Behind the Scenes, October 2019
Published on October 3rd, 2019
October’s image in the 2019 Ultimate Sailing Calendar is everything I strive for, every time I shoot: the ultimate, perfect photograph; so I was thrilled to be able to include this stunning image from my colleague Stephen Cloutier in this year’s calendar.
As you can see, a tightly packed fleet of Melges 20s is charging right at him! It takes skill, timing and a bit of nerve to get great images like this, so I asked Steve to give us the run-down.
“It was Day One of the Melges 20 World Championships,” coincidentally being held in Steve’s homeport of Newport, Rhode Island.
He had grown up sailing in Narragansett Bay and also developed a passion for photography in his youth. But it wasn’t until 2004 that he combined these two loves and began shooting yacht racing professionally – both locally and worldwide.
Thirty-eight of the best teams from around the globe had turned out for the Melges 20 Worlds. “It was an incredibly windy day,” described Steve. “Big breeze and big seas – which is kind of unusual for Newport that time of year – but that particular day, right from the start, it was just banging out there.
“For 20-foot boats, with such a small crew, it was amazing action. The closeness of the fleet, on the legs, and at the mark roundings, was just incredible.”
Steve and two other photographers were jammed on a 20-foot RIB being driven by host New York Yacht Club’s Director of Communications, Stuart Streuli. Now Stu is not just a media guy – he’s a pro sailor himself, and an expert driver.
“Stu listens to us; he knows sail racing better than anyone, so he knows where to put us,” Steve added. “If he knows we’re looking for a particular shot he knows exactly where to go, to position the boat. And it’s not easy to hold there in conditions like this – especially as the racers are getting close!”
I agree with Steve: having a great boat driver (or helicopter pilot) is key to great shots! And Ultimate Sailing is so fortunate to have worked with some of the best around the world.
“You really have to communicate your vision – what you want to get, what you see and how you want it to line up; to relate that to the driver,” Steve added, “so they can envision what you want to capture, and put you in the right spot.
“In this shot, the fleet is coming around the windward mark. With a competitive class like this, and this caliber of racing, I anticipated they’d bunch up around the mark, and I could get a great grouping as they streamed toward the offset mark.”
Perfectly positioned, Steve caught Drew Freides and his crew super-focused on their goal, with a pack of bloodthirsty competitors close on their heels.
“I was aiming for the lead boat, and that was Drew’s,” noted Steve. “The combination of his white sunglasses and blond hair, their blue jackets, the white hull plunging into the sea – it was just very striking, particularly against the backdrop of black sails. They really stood out; and of course, he was upfront.
“It’s really a thrilling moment. In a world championship event like this, everyone is so dialed in and so focused: it’s not like a regular race. Rounding the marks, they’re yelling in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Japanese, Italian … And it doesn’t matter what language they’re speaking, you know what they’re yelling!
“It was a tremendous amount of work; we were getting really beat up in the RIB – it was a rough ride. But I love it because that’s when you know you’re getting the best photos. If you’re not out there getting banged around, you’re not getting the really super images.
“But it was bumpy and wet! To protect my equipment, I use a cooler – right off the shelf from Walmart. It’s got a hinge and seals tight when it’s closed, so everything’s protected. For this shot, I was using a Canon 5D Mark IV. In conditions like this, I don’t change lenses, I just keep the lenses on the bodies and switch out cameras for different angles.”
Steve’s hard work paid off, and we are fortunate to have this spectacular image in the 2019 Ultimate Sailing Calendar. Kudos to Steve for braving the conditions and capturing it!
And Kudos to Drew too! He and his team of Morgan Reeser and Charlie Smythe went on to win the Melges 20 World Championship with an outstanding series of top-10 finishes in each race; so far ahead of the fleet, it allowed them to sit out the final race.
It marked their first major international title, a bittersweet reward after a long and hard racing campaign dedicated to his mother. Drew revealed he had bought Pacific Yankee at a time when his mother was suffering from cancer. “She made me get the Melges 20 before she passed because she knew how much it meant to me. This win’s for her. We did it.”