The door to the commentary box is lovingly decorated with a picture of the Statler and Waldorf duo from the Muppet Show but, inside, the Tasker and Lester show’s only obvious resemblance to the children’s favourites is the ever-present determination to add humour to their commentary on the inshore races and leg starts.
"Martin and Peter are like turning on a good, reliable, old faithful diesel engine. All hell can be breaking loose behind the scenes but they provide the anchor" - Leon Sefton, Volvo Ocean Race live production director
Martin Tasker and Peter Lester have been working together since 2006. They are professionals and they are buddies and the chemistry works without any artificial effort, Tasker the questioning anchorman, Lester the expert who can explain to other experts without baffling even the most casual sports fans in the audience.
The walls of the studio look like a crime investigation centre, plastered with notes and information collected mainly by Tasker for reference throughout the broadcast. He is a product of rigorous training and the value of research, drummed into everyone by the BBC.
Lester does his background work by wandering around the team compounds. Because he speaks their language, is almost one of them, they respond in the same way. After that, even when watching on the monitor in front of him, his reactions are those of a competitor.
While both are talking they are also listening. Their earpieces are linked to the man directing the show, Leon Sefton, and that includes warnings about what is coming up, where he is directing his cameramen.
Not that the commentary can reflect anything other than what the viewer can see on the screen. Describing something that cannot be seen is a no-no. Being ready for something the viewer is about to see is a must.
“I just call it as I see it,” says Lester. “I don’t really do that much preparation, and the one time I did it went wrong. Martin and I were calling a race that seemed to be in the bag and were asked, on the final leg, to do an event wrap-up. I went first.
“I had talked to a guy called Peter Hallwright and he had given me some top stuff, anecdotes and one-liners. So I finished and handed back to Martin.”
Tasker takes up the story. “Peter had used word for word everything I had prepared because I had talked to Peter Hallwright too. It left me with absolutely nothing to say.” Lester adds: “Now, the golden rule is for Martin to keep the clever bits.”
The central pair now often has the luxury of a third commentator and onboard interviews via the media crew member (MCM).
Sefton notes: “We really rely heavily on the MCMs. They are the heart and soul of the television coverage and give us brilliant access to parts of the boat and angles which would not be covered by the fixed cameras.
“But Martin and Peter are like turning on a good, reliable, old faithful diesel engine. All hell can be breaking loose behind the scenes but they provide the anchor. There can be all sorts of technical challenges, but they keep on describing the scene.”
While Tasker is the acknowledged, seasoned professional broadcaster, Lester, says Sefton, is much more than a talented amateur.
“He has earned his stripes. He is not there by mistake. Martin brings the pure passion, he remains dedicated to the mission of bringing sailing and sailboat racing to a wider public.
“Peter then concentrates on making it understandable and interesting. He can read what is happening on the water, so it becomes like overhearing two very knowledgeable mates standing on the terraces and discussing the game.”
So, how do these two guys travel?
“We get on like a house on fire, always have done,” says Tasker. “We don’t try to make it something it isn’t. We don’t overhype it. I get nervous, he doesn’t know what nerves are. The chemistry is really important and we have a lot of laughs, both on and off air.”
“Well,” says Lester, “at least I don’t have to room with Tasker. That would be terrible. He would burp and fart.”
“The whole Volvo thing,” says Tasker, “has been a great experience but sometimes the hours are very long. We were on air for about seven and a half hours for the leg start out of China. I use a lip mike and I have a moustache. When it came to doing my piece for TVNZ at the end of the day there was a crease in the moustache that refused to budge and was clearly visible on camera.”
Nor is there much time to enjoy the different countries where the race stops. “I think the only one was Cape Town,” says Lester. “We had the morning off before flying home and spent it going up Table Mountain. I really liked Cape Town.”
In Auckland they were both on home territory and could go home every night. As can Sefton, who says: “I have worked with lots of presenters and presenter pairings. In my book, these two are in the top three of all time.”
Give him a microphone and a few minutes to find out what is going on and Martin Tasker will give you a commentary.
Although a call to America’s Cup arms by Television New Zealand (TVNZ) in 1997 gave him a specialist beat that is now 15 years old, Martin is also a generalist, providing coverage of golf, cricket, tennis rugby and anything else that the producer can throw at him.
Not surprising, then, that he was Sports Broadcaster of the Year in 2006, helped, he says, by being the man to “do the leap” off the back of Paul Cayard’s Pirates of the Caribbean as the fleet left Wellington for the run round Cape Horn to Brazil.
No Jack Sparrow, and certainly not a cockney sparrow, Martin Tasker emerged from the north-east of England school of regional newspapers around Newcastle-upon-Tyne doing what many Geordies had done before him, travelling to foreign lands.
He made his way to Hong Kong to work for the South China Morning Post, then Radio Television Hong Kong before “roaming again” via Hawaii, Florida, and the Bahamas, delivering himself back to the UK in a yacht from Bermuda.
He joined the BBC back in the north-east but it was in the opposite corner of England, Plymouth, and its BBC regional headquarters there which was also the secondment destination from TVNZ for Claudia, who persuaded him that New Zealand was a far better place to bring up their two daughters.
He has sailed since he was 11, owned a junk in Hong Kong, raced in the English Channel and was on board Alfa Romeo for its record-breaking coastal classic in 2010.
There are plenty of people from South Island in general and Canterbury/Christchurch in particular who have rugby football drummed into them from the moment they can drag themselves out of a baby buggy. But Peter Lester was a water baby.
“I was born into Christchurch’s yachting community,” says Peter Lester “with sailing competitions an integral part of my life from schooldays on.”
By 1974 he had won the OK Dinghy junior world champion and three years later, when it was held in Takapuna, he won the senior world championship, which, along with helping the national team to win the Admiral’s Cup in Britain, saw him elected New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year and a finalist in the New Zealand Sportsman of the Year.
Like his oppo Martin Tasker, Peter Lester has plenty of air miles under his belt in his pursuit of a career in professional sailboat racing.
He looked after the development of yacht tracing in Japan, skippered Pinta for Germany’s Willi Illbruck, coached the Spanish America’s Cup challenge in San Diego, offered a guiding hand to a racing team in Turkey, and was sailing boss of the Aspire sports academy in Doha, Qatar. He still advises the Koreans on their America’s Cup aspirations.
But there was some time at home, not least in charge of Yachting New Zealand’s high performance programme and he still finds time to race – he was at Key West in January 2012.
Throughout, he has been called into commentary studios, radio and television, to explain in a soft Christchurch style, the intricacies of the game, which attracted him even more than rugby.