Twenty years without Peter, without his red socks. In 2001 Sir Peter Blake was being killed while at anchor with his Seamaster on the Amazon by a pirate. A great all-around sailor: sailor, racer, savior of the seas. A sailor we want to remember (also in his own words).
“Never take no for an answer and never give up. If you really believe in what you do And you have the ability, you will succeed. Nothing could be simpler.”
PETER BLAKE, THE IMMORTAL
He wanted to win the round-the-world race: he did it after five consecutive attempts. He wanted the America’s Cup: he managed to bring it to New Zealand and defend it. He wanted to be the fastest: he set the record for circumnavigating the globe under sail. A pirate killed him for a watch on the Amazon. Transforming him permanently into a myth
The prankster Ricardo Colares Tavares, who boarded Peter Blake’s boat and gunned him down with a shot fired in the back, will not even be able to take pride in having created a myth. When Blake dropped dead instantly on the deck of the Seamaster, moored in the mouth of the Amazon, he was already a myth. He was 53 years old.
THE CONVICTION OF BEING A GREAT
Peter Blake has accomplished countless feats and uttered numerous famous phrases. With some of them, the Artrevolution Gallery in Queenstown, a small town on New Zealand’s South Island, even made a painting that reads, “To win you have to believe that you can do it. You must be convinced. You really have to want the result, even if you have to work for years. The most difficult part of any project is getting started“.
Belief in one’s own abilities, even more than determination, was undoubtedly the quality that led Peter Blake to become one of the most accomplished seafarers of all time: he was a racer, sailor, sailor, explorer, and adventurer.
Born, in 1948, and raised in Auckland in a family that always owned boats, like all New Zealand sailors who later became champions, Blake also began racing as a child on the small P-Class dinghy. He believed so much in himself that he named his boat Pee Bee, his initials. At 18, he won the New Zealand offshore sailing championship at the helm of Bandit, a 23-footer he built himself in the backyard of his parents’ house. In just a few years, the 6-foot-3-inch blond big guy with the looks of a Viking became one of New Zealand’s strongest sailors.
THE FEVER FOR THE WORLD TOUR
Peter Blake was just 25 years old when he was called aboard the British 24-meter Burton Cutter to serve as shift leader for the first Whitbread, the 1973-’74 round-the-world race. The boat is newly built, unreliable, and stage after stage is losing parts. However, for Blake who professes perseverance as a discipline to achieve, that experience represents a point of no return.
The regatta is held every four years, and in 1977 he was once again at the start, on Heaths Condor, alongside legendary British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston. The boat dismasted and finished in last place, but Blake once again did not give up and, in 1981, was again at the start, this time as skipper of a boat he made by finding the funding himself: the 68-foot Ceramco New Zealand designed by a rookie Bruce Farr. In this edition of the around-the-world race, Blake demonstrates what it means to “never give up.”
In the first leg, from Southampton to Cape Town, disalbera. He equally arranges for a makeshift rig and lengthens the course by as much as 1,500 miles to sail at the carrying gaits. He arrived at the finish line in 18th position out of 26 boats. In 1985 he skippered Lion New Zealand, but it was in the 1989-’90 edition, with the ketch Steinlager 2, that he finally triumphed: he finished first in all stages and won the round-the-world race, 17 years after his first attempt. At that time, he is also the only sailor to have participated in five consecutive Whitbread editions; all, since the first one in 1973.
TOO EARLY TO RETIRE
Meanwhile, Peter Blake settled in Emsworth, southern England, where he met Pippa, with whom he married and had two children-Sarah-Jane and James. Now that he has won the round-the-world race, he no longer wants to get away from them and is even thinking of quitting racing when he gets a proposal he never thought of: to become the head of Team New Zealand to win the America’s Cup. Once again his success stems from a defeat.
In 1992, in fact, his crew lost the challenger selection final against Il Moro di Venezia. Ahead of the next challenge, Blake then returned to find himself in the ocean, and with the 92-foot catamaran Enza, along with a crew that once again includes Robin Knox-Johnston at his side, he set what in 1994 was a new record for sailing circumnavigation of the planet: 74 days, four less than the previous record.
