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return of a legend

Every now and then a boat restoration grabs our attention, and thanks to sailing video guru Franklin Tulloch and electricity/energy system project manager Bruce Schwab, we’ll be following this one every step of the way.  This story comes from Tulloch, and you can learn more at the Ceramco NZ Facebook page and website.  The entire series is brought to you by Bruce Schwab Energy Systems, and we’re stoked to see what the first American to finish the Vendee Globe brings to this most classic of racing yachts.

1983 was a big year in sailing, and at 14 years old, I would get my first real introduction to the world of international sailboat racing that year. I had grown up on boats, sailing in the Cheasapeake, My father’s love for sailing a huge influence on my time on the water. That summer, my family and I would travel to Newport for what would be one of the most fantastic trips of my life, and also one of the most controversial America’s Cups ever sailed. The competition had stepped it up in the past few years and with new futuristic keel designs, the Southern Hemisphere would come to Newport in hopes to take away a trophy that had never left the US.  The event itself would be summarized in two words, winged keel. My biggest memory of this trip was the 24-hour security watch over the skirts hiding the Aussie’s now-famous keel design.

A year earlier, the international sailing community was introduced to a young man who would become a legend: Sir Peter Blake.  Well known already in his native New Zealand, Blake would become the first sailor ever to win both the Americas Cup (1995), and the most grueling and difficult race in the world, the Whitbread (now Volvo) Round-the-World race.

It was that 1981-82 Whitbread that gave the young Blake a chance to step out of the shadows, and with the help of a young 30-year old Kiwi named Bruce Farr, they would create a boat to crush the competition.   Equipped with a bulb keel and a flattened stern, their waverunning boat would dominate the competition across the ocean.  Winning every leg by a big margin (except for the first one), if not for an early dismasting, the boat would have, by average leg speed, crushed the competition by 30 hours along with a line honors Sydney-Hobart race in the process.  Blake would go on to win more major international sailing competitions than anyone else in history, while that first boat became synonymous with the talented skipper.

29 years later and 7 years since Blake’s brutal death at the hands of pirates in the Amazon, I would find myself working on a set of short films for The Sailing Company about the US and British Virgin Islands.  At the tiny Texas Coast Grill in Cruz Bay, St John, I happened to sit next to a nice woman who was discussing her boat’s repair schedule with a friend.  Like all sailors, I was curious and couldn’t help asking her what sort of boat it was.  ”It’s a 68 footer designed by Farr in 1981,” she answered.  ”Really? What’s her name?” I asked, as my mind ran over the possibilities.  ”She’s still called by her original name, Ceramco,” she said.  ”CERAMCO, NEW ZEALAND!!!??  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I responded incredulously. Before Diane, the owner, could get anything out, I asked the question: “Could I join you for a sail sometime?”  Diane smiled.  ”Once she’s fixed, you’ve got a ride.”

A month later I would be asked to join Diane with a group of  locals for a sail over to Jost Van Dike for a day at the Soggy Dollar and One Love. I grabbed my camera in hopes of getting some good shots of the boat as we journeyed through the azure sea. A pleasure sail with a group of very dear friends was my first real introduction to a boat I had known nearly my entire life.

To Peter Blake, his family and the past crews of Ceramco NZ: I want you to know that, like a great race horse put out to graze beautiful fields, eat flowers and reflect on his incredible life as a celebrated champion, after years of competing at the highest level in the sailing world, CERAMCO NZ has a new life in the near-paradise of the Virgin Islands.  With a very different crew, but one that knows and loves this one-of-a-kind boat, we’re bringing one of the most celebrated boats in history back to her former glory, and soon, Diane hopes to bring her back we hope to bring her back to Aotearoa, to her biggest fans in the world.

February 27th, 2013

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