America’s Cup is the pinnacle of the sport, where designers, naval architects, sailmakers the like really reach for the stars, testing the newest advancements in materials and design. It’s a thrilling platform to be a part of, whether working for one of the syndicates, or documenting it for the media.
I’ve been involved in nine America’s Cups since my first in 1983, and have worked on the America II, One Australia, America One and OneWorld campaigns. I’ve also worked for various sponsors, like Hewlett Packard, Kraft, Philip Morris and Ocean Spray; and on assignment for Newsweek, Wired, and all the leading sailing publications. And of course, it’s been a blast capturing America’s Cup for my own Ultimate Sailing calendar. Each experience has been memorable and exciting in it its own way.
‘Certainly my induction: the 1983 America’s Cup, when I did my first ever aerial shoot during the final race of the final match between Australia II and Liberty!
What an introduction! That historic day was my first time photographing from a helicopter – and set the tone for years to come!
It had come down to an historic and nail-biting seventh race, and after hours waiting for the wind in postponement, they finally got the race off. On the last upwind leg, Australia II covered Liberty in a tacking dual and was ahead. Skipper John Bertrand took Liberty, with Dennis Conner at the helm, right out to the spectator fleet – then crossed the finish line to win the America’s Cup: breaking America’s 132-year winning streak! It was an incredible moment, with the smoke from the gun on the committee boat filling the air, and horns blaring across the sound.
It was nearly dark when they were towed in, and freezing cold in late September. We’d had to wait for hours for the Australians to get in: and were all huddled in dinghies and at the slip, waiting for them to dock. That infamous moment when Alan Bond lifted the boat and revealed the secret keel was a highlight of the event. Another was the press conference in the old Armory later on. It was so chilly my camera batteries died! I borrowed some, and could only shoot a few frames here and there.
But I got the shots!
A lot has changed over the course of the last four decades. Some more gradual, some at warp speed. We’ve gone from elegant monohulls to foiling catamarans. The sailors and their gear have morphed too, as we’ve gone from gentlemen in white shorts and rugby shirts, to super hero action figures who leap from beam to beam! The skill level and tactics are so much more rigorous, because of these speeds and the risks of the foiling boats.
At the same time, the venues have changed; from offshore courses to arenas that provide viewing for spectators. This has made the racing even more exciting because of the tight courses and crazy finish lines, all taken at breathtaking speeds.
These developments have made it impossible for the photo boats to follow the competitors, like we used to years ago. There’s no way we can keep pace with the America’s Cup boats of today! So you have to decide ahead of time what shot you want, as different photo boats are designated to different course areas. We have to be content shooting from a stationary mark or platform, and get in position in time! Or of course photograph from my favorite platform: a helicopter.
Concurrent with all these changes in yachting and the Cup; camera design and photo technology was moving at breakneck speed. Since I started in 1983, we’ve gone from slide film to digital; from manual exposure and focus, to auto exposure and focus; and now (thank God) we have image stabilized lenses.
Despite that whirlwind: America’s Cup is still match racing. It’s still nation versus nation. And it’s still the most exciting, cutting edge designs and materials, the absolute best sailors in the world, and lots of thrills and spills!
August images provide a fantastic example of the metamorphosis America’s Cup has undergone. Alien contraptions that fly over the water, more than sail on the seas, have literally and figuratively lifted America’s Cup racing to a higher plane. The drama of experiencing these craft – zooming by at speeds upwards of 50 knots! – cannot be denied; and we thank my colleagues Sam Greenfield and Max Knighton for these fantastic photos.
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