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.
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…
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