Champion sailboat racer; avid power boater and owner of a yard known for its high-quality yacht repairs, refits and restorations. Trinidad’s Peter Peake wears all of these hats and more. None of this should be surprising since he hails from a boating family whose roots on this Southern Caribbean island nation stretch back to the 1800s.
“We’ve been in boating for generations,” says Peake. “My father, for example, has built 42 wooden boats. We kids would help him and we’d take the boats out as well, both power and sail. We all got boats of our own when we grew up. In fact, between my father, my two brothers and I, we own 44 boats – and I’m not talking about dinghies. Now you can see why we needed a boatyard.”
There weren’t really any yards in Trinidad until the early 90s. Prior to this, boaters on the island took their vessels to Grenada to haul.
“We knew we were in a good location as far as hurricanes. Chavez had taken power and Venezuela was starting to have problems with Chavez, so some cruisers stopped going there, and the advent of GPS was allowing armchair sailors to feel comfortable to go out and cruise,” says Peake. “All of these factors helped to increase yachting in the Caribbean.”
Peake and his family, who already owned businesses such as manufacturing air conditioning equipment and selling marine hardware, signed a 60-year lease with the Chaguaramas Development Authority for 18 acres on Trinidad’s northwest coast. Peake Yacht Services opened in 1994. A 150-ton travelift was soon added and the yard has since been expanded to a storage facility for over 350 boats.
“In the 1970s we wouldn’t see more than 10 visiting boats,” says Peake. “However, we’ve had a strong local sailing and racing community dating back to the 50s and 60s.”
What Peake, and many others in Trinidad, didn’t foresee was a succession of extremely devastating hurricanes in the mid 1990s that sent cruisers in droves to the island’s yards. There were growing pains, and fly-by-night operators popped up, but the global economic recession has since led the un-reputable folks to jump ship and the solid high-quality folks to remain.
“Our business is down about 10 percent, but we have 20 percent more work and sales are up five to eight percent,” says Peake. “One reason is that cruisers, who may not have the funds to cruise, are leaving their boat in the yard with us longer now.”
Peake’s philosophy of business is to upgrade quality rather than focus purely on price. It’s a strategy that works. He and his staff have handled everything from luxury racing maxis to a 16-foot sloop whose owner sailed her around the world three times. Peake is a hands-on owner himself who has more often refitted or restored then bought new.
“I can work on my boat and at the same time on the one next to it, too,” he says. “It’s a good reason to come to work.”
Peake is definitely not all work and no play when it comes to yachting.
“If it floats, I love it. On my ‘to-do’ list are to drive an airboat and a submarine,” says Peake. “Most people don’t know that I race sailboats as well as powerboats.”
Peake’s sailboat racing career started right off the bat with a podium finish.
“I saw the Henderson 30s being built here in Trinidad and it was exciting,” he explains. “We won Tobago Sailing Week in 2002 right after I bought Slippery When Wet.”
When Les Crouch put his Reichel/Pugh 44, Storm, up for sale four years ago, Peake bought it. He subsequently racked up several victories throughout the Caribbean from the BVI Spring Regatta south to Grenada Sailing Week.
Peake isn’t giving up sailing, but after a ten-year hiatus he has returned to his powerboat roots. He took over as president of the Trinidad & Tobago Powerboat Association last year and he entered a new boat in this year’s world-famous offshore Carib Beer Great Race.
“It’s a super charged 46-foot catamaran we named Monster,” says Peake, who crewed the vessel with son, Daniel, Keith Murray and 1998 Great Race winner, Joey Sabeeney.
The monstrously-fast vessel, which has been clocked at a speed of up to 181 mph, is a Douglas Skater design powered by two 1200 HP V8 engines.
Looking ahead industry-wise, Peake foresees a bright future
“I think as the world economy improves, a whole new more-affluent wave of people will be buying boats again and this will boost yachting overall,” he says. “Already, we saw seven to eight new boats coming for the Great Race this year that have never been to the Caribbean.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.