Photographing Sailing Regattas

September 21, 2017

Written by Art Petrosemolo

I spent a great week mid-summer on Lake Champlain in Vermont as the chief photographer for the Lightning Atlantic Coast Championship sailing regatta and then for the Women’s, Junior and Master’s Championships on Barnegat Bay. A Lightning is a 20-foot, one-design class racing sailboat. It is an 80-year old class that started on Skaneateles Lake, NY in the 1930s.

I am actually not a big Lightning sailor and probably have sailed or crewed one just a handful of times in my long, sailing career. However, at the Monmouth Boat Club in Red Bank, N.J., where I was a member for 20+ years, served as a flag officer and sailed small cruising boats, we had a 60-year old fleet of Lightnings and hosted a late April regatta each year called the Long John. It is where, some 20 years ago, I started to get serious about nautical photography. My interest has grown over the years as well as my expertise and that has allowed me to open a small photography business called: If you like my photographs, look at some of what I have done on that website.

Over the years, as my reputation has spread as someone who gets the right shot and shows the action and the up-close-and-personal drama, I have been asked to serve as the chief photographer at a number of regional, national and international regattas in a variety of classes.

I have sailed boats from a sunfish to a 40-foot cruising sailboat and enjoy it. I know how boats react to the wind and in racing I know pretty much where the most direct route to the marks lay (layline) and how a boat will get there. I always tell my friends it isn’t so much that I have special talents; everyone today can be a good photographer with a relatively inexpensive digital camera. It’s just I know where to position the photo boat or where to ask my driver to be and how to escape trouble if we get in the way of the racers…and that does happen.

Anyway, Lake Champlain is special for me. I worked at a girls’ camp – Buff Ledge – on Mallets Bay for two years when I was in college and have wonderful memories of those times. It is where I saw Ray Charles perform one summer evening in a VFW hall on the lake.

I also had a good friend from Shelburne who had a wonderful, wooden Hinckley Pilot 35 sloop and for seven years, while I worked at Dartmouth, Tina, our son Keith and I would spend a pleasant summer day sailing with Sawyer and his wife on Mallets Bay. I miss those days.

Anyway, in 2009 I was asked to work the Lightning World Championships on the lake at the Mallets Bay Boat Club photographing sailors from all over the world. It was a special experience and from it, I suddenly was in demand for regattas held across the East for a number of classes like Flying Scot, Star and Comet, among others.

It is exhausting but very satisfying work as a photographer if I get a special shot like the one of the colorful spinnakers in this blog. You actually know it when you take it. And when you go back hours later to look at all the images, it stands out. It has happened to me dozens of times.

I have photographed in the rain and cold and the hot, summer sun. On Lake Champlain, I wore a hat and long sleeve sport shirt but no sun screen. The sun reflected off the water into my face and I looked like a lobster at the end of day one.

Two years ago, I spent a week (I took Tina this time) and photographed the Lightning Worlds on Lake Erie at the Buffalo Canoe Club in Ontario, Canada. It was a magnificent Lake Erie setting, a terrific (and at times somewhat terrifying) sailing venue at a first-rate yacht club. However, who knew Lake Erie, shallow as it is, would lift four foot waves across the course for four days, making moving from the start to some of the turning marks two miles away almost impossible.

Last year I photographed the Flying Scot class national championships in Narragansett Bay off of Newport, R.I. Another special place. I met my wife while working at the University of Rhode Island and bought my Pearson 27 cruising boat in East Greenwich and sailed it down Long Island Sound through the East River and New York City to Sandy Hook and the Navesink River in N.J. Good memories. And photographing boats under the iconic Newport Bridge was a thrill.

As much as I am growing to love Lancaster County (again) after returning, I do miss the water and sailing A LOT. Having a chance to continue to photograph sailing regattas is good for my soul and I will continue to do so as long as I am able.

I finished my 2017 sailing adventure on Barnegat Bay in New Jersey for three days with the Lightning Class WJM national championships. The weather was terrific and only topped by terrific winds that built to 20 mph each afternoon which made for exciting sailing. Combined with Lake Champlain, I took, processed, reviewed, selected and posted literally thousands of sailing images like the ones in this blog. I loved it but am ready for a break….back to the cows, farmers and silos.

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