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Patience History Story: Sir Peter Blake, Yachtsman  © Jenny Jenkins 2015       https://sites.google.com/site/valueslessons
"Cast off,” Peter called. (Show Image 1)
The mainsail flapped in the breeze as the yacht 'Ceramco' glided away from Portsmouth Dock in the south of England. As he watched his wife Pippa walk away, Peter Blake felt sad. They hadn't been apart since their wedding day, two years before, and he knew he’d miss her.

Once clear of the dock they zigzagged, tacking a course against the breeze towards the race’s start line, a mile past the harbour entrance. When they got out there they saw a ferryboat chugging noisily towards them. It was hung with huge banners with the words, 'C’mon Kiwis.' Peter’s parents and Pippa were on board, with friends and family of the twelve crew members, waving and shouting encouragement.  

The starting gun boomed and they were off; thirty of the worlds fastest yachts in a seven-month race around the world.  This was a dream come true for 32-year-old Peter Blake. He had been in the previous two Whitbread Round the World Yacht Races when he was 24 and 28, on a British yacht. Now, in August 1981, after two years of patient preparation and generous donations from their supporters, the all-New Zealand yacht and crew were ready. 

The race was in four legs, or stages, starting and finishing in England. The first leg would take them down the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town, at the bottom of Africa. There they’d have a few weeks break to repair and replenish the boats. On October 31st the race across the Indian Ocean to Auckland, New Zealand would begin. Next they’d sail across the wide Pacific Ocean and around stormy Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. After another break, they’d sail the final leg across the Atlantic to England. 
(Show Image 2)
The maxi yachts quickly pulled away from the smaller ones, and 'Ceramco' edged into the lead, just ahead of her main rival, 'Flyer'. This was the Dutch boat that had won the last race, four years earlier. 'Ceramco' was skimming along in front when a cross-channel ferry came shooting through, tooting loudly, sucking all the wind out of her sails as it roared past. Peter spun the wheel, changing tack to catch the breeze, but 'Flyer' flew past, and left them in her wake.

When they changed direction, the men on deck had to duck as the boom, the pole holding out the bottom of the mainsail, swung across from one side of the yacht to the other. Peter was pre-occupied with choosing the best sail when the boom swung over and cracked him on the head. He sat down quickly, clutching his head in both hands. Trevor Agnew, ‘The Doc’, applied ice, but it still  
swelled into a nasty bump. 

The crew was divided into two teams or watches - one sailing the boat while the other rested, ate meals or did jobs. ‘Staggy,’ Geoff Stagg from Wellington, was watch leader that night. A little before midnight he saw a huge container ship materialise out of the mist, heading straight for them. Shouting a warning, he spun the wheel.

Just then the ship’s captain saw their lights. He gave a deep blast of the horn and swung hard away, barely missing them. The yacht rocked wildly in its wake.

Staggy let out his breath slowly, his heart pounding. “That was close,” he muttered, wiping his forehead. Peter leapt onto deck, just in time to see the lights of the ship disappearing into the mist.
(Show Image 3)
For the first two weeks progress was slow, as the winds were light, and the crew spent their spare time sorting through the gear. On Day 14 they were still in second place when the wind died altogether. They had come to the Doldrums, a zone near the equator where there is very little wind. Their speed halved and the yachts behind them began to catch up. The bigger yachts always beat the smaller ones across the finish line, but a small fast yacht could still win the race on handicap. This means the judges take into account the size of the yacht as well as its speed, to work out the winner.

The next evening Peter and the crew were sitting on deck after dinner when a pod of dolphins swam up and began leaping high out of the water, doing twisting spirals, or tail walking before splashing down into the sea. The crew cheered and clapped. One dolphin especially loved the applause, and leapt and frolicked alongside the boat for ages.
 
