Sir Peter Blake: Kiwi yachting hero

New Zealand-born yachting legend Sir Peter Blake is the only sailor to have taken part in the first five Whitbread Round the World races. He also led his country to two successive America’s Cup victories.

Sir Peter Blake is a New Zealand-born yachting legend.

A five times competitor in the Whitbread round the world races, Blake went on to lead his Team New Zealand yachting teams to two successive America’s Cup victories.

Sir Peter Blake’s headstone carries the words: "I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky, and all I ask ..." from poet John Masefield's famous Sea Fever - describing a life inseparable from the sea.

Waitemata Harbour
Born in 1948, Blake grew up in a wooden bungalow in Bayswater, on the northern flanks of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour.

His father, Brian Blake, had been a gunboat captain in the Royal Navy during WWII. Throughout their marriage, Brian and Joyce Blake owned boats and the Blake children grew up with the sea as their playground.

"Not just sitting back when we were cruising, we had to go faster. He liked to win, but he enjoyed himself. It wasn’t all winning, there was a lot of fun," recalls his sister Janet.

Whitbread Round the World
Famously, Sir Peter Blake is the only sailor to have taken part in the first five Whitbread Round the World races - now known as the Volvo Ocean Race.

Held every four years, the race follows a general route from Europe, south through the Atlantic Ocean, around the tip of Africa, and then across the southern ocean.

Blake first sailed in the Whitbread in 1973 - 74. In 1989 - 90, he skippered Steinlager to an unprecedented clean sweep where his team walked off with line, handicap and overall honours for each of the race's six legs.

The following year (1991), he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

America’s Cup
Brought in at the last minute to manage New Zealand's 1992 America's Cup challenge, Blake led the Kiwi team to the challenger finals with NZL-20. However, it was Italy that finally emerged from the controversial Louis Vuitton Cup series to face the US for the America's Cup.

In 1995 Blake came back as the syndicate head of Team New Zealand. Sailing NZL 32 Black Magic, the Kiwi team made a clean sweep, beating Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes 5- 0 and providing one of the most dominating performances in America's Cup history.

During the 1995 series, Blake became famous for his lucky red socks. A gift from his wife, he wore the same pair throughout the entire 1995 America's Cup challenge.

Governor General Catherine Tizard described the 1995 America's Cup win as New Zealand's proudest day since Sir Edmund Hillary's conquest of Everest in 1953.

In 2000 Blake led Team New Zealand in only the second non-American defence of the Americas Cup - beating Italians Prada 5 - 0.

After the 2000 success, Sir Peter Blake stood down from Team New Zealand.

Life after racing
In 1997, Sir Peter Blake became the Cousteau Society's head of expeditions, and skipper of the Antarctic Explorer.

After purchasing Antarctic Explorer from the society, he renamed it Seamaster - using it to lead expeditions to Antarctica and the Amazon during 2001.

The same year, Blake was named special envoy for the UN Environment Programme and he began filming documentaries with his company Blakexpeditions.

2001: Tragic death
Tragically - on 5 December 2001 - pirates shot and killed Blake while he was on an environmental exploration trip in South America, monitoring global warming and pollution for the United Nations.

The two-month expedition was anchored off Macapá, at the mouth of the Amazon delta, waiting to clear customs. At around 9pm, a group of six to eight armed, masked robbers boarded the Seamaster.

As one of the robbers held a gun to the head of a crewmember, Blake sprang from the cabin wielding a rifle used to ward off polar bears. He shot one of the assailants in the hand before the rifle malfunctioned.

Blake was fatally shot in the back, and two other crew members suffered knife-wounds. The remaining seven were unhurt.

Authorities eventually captured the pirates and sentenced them to an average of 32 years each in prison.

Blake legacy
Sir Peter Blake is survived by his wife Pippa, Lady Blake, a daugter, Sarah-Jane, and son, James.

The Blake family were among the 30,000 people who farewelled Sir Peter at a memorial service in Auckland Domain on 23 December 2001.

Sir Peter Blake is buried in an old churchyard, near Emsworth on the south coast of England - where the couple lived and raised their family.

In 2002, the International Olympic Committee posthumously awarded the Olympic Order, one of its highest honours, to Sir Peter Blake.

The Sir Peter Blake Trust was established - with the support of the Blake family - in December 2003 with the aim of helping New Zealanders "to make a positive difference for the planet through activities that encourage environmental awareness and action, and leadership development".

Blue Water Black Magic exhibition
There is a permanent memorial exhibition to Sir Peter Blake on the Auckland waterfront at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.

Blue Water Black Magic celebrates the man who was New Zealand’s greatest yachting exponent, his leadership and achievements, along with world-renowned Kiwi design and prowess on the water.

The NZ$9.5m exhibition charts a course through three levels of the maritime museum, sited on Auckland’s Viaduct harbour - the site of Team New Zealand’s successful America’s Cup defence in 2000.

More information

New Zealand - a sailing nation