Peter Blake takes Enza all the way to San Diego where, in 1995, he takes the America’s Cup away from Dennis Conner. This is the year when the legend of the “red socks” was born. His wife Pippa gives them to him as good luck charms, and he wears them every regatta day. The Kiwis’ boat, with Blake aboard, never misses a race, so the rest of the crew also starts wearing the red socks imitated in no time by all New Zealanders. In order to feel that he had truly won the America’s Cup, Peter Blake decided to stay on as head of Team New Zealand to defend it as well. Which he succeeded in 2000, fending off Luna Rossa’s assault.
THE NEW ADVENTURE INTERRUPTED
After defending the America’s Cup, Peter Blake feels he owes a debt to the sea. He founded Blakexpeditions and with the 36-meter aluminum schooner Seamaster (now called Tara) set out on a journey to areas of the Earth to be safeguarded for the protection of the world’s ecosystem.
First, he goes down to Antarctica to 70° south latitude, where no sailboat had ever gone before; then, he sails on the Amazon. At the end of this expedition, however, Peter Blake’s extraordinary life also ends. As he was leaving the Amazon, seven river pirates assault his Seamaster. Blake tries to defend the boat and crew with a rifle but is shot dead. The bandits escape stealing only an outboard motor and some watches. Those who killed him were arrested and sentenced to 36 years in prison.
PETER BLAKE’S MANIFESTO
After the XXX America’s Cup final, Patrizio Bertelli asked Peter Blake to write the foreword to the book Luna Rossa. A text that became the great sailor’s “manifesto”
The America’s Cup is a highly coveted trophy, but one that has rarely changed hands. This is not a sport for the faint of heart. This is not an undertaking to be taken lightly or on a whim. is a struggle between yacht club sailors scattered around the world who desperately want the same thing: to get their hands on the Cup. The prestige for the winner is worth more than any other sports award. it is precisely winning the invincible and doing the impossible that fascinates seafarers, dreamers and billionaires. But victory does not come easily. In fact, most of the time it does not come at all. The only way to win is to keep participating, to keep coming back, time after time, with the intimate belief that you can do it.
Hesitating after the first attempt is not part of the rules of the game. It takes extraordinary people, with iron motivation, great experience, attention to detail and unconditional dedication. It is a game in which, no matter how hard you may try, no matter how motivated you may be, no matter how much you may be willing to spend, victory is never guaranteed. For some it becomes a kind of drug. is a game that you can come to deeply hate, only to find that you can’t help yourself until you win. Then the metamorphosis takes place, or at least that is what happened to me.
Being part of a crew that has once managed to win the America’s Cup and successfully defend it has freed me from that terrible grip on the pit of my stomach. I am fulfilled. I am healed. I sleep well at night and have more dreams. New passions are arising in me. But let’s be clear: competing for the America’s Cup is a game of passion, of dreams, where in every waking (and sleeping) moment you always have one and only one thought, that of winning, but victory is uncertain until you get it. Disappointment and disappointment hurt even when it is others who suffer from it, let alone when you experience it on your own skin.
You keep asking yourself “how?” and “why?” for whole weeks, until you reach the determination that you have to try again in order not to repeat the same mistake, to do better than before, to be better than the rest of the world, to be the Best. And then anxiety turns into dreams and passion again. The thought of winning never leaves you, but it is best to leave it aside and focus on a new goal: to be the best, in all aspects of the new challenge. Nothing can be left to chance, not even the smallest detail.
But this doesn’t happen just because you want it to. It takes a team of exceptional people who share the same dream and passion and who are not afraid of even the most unfavorable odds. It is the difficulty of the challenge that sets in motion the adrenaline in veins flushed by the disappointment suffered earlier. it is the difficulty of winning that makes the America’s Cup what it is. It is not a game for admirals in the living room. It is not a game for those who are unwilling to return. This is not a game for the faint of heart.
It is the game for those who are not afraid to set themselves against the best the rest of the world has to offer. is a game where winning is almost impossible, almost, but not quite. And that is why it is worth fighting for. is the difficulty that gives meaning to any struggle. Is the very essence of life. To the men of Luna Rossa, I want to say: I admired your sportsmanship, your tenacity and your enthusiasm for life. You have given a very positive image of your country.
Your countrymen will be proud of you. You didn’t win this time, but you certainly didn’t lose. You lose when you lack the courage to return. Not winning is part of the learning process that leads to success. For the upcoming challenges, I wish you great luck. Because it is also a matter of luck. But it will not be easy. Good things never are.
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