Story: Blake, Peter James

Page 1 - Sailing apprenticeship

Blake, Peter James

1948–2001

Yachtsman, environmentalist

This biography was written by Stephanie Gibson and was first published in 2010.

Peter James Blake was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on 1 October 1948, and raised in the suburb of Bayswater on the northern edge of the Waitematā Harbour. His father, Brian Blake, had emigrated from England in 1920 and worked as an artist and art director for an advertising firm in Auckland. In 1940 Brian married New Zealander Joyce Hilda Wilson, a photography engraver. Peter was the second of their four children.

A passion for sailing

Peter began sailing at the age of five in the family Frostply dinghy. When he turned eight, his father built him a P-class dinghy, christened Pee Bee. At fourteen he moved into the larger Z-class. Over the next few years Peter became increasingly passionate about sailing and offshore racing. At 18, with the help of his brother, Tony, he built his first keel yacht, called Bandit, in which they won the New Zealand Junior Offshore Group Championship in the 1967/68 season. Sailing on the family yacht, Ladybird, during this period was to influence Peter's understanding of ocean racing and yacht design.

Education

Peter was educated at Bayswater Primary School and Belmont Intermediate, then Takapuna Grammar School. He attended Auckland Technical Institute from 1966 to 1969 to study mechanical engineering, gaining the New Zealand Certificate of Engineering.

First international races

Blake's graduation through the small-boat classes and his hands-on approach to boats stood him in good stead as he began his international sailing career from England as watch leader on Ocean Spirit in the inaugural Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro race in 1971. Ocean Spirit's English co-skippers, Leslie Williams and Robin Knox-Johnston, recognised Blake's abilities in leadership and seamanship and invited him onboard Burton Cutter as watch leader for the inaugural Whitbread Round the World race in 1973–74.

In between races, Blake worked mainly for Auckland mast manufacturer Yachtspars from 1974 to 1977, but also briefly as an industrial sales engineer. He skippered a yacht owned by an Arab industrialist based in Beirut in 1975 and gained a private pilot's licence in England that year.

Marriage

In 1977, Williams and Knox-Johnston invited Blake to be watch leader on Heath’s Condor for the second Whitbread Round the World race. While refitting Heath's Condor after the race in the village of Emsworth on the south coast of England, Peter met Philippa (Pippa) Jane Glanville at the Emsworth Sailing Club. They married in Emsworth on 25 August 1979. In between periods of living in Auckland, they settled at Pippa's family home in Emsworth on the edge of Chichester Harbour. They had a daughter and a son.