Challenges and Rewards

Empire Sandy

Capturing images of sailboats has many frustrations but also provides a level of enjoyment I find worthy of pursing. Geography in relationship to the ocean does limit my opportunities for capturing these classic boats. However, Tall Ships Challenge on the Great Lakes was not going to be a missed opportunity.  A stop of the tour in Erie PA in August was on my calendar for over 6 months.

Prior to the Parade of Sail at Presque Isle, I got a chance for one of my “Mind’s Eye” images. With nothing but sky, clouds & water, Empire Sandy is alone with her elements. The red Canadian Flag is an added bonus with the horizon line being about as unobtrusive as possible.  The one element lacking is sails full of wind. I’d like to duplicate this framing with a boat this size in 15-20 knot winds. The challenge continues with the reward of planning another day on the water!

Floating Photogs

I’m not usually the type of photog that participates in group shoots. However, to dilute the cost I reached out & found others that shared my exuberance for sailboat photography & chartered a fishing boat. This allowed us to get into a position with some control over background & lighting. It was an added bonus to be able to talk photography with a crew of wonderful enthusiasts. Of the 4 that reported, we shot a total of 1815 shots. I was the most conservative with only 281 snaps.

Flagship Niagara led the parade into her home-port. She served during the war of 1812 & is a wonderful example of the dedication to preserving a working example of history. Like many her age she had some nautical facelifts & now is a centerpiece of the Port of Erie.

For those who appreciate flag protocol, the flag on her stern is the only US Flag with 15 stripes & 15 stars. This version of old glory inspired Francis Scott Key. It replaced the 13 stars/stripes version in 1794 & was replaced in 1818 with 13 stripes & 1 star for every state format.

Appledore V

Appledore V is a sailing classroom with a homeport of Bay City, MI. As one of the smaller boats the light winds had more influence on her cutting thru the water. The wind shaping the jib with the shadows along the pleats of the sail is one of the many details of sailboat photography I love. My limited knowledge of the rigging on schooners makes me wonder if the name flag is on an extension of the main mast. I like the flag but question why it is so far above the top of the main.

Physics & Geometry

Far from pristine, this CU of the 2 jibs, the staysail & the foresail in the background highlight the complex fractal forms involved in capturing the wind. No mater the size of the sailboat the forces of physics on the geometric design can be seen in the fluid tension of the sails.

Picton Castle

The Picton Castle is not just a showpiece. Prior to the Great Lakes Challenge she was in the south Pacific. This 3 masted barque sails the oceans for training & educational voyages.

Look behind you!

As our boat was entering the harbor to find a good position to capture boats entering the bay I noticed 3 of the photogs on the boat with cameras pointing towards the shore. Keeping your head on a swivel can result in unexpected surprises.

Bluenose II

One of the aspects of sailboat photography I find compelling is that no matter the position of the subject or the sun you can find an interesting shot. As Bluenose II is headed to her berth, the view of her stern with the sun on her starboard bow creates a silhouette.

Lettie G Howard

Like many classic yachts the Lettie G Howard has been around. Built in 1893 as a fishing schooner in Essex, MA her home is now at the docks at the South Street Seaport In NYC. Believed to be the last remain ship of her type she is now a floating museum & a National Historic Landmark.

St. Lawrence II

One of the youngsters in the parade, St. Lawrence II built in 1953 primarily as a training vessel for those under 18. As one of 35 registered Tall Ships in Canada she spends most of her time in the fresh water of the great lakes. 

Dreamer

After a Coast Guard boat confirmed all of the parade had passed I saw another beauty following behind. Dreamer, from the Erie Yacht Club, decided to crash the party! The independent streak in me loves the fact that uninvited she joined the festivities. Maybe it was my mind’s eye reacting to the different rigging or the name but this boat may indeed be my the reward the day. She also inspires me to continue the quest for capturing these boats under full sail!

An Ongoing Inspiration & Challenge

01 copyOn 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.

02Last 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.

03Sailboats 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.

04 7D2L9029 last saturdayOn 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.

05These 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.

06I 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.

07It 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.

07aRD Turn tideNaturally, 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.

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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.

09This 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

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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.

Pursuit of a Passion

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Newport is a city on an island. That means 3 things. #1 Water. #2 Boats. #3 Bridge. The bridge did not interest me but the water & the boats, specifically sailboats, is something I’ve been drawn to for a long time.

