At 26-years-old, James Blake is a young man in search of adventure. Based in Dunedin and studying Masters in Science Communication and Natural History film-making, Blake has already competed in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, but believes the Trans Tasman Row will be “a challenging expedition” that will push him to his limits.
Blake grew up in the UK having moved there at age 12 and competed regularly for the school’s rowing team from the age of 14.
“I was at school in Dorset, in the South of England, when I started rowing. I remember a lot of early training sessions and some not-very-nice English weather. I really enjoyed the racing side of it. The training was alright, but the actual racing, when you’re set against another boat on the water, I really loved.”
“We didn’t win much but I competed at the Henley rowing regatta on the Thames. I gave up rowing at 18 when I left school so it’s been good to get out on the water again!”
Sailing became a big part of Blake’s life and it became clear that Blake inherited his famous father Peter’s spirit for adventure.
“He had a huge influence on my life. He made me realise that you should just go and do what you want to do. He started out from a small house in Bayswater as just a little boy sailing around but he achieved so much just by doing what he wanted.”
“I love the sea and I don’t think I could be away from it. I think that came from growing up around my father. He had an enthusiasm for getting out there and trying things and putting yourself in situations you’re not used to, and I think people can really learn from that.”
True to this philosophy, in 2010 he competed in the Sydney Hobart race, finding a place on yacht at the last minute.
“I was over in Sydney and found a spot on the boat the day before the race started. Someone had put a drill through their hand and so I jumped on board.”
“It was a 90-foot racing boat, full race spec, full canting keel and we were steaming. Unfortunately two guys went over board which was quite scary. It took about 20 minutes to get back to them and they didn’t have any safety equipment on them whatsoever.”
“The reason they went overboard was because of a huge squall that hit us and we actually lost sight of them for a while. Then after we got them, six of us spent about eight hours bailing the boat out - otherwise we would have sunk.”
Since returning to New Zealand to study, Blake says he feels closer to his homeland more than ever. “Before I came to Dunedin I thought I was more English but now that I’m over here, I’m definitely becoming more and more Kiwi which I am definitely enjoying.”
In part two coming soon, Blake explains how he will attempt to record the Trans Tasman Row’s every oar-stroke and why the rowers have chosen to raise funding and awareness for coral gardeners in Borneo.
- Interview by Nick Warren