Helmer Pedersen
Born 1930

Helmer Pedersen was born in Denmark and immigrated to New Zealand in the mid-1950s with his wife Lisa.

He had extensive sailing experience in Denmark, but found he could not make his country’s Olympic team in his chosen class, Finn, because of the presence the great Paul Elvstrom, who won four consecutive Olympic gold medals.

In New Zealand Pederson joined the Otahuhu Sailing Club and made an immediate impact.

In 1960 he was taken to the Rome Olympics as the reserve for the Flying Dutchman crew.

A year after his return, Pedersen was asked by experienced yachtie Earle Wells if he was interested in forming a Flying Dutchman team to race Pandora, which Wells and Peter Harding had built.

They were opposite personalities – Pedersen talkative, blunt and nervy; Wells more reserved and studious – but they worked well together.

The early 1960s was a time of considerable strength in Flying Dutchman sailing in New Zealand, but Wells and Pedersen became recognised as one of the leading teams in the country.

They sailed magnificently in atrocious conditions during the 1964 nationals at Browns Bay and earned selection for the Tokyo Olympics.

At Tokyo, they began disastrously, with a 16th placing followed by a withdrawal after hitting a buoy. Then they put together a sequence of 1-3-1-1-4 to sew up the gold medal.

They stayed together for another year, contesting the world Flying Dutchman championships in Melbourne in 1965 and finishing at the top end of the fleet without winning a medal. After that they went their separate ways, neither quite recapturing the glory of that 1964 gold medal. 

Pedersen became a sailmaker and then turned to ocean racing, popping up at major races all over the world.

He was always a heavy smoker and in 1987 died of lung cancer.

Pedersen and Wells were inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

News and Blogs

Joseph Romanos writes: Sailing recaptures its glorious past

11 August 2012

One of the really warming aspects of the 2012 Olympics for New Zealand has been the way sailing has reclaimed some of its former glory.