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.
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…
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?’
‘He’s diversifying, son.’
Roll on summer…