Sir Peter Blake: A decade has passed

Peter Blake on the helm of Ceramco in the Southern Ocean returning from the Sydney Hobart Race.
Peter Montgomery
Pirates may have ended the life of yachtsman and environmentalist Sir Peter Blake in a shocking attack on the Amazon River 10 years ago, but his legacy lives on

On board Seamaster in the steamy South American jungle, Sir Peter Blake was deeply affected by the over-fishing he was witnessing on the Rio Negro in the Amazon basin.

Old friend Don Robertson says Blake was just getting started.

It all ended suddenly and shockingly when the imposing Kiwi was shot dead by a band of young Brazilians who preyed on river boats.

Robertson has taken a long while to recover from his friend's death.

He was on board Seamaster and doesn't want to relive that night again - he's been doing that for the past 10 years.

The facts are, though, that the robbers rowed out silently and slunk on board in the dark, holding guns to the heads of the crew, including Robertson. In the confusion Blake managed to race downstairs to grab his rifle; he shot and hit one robber in the hand but his rifle jammed and he was shot in the back by another.

Chaos reigned and shots rang out; a crew member was bashed in the face and another's back was scraped by a bullet. But worst of all, the skipper was dead.

Robertson has dreamt about the night and has been through all the 'what if' scenarios possible.

What if there had been no resistance? Would the robbers have killed no one, or killed them all?

The conclusion he reaches each time is that Blake died protecting his crew, that he saved everyone else's lives, and that this was the kind of man he was - loyal to the end.

You don't meet many guys like him, Robertson says.

Sir Peter Blake in 2000
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They met on the yachting scene and Robertson was involved in the America's Cup campaigns, then the environmental expeditions.

He was struck by the friendly, tall sailor's charisma and quirky humour.

There was always a focus there, which some mistook for aloofness, though Robertson says you always knew Blake was the boss - 'he'd just look down at you from 6 ft 4 and you'd go, 'oh, okay Pete, I get the point'.'

But Robertson is laughing. Blake was an amazing leader, he says, but, oh dear, his jokes, 'oh, man... he would tell the same jokes over and over and you laughed because it was the same joke. It was like, oh, there it is again, and some of them you fell for.

'You'd say, 'so I'll go and put the kettle on' and he'd say 'yeah, see if it fits', and man, if I heard that once I heard it a hundred times.'

Robertson has many stories affectionately told, such as the morning they rounded Cape Horn three times.

This might not mean much to a non-sailor but Cape Horn, at the bottom of South America, is known for its danger and challenge. For yachties, rounding Cape Horn is like climbing Everest.

Blake had done it half a dozen times, usually racing past, but he knew the rest of the crew had not.

'Peter being Peter, we came round Cape Horn, it was beautiful, about four o'clock in the morning, fairly dark and it was fairly flat water and he said 'what do you think of that, going round Cape Horn?'

'I said 'man, unbelievable' and he said 'let's do it again'.'

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A 10th anniversary tribute to Sir Peter Blake will take place at 5.45pm on Tuesday at Karanga Plaza in the Viaduct Harbour (next to the Team NZ Emirates base). Lady Pippa Blake will unveil The Legacy, a special publication featuring the Sir Peter Blake Trust's achievements.