Peter Garth Mander was born in Sumner, Christchurch, on 4 July 1928, the son of Nina Pretoria Hoglund and her husband, Stanley Augustus Mander, an accountant and New Zealand hockey representative. The eldest of three brothers, all of whom were to achieve national championship success in yachting, Peter was educated at Redcliffs School and St Andrew’s College. At 13 an injury left him blind in his left eye, turning him from a promising hockey career toward watery pursuits on the Sumner estuary.
Between 1945 and 1985 Peter Mander won 16 national yachting titles in eight different design classes. His first success came in the 1945 Cornwell Cup, when he crewed for Lindsay Kerr in the national youth championship for the Z (or Takapuna) class. His association with this class earned him the nickname ‘Puna’. After a failed bid for the 1947 Cornwell Cup, held in Auckland, Mander and Tony Shields remained there to win that year’s Silver Fern national championships. Graduating to the intermediate designs, he skippered his home-built Idle Along-class yacht, Myth , to victory in the 1949 Moffat Cup and defended his title the following season.
In 1951 he won his first senior trophy, sailing his home-built Venture in the prestigious national X-class Sanders Cup; he repeated this achievement in 1953 in Frith , which he had co-designed with Jack Cropp. The interdominion clashes between the Sydney flying 18s and Auckland 18-footers also captured Mander’s imagination, and he won the world 18-footer title twice: in 1952 at Suva and in 1954 at Auckland. He demonstrated his all-round mastery by winning the national R-class Leander Trophy in 1954, 1956 and 1958. On 22 January 1955, at All Saints’ Church, Sumner, Mander married Doris Joan Walpole, another local yachting enthusiast. The newlyweds spent part of their honeymoon watching the Sanders Cup. They were to have two daughters and a son.
During these years Mander was establishing himself in the business world. In 1950 he joined Deanes Limited (later Deanes Industries), a Christchurch clothing manufacturer. He was to remain with this company for 33 years, eventually becoming managing director. He later became a director of the clothing and retail companies R. W. Saunders (1966–87) and Hallenstein Brothers (1972–86). By the time he retired he was recognised as a leader of Canterbury’s business community.
Mander’s greatest yachting triumph was his campaign for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games in the Sharpie class. New Zealand yachtsmen had never competed at the Olympics before, and the Sharpie was an international design largely unknown in this country. Mander formed a syndicate with his brother Graham, Jack Cropp and Graeme Wilson to establish a local fleet for trials and selection. Then, with his crew mate Cropp and boat Jest , he travelled to Port Phillip Bay to take on the world’s top yachtsmen. In a fiercely competitive fleet, Mander and Cropp beat the Australian pair in a count-back to become New Zealand’s first yachting Olympic gold medallists.
In 1951–52 Mander had been instrumental in establishing the New Zealand Sailing and Motor Yacht Federation, which later became the New Zealand Yachting Federation. He served as a technical adviser and Canterbury representative from 1956, and was president in 1959–60. He was voted manager of the New Zealand Olympic yachting team for Tokyo in 1964, but declined the post in order to compete in the Finn class, finishing a creditable fourth. Later, he managed New Zealand’s team at a pre-Olympic regatta in Tallinn, Estonia (then USSR), in 1979, and the following year was manager-elect of the yachting team for the boycotted Moscow games. He also helped set up and install the New Zealand team’s shore facilities for the 1987 America’s Cup regatta in Fremantle. His services to New Zealand yachting were honoured in 1972 when he was named Yachtsman of the Year, and in 1989 when he received the Yachting New Zealand Award of Merit. The following year he and Cropp were inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1992 he was made an OBE.
An all-round yachtsman, Peter Mander was an accomplished designer, boatbuilder, sail-maker, rigging specialist and outstanding helmsman with a consummate knowledge of the sport. He possessed exceptional leadership and organisational skills, and an aptitude for thinking and making decisions under pressure. He died at his Christchurch home on 21 June 1998, survived by his wife Joan and his children.