About Jonathan Hoare

This author has not yet filled in any details.
So far Jonathan Hoare has created 7 blog entries.

Sir Who?

2017-02-04T16:36:50+00:00

The other day, Sir Ben Ainslie made an impromptu visit to our sailing club during an Open Day.  He was absolutely charming and after having stopped to chat to a few local sailors and posing for photographs with some Sea Cadets, he decided to go for a sail in one of the club boats.  He duly set off down a pontoon and came face to face with a club member who was allocating visitors to boats.  The club member took one look at Sir Ben and, failing to recognise him said, ‘Do you sail at all?  Apparently a wry smile crossed Sir Ben’s face as he replied, ‘Yes, I do, a bit’.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if the club boat had been high performance craft but sadly even the ability to plane evades them.  Still, I’m sure the afternoon made a pleasant departure from the mundane task of having to steer an AC45 catamaran around the Solent.

Sir Ben, up close

Sir Ben kindly posing with the Sea Cadets

Clearly it has been something of ‘Ben Ainslie Week’ for me, because only days after the Open Day I was invited to attend the AGM of the Yachting Journalists’ Association at Ben Ainslie’s Racing HQ in Portsmouth, the home of our America’s Cup challenge.  The new building is a truly impressive, futuristic structure just around the corner from the entrance to the harbour and only a stone’s throw from the Spinnaker Tower.  Security is tight and before I was permitted beyond the entrance foyer the receptionist stuck a BAR sticker over the camera lens on my mobile while she gave me strict advice instructions about no photographs to be taken.

Before the AGM got underway we were given a tour of the workshop by the Commercial Manager, Phil Kennard, himself a UK 49er National Champion and an ex Formula 1 employee.  As we lined up on a balcony overlooking the workshop, the scale of operations dawned upon the band of assembled journos and it quickly became apparent that many of the lessons learnt in Formula 1 were transferrable to the AC45, itself the Formula 1 of yachting.  The workshop housed not only several training AC45s but also a block of four air-conditioned ship’s containers with windows built into them.  Phil explained that the team needed to be completely mobile and in order to achieve this the containers, which housed rigging, office and repair facilities could be moved out in a moment’s notice on rails built into the floor of workshop.  Once on site they are arranged into a square and covered with a roof to create a support village, very similar to Formula 1 teams.

Sir Ben, up close

Sir Ben, up close

Much of what Phil said was shrouded in mystery including the finer details of exactly what tricks are contained within those hulls.  Although no great secret, did you know that the jib controls were operated by foot using buttons on the hull floor?  Apparently, whilst sailing an AC45 the whole team are working all the time, grinding to provide the maximum five seconds’ worth of permissible hydraulic pressure to operate the controls.  Each of them expend as much energy as a Tour de France cyclist.   Fortunately all teams are starting out from identical beginnings, so no-one has a head start.  That said, there were dark hints at industrial espionage and men with long camera lenses taking photographs of the facility and the boats when the doors were opened.  Everything used on the AC45 is designed to cope with strains way beyond those expected and as this testing was about to take place we were ushered swiftly away from the area.  We moved upstairs to a conference room and headed out onto another balcony just in time to catch the arrival of an AC45 coming back to base.  An on-site crane lifted it onto dry land and within minutes the sail, itself the size of a 747 wing was separated from the boat and placed on to its own trolley, dropped into the horizontal and wheeled into the building.  The ‘sail’ being some form of plastic, flexes and crackles in an alarming manner, nothing like a cloth sail.  The hull remained outside while a team of people hosed down and polished the AC45 before taking it inside.  We had a perfect birds eye view of the boat and were probably staring at any number of dark secrets within those hulls, but I’m delighted to say that not one person was tempted to take a photograph.

Once we’d finished our business in BAR we then headed over the road to the Still and West pub for a meal and a get together to discuss what had been a truly memorable day.   Just as BAR has its security measures, so does the YJA and perhaps its best if I don’t reveal exactly what went on behind closed doors.  The evidence on the table says it all.

Our happy band of journalists and photographers in the pub at the end of a hard day

Our happy band of journalists and photographers in the pub at the end of a hard day.  Note Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on the left.

All in all it was a fascinating and rare visit to the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing establishment.

