Why does a professional sailing photographer need two cameras?

Nobody is perfect, least of all me. So in the same veins that I back up everything three times whenever possible, I also carry two cameras to a shoot. I like to work on the ‘what if’ scenario. Nothing in life is certain, even things that don’t seem possible happen. I never thought I’d be hit by a 12 tonne power boat, but I did and I was taking photographs the next day – in a lot of pain –  but I was still able to take them.

My point is you never know what’s around the corner, sailing photographer or not, and while my incident was a freak occurrence, one should always have a second solution just in case. This is why it’s important to carry a second camera. Cameras break, go wrong, or just point blank refuse to work, so as the Cub Scouts say ” be prepared”.

I’ve only ever dropped a camera once, it was the time when I went out on a shoot with only one camera. My main body was in being serviced, I was taking photographs on land, what could go wrong? I took a gamble, one that went wrong.

It was the start of the 1997 Fastnet race, I was working at Allsport – a dedicated sports picture agency. I was a darkroom technician there, but I wanted to be a yachting photographer. The job at Allsport enabled me to work with the best sports photographers in the world; learn from them, see their images and learn how they took them. Allsport were the official photographers to the Volvo ocean race, so I got on as many shoots as I could.
I was young, this was my first full time job; I’d joined the company straight from college a month earlier. So I was keen to shoot as much sailing as I could. One of these was the start of the Fastnet, which the Volvo boats were taking part in after the main fleet started.

Although I dearly wanted to get out on the water, places were limited, so I went to Hurst point, a natural and narrow gateway between the Isle of Wight and the mainland. Because the boats would be some distance away I borrowed a 400mm f2.8 lens from the office. Entrusting me with an £8000 lens the MD gave me a warning “If you break it or lose it, don’t come back”. With these words floating round my head during the walk along the spit when I arrived I took the strap off my camera and attached it to the lens. Wherever the lens went I’d go to. It was sunny when I arrived a few hours before the start, so I picked my spot before the crowds descended.

About an hour before the main fleet arrived, fog arrived. My chance of getting an image was seemingly gone, I waited and waited. With no break in the fog looking likely, I thought I’d better get a couple of photos of it just to prove why I’d returned back without a photo of a boat. So I swapped lenses to a wider lens, took a couple of photos and went to change back. Unclipped my lens, let my camera drop down on its strap….

The strap was attached to the lens, not the camera. Crack, bounce, crack, crack, crack, splash, my camera landed in the sea after bouncing down the rocky foreshore. I took the lens off my shoulder and went down the rocks after my camera. It was in about a foot of water, the mirror reflecting the hazy sunshine above through the fog. I picked it up, water poured out, it was dead.

After swearing for a bit, panicking a little and swearing a bit more, I realised going back without photographs wasn’t an option. I needed to get photos, so all I needed was a camera. This was back in the days of film, so any camera would do, as long as it was a modern Canon. The shore was full of people, one of them must have a camera I could borrow. I walked down the beach until I saw someone not using their camera.

Putting myself in this gentleman’s shoes, if a complete stranger who had already dropped one camera in the water, asked to borrow my camera I’m not sure I would have lent him mine. I offered him money and prints if I could use his camera body for the day. With much relief he accepted.

I took some photos of the start of the Fastnet race start, but had to wait until the Volvo 60s came out. Unfortunately, the camera’s owner wanted to head off. I explained the situation and he said “Just post it to me”. So I did, along with some money and photographs.

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I was extremely luck to find someone generous enough to lend me a camera, with the advent of digital, I don’t think it would happen again.

I told this story when I was interviewed for my job at Yachting Monthly. Some years later the Publisher who interviewed me confessed one of the reasons I beat the opposition to get the job at YM was because of that story. “You didn’t just give up, you found a solution, we we thought ‘that’s the type of person we want working for us’ someone who will go that bit further.”

I learnt from that day, no matter how remote the possibility of something happening is, it’s always good to have a plan B. On the water, there is no one I can borrow a camera from or a shop I can pop to for more batteries. So just as when I’m sailing I like to be self-sufficient, for the sake of my clients and peace of mind, I always carry two cameras when I’m working.

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