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So far Fresh Start has created 4 blog entries.

Flashy Boatbuilders!

2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00

I was delighted to be able to finish off a long term project the other day, photographing the team at AA Coombes boatbuilders for their website, www.aacoombes.co.uk. It had been a long term commission covering all aspects of their services from storage and maintenance to launching and moorings, but it was the group shot that had so far eluded us.

Finding a suitable time to gather together a group of people in a busy boat yard was never going to be easy. After all, in fine weather everyone wants to launch their boat and its only in the murk of winter when there is poor light for photography that things start to slow down a touch.

November isn’t exactly the ideal month in which to take outside portraits, particularly as darkness descends early and the weather is generally overcast/grey/wet or with variations along that depressing theme. So when the sun shone and it proved to be the warmest Hallowe’en since records began I had every reason to be delighted. The AA Coombes staff were present and ready to roll and Bembridge Harbour was set to provide a decent backdrop, so I quickly set up the location.

The idea was to use a combination of ambient light flash but, rather embarrassingly for a sailing man, I hadn’t reckoned on the light breeze interfering with my set. One of my flash umbrellas was situated opposite the entrance to the quay, between two sheds which effectively funnelled the light breeze into a jet stream. With just one puff of wind my umbrella quickly dispensed with the brick that I’d used to weigh it down, and was preparing to launch itself into Bembridge Harbour.

The question that flitted briefly through my mind was, would I have dived in after it? Probably. I’ve had spinnakers that have set less effectively; in fact the next time I race I’m going to take my flash umbrella with me and ditch the spinny.

For fear of losing one of my Olympus flashguns I opted for umbrellaless (is that really a word?) flash and a slightly harsher lighting set-up. However, with the combination of a clear day, bright sun and two remote flashguns I was happy with the end result.

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Flashy Boatbuilders! 2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00

Bosham Classic Boat Revival 2014

2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00

Now in its fourth year, the Bosham Classic Boat Revival is arguably the UK’s number one regatta for classic dinghy owners. The two day event, which took place over 6th and 7th September attracted 58 boats from 20 clubs for some close racing in the stunning surroundings of Chichester Harbour.

Given the event’s scale and popularity, I was delighted when Classic Boat used my short article, the headline image of which was taken on the second day when the wind abandoned us completely on a warm, overcast day. Whilst anchored up and waiting for the wind to appear some of the younger element decided to muck about, somersaulting off their boats and diving in. Another small group of dinghy sailors joined in, leading to a mass of bodies in the water and the headline shot. The CB article prompted me to look back through our gallery of images from the event. As I sat there gazing at various National 18s, Chichester Harbour 18s and Brightlingsea One Designs, big gutsy boats one and all, I started wondering what happened to all those other boats that were around in, say, the 1970s. I remember a plethora of great designs, such as the Unit and Marauder, which were remarkably accomplished and should really be flourishing today rather than becoming what is now knowing as ‘lost classes’. How wonderful to see a Unit hammering through Chichester Harbour with the helm flat out on the sliding seat shrouded in spray, aiming nervously for the gybe mark…

I suppose as times moved on boats that were once cutting edge started to lose their appeal and became unloved, tucked away in the darkest recesses of the dinghy park. It takes quite a while before these boats become desirable once again in their newfound status as classics. Coupled with the fact that many dinghies were built of weight-saving marine ply where longevity wasn’t uppermost in the mind of the designer, they were always unlikely to last as long as cold moulded or clinker designs.

I recall being told a story, many years ago, that had clearly achieved mythical status (and sadly without any provenance whatsoever) about an International Moth World Championship held in Australia. It may have been in the early 1970s when the Australians were experimenting with skiff designs which were great in strong winds while we were concentrating on light weather, ultra slim and highly unstable Moths. Apparently, the British contingent flew out to Oz with nothing more than masts, sails, a staple gun and sheets of marine ply. On arrival they stapled their hulls together, beat the Australians and, rather than fly the boats back home, merely created a large bonfire on the beach and cremated them! Its a wonderful story and I sincerely hope that no-one comes along with the truth to ruin it. You never know, it might just be true….

Either way, its unlikely that I’ll have the pleasure of seeing such lightweight Moths at the Bosham CBR, but there must be loads of high performance, classic dinghies out there just begging to be used once again. Who knows, at this very moment there might be someone with staple gun in hand and a look of steely determination in his eye, preparing his steed for next year’s event. If only I was five stone lighter I’d be searching for plans for a Womble Moth right now.