Sir Who? 2017-02-04T16:36:50+00:00

Happy Daze

2016-05-20T10:02:57+00:00

There is no doubt that the signs of the sailing season are upon as we all migrate to the local chandler’s for supplies.  I bumped into a fellow sailor the other day as I was waiting for some rigging to be made up at Spencer Rigging in Cowes.  He was complaining bitterly that they’d lost his bill.  Most would have greeted this news with great joy but without his bill he wasn’t going to get his rigging back.  To make matters worse, that same day he’d put all his ropes and control lines into the washing machine at home.  At the end of the wash cycle his wife discovered that all the muck and loose fibres had clogged up the machine, rendering it useless.  Not only did the poor chap have to calm an irate wife but he had to spend the afternoon on all fours stripping the filters on the washing machine.  You’d think that after all this hassle he’d have given up and settled down with a stiff drink.  Not a bit of it, there was worse to come.  He’d taken his mainsail to a sailmaker for repair and returned a few weeks later.  Sadly, they couldn’t find any record of his sail.  As he commented ruefully, ‘The trouble is at my age I can’t recall exactly which sailmaker I took the damn thing to.  It could be anywhere!’

It made my minor issues of restoring a classic National 12 pale into insignificance…

Happy Daze 2016-05-20T10:02:57+00:00

A happy landscape photographer

2017-02-04T16:36:50+00:00

Driving along one of the many coastal roads on the Isle of Wight the other day I spotted a familiar figure in the distance standing at the water’s edge.  I pulled over for a closer look and realised that I was watching one of the Island’s best known landscape photographers, Chris Boynton, at work hunched over a tripod with the sea water lapping at his feet.  He was so utterly engrossed in his work that he was oblivious to the fact that the water was not only threatening to swamp his wellington boots but was also about to test the water repellent qualities (precious few) of his Sony A7R11 and 35mm Zeiss lens.  As with all landscape photographers, Chris was patiently waiting for all the elements in the scene before him to come together.  The setting sun was low in the sky  but had carefully hidden itself behind one of several clouds that were working their way over the distant headland beyond Sandown Bay.  The waves on the gently sloping beach were playing another game as they ebbed to and fro inches below Chris’ camera. 20160107_154639

Every time they receded, the flat wet sand became a perfect mirror, reflecting in every detail the cloudscape above.  Landscape isn’t generally regarded as a quick-fire, action-filled pursuit but Chris had only seconds to achieve his shot and he was determined not to miss it.  Within minutes the sun started to appear from below the cloud and for the briefest of moments bathed the area in golden light.  At the same time, the waves that had been so threatening ebbed away revealing that perfect mirror and a scene that shimmered gold from top to bottom.  Chris took full advantage of the opportunity, firing repeatedly whilst making constant adjustments to the framing and exposure.  He had put himself in the right place with the right kit and was skilled enough to know exactly what he was waiting for.  Having seen the LD screen on the back of his camera I have no doubt I shall see one of these photographs on a postcard or calendar in the months to come. 20160107_154626

You might reasonably ask why I wasn’t on that beach with my camera, scuttling in and out with the waves waiting for the perfect shot?  Some wit once said that the best camera is the one you have with you, which might explain that I now have a pleasant but largely un-commercial shot of Chris grinning happily at my mobile phone.  I keep telling myself I’m not really a landscape photographer at all and that I really didn’t want to capture the beauty of an Island bay filled with golden winter light and a wondrous cloudscape after all.

And the final image, kindly supplied by Chris Boynton, looks like this:

A happy landscape photographer 2017-02-04T16:36:50+00:00

How to shoot a cannon

2017-02-04T16:36:50+00:00

Tempting though it may seem, this really isn’t intended to be a step by step lesson in how to pack a cannon with gunpowder and set it off with a lighted splint.  Far from it.  In fact I was inspired to write this blog after having photographed the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Grand Party at Osborne House in July, during which a cannon was used to announce the commencement of the meal.  The Grand Party was one of the last social events marking the conclusion of the Squadron’s Bicentenary International Regatta.  If I mention that they’d also held a week long regatta for RYS members as well as organising an entire Fleet Review and Beat Retreat which attracted international royalty, it may come as no surprise to hear that this was a quite superb demonstration of organisational skill.  Of course the prize giving and display by the Red Devils came the day after the Grand Party, but that’s another story.

1200 guests enjoy champagne on the upper terrace of Osborne House

1200 guests enjoy champagne on the upper terrace of Osborne House

When the Squadron put on what they describe as a Grand Party to celebrate their bicentenary they really mean business.  While the 1200 guests enjoyed a glass of champagne on the Osborne House terraces they  were treated to an aerial display, first from an aerobatic Yak followed immediately by a flight of no less than seven classic biplanes.

