It’s now been more than six months since the tragic loss of renowned yachtsman Sir Peter Blake, K.B.E., in the Amazon delta sent shockwaves around the world, both within and beyond the sailing community. Sir Peter had been leading an environmental expedition aboard the 115-foot aluminum schooner Seamaster
when armed men stormed aboard, inciting a confrontation that eventually cost him his life. Months later, we encountered Seamaster
anchored off the French side of St. Martin in the lee of high green mountains as steady trade winds sent cumulus clouds zipping overhead. Aboard the mammoth aluminum vessel, the crew was still struggling to come to terms with the loss of someone who was equal parts captain, visionary, and friend, but slowly, surely, blakexpeditions as the organization is known appeared to be regaining its momentum.
Cruising boats from all over the world anchor in this idyllic location, but there’s something about Seamaster that set her apart from the fleet. It wasn’t so much her gargantuan size. There was a tall ship and two or three mega yachts that measured longer on the water than Sir Peter’s craft. But Seamaster appeared to be all business. Her rounded stern, blunt bow, and almost submarine-like utilitarian lines suggest a capability beyond the ordinary realm of cruising vessels. All together she has an aspect of being capable of doing what very few vessels can, namely call any latitude on the planet home. From the searing tropics in the depths of the Amazon jungle, to the loneliest regions of the polar ice caps, she’s been there and back, sharing her tales with her followers along the way (see www.blakexpeditions.com).
Built in 1989 for Frenchman Jean Louis Etieanne, Seamaster traveled to the arctic where she wintered among the drifting snowfields, frozen in solid ice. For these kinds of extreme conditions, Seamaster can retract both her two centerboards and her rudders to protect them from the crush of the pack ice. Her two props are also encased in cages to ensure that they too suffer no damage from the immense pressures. The hull is 50 millimeters thick on the bottom, and 25 mm thick on the sides and the top. Seamaster, say members of her crew, can break up to a yard and a half of ice, and if it gets thicker than that the saucer shape hull also allows the vessel to be pushed up and over the ice as it forms, rather than be crushed by it. In short, Seamaster could be just the vessel that noted arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton might have wish he had.
Sir Peter, who had proven himself immensely talented in international racing circuits, won the America’s Cup in 1995 and 2000 with Team New Zealand, sailed in the first five Whitbreads (winning the 1989 edition of that race), and captured the Jules Verne Trophy in 1994. He was chosen to
succeed the late Jacques Cousteau as captain of the famed marine research vessel Calypso 2
after the last America’s Cup. But in the end he decided to head out on his own environmental mission, namely to chronicle the state of the environment in out-of-the way places and reveal that to the ordinary person via blakexpeditions, taking care to report his team’s findings in an understandable and an accessible manner. While the team has hosted zoologists and other scientists aboard Seamaster
, the research they undertake is primarily meant to appeal to the nonscientists among us, with an additional emphasis on educational programs in schools.