Page 4: Environmental advocate
Blake, Peter James
This biography, written by Stephanie Gibson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
In 1997 the Cousteau Society appointed Blake the successor to environmentalist and explorer Jacques Cousteau, with the intention that Blake should captain the planned Calypso II. However, differences in philosophy between Blake and the Cousteau management team led him in an alternative direction. He retired from competitive racing in 2000 and established the independent 'blakexpeditions' to undertake voyages to ecologically important areas.
Blake’s goal was to educate and inspire people to take better care of life in and around oceans, rivers and waterways. In recognition of his work, he was appointed a Special Envoy for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2001.
Blakexpeditions was centred on the polar exploration yacht Seamaster. In 2000 and 2001 Blake led two expeditions on Seamaster; the first to the Antarctic Peninsula, and the second to Brazil, along the Amazon and Negro rivers. As the Seamaster prepared to leave the Amazon near Macapá, Amapá state, Brazil, on 6 December 2001, Blake was shot and killed while defending his crew and vessel against armed intruders.
His funeral took place at St Thomas à Becket Church, Warblington, Hampshire, England, where he was buried. This was followed by a memorial service on the Auckland Domain in New Zealand on 23 December 2001, attended by over 30,000 people. Later that day, about 8,000 yachts and boats sailed on the Auckland Harbour in his honour. He was posthumously awarded the Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee in 2002.
Blake the man
Peter Blake had a commanding, authoritative presence. Tall and striking with blue eyes and tousled blond hair, he would often be seen laughing with his head thrown back. He was gentlemanly, shy at times, and loyal to his family, friends, sponsors and supporters: those closest knew him as 'Blakey'.
In addition to sailing and racing he enjoyed cruising, scuba diving and playing the piano.
Organisation and leadership
Blake’s greatest strengths lay in organisation and leadership. He built up his sailing crews through careful selection, focusing on compatibility and the temperament of individuals who could function effectively in team environments. He encouraged consensus, and worked as hard as his crews, thereby winning loyalty and respect. Many became lifelong friends and sailed with Blake whatever the project. He was also a perfectionist and firm when necessary.
Blake was tenacious and determined to succeed, but saw defeat as an important part of the learning curve. Overall, he believed that sailing and racing should be fun.
Blake was quick to embrace new technology. He was a seaman in the traditional sense, in his respect for nature and the use of traditional arts of seamanship, such as celestial navigation. He co-wrote two books on his experiences in the Whitbread Round the World races, and communicated regularly with the public during his campaigns.
Achievements and legacy
Blake was at the forefront of the professionalisation of ocean racing, becoming a well-known public figure in New Zealand and in international sailing. In a period of 10 years (1990–2000) he won many of the ultimate prizes in both ocean and match racing. In total, he sailed around the world five times, covering over 600,000 ocean miles. His projects and successes were shared by many New Zealand sailors and the marine industry, and significantly contributed to the international reputation of New Zealand yachting in the late 20th century.