As I landed in Miami for the TP52 Super Series regatta, my adrenaline began racing: it was blowing a gale! Getting out of the car at the hotel, the door ripped out of my hand in the wind. This is what I came here for: “fresh to frightening!”
Alas, maybe a little too much … with the gusting wind and big seas, the TP52s canceled practice the next day (to my massive disappointment!) and not surprisingly, on the following day (first day of racing) we were on dock hold for a long time. Storms, squalls, high winds, big seas and low tide kept the fleet tucked in the marina, and my helicopter grounded.
It was a nail-biting, high anxiety day: everyone was so eager for racing to begin! Finally, the postponement flag came down, and the boats carefully wriggled out of Government Cut, to the race area just off Virginia Key.
I’d had the helicopter on standby out at the airport, some 20 miles away. With the time crunch (and Miami traffic as it is) I requested permission to have the helicopter land and pick us up on Virginia Key, right in line of sight of the starting area. Granted! This allowed us to eavesdrop on the Race Committee on the VHF, and take off the instant the boats went into sequence.
I was happy to have triple-threat friend/photographer/J70 sailor Christy Usher with me. We loaded the equipment into her car and zoomed out to Virginia Key to rendezvous with the helicopter, in perfect time.
We boarded the R44: as I typically request, the doors were off on the left side of the helicopter, so I sit there, in the back with my pile of gear. Christy sat in front by the pilot, Luis, and we buckled in.
We wear seat belts or harnesses depending on the aircraft: I don’t hang out of the helicopter! I sit just inside and keep the lens in, so the wind doesn’t catch it. It’s pretty cold and breezy in the helicopter, so you have to bundle up, even on a warm day – and I use a headband or beanie to keep my hair from flying around.
I bring just three cameras with me, already set up. One with a big telephoto 200-400mm with 1.4 extension or fixed focal length 500mm; one medium zoom 70-200mm; and a wide angle. You don’t want to be changing lenses in the air! It’s bad enough to have to change cards (or in the old days, film!).
By the time we launched it was late in the day: the low light glowing beautifully across the turquoise waters, as the skies cleared and the breeze backed off just enough. We were able to hover pretty low to weather to get the composition with the boats in the huge waves as they bashed to weather.
Actually, I like to work with a variety of heights. Starts and mark roundings usually high; straight above at the marks, shooting down. A lower angle is good, either from behind going upwind, or way out ahead, downwind. But we are very, very careful not to go too close in front of the raceboats going upwind. It’s pretty obvious that it affects the wind for the sailors and they are not shy about waving you off, if you disturb their air! Also the helicopters are noisy for the sailors. We’re wearing headsets inside, so we don’t notice. You have to be courteous to the competitors because they’re our friends – and they know exactly who you are up there!
I am constantly talking to the pilot through the mic in the headset, to give instructions on height, angle and what boats to concentrate on, to maximize the time we have in the air. Because it’s expensive, too!
I held my breath a bit while we circled around shooting – afraid the breeze might pick up again and they would call the race off. But it ended up being a perfect helicopter day. It would have been impossible to get these photos on the water! In the helicopter we could safely hover right behind the boats high and dry.
It takes a lot to pull it all together, coordinating the logistics and timing between the helicopter and race sequences. I have spent many hours flying with Luis, which makes my job so much easier, allowing me to concentrate on shooting. Having a great pilot – who isn’t afraid to go low, and listens to my direction – is key to getting the shots.
With all these great images, selecting the photos for March was tricky. The waves were massive and so impressive going to weather; the boats would climb off the waves and crash down the backs. Picking the ‘Ultimate’ one was my quest.
After a successful day in the air, it was time for a little reward, so we stopped off at Joe’s Stone Crab on South Beach, to take some goodies back to the edit suite. A long night of editing was ahead.
The aerial day was followed by a few great days on the water, working alongside my colleagues Max Ranchi and Nico Martinez.
All in all, the TP52 Super Series Miami Royal was incredible, and generated hundreds of great images. I’m so excited to have you look at this fabulous gallery, I decided to offer a 25% discount to my blog readers! Select your images, for print or download, and enter coupon code M25 at checkout (valid through March 31). I hope you love these photos as much as I do!
Link to gallery:
‘How did you get the boats to line up like that?’
I get quite the giggle out of that! But in truth, it is no laughing matter: it takes a lot of planning, logistics, the right photo boat and driver, a lively fleet of boats, and a solid knowledge of yacht racing to get an incredible shot like this!
Imagine my glee when this circuit launched and gave me the chance to capture thrilling bluewater action like our November Ultimate Sailing Calendar image – just a hop, skip and a helicopter ride from my home!
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