The images that have made the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race arguably the most dramatic event in Australian sport are the work of some of the world’s greatest yachting photographers working in tandem with Australia’s most experienced pilots.
Photographs by the Italian Carlo Borlenghi and Swiss Daniel Forster, and Australians Ian Mainsbridge and Richard Bennett, amongst others, have brought the majesty, the power, the trauma and the tragedy of the race to the world.
Their work is made possible by the skill and undoubted bravery of pilots like Gary Ticehurst, the Australian helicopter pilot whose company, Film Helicopters Australia, has been contracted for the past 25 years by the ABC to provide its footage of the race, from start to finish, as well as by Rotor-Lift Helicopters based in Hobart, Tasmania.
It was Ticehurst who hovered above the ravaged fleet in the 1998 race from daylight to dusk as he responded to mayday calls, was able to fix the position of each yacht in trouble and direct the search and rescue operation to the scene.
'We were there to reassure the yachts that help was on the way,' Ticehurst said.
'Even today, a mayday over the radio sends shivers down my spine.'
News Limited photographer Ian 'Mains' Mainsbridge has covered every Sydney Hobart since 1964, which makes this year’s Rolex race his 44th, the same number as record-holding sailors the late John 'the Fish' Bennetto, Lou Abrahams and Tony Cable.
Mainsbridge started at Sir Frank Packer’s Sydney Daily Telegraph as a 14-year-old copy boy just before Packer was putting together his America’s Cup campaign.
Mainsbridge became a photographer and was fired by both Packer’s interest in sailing and a close friendship with his number two helmsman (Sir) James Hardy.
'It became my passion,' Mainsbridge said. It led to Admiral’s Cups, Clipper Cups, every America’s Cup regatta from 1968 to 2000, and every Sydney Hobart from 1964.
'It appears to be a good lifestyle, and it is,' he said, 'but it is hard.'
For instance, on the second day of this year’s race he and his pilot from the Ticehurst company flew for eight and a half hours but had to refuel five times at remote bush strips, which involved rolling barrels of aviation gas down to the chopper and pumping.
'There is a comradeship between those who do it,' Mainsbridge said.
One of the extraordinary partnerships in this business is that between Borlenghi and Forster. These days they spend 70 per cent of their year covering Rolex regattas around the world. Usually they work on separate Rolex regatta assignments with their assistants but are brought together for the big two, the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart
In 2008 Borlenghi’s assignments include the Rolex China Sea Race and a voyage though the islands of Italy form Portofino to Sicily to photograph the restored two-masted Orion for a book.
'I will spend 70 days at home,' he said, which for Borlenghi is a house on Lake Como and an apartment in Milan.
Forster has assignments in South America, the US, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean and a summer spell at his home in Newport in the US.
Today they told of similar starts to their remarkable careers
'I was born near Lake Como. I took some pictures of sailing on the lake to help pay my way through university,' Borlenghi said. 'That took off and it has become my life.'
Forster grew up on Lake Murten near Berne in Switzerland.
'I took some photographs of sailing on the lake, showed them to some yachting magazines and they hired me,' he said.
That was in 1971. He covered Kiel Week regatta that year then the sailing events there for the 1972 Olympics.
'My big break was Australia winning the America’s Cup in 1983,' he said. 'Time magazine called me in 1985 and hired me to spend five months in WA in 1987 for the defence.'
Daniel Forster shot taken at the start of the Rolex Sydney - Rolex