Fourth Whitbread 1985 – 1986 (Lion New Zealand)
Peter Blake history
March 17, 2020

“I can’t see any point in racing around the world for seven months with someone you don’t like.” 
– Sir Peter Blake

Lion New Zealand was a Ron Holland designed masthead sloop, which gained the nickname the “Urban Assault Vehicle” when it survived and won the stormy Sydney-Hobart race of 1984. It appeared to be bullet proof and, sadly, it proved to be overly conservative.

The drama of the Ceramco New Zealand campaign captured the imagination of the New Zealand public. Broadcasts by the inimitable Peter Montgomery and written accounts by journalist Alan Sefton and others had brought the battles being waged far offshore in to the homes of New Zealanders. By the time the fleet arrived in Auckland, there was a frenzy of public support and the Waitemata Harbour thronged with boats of all shapes and sizes to greet the yachts. The send-off for the next perilous leg to Cape Horn was equally tumultuous with thousands lining the shores and headlands around Auckland and a massive escort of craft on the water.

By the end of the race, Blake was a household name. Even though Digby Taylor in Outward Bound had gained a better overall result (5th on handicap as opposed to Ceramco’s 11th), it was Blake’s determination to overcome adversity that was the big talking point.

Blake’s initial inclination after his first Whitbread experience had been to say ‘never again’. This was probably partly due to the disappointment of the outcome and partly because of career ambivalence. The way of a professional yachtsman was not clear at that stage and he was by no means certain he could sustain his nomadic way of life.

Similar thoughts attended the end of the Ceramco campaign and he told interviewers at the finish party in Portsmouth he would not do the Whitbread race again. However, even as the party continued long into the night, he an his patron, Sir Tom Clark stood discussing the “what ifs” and “might have beens”. They would probably both have denied it at the time, but, effectively, they were laying the groundwork for the next campaign.

It is not uncommon after any major endeavour for participants, successful or otherwise, to say never again, only later to recant. Blake did it several times. Of his decision to have another go at the Whitbread, he explained: “…when you have lived on an adrenalin forget the discomforts and the misery…Your memory conveniently erases the bad times and calls up only on the good. It’s not… (the) real danger, thousands of miles from the closest land, that you remember. It’s the 300-mile days, the roller-coaster rides through big seas in gale- and even storm-force tailwinds, the excitement of arriving in Auckland, the anticipation of visiting exotic-sounding ports.”

For the fourth attempt, Blake was determined to have a full-on maxi yacht. If raising $NZ600,000 for Ceramco was a big task, the $NZ3 million a maxi campaign required was a whole new level.

Tom Clark set about putting a sponsorship package together with the $NZ2 million that it would require to build the boat. However, this price proved to be beyond the marketing capabilities of most New Zealand companies. Hence, Clark split up the costs with naming right sponsors and the campaign was to be funded by the public.

As with Ceramco, Lion proved her stealth finishing the Sydney-Hobart in first position, sailing through stormy conditions which cost one life and forced the retirement of 106 yachts from the race.

However, when it came to the Round the World Race, Lion’s sturdy design proved to be a downfall when it came to speed. In the first leg Lion finished second behind UBS from Switzerland. Leg 2 saw Lion arrive at a packed Auckland waterfront in fifth position, following a setback when they hit a whale. With an estimated 300,000 spectators, Lion was cheered along the course to move up into third place. The final leg was a game of catch up due to changeable weather and hitting another whale. The breeze picked up to 25knots which suited suited Lion perfectly and although she was unable to catch Drum, Lion completed the 1985 /86 Whitbread Round the World Race in second place.