A grand flypast at a Grand Party with views of the Solent in the distance.

A grand flypast at a Grand Party with views of the Solent in the distance.

Two massive marquees had been erected on the Durbar Lawn to accommodate the mammoth number of diners after which entertainment was provided not only by live music and dancing but also by an entire circus complete with big top, acrobats, coconut shy and a variety of colourful stalls.  Even by RYS standards it was the full enchilada, complete with a marching band to lead the guests to their seats.  However, attracting the attention of 1200 people and ensuring they would head in the right direction for their meal was a problem.  The use of an RYS cannon was inspired.  After all, if you were so engrossed in polite conversation that you missed the massive ‘kerboom!’, surely one couldn’t overlook the the plume of smoke or the marching band? Grand Party-123

One of the RYS cannons had already been transported in a car from the Castle in Cowes and placed just beyond the upper terrace of Osborne House, ready to fire.  I couldn’t help but wonder what a police officer would have made of the situation if Peter Scott, the Squadron’s man in charge of all things that go bang, had been stopped en route to Osborne House with said cannon in his car.

‘Excuse me sir’, the conversation might ominously have commenced, ‘is that a firearm on your back seat?’

‘Er, no.  Its just … um … er, a simple Henrician cannon whose high explosive incendiary balls were last used to defeat Bonaparte during the Napoleanic Wars’.  And perhaps as an afterthought, ‘its really nothing to worry about, its just a big starting pistol’.

‘Best you come with me, sir.  The bomb Squad will look after the offensive weapon’, swiftly curtailing any plans to fire a cannon at Osborne House.

Fortunately, Peter evaded the long arm of the law and the cannon was deposited safely in place, ready to fire towards the unsuspecting yachts gliding past on the distant Solent.

Because a certain amount of accuracy is required when starting yacht races, the cannon is fired electronically.  After all, there is no point waiting expectantly for a fuse to burn down only for it to fizzle out, in the manner of a damp firework, at the last moment.  Peter was therefore able to count me down as I waited safely to one side with the cannon in the foreground and Osborne House beyond.  However, even with a countdown there is a considerable margin for error.  When the cannon is fired the art is to photograph the flames leaping out of the barrel.  Take the photograph too early and there will be either no flame or nothing more exciting than the tip of a flame appearing nervously from the end of the barrel.  Wait too long and the flame will have converted itself into a large puff of smoke.  The whole process takes the tiniest fraction of a second, as you might imagine if you’re inclined to lob large, heavy objects at the enemy. But for the photographer this can mean many happy, but fruitless, hours spent beside a cannon trying to guess if Peter will press the button at the ‘F’ of ‘Fire’, or mid holler.

Sadly, I have to report that there is no great technique for such shots other than a high shutter speed, high drive (my Olympus E-M1 was set to 10 frames a second) and, in this instance, a slim hope that the flames will leap forth gloriously, as befits an event that might only be repeated at the RYS tricentenary.

The view from the roof of Osborne House

The view from the roof of Osborne House

There is a certain perverseness in the fact that an event that occurs every 100 hundred years or so can only be captured in the tiniest fraction of a second, so I count myself as extremely lucky that my only chance to get this shot went well.  Even at ten frames a second the preceding shot showed nothing more than a silent cannon and the shot afterwards captured the ominous puff of smoke.  But the shot in the middle?  I am justifiably proud of that shot, perhaps even a little smug and with a jaunty stride to my gait as I realise that I have successfully captured the flames at their peak.  Look closely at Peter and you’ll see that he is still looking at his watch and in the midst of shouting, ‘Fire!’

More shooting at Osborne House.

More shooting at Osborne House.

It almost makes me wish he’d loaded it with a cannonball for added effect….

How to shoot a cannon 2017-02-04T16:36:50+00:00

Royal Yacht Squadron Fleet Review and Beat Retreat

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

The Royal Yacht Squadron’s week long bicentennial celebrations commenced on Tuesday, 2nd June.  Say it quickly and skip lightly over the hidden depths of that sentence and it doesn’t sound too bad at all.  But ponder for a moment on the significance of the fact that it has taken the RYS five years of planning to ensure that the events, which celebrates the Squadron’s two hundred year existence, went smoothly and it might become apparent that this was one monumental operation.