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My initial attraction to this historical sailing center was America’s Cup in 1977 won by Courageous captained by Ted Turner. When I saw pictures of the 12 meter boats that raced off of Newport I was enamored with their form, beauty & grace. As a teenager, I had been on a few sailboats enjoying being on the water powered only by the wind. I also admired the way they added a nice visual element to views of Chautauqua. When the leprechauns of logistics & scheduling fell onto my calendar this past May, Newport was a road-trip destination that couldn’t be ignored.

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I found out about a layover in RI of astonishing sailboats that were racing around the world. They had a scheduled in-harbor-race the day before starting the next leg of the 9 month race. More about The Volvo in my mid-September post. These boats do not have the grace of a 12-meter, but these thoroughbreds are FAST. They easily can more than double the speed of a 12-meter. While most sailing speed increase has been with multi-hulls & hydrofoil boats, Volvo 65’s are a dramatic upgrade to a classic mono-hull design. OBTW The building on shore was a summer playhouse of Jacqueline Bouvier.

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From Connecticut north most of the towns on the Atlantic coast are not very large & all have a history with the sea. Newport is no exception. Rhode Island was established on the principles of religious freedom as well as the separation of church & state after a radical priest was banished from Boston in 1636.

05 copyNewport was an ideal summer retreat for wealthy. At the height of the industrial revolution, plantation owners from the south & affluent families from NYC were lured to there with its cool consistent breezes. Yacht racing was a pastime of this elite crowd & it became the on-the-water clubhouse home of the New York Yacht Club. From 1930 to 1983 the Americas Cup Challenge & Defense were held off the coast of this ideal sailing port.

06 copyWhile the wealthy still come to their summer cottages in Newport, many of the mansions symbolic of the Gatsby era of wealth are now museums. The grandiose architecture that identified enormous wealth is indeed impressive & well worth strolling Bellevue Ave. to see how the 1% of the previous century lived. While I may be taken back by the amount of money it took to build these get-away homes I am glad that some of the wealthy still spend big bucks on sailboats. Priorities.

07But for me this trip, this destination was about sailboats. An opportunity to purse a subject with my camera I toughly enjoy. Ft. Adams is an excellent venue to host a event that is centered around the water. It has lots of space & good views of the boats on the natural harbor of Narragansett Bay. This State Park also has hosted music festivals including one where a kid named Bob Dylan shocked the world of Folk music by picking up his electric guitar.

08When I first arrived on site the schooner Adirondack II was the 1st boat to catch my eye. Coincidentally it was the boat I had booked an afternoon sail on the day after the 7 Volvo boats departed the natural Harbor of Narragansett Bay. Always in search of the perfect image I realized that my 100-400 was the perfect lens but the backgrounds were going to be a distraction. It took me a while but soon I was concentrating on the subject while trying to ignore the distractions. I’m learning to accept the things I can’t change.

09The reduced waterline of the dual hulls of catamarans makes them inherently faster than mono hulls. Comparatively less expensive than other high-end high-speed demons the M32 class of boats has a sail area to weight ratio that makes it a very popular racer. Here in Newport sponsors & paying guests could go for a spin with a crew. I wouldn’t turn down a chance to ride on one but if I had to choose between this or a slower 12-meter it is an easy decision. I am old-school fond of mono hulls.

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I am still shocked that there are professional racing sailors. I guess if you grew up around the coast where this sport is common it is a little bit easier to understand. Like any other sport or skill it is helpful to start when you are young.

11For me the passion for a wind powered boat isn’t about speed. It is not about the competitive rush of racing. My enthusiasm of sailing is about harnessing the unseen force of the wind to control where you are going on the water. With my camera it is about the soft forms of the sails & the lines on the boat blending with the natural world as they cut thru the waves on a sunny day.

On The Lake Summer Part 2

Transition to retirement has allowed me to spend summer as I did when I was young. Labor Day meant the start of school & time to go home. Later in life it signaled the start of traveling for CBS/NFL & a busy 5 months. Now I look forward to the transition to Fall at this special place in my life. Summer isn’t over for a few more days.

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Driving my smiling daughter around on her wake-board is one of the most joyful activities I did this summer. She is an inspiration with her tenacity & character. I have become a fan of the light at sunrise.

