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Volvo Ocean Race - Remembering Sir Peter Blake 16 years on

by Jonno Turner, Volvo Ocean Race 5 Dec 2017 19:11 PST 6 December 2017
1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race: Peter Blake, Pippa Blake & Family. Arrival at Southampton, Leg 6, Steinlager 2 © Roger Lean-Vercoe / PPL

It is 16 years today since we lost Volvo Ocean Race legend Sir Peter Blake.

A three-time Volvo Ocean Race skipper, he finally achieved his dream of lifting the trophy at his fifth attempt, with Steinlager 2 in 1989-90.

And boy, did he do it in style with a clean sweep in one of the greatest campaigns in the Race’s history.

Blake, revered by many as the greatest yachtsman of the modern era, was 24 when he took part in the first Whitbread as a watch captain onboard Burton Cutter.

It proved to be the start of a 16-year obsession with a race that brought him plenty of adversity, ill fortune and failure before he finally secured that commanding victory in 1989-90.

Blake and his crew won all six legs in that fifth edition – an unprecedented achievement – and the 2.03 metre-tall sailor, instantly recognisable by his blond hair and moustache, could finally celebrate a life-long dream fulfilled.

But it wasn’t easy, and almost might never have happened, after a serious pre-race setback had threatened to deny the great New Zealander once more.

For his fifth crack at the Whitbread, Blake took a radical step and built the biggest, heaviest yacht in the race, carrying 20 per cent more sail area than her main rivals.

True to Blake's luck in the race up to that point, the initial yacht built had to be scrapped at the fitting-out stage after large areas of the high-tech carbon fibre-moulded hull were found to have delaminated.

The delay cost two months of preparation but once the race started, there was no stopping Blake and his crew on Steinlager 2 as they swept all before them. Fans were treated to a great tussle with Grant Dalton's Fisher & Paykel but Blake's team had the edge throughout.

In fact, as the pair raced into their native Auckland, just a mile separated the boats. The battle that ensued was one of the most memorable in sailing history, as Blake got the better of his opponent to steal the honours in his hometown.

Check out journalist Peter Montgomery remembering the duel below.

"It was about time we won Everest, yeah, but there are a few more around that need to be looked at," said Blake, who would go on to achieve much more in sailing, but would never again take part in Race.

Knut Frostad, former Volvo Ocean Race CEO, labelled Sir Peter "the best there was in terms of seamanship".

He continued: "He was an inspiration to me personally and to so many other sailors who have taken part in this race. He had incredible determination and was such a remarkable leader.

“It was not just the fact that he won so much, it was the way he did it. In terms of seamanship, he was the best there was, and he was a real gentleman.”

Blake will also be remembered for one of most memorable quotes about the Volvo Ocean Race. “You'll be probably frightened at times, scared, worried. You'll hate it, you'll absolutely despise the fact that you're involved and when you get to the finish, you'll know why: because there's nothing like it. It gets in the blood and you can't get rid of it.”

Blake went on to help mastermind twin America's Cup wins for New Zealand –inspiring a national craze for wearing lucky red socks along the way – and worked tirelessly to raise environmental awareness.

Tragically, he was shot and killed by pirates in December 2001 while on a United Nations voyage in South America. He was just 53 and his death shocked a sport and a nation.

His widow, Lady Pippa Blake, was named an ambassador to the Volvo Ocean Race Legends in 2011, when former participants competed for the Sir Peter Blake Trophy.

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