Sir Peter Blake, 1948-2001
3,000 socks have been magically assembled this morning at Takutai Square in Auckland by Street Artist Component and Westpac NZ in the shape of hero and leader Sir Peter Blake for Red Socks Day June 29th 2012
That’s Peter holding the fish and me in the background with our Frostply, “Japeto” that our Dad built.
As I grow yachtyakka to become a detailed online yachting picture book. I accept that part of what I post will need to include those yachties that have gone before us, shinning a light for others to follow. The Trophies, Pre War, designers, boatbuilders and the world beating yachties we call our own.
This thread is in 3 parts, a collection of stories about Sir Peter Blake. If you have a story or 2 you would like to share, flick me an e-mail or post your comment below.
Peter Blake at the wheel of the racing yacht Steinlager 1 with Mike Quilter in the background.
Photograph taken by William West. 18 May 1988
“Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any
re-use of this image.”
The Early Years
From the outset, the sea exerted a powerful influence over Peter Blake. The family lived in a wooden bungalow in Bayswater on the northern flanks of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. His father, Brian, was a gunboat captain in the Royal Navy during World War Two; throughout their marriage, Brian and Joyce Blake owned boats and the Blake children grew up with the sea as their playground.
Peter was born in 1948, the second child of what would later grow to a family of four children: Janet, Peter, Tony and Elizabeth.
Peter loved messing about along the foreshore and boats very quickly became a passion. Family summer holidays were spent camping on a piece of land they owned at Mairangi Bay, north of Auckland, next to their grandparents’ house.
The two boys, in particular, spent all their time on the water. “We had banana box boats,” recalls Tony. As the name implies, these comprised wooden banana boxes, with a rudder hung off the back, a mast and a square sail. Windward ability was somewhat lacking, but there was no shortage of fun and adventure.
Bandit was often the smallest boat in the offshore racing fleets and Tony recalls one race in winds of 30-35 knots. The first leg was on the wind and Bandit was feeling its lack of waterline, slogging away at the back of the fleet. But, at last they reached the turning mark and headed off downwind. Lessons learned from those wild rides across the harbour on their Z-class dinghies were put to good use as they popped the orange and black spinnaker and surfed through the fleet. Tony: “By the time we reached the next mark, we were two miles ahead of the nearest boat. It was pretty wild in big seas, but we must have averaged something like 15 knots on that leg.”
On the local scene, Peter’s sailing prowess was gaining wider recognition and he was invited to crew on a number of yachts in major events, including Ton Cup races and the Round North Island race. In one of the offshore races up into the Pacific Islands, Peter was asked to join the crew of Doug Hazard’s boat, Red Feather. It was his first offshore ocean race.
“He was always very serious about racing,” says Tony. “He was very competitive and he was out to win. He got very frustrated on that race, because they were becalmed and the crew got bored. The doctor on board injected some oranges with rum and a party developed. One of the crew fell down the forehatch (luckily escaping injury) and the others got pretty drunk, while Peter kept trying to get the boat moving and stay in the race.”
Even though professional yachting was still unheard of, Peter’s interest in racing at a higher and higher level continued to grow. He sold Bandit and was busy building a replacement, a 26ft Holman & Pye design called Oliver Twist when he decided it was time to widen his horizons.
He sold the incomplete Oliver Twist and used the funds to head for Europe. This is a traditional rite of passage for young New Zealanders, the “Big OE” (Overseas Experience) as it is known. For Peter, the Big OE meant getting into the sailing scene as quickly as possible, learning the ropes and making a name for himself.
In 1971, he secured a position as watch leader on the yacht Ocean Spirit, which won the inaugural Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro Race. On the way down the Atlantic to the start of the race, Ocean Spirit struck a sandbank off the notorious coast of Namibia and the crew was lucky to escape with the yacht intact and nobody injured.
All this experience stood Blake in good stead for a berth in the first round the world race and he joined Leslie Williams’ crew on Burton Cutter. Ill-prepared, Burton Cutter’s campaign was doomed from the outset.
The yachts, ranging from the 1936-built Peter Von Danzig of Germany, to the UK’s Burton Cutter, which was still being finished during the race, were no different from many of the 3,000 spectator boats that set out to witness the historic start. Crews were mostly adventure-driven novices, with limited experience of offshore sailing and absolutely no idea what lay ahead over the coming 27,500 nms. more here
Sailing out to the start line off Portsmouth, the crew was still desperately trying to complete the interior, hammering makeshift bunks into place. The helmsman’s seat was a cardboard beer carton, which promptly disintegrated as soon as it got wet. crewing on all sorts of yachts on the European racing circuit.
Chay Blyth had surrendered his place at the helm of 23 metre ketch GBII to Rob James, a competitor in the first race, and new contenders included the much-fancied Flyer, skippered by Dutch industrialist Cornelius van Rietschoten and Heath’s Condor, commissioned specially for the race by Robin Knox-Johnston and Les Williams who took a gamble on a revolutionary new carbon-fibre mast to maximise her speed in the strong following winds that prevailed around the 27,000 nm race course.