What made the week complex was not so much the racing, something with which the Squadron is more familiar than most, but the fact that more royal visitors than you could shake a mace at were attending the Review of the RYS fleet and the Royal Marines’ Beat Retreat.  Attending to our own royal family requires dedication and attention to detail but looking after the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, Princess Anne, King of Spain, King of Norway, the Aga Khan, Prince and Princess of Greece and many more of our own royal family is enough to frazzle the brain of the most ardent of planners.

On Friday 5th June, the day of the Fleet Review, the Squadron’s fleet of yachts were in place, lined up on specially placed buoys off Cowes, a cloud of bunting fluttering above the the Solent waters in the gentle summer breeze.  Cowes was in virtual lock down with road closures and barriers in place to keep royal watchers at bay, with sinister personal protection officers in dark suits glowering at those who dare step too close.  Shortly before the Review took place the various royal parties starting arriving from every angle.  Needless to say, there was a variety of royal photographers and film crews who had arrived to record the occasion.  They were equipped with the most impressive array of top quality DSLRs coupled with lenses the size of dustbin lids, ideal for extreme long shots of press-wary royals.  However, I had a secret weapon, Fran, who was armed with a Canon 5D Mk3, an unobtrusive short zoom and a flashgun.  As the Squadron had commissioned us to cover the event they had also ensured that we had unrestricted access to all areas.  So, while the press were penned in to a suitably royal friendly distance, the Secret Weapon was quietly patrolling the Squadron’s pontoons on her own.  Very quietly, she approached one young, attractive royal couple and politely asked if she might take a photograph of them.  When they happily posed for her and Fran took some shots with just a touch of fill-in flash, the press pack went into a frenzy, running along the shoreline with their huge lenses, all trying to get in on the action.  Too late, the Secret Weapon had been unleashed.  The royal couple were Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece and Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece and like so many of the other royals, were absolutely charming.

Retreat-322

Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece, pictured with Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece

 

There was a brief period of calm while the Review on the water took place, after which the royals returned to shore  and we repeated the whole exercise all over again, clamouring for the best angle.  However, it didn’t all go swimmingly because no-one knew precisely where within the RYS Haven the waterborne royalty would land.  I quickly learnt to follow the pack of RYS flag officers who were there to greet the various royal parties and who somehow knew which pontoon to aim for.  It didn’t always work that way and when they headed out to greet the Duke of Edinburgh I trotted confidently behind them.  It was only when the Duke unexpectedly pulled in to a pontoon behind me that there was a sudden about face and I found myself in front of the line of flag officers all charging in the opposite direction.  It was not a good place in which the Squadron’s event photographer should find himself, so I had to scamper ahead and pretend I was there to open the gate for them.

Beat-362

With the Fleet Review complete and the Royals safely ashore there was a brief interlude while they attended Evensong at the Holy Trinity church, after which the Royal Marines were due to perform the Beat Retreat on Cowes Parade, starting from the Royal Yacht Squadron’s driveway.  The Royal Marines were to march onto the Parade and then play in front of royalty, assembled Squadron members and massed crowds.

Initially, I considered walking backwards, directly in front of the bandmaster as he lead his troop down the driveway.  However, it was pointed out that they can march up to eighty paces a minute.  There was no way I’d be able to stride backwards at this speed without reversing into the nearby rose bed or inadvertently joining the Marines’ drum section so I opted for the relatively safe option of hopping around the Parade as I dodged the troops.

While we were discussing our options the RYS Commodore, Mr Sharples, casually asked if one of us might like to photograph the Beat Retreat from a property overlooking the Parade.  ‘I’ve made arrangements’, he added, ‘just ring the bell and they’ll be waiting for you’.

‘Who should we ask for?’ asked Fran.

‘Well, the premises is occupied by the King of Spain, but his staff are expecting you’, came the response.

And so it was that the Secret Weapon spent a very pleasant afternoon in the company of the King of Spain and his friends, quaffing champagne and just occasionally remembering to take a shot or two as her husband scurried about the Parade in Cowes.

Retreat-522

An unusual, overhead shot of the Beat Retreat.

 

It was a truly fabulous event; the sun shone, the Royal Marines sparkled and the Duke of Edinburgh was clearly enjoying himself immensely.  It really was a fabulous event that ran like clockwork, in keeping with the Squadron’s two hundred year history.

