambition is to be in the NZ team for the Opti Worlds for 2021”, said Tom. “Then onto the youth classes, Sail GP, Olympics, Team NZ – who knows?”.

Originally published in Breeze Magazine, July – August 2020.

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