Their crew included a tall, blond, aggressive Kiwi called Peter Blake, who had sailed with Les on Burton Cutter in 1973 and who at the age of 29 was already recognised as an extraordinary talent on any boat, in any waters. more here
Peter Blake, the Kiwi who crewed with British yachtsman Les Williams in the first two races, entered his own 20 metre boat Ceramco New Zealand and filled it with a pack of ten countrymen, selected from 140 applicants, who all had to qualify by completing a three-day assault course across the mountains as a test of their character and mettle. Blake had also managed to secure $600,000 funds from benefactor Tom Clark, who ran a conglomerate of engineering companies in Auckland.
Blake’s aluminium boat was a pukka race boat, designed and built for a round the world event. His crew were young talented sailors and his ambition knew no bounds. It was no surprise then that the bookies ranked him as favourite when time came to call the odds on who might win.
Two Knights and a Dame –
Sir Tom, Sir Peter and Dame Norma Holyoake, who launched Ceramco New Zealand.
Ceramco entering Milford Sound after winning the 1980 Sydney Hobart
Click the photo to see video of 1980 Sydney Hobart
“She’s unbelievable, beautifully balanced even in conditions of hard running and tight reaching, when you’d expect enormous amounts of helm. We were flying in 35 to 40 knots when Buccaneer would have been rounding up in every second gust.”
On his company’s involvement in the Round the World race boat, Clark said:
“Few people realise the struggle I had to get my directors to approve this project. Now I’ve got their 100% support because they understand what it’s all about – a national project with a lot of prestige for New Zealand involved.”
In the case of CERAMCO NEW ZEALAND we opted for a boat designed primarily for speed, but with removal of any obvious rating penalty features where the effect on performance would be virtually unmeasurable but the effect on rating considerable.
Chapter 6 of ‘Blake’s Odyssey’ by Peter Blake and Alan Sefton. in which Peter Blake describes his initial reaction to the dismasting of Ceramco New Zealand in the 1981-82 Whitbread Race
I dashed up on deck. What a mess. The whole top half of the mast was over the side but still attached by internal halyards and wiring systems, plus the mainsail and jib and the headstay. Another section, probably 2Oft long, was bent over and dangling down to the gunwhale. We were left with a l6ft stump still in place.
LEGENDS: DESTRUCTION DERBY
Photo Bob Fisher / PPL
The first leg of the third Whitbread Round the World Race in 1981-82, from Portsmouth to Cape Town, was dubbed by one yachting magazine as a ‘destruction derby’. Part I of III.
Three yachts, La Barca Laboratorio, Rollygo and Peter Blake’s Ceramco NZ, lost their rigs. FCF Challenger and Charles Heidsieck III suffered serious rigging problems, Bubblegum broke a chainplate and also collided with a whale, losing steerage when the wire cables broke. Traité de Rome came perilously close to losing her entire skeg and rudder and Scandinavian retired to Las Palmas with a long list of problems.
In Cape Town, there were so many repairs to different kinds of damage that the race committee did consider postponing the next leg start. Of the 29 boats taking part, 21 reported damage.
The most remarkable recovery, however, was that of Peter Blake’s Ceramco New Zealand. After pressing Flyer, the eventual race winner, for the first three weeks of the leg, on 21 September 1980, disaster struck Ceramco’s New Zealand crew 100 miles from Ascension Island.
This is part one of Peter Blake’s account of what happened.
‘Suddenly, there was an almighty bang and a crash from up top. Ceramco came upright and slowed. I didn’t need to know what had happened. We’d broken the mast. I dashed up on deck. What a mess. The whole top of the mast was over the side, but still attached by internal halyards and wiring systems, plus the mainsail, jib and the headstay. Another section, probably 20-feet long, was bent over and dangling down to the gunwhale. We were left with a 16-foot stump still in place.
For the fourth attempt, Blake was determined to have a full-on maxi yacht. If raising $NZ600,000 for Ceramco was a big task, the $NZ3 million a maxi campaign would demand was seriously daunting. Once again, however, Sir Tom Clark led the charge and, although the Ceramco Company could no longer play in that league, he found a new patron. Douglas Myers was a young and energetic entrepreneur heading up Lion Breweries, New Zealand’s largest beer producer. Myers took up the major sponsorship with another 12 New Zealand companies in subsidiary roles. The Lion campaign was born.
Lion New Zealand was a Ron Holland designed masthead sloop, which gained the nickname the Urban Assault Vehicle when it survived and won the stormy Sydney-Hobart race of 1984. It appeared to be bullet proof and, sadly, it proved to be overly conservative.
Blake had asked for a yacht displacing 31 tonnes. He was delivered a yacht of close to 38 tonnes. It was indeed bullet proof, but, in anything but very heavy conditions, it was off the pace.
To compound the problem, the conditions for that Whitbread were unusually light – exactly what Lion did not want. “In some ways, she was the right boat for the wrong race,” was Blake’s summary.