After three weeks of slow, patient sailing, early one morning Peter noticed a line ahead where the heavy cloud stopped and the blue sky started.
“Could this be the end of the Doldrums?” he asked Staggy. Sure enough the sails filled, and the crew yahooed as the yacht took off like a rocket, skimming over the water with a southerly trade wind. During the next few days they covered over 300 kilometres a day, widening the gap between themselves and the boats still stuck in the Doldrums. If they could keep going like this, they’d soon catch up with 'Flyer'!

 Early one morning 'Ceramco' crossed the equator, and the sailors had an old tradition to keep. 
(Show Image 4)  Those men who had never sailed over the equator before were hauled out of bed onto the deck, and tied to the life raft. A list of their crimes was read out, and they were, of course, declared guilty. The punishment was an egg cracked on their heads, and flour in their faces. 

Soon after, a school of flying fish flashed past and some landed on the deck. The men scrambled wildly after them. Then the fish too were covered in egg and flour, and cooked and eaten for breakfast.
The following day Peter was in the tiny navigation room planning the course for the day, when he heard a bang like a cannon going off! The yacht slowed to a stop and came upright. Peter knew instantly that the mast had broken, and with it, his dreams of winning the race. With a sinking heart he clambered onto the deck, shouting for the off-watch to join him.

“What a mess,” he groaned. A wire supporting the mast had broken, and with the pressure from the billowing sails, the mast had snapped. It was hanging over the side of the yacht, held only by a tangle of sails and wires. Each time a wave swept past, it pounded into the hull, threatening to punch a hole in the side. Heartbroken, they winched it back on board. Two small sails were quickly attached to the five-metre high mast stump, and the yacht began to move again. 
Erecting the first part of the jury rig aboard Ceramco © Ceramco NZ (Show Image 5)
The crew spent the rest of the day untangling and salvaging the wires and equipment attached to the broken mast. The hardest part for Peter was radioing the news to Pippa in England. She burst into tears. In New Zealand their supporters were stunned. This could mean the end of the race for 'Ceramco'; certainly they now had no hope of winning.

That evening Peter called the crew together for a conference. The men were feeling glum, but no one wanted to pull out of the race. It would take a lot of patience and kiwi ingenuity, but they were determined to get the yacht to Cape Town, and as speedily as possible. They must arrive in time to get a new mast fitted before the second leg of the race began. Peter radioed his supporters in Auckland, requesting another mast to be made quickly and flown to Cape Town.

Early the next morning, they winched the broken mast upright, next to the five-metre stump. To the cook’s horror, they stole his wooden chopping board to rest the base on, so that it wouldn't damage the deck. They bound the fifteen-meter mast to its broken stump with rope, and hoisted the mainsail. It swelled with wind and the boat began to pick up speed. Two more sails were attached to the mast top; one was tied to the opposite side from the mainsail, and the other pulled forward to catch the wind in the bow.
(Show Image 6)Ceramco from the air nearing Cape Town under jury rig in the 1981-82 Whitbread Race, sailing a course option that may be open to Puma © Ceramco NZ
By lunchtime, they felt pleased with themselves. Already their speed was up to eight knots, much faster than they had sailed through the Doldrums. The problem was, they could only sail with the wind behind them, so that meant a roundabout course to Cape Town, almost two thousand kilometres further than the other yachts would sail. They needed more speed to get there in time to fit the new mast, before the start of the second leg on October 31st.

The crew puzzled about how to make a mast for the back of the boat, to catch more wind. They decided to use two long poles, bound together at the top, and spread apart over the stern like an upside-down V. They attached a triangular sail to the top, which was pulled forward through the middle section of the yacht. This sail brought their speed up to twelve knots in a good breeze. Now they could sail over 300 kilometres a day. 

The cook sorted out their supplies so that, if necessary, they could last an extra month at sea without running out of food. That meant cutting back on snacks too. The biscuits were divided between the crew members- they got two packets each to last until the Cape of Good Hope. One man sat down and ate a whole packet of chocolate biscuits, while others hoarded theirs away.

