Red Socks: Black Magic

Hard work, long hours and a little bit of luck!

Before every big event, Pippa Blake gave Peter a new pair of socks. On Christmas eve of 1994 it was a red pair which he wore for the first race, which they won - so it was decided that the socks were lucky and were worn throughout the campaign.

It is an amusing and fitting paradox that the abiding symbol of national affection for Sir Peter Blake is a pair of socks. It would greatly appeal to his own sense of the ridiculous that someone who had absolutely no interest in fashion - as demonstrated by his often haphazard and rumpled attire - would be so closely associated with articles of clothing.

It began with Pippa giving Peter a pair of socks for luck, different ones for each campaign and usually as garish as possible. For the Steinlager 2 campaign, multicoloured horizontal bands ascended Peter's ankles. For the 1995 America's Cup, it was plain red socks.

Every time the black boats went into battle off San Diego, Blake, who controlled the mainsheet traveller, wore red socks. And, every afternoon, the team returned to shore victorious. Until one fateful day severe tendonitis in his elbows forced Blake off the boat. It was the only time in the entire 1995 series that Team New Zealand sailed without Blakey's lucky socks. And it was the only time the boat was beaten on the water.

Later in the campaign, Blake's personal talisman became a national obsession. As the black boats swept to victory in San Diego, New Zealanders backed the campaign by buying red socks by the thousands, with the proceeds going into the severely depleted campaign coffers. The Prime Minister and Governor General, priests, captains of industry, bus-drivers and cow-cockies, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker ... everybody wore red socks.

And, it worked. Team New Zealand returned home bearing the fabled America's Cup and victory parades throughout the land celebrated both a great sporting achievement - and the potency of red socks.

Similarly, when New Zealand became the first country outside of the United States to successfully defend the Cup, national joy was expressed in appropriate footwear.

Then, as Blake left the world of competitive yacht racing to take up a new crusade for the environment, red socks were put away - only to be revived as a symbol of mourning. In the shocked aftermath of his murder on the Amazon, red socks blossomed once more, along with the flowers and tributes that for weeks arrived at the Team New Zealand compound.

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