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23 December 2001, 02:32 pm
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Sir Peter Blake's Memorial Water Procession

Chaos reigned beneath Auckland's Harbour Bridge today as at least 700 boats churned the water into foam, narrowly missing one another as they jostled for position.
Then the clock struck 5 pm and Ladybird, Sir Peter Blake's old family ketch, nudged to the front of the frenzy and took control. Suddenly the yachts, launches, dinghies, kayaks, ferries, inflatables and even a cruise ship fell into line behind the graceful boat.

Sir Peter's memorial water procession had begun. The event, organised by Yachting New Zealand, gave boaties a chance to pay their last respects to their hero, who was shot dead by pirates this month when they boarded his yacht, Seamaster, on the Amazon River in Brazil.

In Dunedin, about 50 people also took part in a water service today, and in Sydney Sir Peter will be given "a sailor's send-off" on Boxing Day before the start of the third leg of the round-the-world yacht race.

Today, the Herald had a prime position at the front of the Auckland flotilla aboard NZ Yachting president Geoff Thorpe's yacht, Alishan. Others aboard included Prime Minister Helen Clark and her husband Peter Davis.

It was a perfect day for sailing, with moderate winds and warm conditions. But none of the boats involved was under sail; instead they all motored at five knots.

Six hours earlier at the Domain, about 30,000 people joined Sir Peter's family in farewelling him. The mood was subdued, with people quietly reflecting on Sir Peter's life.

But on the water the boaties were more positive and upbeat -they knew they were farewelling Sir Peter in a way he would have appreciated. There was light-hearted banter among them as their craft came close to colliding.

Many of those aboard wore their red socks and the sailors were content to progress slowly along the course. In the thick of the boats was the Team New Zealand launch Protector carrying the two Blake children, Sarah-Jane and James.

Aboard Alishan, Helen Clark said the Government was looking at helping to finance Sir Peter's venture blakexpeditions so the Seamaster team could continue its environmental work.

Also aboard Alishan, 18-year-old sailing champion Simon Minoprio told of how Sir Peter had greatly influenced his life. "Since I was a kid I remember watching videos of him and saying that was what I wanted to do." Simon said the water procession was something he thought Sir Peter would have appreciated. "Sir Peter is part of the sea. I think he would have liked it."

Also aboard was Patrick Ward, a 13-year-old who had so much admiration for Sir Peter that he came from Sydney to farewell the man who inspired him to take up sailing.
Slowly, Ladybird made its way around the course, past North Head and over to Princes Wharf, with the collection of craft streaming out behind.

In front of the Hilton Hotel, hundreds of people had gathered, waving red socks and cheering.

The Viaduct Basin, a testament to Sir Peter's vision, passed by and the harbour bridge again loomed overhead. The procession had finished, but Sir Peter's legacy on the water will live on. In his speech Mr Thorpe captured the boating community's thoughts.

"On behalf of every yachtsman in New Zealand, I thank you, Sir Peter, for charting a wonderful course for the future of our sport. We will never forget you."

Ainsley Thomson/News Editor
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