Harken Derm

Behind the Scenes, July 2019

Published on July 3rd, 2019

We are fans of the wall calendar, and the start of each month welcomes new imagery from our J/Boats, Onne van der Wal, and Sharon Green calendars. Here Sharon shares the behind-the-scenes story from July of her 2019 Ultimate Sailing Calendar.


The 2,225-mile Transpacific Yacht Race has been near and dear to my heart for decades. Every odd-numbered year, our photo team covers the starts off of Los Angeles’ Point Fermin and beyond, out to Catalina Island from the air.

While the starts and their tight groupings of boats typically make for great images, it’s the race’s finish which generates some of the world’s most exciting sailing photos — and most exciting shooting.

The starts are pretty straightforward to plan for. We know when the boats will be there at a given time, what time we’ll have to take off from the heliport, etc.

I address the teams at the Skippers’ Meeting and tell them that we will be the last thing they’ll see off the west end of Catalina, and — provided it’s during the day — the first thing they’ll see when they enter the Molokai Channel on their approach to the finish. I tell them that when they see the helicopter come at them to: put the owner on the helm, put shirts on, clean up the deck, and if the breeze is atypically light, heat-up the boat.

The finishes are a different story entirely. We spend days glued to the tracker, trying to anticipate the sudden jump in location when the tracker’s delay is turned off. For borderline dusk or dawn finishes, we’ll try to get out to Diamond Head by boat. By day, one of us will be shooting finishes from the boat, while I’m constantly coordinating with the helicopter pilots to try to get as far as necessary out into the Molokai Channel to intercept the boats.

There are a lot of moving parts — beyond just cameras and helicopters and boats — to try to execute something like this, and it’s not like I can ask, “Can you guys go back and do that again?”

The Bill Lee-designed, 68 foot-ULDB, Merlin, is one of the West Coast’s most iconic boats. Described as “the minimum life-support system for a spinnaker,” the needle-thin sled was born of an old chicken coop near Santa Cruz, CA in 1977. Merlin improved the elapsed-time record for the race by nearly a full-day that year, a mark that stood for the ensuing 20 years despite a relentless series of assaults lodged by some of the world’s best sailors.

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of her historic win, and to celebrate, Bill bought back his creation and did the race. We, in turn, were trying to replicate Merlin’s photo finishes of years gone by, with that spectacular rainbow spinnaker.

It is an absolute miracle that we did.

I almost did not get this one! We had been photographing finishes for several days when Merlin came in. I had been out on the water for dawn patrol to catch another finisher and then went back into the dock for their arrival party. We had been watching the tracker and thought we had a good idea of when Merlin was coming in. After hitting the dock, I headed to the heliport while the on-the-water team took a break before going back out to catch Merlin’s finish.

It was blowing at this point and I’m thinking that I have a ton of time to get to the heliport. After days of driving to and from the heliport, the car pretty much had it on autopilot. Next thing I know, my onboard liaison, Morgan Larson, calls me and says they have Koko Head in sight! Next thing I know, I get stuck in horrendous Honolulu traffic, and it’s looking more and more likely that we will not make it in time.

I call the pilot: “Start the engine, have someone hold the security door open!”

My equipment was all intact in the trunk ready to go. I got to the heliport, and jump out of the car, cameras, and lenses strung around my neck and nearly falling out of my arms. Without ever stopping, I ran straight through the small terminal and across the tarmac, to the running helo. I literally dove in the open door, and without even getting a seatbelt and headset on, yelled, “GO, GO, GO!!!”

Eventually, I got my headset and seatbelt on, and before long we arrived at Koko Head right as Merlin went screaming past!

The 50th running of Transpac starts next week on July 9th. Participants, let the official Transpac photography team of Sharon Green and Ultimate Sailing make Transpac 2019 an adventure you will long remember. Who knows… maybe you will be featured in the Ultimate Sailing Calendar.

Contact us now to book your guaranteed coverage. (805)452-8853 or sail@ultimatesailing.com.

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