Behind the Scenes, September 2023
Published on September 29th, 2023
Who wants to guess how many images our awesome Ultimate Sailing team captured during this last Transpac? Looking at the September pages of the 2023 Ultimate Sailing Calendar, it’s easy to see how this thrilling race – a 2,225-mile dash from Los Angeles to Honolulu – could inspire us to get a little shutter happy!
Transpac 2023 had an early start, timed to give the fleet the benefit of the full moon. Racers set off in late June and early July, with the first arrivals (the MOD70 trimarans) on July 6! So, it was a mad dash for us too, from San Pedro to Honolulu with cases of equipment in tow.
Our mission was to capture every one of the 55 entries at the start and finish, and as they approach Catalina Island if the weather allows. In addition to on-the-water action, we document the skipper’s meeting, send-off party, team and dock-out photos, arrival parties, prize-givings and events at the hosting yacht clubs: all in an effort to clinch those memories for our intrepid competitors.
So far we’ve got 177,000 images, and that doesn’t include the Honolulu volunteer photographers’ work: I haven’t imported those selects yet. That number includes images for the media gallery (see Scuttlebutt: 1, 2, 3), Transpac archives, sponsor photos, and promotional materials. Plus, there’s the gallery of Transpac 2023 images on the Ultimate Sailing website, and customized galleries for many teams, which must be whittled down to about 400 photos.
This is oodles of work to gather and curate all those images from a crew of expert photographers, plus an incredible team of volunteers on the Honolulu side. But sitting in her darkened studio, combing through tens of thousands of images, is a stark contrast to the work two months earlier.
Arriving in Hawaii for the finishes, we set up our headquarters in a condo at the Ala Wai Marina and start tracking the boats. Although the YB sports tracking goes ‘live’ at 200 miles from Honolulu, it doesn’t take into consideration the boat’s angle to the approach and wind conditions, how that affects boat speed, and the possibility there’s an island in the way!
Every morning I’m up at 4:am to calculate the ETAs and see if someone’s sneaking in at dawn, or has slowed down overnight; calling our team at 5:00am with orders to rally or sleep in. Not only does this lucky wake-up call go to the photographers and videographers, but also the photo boat driver and, as-needed, the helicopter pilot. If there is any glimmer of light as a competitor is finishing, we will be out there!
And that’s where the magic takes place, that allows photos like these on the September pages of the 2023 Ultimate Sailing Calendar, of the Pac52 Callisto, top, and the Farr 57 Ho’okolohe, bottom.
There is always a bit of intensity and adrenaline, rushing to the airport; especially if there is traffic slowing us down. I like to get there in time to check the tracker and talk to the pilot about timing. It’s all about the intercept at just the right moment – the sweet spot between Molokai’s Ilio Point and Makapu’u Point on Oahu.
The timing is critical. You don’t want to be too early and waste fuel and flight time. You don’t want to be late and miss the shot. You can’t say, ‘Hey, can you guys go back and do that again, I missed the shot!’.
Spanning 25-miles, the channel can hide even the largest race boat. Before we had the trackers, it was a wild goose chase, searching out there in the blue yonder, just guessing – based on the boat’s check-in ETA – which direction to take.
Nowadays it’s not too difficult to spot the boats, because we have trackers and know the trajectory of the approach. But every time of the day has its unique challenges. Early mornings we are flying out straight into the light. Midday you have the light straight above, washing out white decks. And in the late afternoon and early evening, the sun is behind the boats as they surf down the channel.
But the landscape is so dramatic in the low light, whether dusk or dawn. Diamond Head and Koko Head have spectacular volcanic-etched hillsides that add another dimension to the images.
When we can fly out to Catalina to intercept the boats after the start, they’re in full race mode, sails stacked on the weather rail; crew fully dressed in foulies… After getting our shots, we wave goodbye and silently wish them safe passage.
And then, we are their first sign of the warm aloha greeting they are about to get, after a journey of more than 2,200 miles! When the team sees the helicopter, they are so excited: we usually do a fly by and wave aloha before we get to work.
Often in contact with the boats by this time, as we don’t want to blast out there, just to find the boat is limping along without a spinnaker, the pilot is directed to different angles and approaches. I try to be sensitive to the fact that we’re noisy, interrupting the peacefulness and rhythm of their passage. But I must admit it’s pretty exciting.
With the staggered starts, Transpac Yacht Club has succeeded in consolidating the finishers. The biggest challenge I had this Transpac was a super busy day, with multiple boats finishing around the same time, and trying to time refueling the helicopter.
The R44 can fly about 2.5 hours before they need to return to the airport to top off. At times I had to leave the Diamond Head finishes to the photo boat and head in to refuel. Once we needed to do a fast turnaround, and I was going crazy because the fuel truck was taking forever.
But sometimes it works out just right. This summer Cal Maritime happened to be in the channel when we flew out for another finisher. Coach Kerry Deaver later told me they couldn’t believe their luck! She had just told the crew they probably would not get photos in the Molokai Channel, when they saw the helicopter. The cadets scrambled into position and burst into action, as Kerry unfurled the Transpac flag. It was a real joy to capture that.
It is all teamwork and I couldn’t do it without the ‘ultimate’ team: Allyson Bunting, Steve Cloutier, Bronny Daniels, Doug Gifford, Taggart Lee, Natalie Nakasone, Mai Norton, and Betsy Senescu; and Leighann Ruppel, who keeps things organized at home base.
Plus, our tireless Honolulu volunteers: David Livingston, Brian Farr, Carolyn Majewski, Joyce Riley, Erik Kabik, Mark Brouch, Nicole Patterson, Rachel Rosales, Linda Dalrymple, and Pam Davis – whose outstanding volunteerism and contributions earned her the prestigious Clare Lang Trophy. Mahalo!