At the end of August we were able to get to Cardiff Bay to meet up with and photograph the totally mental guys involved with this sport of Extreme 40’s Sailing.
For those of you who don’t know what it is then think British Touring Car Racing on water. Some have likened it to F1 but I think it has a better association with Touring Cars. Why? Well because the crews on these massive 40ft Catamarans are obviously all nutters, the racing is CLOSE, and when you are on the water with them, you realise that they do this for real. There is no quarter given or asked. They compete – and hard – for every place they can get. They shout at each other and this often relapses into profanities between crews as well as at any Marshall that may adjudicate during the race that they might have crossed over a thin line of etiquette (or ruling) meaning an instant penalty and loss of position.
It is hard, brutal and spectacular. Hulls are often seen out of the water, indeed, it is advantageous as there is less drag and means you are catching the full force of available wind. However, push too far and you and your team mates will be clinging for grim death to the flimsy netting that spans the two hulls as the whole boat flips over. Other dangers prevail too, too much wind behind and the noses dig in and the back flips over your head, and these boats are BIG. Courses are deliberately tight and in enclosed spaces for the public to gain maximum viewing, with plenty of turns marked by bouys or markers, these can get very congested at times and as teams fight for position, contact is sometimes inevitable. However crazy these racers are, as in the top echelons of motorsport, these sailors are extremely skillful. They always race on the edge but have lightning quick reflexes and an unerring ability to read the conditions to get the maximum speed and position for their craft. They all have many years experience under their belts and seriously know what they are doing.
The teams compete in a series of meets or ‘Acts’ in 8 different countries and the beauty of the whole show is that as it rolls into town, they are very keen to get as many people involved as possible. Practice sessions see the boats full of everyday folk keen to see what this form of sailing is like. Few come back unimpressed having been hanging out of a boat, 20 feet in the air, reaching speeds in excess of 30 mph! The action is fast, furious and close up. As in these shots, the racing never leaves the confines of Cardiff Bay meaning the public can follow the racing as closely as the teams themselves. Unique for sailing. Each ‘race’ lasts around 10 minutes with several races taking place per session over several days per country. Each placement is therefore key to each team to calculate the overall winner of the meet and the overall series positions. Consistency is therefore the watch word as in many sailing events.
The racing is so close that at times, when we were photographing out on the water, in the middle of this apparent chaos that not only I was wincing and shuddering, but my battle hardened RIB pilots too! We were sitting and waiting for a seemingly inevitable ‘crunch and splinter’ as two or three boats collided, however, this amazingly rarely occurs as much as it looks like it should do. Later on in the day I moved to shoot amongst the crowd of amazed supporters and I quickly got to feel that this exciting form of racing is hopefully here to stay as young and old alike marvelled at the closeness of the action and the spectacular ‘flying hulls’.
I for one, can’t wait for next year and hope to get photographically involved in some way over the closed season.
Keep safe guys and continue thrilling us all!!