The carefree confidence of ocean sailors everywhere was no doubt shaken by news that New Zealand sailor Peter Blake was shot to death aboard his boat in the Amazon last week. Evidence that trickled out from authorities in the small Brazilian town of Macapá suggested that Blake, using a rifle, was apparently attempting to fend off the pirates that had boarded his yacht Seamaster and were threatening his crew at gunpoint when he was shot dead.
The world's sailing community mourns the loss of this man, who inspired many by his determination and generosity. New Zealanders especially responded with force, flying flags at half-mast and contributing messages to newspapers. Following is a collection of quotes and stories from the New Zealand Herald, contributed by Tere Batham:
"The flags on yachts in the harbor flew at half-mast, despite a half gale blowing. In Auckland, at the Team New Zealand compound, two large banners in the form of enormous red socks flew as an ironic tribute to the man who had taken New Zealand sailing sport to heights never reached before. Sir Peter Blake’s life inspired a generation of Kiwis by skippering yachts four times in round the world Whitbread races until he won, and then heading up Team New Zealand to bring back the America’s Cup to New Zealand, where it was successfully defended in 2000."
"Team New Zealand Chief Executive Ross Blackman was inconsolable. Sir Peter was one of his best mates: 'He wanted to make a difference; he certainly did when he started Team New Zealand. The culture we have, the way we live our lives, the way we run things certainly has the Peter stamp on it.'"
"Russel Coutts, who skippered the successful challenge and the defence for Sir Peter, the last year abandoned Team New Zealand in a shock defection to Swiss syndicate Alinghi, was ashen with shock. 'The thing I liked about Peter most was that he was a fair guy,' Coutts said. 'He was a great leader, straight up and down. He had opinions, but he never held a grudge. We had some good times which were fantastic — nothing will change that.'"
"Mark Orams, a scientist and weather analyst returned from visiting the Seamaster crew on the Amazon River a fortnight ago: 'Dr Orams said it was tragic and ironic that a man who so often risked his life at sea was killed not by an iceberg or a storm, but by a man.'"
Peter Hillary: "Like my father, Ed Hillary [conqueror of Mt. Everest] there was one thing that he did that was truly great, it was that he showed us all by repeated demonstrations that 'one man can make a difference.' … And the one man or woman should be each and every one of us. What always came through for me was the sense of purpose this individual had and his sheer integrity."
Alan Sefton, who runs Blakexpeditions from Emsworth, England, broke the tragic news to Lady Blake after being contacted by crew on the Seamaster: "She’s devastated, but bearing up," he told the Weekend Herald. "I think Pippa always recognized that she had married a particular type of man and that was part of the man she loved." She had flown home only last Friday after spending a month with her husband on Seamaster.
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron made Sir Peter a life member in 1995. Squadron commodore Peter Taylor said Sir Peter was an inspiration.
Letters to the editor, Sunday Herald:
"As a twentysomething in this country, I have been inspired by Sir Peter over my years growing up in Auckland. (His) death is heart-wrenching to say the least. I have lost a hero. New Zealanders have lost a hero." –K. Nally of Herne Bay
"This awful act robs a family, a city, a nation and arguably the world of one of the true icon adventurers of all time. Father, husband, friend, business associate, ambassador for NZ without par, Sir Peter Blake was all of these things and more to so many New Zealanders." –Mark Baker of Unsworth, NZ.
Interviews with people around Russell, a Mecca for yachtsmen both local and from overseas.
"For all his greatness, he broke one of the cardinal rules. When you are being mugged, give ’em the goods and save your life!" –Barry Price, Russell boat owner.
"He was a man that might have saved the world." –Andy Pederson, U.S.-registered Yacht Jakaranda, now based in New Zealand.
"I felt only disbelief at first. However, he confronted these fellows with a gun. My impression is that he shouldn’t have done that. He had potential to do good work, as Sir Edmund Hillary did. Not only what he did was important, but what he could do. His potential was not fulfilled." –Lindsay Alexander, yachtsman.
"Crikey, what a shame. What a waste." –Arnold Price, visiting yachtsman from Manchester, England.
"I think it's terrible because it happened in my homeland, South America, and because a man who was an icon for this country was killed. It was a double tragedy for me." –Martha Meyer, of yacht Siome, based in Bay of Islands, NZ.
"I feel cheated. I personally think he was a good man, with his charisma and accomplishments he could move mountains." –Jackie Stevens, NZ yachtswoman.
"Absolutely tragic. If he came up with a gun it was the wrong thing to do! I was mugged in Santos, Brazil, in 1979. There was nothing I could do with a knife at my throat and my head in a half-Nelson. Eight guys ripped out my pockets, took my passport and money. Don’t come up shooting! In Columbia I confronted some guys in a dugout with a gun. It was 3 AM and raining. They had my binoculars, outboard, and camera. But then I thought, 'Life is so cheap here. I waved at them and let them go.'" –Rick Blomfield of NZ charter yacht Phantom.
"Peter’s death was pretty horrific. A good job he was doing with that environmental thing. It’s a big loss to New Zealand. I first met him in ’81 when he sailed around the North Island in a two-man race out of Davenport. I’ve followed all his races. His death may make the New Zealand team even stronger. Just a feeling you get." –Joe Cotton, car ferryboat skipper between Opua and Okiato, Bay of Islands.
Following is a list of links from around the world that describe the tragedy and the responses to it:
For up to date news visit the New Zealand Herald's website: www.nzherald.co.nz