• Simon Gundry, 1981 – photo and caption courtesy Ceramco New Zealand crew info available via Sail-World.

40 years ago…

I’m writing this article in late August, actually on August 29th. I’m over talking about Lake Road, I’m over talking about Covid 19 and I’m over talking about our lack of leadership, both locally and nationally, so I thought I would write about one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

So I go back 40 years to 1981, when I left Portsmouth on a yacht called Ceramco New Zealand at the start of the 1981-82 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race.  This campaign had by this stage been in existence for nearly a year, when a 32 year old yachtsman, Peter Blake, had a dream to enter a NZ flagged yacht in the Whitbread Round the World Race.

With huge tenacity and drive, his dream was to have a NZ designed yacht, built in NZ and sailed by an all NZ crew to participate in this epic race.

Alongside us, starting on that day, were no fewer than 32 yachts from all parts of the World. The course was to take us around the world, with stops in Cape Town, Auckland New Zealand and Mar del Plata in Argentina. This course was some 25,000 miles. 

On board with me that day, along with Peter Blake, was our Doctor Trevor Agnew, our cook Paul von Zalinski, Geoff Stagg who worked for the Ford Motor Company in Wellington, Richard MacAlister, a marine bioligist also from Wellington and Aucklanders, Keith Chapman, school teacher, Don England plumber, Richard White builder, Don Wright spar maker, Owen Rutter school teacher, John Newton, lawyer, and myself, a concrete worker. 

Peter had picked us from an initial pool of a couple of hundred yachtsmen who had wanted to join this epic yacht race. It had been a great summer previously, where we took Ceramco to Sydney to take part in the Sydney Hobart yacht race, winning it both over the line and on handicap. Then after the race, we took Ceramco on a tour of NZ to raise money for the campaign costs that had been underwritten by Tom Clark, the Chairman of the Ceramco group of companies.

In mid 1981 we packed Ceramco up, stuck her in a cradle and put her on the back of a very large container ship to be transported to the port of Philadelphia on the East Coast of the United States. Several weeks after she left Auckland, a bunch of us flew to Philadelphia to put the boat back together and sailed her across the Atlantic to the small port of Hamble which lies on the Southhampton waterway, where we based ourselves for the next three months prior to the start of the race. 

22 days approximately into the first leg towards Cape Town on a balmy Monday morning, we were sailing in very steady trade winds towards Cape Town. The sea was a little lumpy, and the sky was clear. We were rocketing along under the number four genoa and a reef in the mainsail, when there was an almighty bang and crash from up top. Ceramco came upright and slowed. I didn’t need to look to know what had happened, we had broken our mast. God what a sinking feeling that was, after all the time spent, all the promises, all the hopes and dreams. We sat there, 12 of us, many with tears in our eyes. It took us an hour or so to get the rig back on board, by that stage we had had time for a cup of tea. Blakey spoke to the crew and I’ll never forget his words “I don’t want anyone to become disillusioned about what has just happened. If you do become disillusioned, come and see me and we will get disillusioned together”. This was said with a very wry smile on his face. It took us approximately six hours to get a jury rig up and running so at least we could sail somewhere. Then after a quick crew talk we decided instead of the easy option of heading to Monrovia to get a new mast there, we would plug on to Cape Town, as best we could, 4000 miles away. We arrived there some 49 days after leaving, and hearing the start gun in England.

In Cape Town we stepped the new mast that was flown in from Auckland via London, and with the sad knowledge we had no hope of winning the race at all, we set off to complete the next three legs of the race. We won two of the next three legs, taking handicap honours. And in doing so, we won the Roaring 40’s Trophy which was for the quickest yacht through the Southern Ocean. 

I could write a book about this race and the adventures we had, and the great people we met. Many of them have become lifelong friends. Every year since 1982 the Ceramco crew has gathered on 21 September for a function called the Mast Falling Down Party and this year it will be the 40th anniversary. Where the crew will again gather, retell all the same stories and laugh at the same jokes that our families have been hearing for all those years. 

So where are we all now? Blakey died in the Amazon, our doctor Trevor Agnew went on to become a world renowned Cardiologist who went on to lead a team to do NZ’s first heart transplant. Paul von Zalinski has spent his entire life within the marine industry. Geoff Stagg went to work for Bruce Farr the designer of our yacht, in Annapolis, Maryland where he lives to this day, Richard Macalister went on to do a lot of yachting and is now the owner of a very successful marine company, Keith Chapman did another round the world race with Grant Dalton, his life ended far too young.  Don England went back to being a plumber and ended up with a very successful plumbing company.  Richard White continued sailing, and is now very successful in the real estate world. Don Wright spent many years overseas after that race, sailing large yachts, and he is now back in NZ working with his great friend Richard Macalister. OC Rutter spent more time sailing and then started a very successful marine apparel company, John Newton went back to the law and then got himself involved in the industrial real estate world. I did another campaign with Peter, and then went back to being a concrete worker.

So that’s where it is to this day. All of us on that day in the mid-Atlantic learned how to pick ourselves up and carry on.

By: , Gundry's Grumbles

Issue 123 September 2021