It may be almost 17 years since she was last moored in Auckland, but little has changed on board Sir Peter Blake’s beloved expedition boat Seamaster in her absence.

The name on the bow of the rugged icebreaker has been changed to Tara – named for the French environmental organisation carrying out scientific research missions throughout the planet’s oceans. There are a few more scars – dents and scratches – on her 36m-long, unpainted aluminium hull than before; reminders of her many intrepid voyages from Antarctica to the Artic, the Amazon to the Mediterranean, and most recently, the coral reefs of the Pacific.

The pale wood fittings and blue cushioned benches in the living quarters below decks remain untouched from when sailor and adventurer Sir Peter left the Waitemata Harbour in late 2000 – heading off on a five-year odyssey to explore the world’s waterways. But today the schooner more closely resembles a floating science laboratory: with wet and dry labs, a bank of freezers storing core samples of corals, and a host of leading scientists among the 16-strong crew.

Another difference hangs on a wall in the passageway – a portrait of Sir Peter, taken at the 150th anniversary of the America’s Cup in Cowes in 2001, just months before he was shot dead while trying to protect the boat and her crew from Amazon pirates.

But the major feature that has not changed from Seamaster to Tara is the objective of her crew: to study the impacts of climate change, and make the world more aware of the importance and the beauty of our oceans.

Tara arrived in Auckland on a blustery, moody afternoon on July 1, to a warm and emotional welcome “home”. The boat was guided into the Viaduct Harbour by Sir Peter’s daughter Sarah-Jane and his son-in-law Alistair Moore, on board his old round-the-world race yacht, Steinlager 2

The timing of Tara’s week-long stay could not be more apt – the same week that Emirates Team New Zealand, the sailing team that Sir Peter founded, was bringing home the America’s Cup; and in Leadership Week, the Sir Peter Blake Trust’s celebration of great leadership in New Zealand, including national Red Socks Day, remembering Peter’s famous hosiery. 

Tara’s captain on this voyage south to New Zealand, Sam Audrain, says the return of the boat is not only significant for New Zealand, but also in the 14-year history of Tara Expeditions.

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“We want to keep telling the story that Peter began, and continuing with the same objective. With his picture on the boat, he is always with us. And it’s very important to make the connection back to his country,” he says.

Shelley Campbell, the CEO of the Sir Peter Blake Trust, agrees with Audrain. “I think the boat’s return is really important for New Zealanders, and not only for the people who knew Peter and cared about him. It’s also a chance to talk again about those very important environmental messages that Peter wanted to share, and why they matter to all of us,” she says.

The vision of ocean leadership and initiatives to take care of the ocean will be discussed at a free Auckland Conversations event, the Future of Our Oceans, on Wednesday, July 5. Campbell is among the panellists, along with scientist, environmentalist and inaugural CEO of the Trust, Mark Orams; University of Auckland associate professor and champion of the Hauraki Gulf, Rochelle Constantine; and Tara Expeditions Foundation executive director Romain Troublé.

Troublé, who flew in from Paris, feels quite at home in Auckland. He sailed for France in the two America’s Cup regattas held in the city in 2000 and 2003, and was a friend of Sir Peter. The Troublé family bought the boat from Pippa, Lady Blake, in 2003; Tara being a traditional family name given to their boats, adopted from Gone With the Wind.

Romain Troublé believes educating the public about the state of our marine environment is just as vital to Tara’s achievements as its research. “We are using storytelling to convince people of the emergency the planet faces, and explain the role that humans have in it,” he says.  

Campbell wants to engage more New Zealanders – especially young Kiwis – in the conversation about our oceans’ future, so they can “take the lead”.

“My view is that New Zealand needs to step up and have that bigger conversation about how important the ocean is, why it’s important in terms of climate change, and how we manage our marine resources for the future of our country,” she says.

“There are similar conversations bubbling around the globe, but often at different speeds, and sometimes with a slightly different focus. But it’s exciting that everyone is starting to have that conversation now – it’s like a big tide has turned.”

Having travelled more than 300,000km carrying out 10 expeditions, Tara is now halfway through a two-year project called “Tara Pacific” studying the coral reefs of 40 archipelagos throughout the Pacific Ocean. She will undergo a major refit in Whangarei before heading to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

While Tara is berthed in the Viaduct, the public can board the boat, talk to crew, and take in an outdoor photographic exhibition of Tara Expeditions’ work.

“While Tara is home, it’s great to let Kiwis get on board and soak up the excitement of the work that is being done,” Campbell says. “But we also must respect that for some, it is an emotional and difficult time, bringing up a lot of memories. We hope we can acknowledge those memories, while people can also see how Peter’s legacy has really moved forward,” she says.

“How amazing is it that his passion, and what he wanted to achieve, has inspired so many people; not just in New Zealand, but around the world?”

*The Sir Peter Blake Trust inspires and mobilises the next generation of Kiwi leaders, adventurers and environmentalists, by delivering programmes and experiences that continue Sir Peter’s legacy of leadership and environmental action.

Find out more about the Trust here.

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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