On Facebook last December, a friend posted video from the Volvo Around the World Ocean Race. The images & footage from onboard the boats really got my attention. Racing around the world takes tremendous endurance & the ability to follow it so dramatically got me hooked. When I found out Newport RI was one of 11 stops I began to plan a road trip to photograph these amazing boats.
Last Summer I failed at connecting with Tall Ships as they were passing thru the Great Lakes. With a defined departure date from Narragansett Bay in Mid May, I was not going to miss a chance to get some shots of these unique boats. I established a connection with John Lincourt, a RI photographer with a portfolio of great sailing images. He provided me with some valuable info. Things work out better when you can talk to someone with both experience & local knowledge to develop a plan.
Sailboats are a subject I enjoy watching as well as taking photographs of. Not only are their numerous types of boats but they offer a diversity of forms that are unique. The only other forms I can compare them to in my mind’s eye are dancers. Since I own a small sailboat & have done a bit of sailing I recognize the challenge of capturing the unseen power of the wind to guide your boat. Although photos from onboard a sailboat are OK, in my opinion the real beauty is seen from another boat or the shore.
On Saturday they had an In-Port-Race. With only a very minor impact on the scoring for the competition it was really more of a dog & pony show for host cities to promote. Even in the rain crowds lined the shore & filled the fleet of spectator boats. I had decided to buy a seat on a Ferry for this event This gave me a somewhat elevated position above the fleet of fans. On Sunday, as they started the race leg across the Atlantic to Whales, I took images from shore near Ft. Adams.
These boats are a custom design for one thing. Sail around the world as fast as possible. If you’re not familiar with sailing take my word these things fly through the water. Slicing thru waves for 600 miles in 24 hours must be one heck of a ride! They have almost nothing in common with my lil 15 foot day-sailor other than they both float. The 3 dome shaped antennas on the stern provide a link via satellite for vital weather info as well as a uploading images & footage. With 5 fixed video cameras & an embedded photojournalist, each team gave updates from all over the worlds oceans. The technology & the effort to capture & distribute this 9-month event is unlike anything I have ever heard of. It makes video coverage of a marathon look easy.
I knew the basics of racing sailboats having read a bit about America’s Cup & seen a few on Chautauqua. When I saw Narragansett Bay I realized this was about as perfect a venue as possible for holding a port race because of the locations for spectators to watch along Ft. Adams. I’m sure that without rain or fog it would be stunning. On the upside, the poor weather did soften the background. The decision to be on the Ferry on Saturday was indeed the right choice. Watching 2 of these monsters sail thru the crowded spectator boats was a demonstration of amazing confidence.
It was a personal challenge to frame tight because I think the beauty is in the wide shot with the wind shaping the sails. However, having viewed many sailing images prior to my trip I understood the power of a tight shot without the complete sailing rig. This is especially true when the boat is horizontal to the camera or coming right at you.
Naturally, on an event as big & as expensive as this, sponsorship by businesses & organizations is necessary. I’m not a fan of the NASCAR type of branding but I understand it provides the financial support to make it happen. Turn The Tide on Plastic sails under the flag of the United Nations & is sponsored by foundations seeking to raise awareness of our oceans health. It was the only boat with a woman skipper.
A unique aspect of trying to find the best sailing shots is the diversity of perspectives. In my perfect image, the horizon should not interfere which ideally would mean a position high enough to see only water in the background. This requires either a drone…I’m not buying another toy…or shooting from a helicopter, which is a very pricey platform. Ignoring the poor weather conditions this is about as close as I came to my “dream” shot.
This is the crew that won it all 6 weeks later. As with any world-class competition, racing sailboats requires a level of experience, dedication & daring that only a handful of individuals can muster. To do it for over 45,000 nautical miles over 9 months makes it one of the most demanding sporting events any human can undertake. In the 13 races of this event since 1973, 9 people have lost their lives. John Fisher, one of the crew on Scallywag, was knocked overboard in the middle of the Southern Pacific Ocean. RIP
As the boats headed off across the Atlantic for a 3300-mile sprint to Wales I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was not inspired to take up or closely follow sailboat racing. However, the imagery of sailboats remains an elusive photographic goal. I learned a great deal more about this event; I had made good decisions in my planning & I had expanded my understanding of personal motivations. Most rewarding, I got a few nice shots.