Blake, Sir Peter James

Blake, Sir Peter James
▪ 2002

      New Zealand yachtsman and explorer (b. Oct. 1, 1948, Auckland, N.Z.—d. Dec. 6, 2001, off Macapá, Braz.), was the winner of the two most important yachting competitions—the Whitbread Round the World Race (1989–90) and the America's Cup (1995 and 2000)—and in 1994 in the ENZA New Zealand won the Jules Verne Trophy when he set a nonstop circumnavigation world record of 74 days 22 hours 17 minutes 22 seconds, which went unbroken for three years. He later combined his enthusiasm for sailing with his environmental interests and investigated pollution and global warming in Antarctica and South America. Blake began sailing when he was a young boy and at age 16 participated in his first long ocean race. In 1973–74 he served as a crew member in the first Whitbread race—and the first of the five in which he sailed—and when he finally won, in Steinlager 2, he did it by being the first competitor ever to win all six of the race's legs. Blake made an unsuccessful effort to win the America's Cup for New Zealand in 1992 but saw victory on board the Black Magic in the next challenge three years later. For his success in winning the cup, Blake, who had been created MBE in 1983 and OBE in 1991, was rewarded with a knighthood in 1995. He went on to manage Black Magic's victorious defense in 2000, but he also had already begun his environmental activities. He served as head of the Jacques Cousteau Society, formed his own company, blakexpeditions, to promote interest in the oceans' ecology, and was appointed special envoy of the UN Environment Program. Blake, on a pollution-monitoring exploration of the Amazon River and the Rio Negro in Brazil, was murdered when robbers boarded his boat and he rushed on deck to try to protect the vessel and its crew.

▪ 1996

      A knighthood beats every other distinguishing mark in New Zealand. When the South Pacific nation of 3.5 million people wrested the America's Cup from the U.S. in mid-May, in the challenge series off San Diego, Calif., Peter Blake served as "grunt" aboard the winning yacht, Black Magic. On board he was a "mainsheet traveler," assisting a trimmer in the gut-wrenching task of supplying sail as signaled by the shipboard hierarchy. Ashore, however, Blake was in charge of the whole Team New Zealand operation. When the final gun sounded the victory, he was acclaimed as the vital factor. Back home supporters, who had bought 100,000 pairs of Blake's "lucky" red socks to raise money for the team, made him a national hero.

      Russell Coutts, Black Magic's young skipper, had put it this way: "We all think we've sailed a lot, but Peter has sailed more. . . . Everyone on this boat respects Peter." At 46, Blake was the master of round-the-world odysseys (including many Whitbread races), two-man races, Fastnet Cups, and even a catamaran charging round the world.

      In previous attempts to win the America's Cup, Sir Michael Fay, a businessman interested in yachting, had established himself as the Kiwi patron and manager, without bringing all the pieces together on the water or any of the pieces home in victory. Blake came aboard after circling the world in a catamaran—a 90-footer—and capturing the 1994 Jules Verne Trophy for completing that course in 74 days, 22 hours. He was used to crowds—and solitude. "This is the toughest thing I have ever been involved with. . . . There is always something else to consider. . . . In the Whitbread you were off on your own. . . . Here it's the time on the boat, sailing, that I look forward to."

      Blake was born in Auckland, N.Z., on Oct. 1, 1948. He was interested in learner yachts at age 8 and built his first ocean racer (a 24-footer) at 18. Blue water beckoned the following year when he won a New Zealand junior off-shore championship. By 1979 he had participated in a number of international classics, including the first two Whitbreads round-the-world.

      Blake was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1983 and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1991. In the Queen's Birthday Honours in June 1995, for his contribution to yachting over the years, he was awarded the title Knight Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. At year's end he was planning New Zealand's America's Cup defense, scheduled for 2000. (JOHN A. KELLEHER)

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