Beat-560

The Duke of Edinburgh, Admiral of the RYS, returning to the Castle after the Beat Retreat

At one stage both Prince Philip and Mr Sharples gazed above them, no doubt having caught sight of King Juan Carlos, accompanied by a female photographer clutching a champagne glass.  I hate to imagine what thoughts might have been going through their minds!

As if all this excitement wasn’t enough, the whole exercise will be repeated again when the Royal Yacht Squadron hosts the International Bicentenary Regatta on 26th July.  I’ll be there to cover the various functions and I can’t wait to see how the RYS will top what has already proved to be a truly memorable, exciting (and just a touch exhausting) event.

 

Royal Yacht Squadron Fleet Review and Beat Retreat 2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00

High risk photography…

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

Many of the world’s great photographers, Martin Parr and Joe McNally included, advocate diversifying in photography as much as possible.  It makes sense, too, perhaps more for marine photographers than anyone else because our season in the UK is so short.  It’s not difficult to picture the lonely marine photographer in the Autumn, trudging disconsolately back home with his camera dangling from his shoulders ready to hibernate through the long winter months.  The fact is that there is still a great deal to photograph despite the fact that many boats haven’t hit the water yet and the big summer regattas are still a long way off.

There are times when I feel I’ve taken this diversification malarky a little too literally.  Not only have I embraced the concept but I’ve plumbed even greater photographic depths.  Over the past month or so I’ve attended a private gathering in London during which I had the opportunity to photograph HRH Prince Philip.  He doesn’t go a bundle on photographers and hates flashguns.  Throughout the event I was half expecting an ominous tap on the shoulder from one of the Royal Protection Officers and then to be ejected from the premises in an ungainly cartwheel to be followed swiftly by my kit, slung out onto the street after me.  I took great care to keep my distance and use only a muted flash when absolutely necessary.   I must have got something right because I remained unmolested throughout the event.RT-417

The following week I was asked to photograph a large group of donkeys.  They don’t like photographers much either.  Unlike HRH who would merely have me expelled, incarcerated and castrated me, the donkeys just wanted to eat my camera.  In truth they were great fun to photograph and whilst running around a field after them I was able to use a massive range of lenses from 300mm to a fisheye.  The fisheye was a mistake because I needed to be so close to the donkey.  I found that I had to let them come to me and then start walking backwards.  It was at this moment that I discovered that a donkey going forwards is quicker than I am going backwards, resulting in a licked lens.  Other donkeys spotted the fun and would wait behind me as I reversed into them.  HRH was simple by comparison.

And finally, joy of joys, an inanimate object to photograph. One that doesn’t chase, bite, object or castrate.  The humble neoprene bag.  Open beaches, great light, static objects, all the time in the world and, gulp, an audience.   A growing, voluble audience, one of whom was heard to say,  ‘Daddy, what’s that man lying on the sand doing with those bags?’Ben Coombes-156

‘He’s diversifying, son.’

Roll on summer…

High risk photography… 2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00

J Class Yachts coming soon!

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

It will undoubtedly be a busier year than ever on the Solent this summer, the highlight of which will be the arrival of three J class yachts, Lionheart, Velsheda and Ranger during the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Bicentenary International Regatta from 27 – 31 July.  There’s always a buzz of interest when these mammoth boats race, particularly in the Solent where waters are restricted and where the local marine community turns out en masse to watch the spectacle.

All three of the J class yachts competing measure over 130ft long and despite their outwardly elegant varnished woodwork, they fully utilise cutting edge technology.  None of the boats are identical and although the relative differences in speed between them are small, they sail to a J class handicap enabling them to compete equally.  If the sea in some of these shots look rather bluer, warmer and altogether more inviting than you might imagine the Solent to be, most of the photographs were taken in the Mediterranean.

When the J class yachts last appeared in the Solent in 2012, the whole area was a seething swarm of watercraft from RIBs to gin palaces, all trying to get a view of the action.  The sea quickly became a boiling mass of confused, choppy water while the air was filled with a fine mist that fogged camera lenses and spectacles alike.  Among this melee a small yacht, Snow Goose, made its way across the Solent with a husband and wife team at the helm.  Quite how they missed being mowed down by the Js or the scrum of boats surrounding them I’ll never really know.  Once the whole shebang passed by, Snow Goose stopped, with the crew sitting side by side  to survey the chaos.  I half expected them to break out a pork pie and a flask of tea while they enjoyed the scene.  It’s the one photograph of the event that really makes me smile!

More tea, Dear?

J Class Yachts coming soon! 2017-02-04T16:36:51+00:00