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Although getting my sailboat in the water was delayed…long story…I do enjoy looking at it knowing if the wind is right I can slide it into the water and catch a breeze. The triple rainbow…reflection off the water…was a first for my eyes.

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I used to own a sailboat named Chasing The Wind. Chasing sailboats with a camera is rewarding when you get a shot like this. Fun to sail, fun to watch and fun to take pictures of…Sailing is fun.

sm-race

These 2 sailors are learning/practicing to race. I prefer pleasure sailing vs racing but as they say…what ever fills your sails.

sm-flag

The weather & logistics of the wooden boat show were less than good for photography.  These nautical classics, like most boats, make better pictures on the water not tied to the dock. I choose to take tight detail shots & the soft focus, gray fractal reflections of the water in the background of this shot blend with the texture of the wind blown flag. I’m proud it only took me 4 shots to get the image I saw in my mind.

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Carving flat water at the beginning of a new day. That is better than a cup of coffee. The background has few distractions & nicely out of focus. The horizontal of the shoreline is above the subjects head. All in all a shot I like a lot even though it wasn’t the shot I was after. See Summer Part 1.

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The individual subjects of the image are quite common. Their alignment with good light like this is not. The Bemus Point Stow Ferry and the Chautauqua Belle are constant reminders of the history of this wonderful body of water. I got my license and now have piloted the Ferry. More boat time! Come take a ride and let me share some stories about the lake.

 

 

On The Water Part Two

My photographic inspiration is seeded with personal experiences, individual perspectives & a desire to share my visual thoughts. The lead shot of this post took patience & persistence. Tools I wish I had developed earlier in life. I hope you enjoy how my minds eye sees the world. If you want to see more sign-up to follow my blog.

My photographic inspiration is seeded with personal experiences, individual perspectives & a desire to share my visual thoughts. The lead shot of this post took patience & persistence. Tools I wish I had developed earlier in life. I hope you enjoy how my minds eye sees the world. If you want to see more sign-up to follow my blog.
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I begin many days with the sunrise, drinking coffee & watching this skier from about a mile away. Some mornings the early light is as perfect as the water is flat. I knew I wanted to capture an image like this. On a few occasions I kayaked into Bemus Bay w/camera but the skier didn’t appear. I gave up on the low level of a kayak & began stalking him with the powerboat. On the third morning on our boat “Erised” with the golden light of a new day I was rewarded. It’s been decades since I strapped on a slalom ski & I never was as good as this skier but I still feel the grace of carving the water when it is like a sheet of glass.

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If I had known before… On a pleasant motor cruise around SFO I was scanning the bay & saw this thoroughbred. Only after I got the image on my computer & zoomed in did I find out it was USA76, a challenger to the 2003 Americas Cup in New Zealand. The haze of the region may not be pristine for photography but the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a nice background. Although this is an elegant mono hull I still am enthralled with 12-meter boats used in Americas Cup before 1992. Yes indeed I am old school & proud of it. USA76 is available for charter & my next trip to SFO will definitely include a ride on this beauty.

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The point of sail in relationship to the wind, the trim of the sails & the weight/position of the crew have a significant impact on the performance of the boat. With the boat heeled over, this crew on an E Scow from Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club is “hiking out” to move the center of gravity for maximum speed & getting a great ride. Getting into position to show relationship of crew, sail & the side rails of the boat was a challenge. On the water things change quickly. You need to be ready.

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Sailing is described as hours of pure pleasure interrupted by moments of sheer terror. I was early to Cambridge to meet my daughter & saw sailboats on the Charles River. With the setting sun lighting up Boston’s Capitol Dome in the background my thoughts were on a wide postcard type of image. I walked onto Harvard Bridge to get the best angle of boats & dome. Waiting for a cluster of foreground sails I spotted these 2 boats. I anticipated correctly their line of sail to the marker buoy. I won’t say who had the “right of way” but just before I snapped this photo both crews became aware of the other boat. The wide shot with the dome & sails was OK. On this short photo sojourn this moment I captured was my favorite. The class of boat is called a Tech Dinghie and was designed by a professor at MIT.

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More & more people are getting their butts on the water in Kayaks. Young-old, male-female, coordinated or not it’s an inexpensive way to get on the water. I have taught 6 year olds to paddle & the smiles on their faces are indeed priceless. In this shot I waited for the apposing angles of the paddles to balance the frame. I especially enjoy early mornings as the sun is low & the lake has mirror qualities. Simple serenity sometimes offers excellent opportunities.  If your going to even think about taking a camera on a kayak get a Dry Bag!!! If you want a source for kayaks around Chautauqua Lake see the folks at Evergreen Outfitters.  Nice people running a local business that does things right.

