One-design racing – as featured in the August 2022 pages of the Ultimate Sailing Calendar – provides a thrilling and unique indulgence for a photographer. Not only are the starts and mark roundings always so close and exciting, but the symmetry of the lines and designs creates an extraordinary artistic opportunity. The harmonious arrangement of shapes and forms is like a visual metronome, as the conformity of hulls and sails contrast with the incongruous sea and sky. Light, lines, shapes, shadows … it is such an incredible delight to be able to create works of art like these, in the midst of a yacht race!
At the top, a fleet of J/70s dash off the starting line on the first day of Key West Race Week. I’ll admit, this was the one time I actually liked the uniformity of all-white boats and sails!
That morning, as we headed out on our super-sonic photo boat, storm clouds were looming on the horizon. My big question in capturing a start always is: do I position myself at the committee boat end or pin end of the start line? Followed by the next big question of which lens to choose. Do I want to shoot tight with a big zoom lens, or wide angle? It’s never an easy answer!
On this foreboding morning I decided to set up on the pin end: with the dark sky in the background, but the boats still illuminated by a sliver of sunlight. We jockeyed for the perfect position, thanks to skilled driving by our captain Mike Weinhofer: not directly at the pin, but slightly upwind. It was here, an instant after the start, that the racers lined up smartly. Of course, not every start is so perfectly organized like this one! But the J/70s – still fairly new at this point – were well-sailed by talented sailors who were spot-on with their timing.
As you can see the image is compressed, because of the telephoto 200-400mm lens with 1.4 extender I chose, shooting at an exposure of 1600 shutter speed with an f6.3 aperture, ISO 320 on a Canon 1DX. I remember the fleet got off the line impeccably, but after they rounded the windward mark and returned downwind, the squall hit! The tender J/70s were no match for the blasting breeze: it was like watching the shoot-a-duck game at a carnival.
The boats broached in rapid succession – Bam! Bam! Bam! – flattened by the gusts. No-one was injured or damaged, but it was a gnarly intro to Key West Race Week 2014!
The bottom image also illustrates the striking beauty of symmetry, with these twin bows leaping out of the waves during Kenwood Cup 1994. This was truly a fresh-to-frightening day (my favorite!) off the shores of Waikiki.
I was working alongside the great photographer/videographer Laurie Gilbert, and we were in a huge power boat bashing to weather. We had set up at the windward mark to capture the close action and skill of the competitors as they approach the buoy; here with the bowman creeping forward in ferocious seas, preparing to launch the spinnaker pole.
Every aspect of yachting photography has its unique appeal, but the creativity a one-design fleet provides is especially rewarding to my calling as a visual artist.
Do you want to see more Ultimate Sailing? I am going to be at the Block Island Film Festival September 10 at 3:45PM when the documentary short film “Fresh to Frightening - The Sharon Green Story” will be featured, followed by a Q&A. I’d be thrilled to have you join us. For full details and tickets go to https://blockislandfilmfestival.org See you there!
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