Some of the most spectacular sailing venues are in the Tropics, like the Caribbean and Hawaii featured in the September pages of the 2022 Ultimate Sailing Calendar.
But the Tropics are more than just a state of mind! The brilliant sunshine, warm crystalline waters and steady trade winds saturate the region between the Tropic of Cancer at 23.5 N latitude and Tropic of Capricorn at 23.5 S latitude. For centuries these were vital demarcation lines for travelers as they navigated by way of the heavens. And ‘heavenly’ is exactly what comes to mind, when I think of the many images I’ve captured in the Tropics!
September’s top featured photo was taken at the 2015 Les Voiles de St. Barth … and okay, I’ll admit it was a little hellish too – nearly drowning in the RIB as we chased Rambler88 in the colossal seas and breeze! Considering Rambler is 88-feet long, with a 23-foot beam and 135-foot-high mast – easily capable of 30 to 40 knots of boat speed – it was a challenge just keeping up! And that’s just one of the myriad of challenges faced when photographing supersized yachts, versus smaller craft like the J/70s we talked about last month.
To best capture the detail and excitement I used my Canon 1D Mark IV with a 70-200mm F2.8 lens, at a shutter speed 1/3200 with an aperture of f4. I could have shot at a slightly slower speed, down a stop, to capture more depth of field, but in the washing machine conditions the fast shutter speed helped keep it sharp. But aside from the difficulty of just trying to keep up with a super-swift yacht like this, it can be impossible to even hold a camera, and keep it from getting doused! Then it’s helicopter:30 – time to take to the skies – which is how I got this magnificent image at the bottom of the page.
Here the MaxZ 86 Windquest is captured barreling down the Molokai Channel on the homestretch of Transpac 2005. This was pre- Yellowbrick tracking devices, so we had to rely on each individual race boat to radio in their 100-mile and 25-mile check-ins, then try to calculate their ETAs based on boat speed and distance-to-finish. But we wouldn’t necessarily know their trajectories! The entrance to the channel is 25-miles wide … were they skimming along the top of Molokai, or on the western Makapuu side of the channel, or coming straight down the middle? I’m talking about an area bigger than the city of Chicago! So typically we’d make our best guesstimate, take off, and just go search! ‘For a boat with a white deck and white sails, amongst the whitecaps and waves … talk about a needle in a haystack!
When we finally located Windquest from the R22 helicopter we were far from land. That required us to be vigilant about impending weather changes, distance from the airport and fuel limitations, in addition to being mindful of the lighting, angle and direction of the sun. And we had to make sure our noise and downdraft didn’t affect the racers. After so many days of tranquil sailing, and now in the midst of their most trying passage, that kind of distraction could really rattle them. So the key was to stay low but out of the way – although seeing how low we were in this shot, I don’t know how we didn’t end up in the drink!
I’m sure you’ll see some similarities between the Windquest image and this sneak preview of the cover of the 2023 Ultimate Sailing Calendar! Sixteen years later but in the same stunning location: Pyewacket plows through the Molokai Channel on their way to Honolulu. And yes: this is a helicopter shot! It’s just one of two-dozen thrilling new images in the upcoming 2023 Ultimate Sailing Calendar. Stand by for release in six weeks!
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