29 August 2013

The Admiral's Cup - Through the Photographer's Lens

Followers of this blog will have seen the recent inclusion of many photos from the archives of famous yachting photographer Jonathan Eastland, who has been generous and unhesitating in providing copies of images from his online archives. While discussing some of the photos from his collection that covers the Admiral’s Cup series in 1979, I asked Eastland if he could explain the background to some of his most notable photographs, particularly the one of Midnight Sun that graces the pages of several of my favourite sailing books.
Sweden's Midnight Sun during the second race of the 1979 Admiral's Cup - the spinnaker takes charge as the crew prepare to gybe in front of Australian yacht Apollo IV 
Eastland came to marine photography after serving apprenticeships in the Merchant Navy that exposed him to the unrelenting power of the sea. The beginning of new sailing adventures across the great oceans and around the globe saw Eastland gravitate to press photography and report on national and international sailing competitions. Although he travelled far and wide as part of his news and feature agency, Eastland felt most at home covering events on his backyard, the Solent, having learnt the vicissitudes of its silent brooding and its pent up fury.

Eastland also had the privilege in those early years of meeting Frank Beken (Beken of Cowes), where he learnt a lot of his visual thinking, but Jonathan became more interested in how ‘man and machine’ interacted with the elements.

US yacht Acadia in the heavy running conditions during the second race of the 1979 Admiral's Cup
In the years that had elapsed since Eastland had started out in the mid-1960s, the number of professional photographers arriving on the scene to cover sailing events had increased from a mere handful to several dozen. Internationally, the sport was popular and demands for 'action' photos from newspapers in particular were high.

Eastland recalls that the 1979 Admiral's Cup saw a record entry list of 19 teams and 57 yachts, and it was to provide all the natural drama a photographer hell bent on outwitting the opposition could have wished for. “In the boisterous conditions that came to pass for the first inshore race, my problem centred on how to make a picture that would convey some of the drama of yachts jostling for position at the start. There was only one place to be and it was not at the leeward end of the line.”

La Pantera and Impetuous 
Arriving off East Cowes, Eastland and his skipper John Foulkes readied their photographic platform – on this day a 70ft torpedo launch – and waited for the start of the first race. Noting how the wind was piling up every minute, Eastland decided that he wanted the windward end of the startline. Looking across to the Royal Yacht Squadron, Foulkes mused that it could be tricky. Nevertheless, a plan was hatched. "We'll use the dory. You two can hide under the tarp and I'll stand off until the last minute. We'll probably get yelled at and there's only going to be one go, even if they do a recall."

As time for the first gun approached, it was clear there would be a massive run in toward the RYS. Foulkes knew exactly where they needed to be to get the shot, while Eastland left him to it and concentrated on figuring out how to manipulate a 400mm telephoto lens from under a tarpaulin while squatting in the bottom of the dory. It seemed to Eastland that no time at all elapsed from the five minute gun going off to the point at which bedlam seemed to break out on the start line. He never heard the start gun, and just remembers a cacophony of sail banging, rigging, gear, the noise of churning water as 57 yachts came straight at them and the motor drive on his Nikon cranked away. 

A Jonathan Eastland photographic classic - startline action in the first race of the 1979 Admiral's Cup 
Eastland was elated. He was sure that he had shot at least one frame that said everything he wanted to say about the excitement of yacht racing - an image that might perhaps dispel forever the public notion of it being a sedentary sport closer to bowls on a green than an organised cattle stampede. However, in those days, film processing meant that it wasn't until much later that day Eastland found that he had a string of photos that were sharp and one was what he wanted. 

By comparison, and notwithstanding the ever present strong winds throughout the regatta, the following days seemed fairly tame. The dory was again used to scoot around the Solent during the second inshore race - a very windy affair that brought with it Vanguard’s classic broach series and Midnight Sun's near knockdown (above). 

Part of the Vanguard broach series
Eastland recalls that there were loads of other images that he could see happening that day as well as on day one. “But that's the other problem with marine photography. You can't be everywhere at the same time!”  There were other similar events in later years in the same location that dished up the kind of opportunities photographers like Eastland pray for, including the 1985 Admiral's Cup which again dished up very fresh conditions.
US yacht Sidewinder bashes her way out of the Solent after the start of the Channel Race in the 1985 Admiral's Cup 
A Force 7-8 sou'westerly gale had whipped up the sea off Egypt Point to an uncomfortable level. In the ensuing melee as yachts came down upon them visibility became particularly difficult. While Eastland concentrated on endeavouring not to be a ballerina focusing a long lens, Foukes shouted warnings over screaming wind and engine noise of impending doom.
The maxi yacht Drum seen her after the start of the 1985 Fastnet Race 
In one moment of racing upwards to crest a wave and then plunging almost vertically into the trough the other side, they hit with such force one hand was not enough to prevent the sharp top of a heavy Nikon loaded with a 400mm lens smacking Eastland in the face. Blood spewed as if from a hose as he swung around to shout something at Foulkes. Loading fresh film became extremely tricky as blood and sea spray splashed into the open film chamber. It took them an hour to clean up the boat when it was all over, but the London Times ran several of the pictures the next day. 

This post is based on an article 'Rough Going' by Jonathan Eastland (copyright 26 August 2013). My thanks to Jonathan for sharing these recollections, which give some idea of some of what is sometimes involved when yachting photographers set out to catch those great shots that we can all enjoy.


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