As it is, I appear to be of a size more suited to a National 18 and therein lies the rub. While the various classic boats might still be around, the people who once sailed them have probably gained a few pounds, not to mention the good sense not to plough around the race course on the end of a sliding seat…

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Bosham Classic Boat Revival 2014 2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00

Cowes Week Antics

2015-01-12T22:54:12+00:00

Quite often its the little things that happen during Cowes Week that make the event so much fun.  With so many people and boats attending one of the world’s largest regattas there are bound to be things happening but the art is being at the right place at the right time.  Of course with such a large regatta its not so much of an art form as pure chance, but when you capture an interesting shot it flatters the ego to dwell on the fact that it was all down to experience…

On the Friday of Cowes Week all races were postponed due to a lack of wind.  Many yachts had headed out towards the intended race area in anticipation of the wind filling in and the Solent quickly became a floating village filled with static yachts.  Boredom quickly set in and the crews started sunbathing or mucking about by diving from their yachts.  On board the press boat the photographers were equally restless and we spent some time meandering through this new village, looking for shots.

Amongst the fleet of static vessels any movement tends to stand out and my thanks go to fellow photographer Paul Smith for spotting a yacht, Aspiration, motoring fairly swiftly through the static fleet.  But what really caught the eye was not so much its speed but that it was towing two young ‘wakeboarders’.  Fortunately, they continued for long enough to allow us get in position to take the shot from various angles.

I caught up with the crew later that day at Cowes Yacht Haven where they explained how they did it.  The main halyard was lowered and this provided the main towing line.  Two jib sheets were tied to the halyard with a loop at each end for the wakeboarders to hang onto.  It was then a mere matter of lifting two square floorboards out of the yacht and throwing them into the water for the wakeboarders to stand on.  With no foot straps on the boards it would have been incredilby difficult to stay on them whilst being towed, but what gave these lads the advantage was that the towing line was coming from the top of the mast, in effect lifting them out of the water.

The whole thing was ingenious and a surprise that in all these years I’d never seen it done before.  No doubt this will start a new craze and at next year’s Cowes Week we’ll see impromptu wakeboarding events springing up.  On shore, several yachtsmen reminded me of a similar craze some years ago of ‘spinnaker dipping’, where a member of the crew is dangled over the water whilst hanging onto one corner of a set spinnaker.

And just when you thought you’d seen it all…

Cowes Week Antics 2015-01-12T22:54:12+00:00

Classic Craftsmanship

2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00

Amongst the excitement of covering this season’s events we were fortunate enough to be asked to provide some advertising images for Ben Coombes Small Craft.  Ben is a multi-talented chap and in addition to his skills building and repairing classic wooden dinghies, he also produces neoprene sailing bags and knives.  ‘Tis true that there is no end to his marine related talents!  His workmanship is quite exceptional although it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since he comes from a family with a long tradition of boat building.  Even so, I still expect classic boat builders to be elderly and grey bearded with a curly pipe hanging from the side of the mouth.  Out of touch?  Moi?  Surely not.  Apparently, Ben took his products to the latest Old Gaffers regatta in Yarmouth where his classic sailing knives sold like hot cakes, so there is clearly a strong market for hand-made, quality tools.

On the day of the shoot the sun was high and scorchingly hot, making it an uncomfortable business as we photographed the interior of one of Ben’s latest projects, a brand new scow.  God bless my Olympus EM1 because it was merely a matter of popping the camera inside the boat and touching the flip-out screen to direct the focus on the correct area.  It was very much a case of classic meets cutting edge.  Ben has multiple jobs on the go, all of which are utterly fascinating to anyone interested in classic boats.  In one shed there’s a Henley rowing boat dating back approximately to the 1930s with such fine features and thin planks that it is far removed from a sea going boat.  Talking of which in another shed there’s a locally built, miniature version of a Seaview One Design that Ben has restored to quite glorious condition with some minor improvements along the way.  But the boat that really caught my eye is one of Ben’s own boats, a particularly rare craft called Black Gnat.  She was built in Bembridge in 1899 and closely resembles a Herreshoff design, but beyond that little is known.  One thing is for sure, her performance is sparkling by comparison with other dinghies of that era.  Ben assures me that he’ll get her on the water some time in which case I would dearly love to run a magazine article on her.

Once the boat shots were complete we took some time taking detail shots of the knives, bags and Ben’s workshop.  It struck me just how versatile he really is and how bespoke a service he provides.  He even explored the possibility of producing a protective neoprene bag for micro Four Thirds camera lenses.  Now that’s entrepreneurial!

With photo shoots such as these versatility is the key and we employed a range of techniques and tools to achieve the desired effects.  Super wide lenses, a combination of natural light and flashguns and, just occasionally, some very slow shutter speeds were the order of the day.  It was a fun afternoon surrounded by classic craft and a craftsman who really knows how to work on them.  Just take a look at Ben’s website –   http://www.bencoombessmallcraft.co.uk

Classic Craftsmanship 2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00