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.

Inspired by a Road Trip

02 copy I’m a photographer motivated by subjects & stories. I’m not the type to have my camera over my shoulder always ready to capture something that catches my eye. So I planned a road trip with 4 primary photography destinations as my focus.

03 copyAs a low-no-budget project, I really didn’t want or need anything more than a place to sleep. I like the idea of supporting local businesses over chains so I stayed mostly in motels. None were absolutely terrible; all were under $100 a night. Since this was a solo trip I didn’t need to worry about Lori’s objections.

04 copyAs I took off along the Southern Tier of NY I didn’t have a tight schedule but hadn’t planned on side stops. Then, from the highway, I spotted people fly-fishing. There was a convenient exit & I pulled off. The light was good & the background was great but the deep pools with fish were near the opposite bank so I never saw faces. I was close to the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum so I made a note for possible future subject locations.

05 copyMy 1st destination was Mystic Seaport & Museum, the largest maritime museum in the US. The shipyard where Mayflower II was undergoing restoration for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims arrival was busy. Seeing workers using hand tools to shape the lumber precisely was inspiring to this wanna-be wood-worker. I strolled & explored the place for an entire day thoroughly enjoying myself.

06 copyFrom Mystic I spent a day with a talented, creative & inspiring friend I made during my career. I have known & respected Dave Taylor for well over 2 decades. He has a very media centered collection of antique electric toys as well as cutting-edge technology in his Mission Style influenced home.

07Although it wasn’t my main motivation for going to New England, Newport,  RI was the photography highlight of my Road-Trip. The Volvo Round the World Sailboat Race had a stopover in this historically significant sailing center of the US. The 2 days of sailing by the Volvo boats had very poor weather for photography. However, anytime I can snap a shot of a 12 Meter it is a very good day. Currently owned by Ted Turner American Eagle is for sale.

08Gatsby & ostentatious wealth are synonymous with Newport of a century ago. Touring the Vandergrift Mansion, I learned the term Gilded Age came from the title of a novel co-authored by Mark Twain. The themes of corruption & greed in the book came to represent a lifestyle & period of time that was unsustainable. By the 1930’s owners of this mansion couldn’t afford the upkeep. They stand as empty homes representing a brief period of history.  I believe that Andy Carnegie’s gift of libraries has had a more long-lasting impact demonstrating the value of philanthropy.

09The weather during the In-Harbor Race was rainy. Fortunately, I was prepared with an inexpensive but good rain cover for my camera. I had made a connection with John Lincourt a Sailboat Photographer & he said my 100-400 lens was the right tool. I purchased a seat onboard a ferry giving me an elevated position that worked out well. During this 9 month race, each of the 7 boats has an on-board photo journalist seen in yellow. Some of their work is absolutely spectacular. It is what inspired me to travel to Newport.

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The day after the Volvo boats took off across the Atlantic to Whales I did an afternoon cruise on Narragansett Bay under a clear blue sky. I realized that I would have preferred the good weather when I was shooting the race over my enjoyment on the beautiful schooner Adirondack II.

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The real motivation in New England was my daughter’s graduation. I arrived a few days before & went to her work-out to try & grab a few shots as she trained for the first USATF sanctioned Women’s Decathlon. I found a position where the background wasn’t too bad but there was very little light. ISO 5000 at 2.8 just isn’t going to give nice clear images.
12The moment of the trip was when we made eye contact just before she received her diploma. Her smile is as genuine as any face I’ve ever photographed. I just stood in the balcony waiting for her to notice me. No texting was necessary for us to connect.

13Her 4 years as a freshman proctor are over & we packed some of her stuff to bring back to Pittsburgh. She got a pass allowing me to “Pawk my Caw in Hawvawd Yawd.”

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I’m a photog that looks for subjects & stories. However, having a camera handy when you see something unique does have value. Maybe this will become part of a story on foiling sailboats. Upcoming blogs will go into more detail about my road-trip. Look for new postings on the 1st & 15th of each month.