J Class in Storm Force 6!

We were very excited here at Squash Imagery about being able to photograph the magnificent J Class yachts on the Solent as they took part in their annual Regatta week. The slightly more exciting aspect was that we were to be on a Rib, which was to be assisting in Marshalling the event whilst we were shooting from the waves, ensuring close up action and some hopefully exhilarating shots.

As we approached the marina at Lymington in time for breakfast, the weather wasn’t looking too bad. The forecast however was for strong winds. Great for the sailors and great for us as it would help to ensure some cracking shots. After a hearty feast in the marina cafe, we headed to wrap up in our waterproofs and wrap up our cameras as best we could.

The rib pilot told us that things were likely to get quite choppy out there and we would get wet. Well, that was the understatement of the year. As we gently and slowly left the marina into the estuary and hit the open sea, we realised quite what ‘wet’ meant. Before we had even got our cameras out we were treated to the equivalent of a bucket of cold sea water being thrown into our faces every 15 seconds. Our pilot positioned the rib at the start line and in 20 minutes the action began between these four mighty beauties. The race was on. They all started well and after 20 minutes into a very strong Force 5 headwind, there was nothing to choose between the craft as they tacked this way and that.

We attempted to photograph what we could. Within seconds of getting my camera out of the makeshift wet proof gear I had rigged up, it was treated to its first soaking. I quickly wiped the front element and tried to compose a shot. Bang. The rib took off and landed what felt like 20 feet below where it had started and I realised shooting was going to be pretty extreme on this day. Having head-butted the camera several times and totally soaking the whole camera at regular intervals we tried our darndest to get as many usable shots as we could. It wasn’t at all easy. The rib bucked like an angry bull at a rodeo while the sea water slamming into our faces was relentless. Within minutes my camera’s protection (a large bin liner) was next to useless and my cloth for wiping the lens dry totally soaked to the point where I was having to wring it out every thirty seconds.

Without question, these were the hardest and most extreme conditions I had ever shot in. It was touch and go as to whether we could even stay in the Rib at times. However, I managed to grab some shots, through salt water stinging eyes and mercifully the racers turned and headed back down-wind. What a relief… We could actually see, the buckets became fine spray and all of a sudden it felt like the wind had dropped totally. The yachts had long since hoisted their spinnakers and were achieving an impressive 14 knots +. Of course all this meant was that it was only a short time before we had reached the bottom end of the course and were heading back into the wind again. This time, it was even stronger and this time we realised that shooting was nigh on impossible by now. The Rib Pilot quoted Storm Force 6 Gales and although I have very little experience of this, all I can say was that boy, it was strong. We clung on for dear life desperately trying to grab the odd shot and at the same time protect our gear. Within 10 minutes of facing back into the wind, two of my colleagues announced that they had suffered so much water ingress into their cameras that they had both died. Weirdly. although both different cameras, both went at almost exactly the same time. In order not to suffer any more damage I decided to wrap mine up totally and didn’t get it out again until we hit dry land again.

I shot with just the one lens on a full frame camera a 24-70mm f2.8 zoom. Trying hard to keep the images crisp I found that on this dull day, iso speeds of around 800 were necessary.

On the third run we decided to call it a day and got dropped off at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight for a well earned cuppa and a sandwich. It was as we disembarked that I realised my ‘waterproof’ trousers were anything but and I was soaked to the skin. It had been so dramatic out there I hadn’t realised how wet I actually was!

Anyway, all four of us shooting on the Rib were pumped full of adrenaline and realised we had had a quite amazing and exhilarating time. The experience was wonderful and I hope these images do some justice to the magnificent racers and their skill in sailing in such winds and conditions.

The race was won eventually after 2 hrs 20 mins and 33 sec by “Ranger” who was only 12 seconds ahead of 2nd placed “Lionheart”. 3rd, a further 1.07 minutes behind was “Rainbow” and 4th on the day was “Valsheda” 58 seconds adrift of 3rd. After nearly two and a half hours racing, only just over 2 minutes separated all four classic yachts!

Anyway, these vessels are magnificent and should really be seen if you ever get the chance and I hope our images do them some justice!



About squashimagery

Uber cool photographer bloke!!
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