22 May 1990
Sir Peter BLAKE (NZL) led Steinlager 2 to victory in every leg as he finally emerged victorious in the Whitbread Round the World Race. Meanwhile Tracy EDWARDS (GBR) led the first all-female team in the race, disproving the doubters by finishing in 12th place overall and bringing the race to TV screens and newspaper front pages around the world.
BLAKE lined up for the start of the 1989-90 Whitbread Race as the only sailor to have competed in all four previous editions and 13 years after he set sail as watch officer on Burton Cutter, he would finally secure round the world victory.
Twenty three entrants made the fleet the biggest ever, with BLAKE’s Steinlager 2 the leading contender amongst a proliferation of big boats. The 84-foot Bruce FARR-designed Ketch, affectionately named Big Red, had already demonstrated her speed in winning the 1989 Fastnet Race.
BLAKE’s closest rival proved to be his watchleader from the race’s previous edition, Grant DALTON (NZL). In Fisher & Paykel, DALTON also had a maxi ketch, albeit two foot shorter than BLAKE’s.
Right from the start, BLAKE and Steinlager 2 signalled their intention, leading out of Southampton at the start and winning leg 1 to Punta del Este, in a time more than a week faster than the predicted 30 days.
The teams entered the Southern Ocean in leg 2, which turned out to be one of the most exciting in the race’s history. Steinlager 2, Fisher & Paykel, and fellow maxis Merit and Rothmans all converged as the finish in Fremantle approached. Just 22 nm seperated the front four with the final tactical manoeuvres played out through the night. Fisher & Paykel surrendered their advantage as they ran into light winds, BLAKE squeezed past to take his second leg win by 90 minutes, and Merit and Rothmans fought right to the line for second, with the latter winning out by just 28 seconds.
A week after the leaders had finished, EDWARDS led her all-female team home on the 58 foot Sloop Maiden, finishing top of her class in the punishing Southern Ocean leg.
Leg 3 into Auckland saw the same four battling for honours again, and again it was BLAKE who came up trumps, getting a jump on DALTON for a vital sail change thanks to tuning into the local radio as he approached Auckland! Finishing just 6 minutes ahead of Fisher & Paykel, Steinlager 2 was welcomed into Auckland with a rapturous reception. The crowds were also out in force three days later, as Maiden again took top honours in her division.
The final Southern Ocean leg took the teams from Auckland, round Cape Horn to Punta del Este and again BLAKE and DALTON were facing off for the lead. Neither team could shake off the other, but DALTON was set to be denied again, with Steinlager 2 completing her fourth leg win by another narrow margin, this time 21 minutes. Leg 5 to Fort Lauderdale produced a similar result, as BLAKE came in first, 34 minutes ahead of DALTON, leaving him in pole position as the teams lined up for the start of the final transatlantic leg back to Southampton.
Four days’ into the leg, BLAKE’s near-perfect performance almost fell victim to his previous bad luck, as the crew heard an ominous loud crack in the middle of the night. A chainplate attaching the rigging to the yacht had failed, but helm Brad BUTTERWORTH (NZL) saved the day with an immediate crash gybe saving the rig and the race for the Kiwis. For BLAKE there was still no question of taking things easy and he and the crew spent the rest of the night completing and fitting a makeshift replacement for the chainplate to see them through to Southampton.
One final Kiwi battle to the finish ensued, with Steinlager 2 winning out again to take the final leg by 36 minutes. BLAKE had been pushed all the way by DALTON, but in the end, his fifth Whitbread Round the World Race resulted in the overall victory which had previously eluded him.
More Whitbread here
Volvo Ocean Race
Sir Peter Blake will be given “a sailor’s send-off” before the start of the third leg of the round-the-world yacht race from Sydney to Auckland on Boxing Day.
Instead of heading to the start-line one by one, with their team music blaring, the eight boats in the fleet will leave the dock together in silence.
They will then form a circle with their sterns just off the dock, drop wreaths into the water and observe a minute’s silence.
Blake, the five-time Whitbread round-the-world sailor and double America’s Cup winner, was murdered in the Amazon this month.
Volvo Ocean Race director of logistics Chris Cooney said the idea for Blake’s tribute came from New Zealanders Grant Dalton (Amer Sports One), Kevin Shoebridge (Tyco) and Ross Field (News Corp) – all close friends of Blake.
“They came up with the idea and then it was discussed with all the skippers, who were keen for a tribute,” said Cooney.
He said there was a tremendous amount of respect for Blake throughout the yachting world, and his death was a huge loss.
“Sir Peter really wrote the book of ocean racing, and the sailors really wanted to give him their own send-off – a sailor’s send-off.”
Volvo Ocean Race chief executive Helge Alten said Blake would always be remembered as one of the greatest sailors the world had seen.
“His personal warmth and caring nature meant he was always an approachable figure and an inspiring personality.”
Blake won the 1989-1990 round-the-world race on Steinlager 2.
Senior chaplain of the Mission to Seafarers, Tom Hill, will bless the boats before they leave the dock and begin their journey to Auckland.
The leg includes a short stop at Hobart where they will be joined by the fleet in the Sydney-to-Hobart race.
The round-the-world yachts are expected to arrive in Auckland about January 4.
Julie Ash/News Editor