The yacht was now easy to sail, just needing two men on each watch, so the crew filled the long, drawn-out days by devising quicker ways of lowering the sails, in case they were hit by a storm as they drew further south. They checked their safety gear, and cleaned and tidied the yacht. A crew member took a navigation class for those who wanted to be able to find their way around the oceans using a map, a sextant and the stars to guide them.

One evening after dinner, Doc called the cook aside. “If you continue to wake the crew for breakfast by calling, ‘Here, pig, pig, pig,’ you may wake up one morning, and not be able to roll over in your bunk,” Doc warned, “because of the large carving knife stuck in your ribs!”
“Sorry, Doc,” grinned the Cook. The next morning, to make amends, he woke them up with a wet, smacky kiss on the cheek, and that evening he called them to dine with, “I say, chaps. Dinner is served.” When he announced in the morning, “I say, chaps. Your delicious breakfast is ready,” no one got up! The following day the crew woke up to loud opera singing from the cabin speakers. 
 Forty-eight days after leaving England, the crew sighted the Cape of Good Hope in the distance.
(Show Image 7)  
A small plane buzzed over them, and Peter looked up to see his wife Pippa smiling and waving from the window. ‘I can’t wait until it’s just you and me,’ he thought, waving wildly . As they approached Cape Town that afternoon, the smaller kiwi yacht, 'Outward Bound', met them with their friends and families on board to cheer them on. 

They crossed the finish line at 6:30 that evening, to much applause and great celebration. The crews of the seventeen boats that had arrived before them showered them with praise at the speed they’d reached with their makeshift sails. Eight other boats were still to come in. Flyer had arrived eleven days earlier, a lead that would eventually win them the race.

A fortnight later 'Ceramco' was back in the water with a new mast, just in time for the start of the second leg. For the remainder of the race, they made their supporters proud, and although the bigger yacht 'Flyer' always managed to beat them across the line, 'Ceramco' went on to win the next three legs on handicap. They also won a trophy for being the fastest yacht to sail across the stormy Southern Ocean. 
(Show Image 8)
It was not until 1990, eight years later, that Peter Blake’s patience was rewarded. 
His new boat, 'Steinlager 2' won every leg of the Round the World Race on handicapped time.
She was also the first yacht across each finish line, beating the world's fastest yachts, and setting a new world record.
When Peter Blake was presented with the winner’s trophy, he hoisted it high in the air, and his grin was as wide as the Pacific Ocean.
 
© Jenny Jenkins 2015       Resource: Blake’s Odyssey, by Alan Sefton     

Discussion Questions
1. Which part of the race beginning tested Peter's patience? (At the start, when a cross-channel ferry came shooting through sucking all the wind out of the sails as it roared past, also cracking his head on the boom.)
2. During the first two weeks, progress was slow, as the winds were light. How did the crew use that time profitably? 
(Sorting through the gear.)
3. Why was the broken mast so heart-breaking for Peter's team and supporters?  (They had spent two years of patient preparation and had generous donations from their supporters, and it seemed like they were out of the race. Certainly their dreams of winning were over.)
4. Who would you expect to be the most patient, the man who ate his biscuits all at once, or those who hoarded them away to last the whole trip? Why? (The latter, they showed they were willing to wait.)
5. What did the sailors find to do to fill in their free time while the yacht slowly sailed the extra-long route?  (Devised quicker ways of lowering the sails, checked their safety gear, and cleaned and tidied the yacht. A crew member led a navigation class.)
6. Why does a sailor need special patience? (They are at the mercy of things that are beyond their control, like equipment failure and storms.)
7. When we most need to use patience? (When things are beyond our control, like when we are waiting for others.)

Optional Movie
Footage of the broken mast incident is 1 minute from the beginning.

Visual Aid
Print out the images or make a Power Point presentation with them, to help your students to visualise the story.

Research
A brief biography of Sir Peter Blake may be found at http://merc.org.nz/sir-peter-blake/