The Block Island Times

Photos from Race Week

By Gerard Closset | Jul 08, 2013
Photo by: Gerard Closset

A long-time resident of Block Island, I have over the years enjoyed the distant sight of sailboats from the shore. On Wednesday, June 26, I had the opportunity of watching the races up close in the Race Week XXV media boat as a representative of the Block Island Times. I have photographed many aspects of Block Island over the years, but this was my first experience taking photos that close to the races. It was a fabulous experience.

I reported to the media boat, the Minerva, a sturdy motor yacht built in the lobster boat tradition, at 10 a.m. Charlie Terry skippered the boat.

My main goal was, of course, to take as many interesting pictures as possible. I use a Canon 7D camera with a 100-400 mm Canon zoom lens to get close to the boats and a Canon 5D Mark II with a 28-105mm lens to shoot wide angle scenes. It’s always a good idea to carry two compatible camera bodies in case one malfunctions — rare, but it happens. I also carried a backup battery and several extra 64 Gb memory cards. The long telephoto lens is indispensable to capture the dramatic action up close when the boats round the marks and raise the spinnakers. The 100-400 mm lens is handy because despite its capability, it is light enough to enable the photographer to handhold the camera.

Taking well-focused and crisp photos with a long telephoto lens was a challenge as the Minerva moved up and down quite a bit and at times I felt I was taking pictures while riding a mechanical bull. Although I have taken pictures of cheetahs from moving vehicles in Kenya and humpback whales from a boat in Alaska, this was a challenge. I did get a number of shots I am happy about, and you can be the judge from those included in this article. Here also are my observations, along with full disclosure that my knowledge of sailboat racing is quite minimal.

Charlie swiftly moved the Minerva along the courses of the Red and Blue fleets, very skillfully positioning the boat to give us a great view of the sailboats starting up, going up the legs of their assigned courses, rounding the marks and raising their spinnakers. Seconds before the starting signal the boats bunched up trying to get in the best position without being over the line at the starting signal. A couple of boats did however, and had to take a one-turn penalty, something that must always be heartbreaking for the skipper and crew. The skippers tried to maintain speed in the turn and generally waited until they were pointed downwind to fully deploy the spinnaker.

A couple of boats had trouble with that maneuver and dropped the spinnaker in the water, slowing them down considerably. It became clear to me that sailboat racing is a game of tremendous skill and strategy, as skippers must take into account not only the skill of their competitors but also winds, currents and regulations. To this unskilled observer, it appears that boat handling for rounding the marks perhaps tests those skills the most. A flawless performance — and we saw quite a few — must require an experienced and knowledgeable skipper, extensive crew training and teamwork, flawless timing and knowledge of the course.

All in all this was for me a great experience made exciting by the challenge of taking photographs of fast-moving boats on a moving platform. It also gave me a new appreciation and respect for the great sport of sailboat racing.

Gerard Closset’s book, “Block Island, One of the Last Great Places,” was published in 2012.

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