Every word, every still image, every moment of video footage that comes from the boat is created and transmitted back by one of the crew members who has to fit that task into his already busy day
“The sun is going down. The scene is spectacular and you know it will make for good footage, but it is really hard to walk around the boat. The camera is right at the very back of the boat; you are soaking wet and know the lens is soggy so you stumble about trying to find some paper towels to dry it off.
“You close up the unit so it is watertight, pull your gloves back on then go up on deck to take the pictures. The banging is relentless so you can’t stand up. You have to get on all fours or kneel down to get steady and put your (harness) hook down under the lifeline or forestay to stay safe. You turn the camera on and get the pictures, but after a few minutes, everything gets fogged up again.
“Sometimes, you feel it is easier to forget about it and leave it until the next time.”
And who could blame cameraman Fraser Brown for wanting to forget all about ING Real Estate Brunel’s media obligations to the Volvo Ocean Race when ugly weather, stormy seas and fatigue have conspired against him.
The task of filming the action on board an Volvo Ocean Race yacht can be a thankless one, since the idea that all ten crew should be deployed in making the boat go faster rather than being a ‘lovey’ with the lens, is one that still finds a fair degree of support in the fleet.
But pictures, be they still or moving, are crucial to the understanding and promotion of the sport so the pressure is on the sailors to take time out to tell their stories using the cameras, tapes and editing equipment in the state-of-the-art media station on board.
Remember that the media crew on each boat has a full range of sailing duties first and foremost. They are there to race the boat. The time for filming or shooting stills is grabbed from their sailing watch, but the time taken to edit, compress and transmit the stills or footage comes from their off watch, their resting or sleeping time. So next time you demand more footage from the big days, remember that someone has to shoot that footage in the cold and wet, has to forgo the relative comforts of their bunk, and loses valuable sleep to get the pictures to you in your armchair.
There are nine cameras dotted about the boat, some fixed in places such as up the mast and in the heads (toilets, to you and me), others hand held, and some fitted with infra red capability to allow for night time filming.
The cameras are all controlled by the crew, but there is also a delay capture system (DDVR) to make sure no action is missed and a ‘panic’ button on deck which, when touched by a crew member, automatically records. This equipment also allows Race HQ to ‘grab’ images from the boat if there is an ‘all hands on deck situation’.
In the first leg, Brown took 700 minutes of footage and compressed and sent through 30 minutes worth. (Each minute of footage, even when compressed, takes 12 minutes to transmit.) According to Volvo’s executive TV producers, those 30 minutes were outstanding for the portrait they painted. The camera kept rolling if relations became tense or aggressive, the ups and downs were intimately represented and the camera kept rolling if things on deck turned nasty.
“I did an interview with Grant Wharington while he was driving,” Fraser explained.
“We flung around and were filming forward just as we hit a wave so had about four seconds of the boat going really fast. It covered Grant, the camera and me – but then the picture was crystal clear because the water had cleaned the lens and we were all laughing in the background. That 45 second shot has been used a lot. It made great footage.”
To get the material back to base, Inmarsat and Thrane & Thrane, joint sponsors for the race, have kitted out the boats with satellite communication terminals which provide voice, data and live coverage wherever the boats are in the world.
For the techies, these include Fleet 77 and Fleet 33 satellite dishes which facilitate voice and data transfer, and email. An Inmarsat Sat C terminal transmits GPS positions to Race HQ and provides updated positions for Virtual Spectator.
But however proficient the sailors are with the equipment, it is their eye for human interest angles that sets the story tellers apart from the technicians.
“I believe that people want a 60:40 balance of the human side of sailing,” says Brown.
“If it is someone’s birthday or if someone’s wife or girlfriend has a baby, I think people are interested in what they are feeling. People ashore cannot relate to being on a boat in the Southern Ocean with water going everywhere, but they can relate to things like birthdays or having a baby so that is a good way of communicating the reality of life on board.”
Despite Brown’s efforts with the camera, it was Simon ‘SiFi’ Fisher who won the Volvo media prize for the first leg for his informative and entertaining emails.
For ‘SiFi’, navigator on ABN AMRO TWO, writing 100 words each day proved therapeutic.
“Everybody likes to hear a decent story so I try and think of something different each day and really enjoyed it. It is a good way of letting people know what you are thinking and the emotions you have been through in the past 24 hours.
“The last thing people ashore want to read about is tactics – that is not very interesting and besides, we wouldn’t write about a situation that affected us tactically. When we lost one of our sails, we kept it under our hat for a couple of days because we didn’t want people cheering our misfortune and putting in an extra effort to catch us up.”
Already, the Volvo Ocean Race has uncovered new talent, both on the sailing and media front. When one career ends, another one may well beckon if their efforts to promote the event generate awards and more important, new audiences.