Back when men were men
Published on June 29th, 2022
It was a measure of Paul von Zalinski’s abilities as a sailor – and shortcomings as a chef – that Peter Blake signed him up for his crew on board Lion New Zealand for the 1985-86 Whitbread Round the World Race as long as he didn’t cook.
Von Zalinski, or Vonny to his mates, had been around the world with Blake previously on Blake’s first campaign as skipper on Ceramco New Zealand in 1981-82, when Vonny was enlisted as cook.
It was the days when a chef, complete with fresh meat and vegetables, was included in teams and Blake summed up von Zalinski’s abilities in his 1982 book Blake’s Odyssey.
“Vonny produced some great meals in terrible conditions and some terrible meals in great conditions,” Blake wrote. “I’m still not sure he didn’t do a con job on us at the interview stage.
“His ability to be the butt of a lot of the cutting humour on board, and still hold his own in this department, made him worth his weight in gold.”
Von Zalinski is being remembered as a generous, often larger-than-life figure who loved the ocean and sailing with his mates after he passed away at 79 years on June 19, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Simon Gundry met von Zalinski when they teamed up on Ceramco and developed a close friendship. Banter was a constant companion along with mutual respect.
“He was hardly a cook at times, let alone a chef,” Gundry laughed. “But he was a magnificent guy to have at sea because he was a big, tough bastard. He could turn his hand to anything. He was a very good crewmate, good helmsman, but also very funny.
“A week out from Cape Town [on the first leg of the race], I said, ‘hey Von, this food is crap’, and he looked at me and said, ‘if you don’t like it, brother, go somewhere else tomorrow night’. He always had a good answer.”
It wasn’t always confined to teammates. In fact, he didn’t care who he was addressing.
“In 1981, a couple of boys went to Wimbledon to watch Jimmy Connors play. About a week later we were at a BBQ in the south of England and Dennis Conner was there. Vonny met Dennis and said, ‘g’day, how are you? You didn’t do very well at Wimbledon last week’.
“He didn’t care who you were. He would chat to anyone. He was like the United Nations and would make friends with anybody.”
He was also a good friend.
When Blake was killed in 2001, von Zalinski and his partner took it upon themselves to look after and maintain one of Blake’s boats, Arch Angel, which was berthed in Barcelona.
“Vonny and Heather looked after that boat for three years at virtually no cost to Pippa,” Gundry said. “That was his way of helping Pippa get through those sad, mad times. He was a really faithful, loyal man.”
Von Zalinski was a constant figure at the mast party held each year on September 21 to mark the anniversary of Ceramco dismasting in lumpy seas on their way to Cape Town.
Gundry said von Zalinski would always be there with a big bottle of Coke, already mixed with a large helping of rum, and a collection of good stories to tell.
Some of them stemmed from the numerous deliveries he did, often to and from Hawaii for the Clipper Cup, or his involvement as a surf lifesaver at Piha beach, where his ashes will be spread.
There would invariably be a heavy dose of self-deprecation or friendly barbs aimed at friends and plenty directed in return about his ‘cooking’.
A celebration of Paul von Zalinski’s life will be held at the Muriwai Lifeguard Service Clubhouse on July 20 from 2pm. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Yachting New Zealand