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The blades of these oars are part of an 8 man crew/rowing team from Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association. This CU of still blades resting on the water will soon explode into well-coordinated kinetic energy powering the boat thru the water. Although I was aware of this sport, crew was not inspiring. At my 1st Olympics in LA in 84 I was on the TV crew for rowing. WOW can world-class rowers make those fragile boats/shells fly at over 12 mph. An average shell weighs around 200 lbs & holds 8 crew. The coxswain guides & coordinates the power, rhythm & pace of the rowers. I believe it is the ultimate team sport. Rowers must be in perfect sync. I highly recommend a book about the 1936 Olympic Gold Medal team from the US called BOYS IN THE BOAT. It is much more than just a good sports story.

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In my teens I was a north of average water skier. Today, if I had 2 good knees, you can bet your bippy I would be on a wake-board. I paddled my kayak to a prime position in Bemus Bay for shooting stills of the Chippewa Lake Water Ski Show Team. Being in a kayak not only got me closer to the subjects but also gave me low perspective of action. Sometimes a little closer & a difference of a few degrees can make a dramatic difference. I routinely look for an angle that gives a slightly different dynamic to the image. The low angle put the wake boarder against the overcast sky. Also, he knew exactly where I was & timed his flip perfectly for my camera.

On the Water Part One

I’ve always been drawn to water & boats. My summers spent on the shores of Lake Chautauqua as a kid are the seed of this inspiration. I invite you will subscribe to my blog and discover other images and subjects that inspire me.

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In my eyes, the simple beauty of sailboats grasping the unseen power of the wind is an attention grabber. The curve of the sails & the synergy of the wind & water is the essence of serene grace. Although I’m not a competitive person, the photo by Eric Schweikardt at 1977 Americas Cup is an image I consider outstanding. It introduced me to “Captain Courageous” aka Ted Turner. A renegade with flaws that changed the TV landscape in a way few others have done. This pair of E Scows are part of the Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club. Watching these boats on opposite tacks my minds eye recalled that iconic shot from 77 & I knew I might have an opportunity to capture a similar image.   I call this a success.

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This is a digitized image of an old Kodachrome from the early 80’s. It was taken off of Key Biscayne. The trim of the sails on this sloop with the golden hour light of sunset makes this one of my all-time favorite sailboat images I have taken. The quality of my old Kodachrome slides was still outstanding. Unfortunately, the budget digitizer I used doesn’t represent the true quality of the original image

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A close-hauled tack is a great visualization of harnessing the power of the wind. The full sails with the boat pointed a few degrees off wind push the boat while the keel holds it tight. This was taken in the Virgin Islands on one of our 1st sailing vacations in the early 80’s. Even though this is another poor digitization, the subject overrides the quality. The islands are wonderful sailing grounds & the angle of the mountain with its shadows mirrors the angle of the mast making a great background.

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On a kayaking vacation to Belize we stayed a few nights on South Water Caye just inside the barrier reef. The juxtaposition of this old style canoe paddle by a young child with the modern catamaran in the background speaks to the diversity of styles of boats & their use. It also emphasizes that our oldest form of transportation/exploration still has value.

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Taking your camera on a boat requires extra precautions. The limited space when spending a week on a kayak in Belize amplified the challenge. Dry bags, clean towels at hand & plenty of optical wipes are a must. I’m glad I pay my insurance company to worry! The photo opps in the kayak going from island to island were limited. This is one of the few images I liked, a bird sanctuary we paused at on our paddle to South Water Caye.

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I was introduced to white water rafting in boy scouts. I’m thrilled my family shares my sense of adventure it offers. My daughter & I rode the Tara River that defines part of the boarder of Bosnia & Montenegro. Rafting on the cold blue/green waters thru the gorge, aka the Grand Canyon of Europe, was spectacular. Along the way there are many waterfall tributaries that contribute to the class III and IV rapids. If I were to do more rafting photography I would invest in a waterproof cover. On this trip, I just made good/safe choices when to pull my camera out of the dry bag. This particular day inspired me to invest in a wide-angle zoom.

 

More On the Water coming soon in Part Two