Peter Blake wasn't one to suffer fools. And if Blake, a 6'4" New Zealander with 600,000 miles of ocean racing behind him, ever felt fear, he never showed it. So for those who knew him, it was no surprise to hear that this larger-than-life sailor had confronted six pirate punks who boarded his 119-foot yacht, Seamaster, on the night of Dec. 5 as it lay anchored off Macap�, Brazil, near the delta of the Amazon River, rather than submit to their demands for money. The surprise was that in the ensuing firefight it was the 53-year-old Blake, rather than any of his assailants, who was killed. (Brazilian police arrested the six suspects. Charges are pending.)
A national hero in New Zealand, Blake wasn't accustomed to failure. He was the most accomplished sailor of his time. A charismatic leader whose fairness, work ethic and sense of humor engendered fierce loyalty in his crews, he won all the major ocean races. Blake was the only man to complete the first five Whitbread Round-the-World races, and he dominated that event in 1989-90, when he skippered Steinlager 2 to line, handicap and overall honors on each of the race's six legs. In '94 Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston broke the nonstop round-the-world sailing record by four days in a 92-foot catamaran, completing the 27,000-mile circumnavigation in 74 days, 22 hours and 17 minutes.
In 1995 Blake headed New Zealand's America's Cup team, and his Black Magic syndicate routed all challengers in the waters off San Diego, sailing to a 42-1 record during the campaign. Knighted a month after the win, Blake led New Zealand's defense of the Cup in 2000 in Auckland. Again, it was no contest. Black Magic drubbed Italy's Prada 5-0, the first successful defense mounted by a non-American team.
Blake relinquished control of the Black Magic syndicate last year and retired from competitive sailing. Aboard Seamaster he planned, as his website, blakexpeditions.com, said, "to undertake voyages to those parts of the world that are key to the planet's ecosystem." When he was killed, Peter—who is survived by his wife, Pippa, and their two teenage children—was in the first year of a five-year odyssey to study the waters of the earth and raise awareness of changes that were affecting them. It was this latest and most noble of his voyages that cost him his life.