Between a Rocna and a hard place

ALVAH SIMON - BOATING NZ
Last updated 15:09 12/12/2012
Pete Smith
More than 80,000 miles have slid under the keel of Pete Smith's Kiwi Roa
Pete Smith
Pete Smith, noted Kiwi sailor and boatbuilder, and designer of the Rocna Anchor, now spends most of his time in the sub-antarctic regions onboard his expedition yacht Kiwi Roa. Pete says "Down there it can take two weeks to make good a hundred miles" in a tone that makes that sound like a good thing.

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I first met Pete and Jo Smith on their Cavalier 39 Apteryx in Madang, Papua New Guinea in 1983. With a new baby freshly onboard, Pete decided the boat needed a hard dodger for more protection and comfort. He confidently set about designing and building one in spite of a dearth of building material available, much less a proper workshop. The outcome was perfect. Not perfect considering- just perfect.

And no wonder. Pete was a founding partner of Cavalier Yachts, which under his stewardship grew into the largest boat building company in the southern hemisphere. Through 15 years as production manager he put a lot of good boats down the line. To this day Cavaliers are considered amongst the best in New Zealand's pantheon of fine sailboats.

I bumped into them again near Cebu City in the Philippines. I talked Pete into joining a "cruising race" (is that an oxymoron?) Big mistake! He was hull down on the horizon before we reached the halfway mark.

And no wonder - Pete's past racing yachts, Conquero and Warchild,  terrorised the starting lines and dominated the finish lines in New Zealand for years. He has amassed too many trophies to list here with successes in such highly competitive events as the Southern Cross Cup, South Pacific and World Half Ton Cup and the Rothman's Gold Cup.

I next saw Pete and Jo in Borneo, where Pete decided he needed a larger and stronger "expedition vessel" to accommodate his growing family and satisfy his need for more adventurous sailing. In the process of selling Apteryx he met a South African who saw first hand the level of fit and finish Pete could bring to any boatbuilding project. He immediately hired Pete to move to France to build a 47-foot aluminium yacht. There were frustrations and delays in building in France so Pete and Jo moved the entire project to England. Already having all the infrastructure, suppliers, and contacts in place, Pete decided to "put another boat down the line." The result is an expedition yacht extraordinaire - the 52-foot, 27-ton, hard-chined, 10mm aluminium plated Kiwi Roa. It is a boat to behold.

And no wonder. Pete put an enormous amount of focused thought into the concept and design details, not to mention 22,000 man-hours of highly skilled labor. The vessel reflects a lifetime of experience and honed talent, the finest of materials, systems and equipment, and is uniquely suitable for the harshest cruising crucibles on earth.  

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I ran into Pete again several years later on the bucolic waters of Maine on the Northeast coast of the USA. The black art of anchor design had fascinated him for years, and when he simply could not find an anchor suitable for his needs on the retail market, he decided to throw his sailor's cap into the ring, so to speak. He felt it was time to move forward regarding the designs, materials, and building technologies of small boat anchors. He concentrated, calculated, hypothesized and experimented with tip weight, fluke shape and area, roll bars, length to weight ratios, metallurgy, and every bit of minutia that makes or breaks the performance of an anchor. The result can now be found on the bow rollers of countless boats around the world. It is called the Rocna Anchor, and it has taken the international marine market by storm.

And no wonder. When Pete Smith sets out to do something he brings a laser-like focus to the task at hand. Call it intensity, call it obsession, in any event once he gets an idea about something it is best to just get out of his way, for there is no stopping him.

I met with Pete and his now all grown up son, Craig, recently in a café in Te Atatu. Through all these years he has not changed much. He is still thin, fit, and focused. He grew up hard and has never forgotten the value of a dollar. He is confident in his skills and knowledge, has many hard-won and therefore hard-held opinions, and does not suffer fools silently. But mainly, he is a sailor that has never lost his love of the sea.

Kiwi Roa is in the Falkland Islands, where Pete spends a majority of his time now. He is totally enamored with the Southern Ocean having cruised extensively in Chile, Patagonia, South Georgia, and Antarctica. He is determined to stay out there for as long as his health and finances allow.

"The years slip by and I feel like I am running out of time" Pete says. "Life was very good here in New Zealand, but I needed the unknown and a new challenge."

The southern latitudes have served up that new challenge in spades. "You know, down there it can take you weeks to make good a hundred miles" he says in a tone that makes that sound like a good thing. "It is cold, hard, but it is spectacular."

I know this to be true because I have been there. And much like the lyrics of the old WW I song, "How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree", once one has experienced the raw drama and epic scale of the uttermost south, it is hard to lure them back into the tranquil waters of home.

In summary, in his native New Zealand, Pete Smith was a well known racer and boat-builder. With the success of the Rocna Anchor he has made his mark on the international marine manufacturing market. Now, with nearly 80,000 miles under the keel of Kiwi Roa and several years of high latitude cruising, Pete is becoming a well-known and respected figure in the small but accomplished fleet of Antarctic adventurers. And no wonder.

For more information on Pete Smith, Kiwi Roa, or the Rocna Anchors go to  petersmith.net.nz

- Boating NZ

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