Sailing the Seas

Image Alt Here!

When Peter was 13 years old, Brian and Joyce sold their land at Mairangi Bay and used the proceeds to buy a 30ft sloop, Ngarangi (a Maori word for sky). "It was a bit cranky and wouldn't sail to windward at all," recalls Tony.

About 18 months later, Ngarangi was replaced by the 34ft Woollacott ketch, Ladybird - described by Peter as "varnished timber spars, polished brass ventilators, a real beauty". It was to have a big influence on the family and Peter in particular.

Joyce Blake once remarked of Peter's seamanship. "He was a natural. You just put him on a boat and he knew exactly what he wanted to do and did it." Sister Janet recalled that everything had to be done to perfection, "No just sitting back when we were cruising, we had to go faster. He liked to win, but he enjoyed himself. It wasn't all winning, there was a lot of fun."

Image Alt Here!

Peter joined his parents on an offshore passage from Auckland to Tonga, Fiji and back, during which he experienced his first gale at sea, something he later said he would never forget. Ladybird stayed in the Blake family for 35 years and is now owned by close family friend, Martin Foster, who continues to nurture it with pride and care.

Racing and cruising in dinghies and with Ladybird continued over the years. Peter left school and began his studies in mechanical engineering at Auckland Technical Institute, but his passion for sailing burned as strongly as ever. It was inevitable that he would build his own boat and, sure enough, he commandeered the front lawn of the family home and obliterated the view from his parents' bedroom by erecting a makeshift shed.

Long into the night the scream of power-tools would test the tolerance of the neighbourhood as a 23ft (7m) Van der Stadt design keelboat took shape. As the project mercifully neared completion, the bathtub containing molten lead for the keel split and ruined Joyce's flowerbeds. Even that transgression was forgiven in the excitement of the new boat. Like his "Zeddie", Bandit sported a black hull and orange and black spinnaker and quickly established itself by winning the Junior Offshore Championship in its first season.

Family cruises now involved two yachts, with Peter and Tony on Bandit sailing in convoy with Ladybird. "We had no engine on Bandit" recalls Tony, "and I remember one time arriving at an anchorage late in the afternoon. Ladybird was slightly ahead and got the last of the breeze to take her into the harbour, while we were left drifting off the entrance with no wind at all. At about 10pm I was ready to get in the dinghy and tow the boat in under oars. We finally got in."

Image Alt Here!