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'A life dedicated to sailing': Former Olympian, sailing administrator Ralph Roberts dies

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Tributes are pouring in for Ralph Roberts, one of New Zealand’s most celebrated sailing figures who died at the weekend.

The former Olympic sailor, team manager and veteran administrator passed away early Sunday morning at his Takapuna home following a short stay in the hospital, his stepson Andrew Snell confirmed.

He was 87.

Born in Auckland on 26 September 1935, Roberts competed in the Finn class at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, finishing sixth in a 35-boat fleet.

He was the reserve when Helmer Pederson and Earle Wells won gold in the Flying Dutchman in Japan four years later and sailed in the same class at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, finishing eighth.

Roberts was appointed sailing manager for the 1984 Olympic Games with the New Zealand contingent winning two gold medals and one bronze and was the Chef de Mission for the Barcelona Games in 1992.

He served as President of the then New Zealand Yachting Federation between 1986 and 1989 and was awarded the MBE for services to yachting and sport in 1993.

Roberts was also heavily involved in World Sailing (previously the ISAF) and is a life member of the Takapuna Boating Club, where he served as commodore and president.

In 2010 he became a life member of Yachting New Zealand and he was made a New Zealand Olympic Order Holder the following year.

“Ralph achieved a great deal in a life dedicated to sailing and his beloved Takapuna Boating Club," Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie said.

"He will be greatly missed, and our condolences go out to his wife Penny and his family.”

Close friend and journalist Richard Gladwell paid tribute to Roberts on the Sail World website.

“As a sailor he was renowned for his strength, toughness of character, excellent long eyesight, and an ability to read natural weather signs which enabled him to sense changes in the breeze,” Gladwell wrote.

“He combined these with good sailing intuition, and a feel for boat speed, to be a formidable competitor particularly in a fresh breeze. Ralph was an excellent analyst of sailing, particularly when he moved across into mentoring younger sailors, and possessed strong, but simple communication skills.”

Former and current Olympic sailors – including Jo Aleh and Micah Wilkinson – said Roberts would be remembered as a “true yachting legend”.

“Ralph was a true legend, and a superstar human,” said multiple Olympic medallist Barbara Kendall.

“An incredible supporter of sailing who gave so much to our sport. I will miss your wisdom and debates we had in the corridors of all those meetings and functions we went to.”

Roberts is also survived by six children and eight grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary’s-Holy-Trinity Church in Parnell at 11am on Friday (March 24).