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So you love your sailing

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 24 Nov 2019 13:00 PST
Indulgence in 1983 and there was one hell of a Chinese gybe involved as well... Nasty stuff. © Richard Bennett

And for the last 47 years, so too has he. He's a deeply committed naturalist. So much so, that you often wonder where does Richard Bennett stop, and his beloved Tasmania begin? Certainly it won't be with the 75th Sydney to Hobart this year, which the 74 year old keenly awaits.

The Master Four Photographer of the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers, who is an Honorary Fellow, past Chair of their Awards, Chair of the Board, and also President of the Institute itself also prints his own work. Indeed Bennett is offering up something quite special for everyone to partake in, and also enjoy.

Some of it you will know, and then there is one new and very special element. In 2017, just as the race arrived into town, Richard held an amazing exhibition of 60 of his works at Hobart's Maritime Museum of Tasmania. President Kim Newstead and Curator Rhona Hollingsworth need to be acknowledged for this. More recently, Kevin Sumption PSM, Daina Fletcher and the team at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) have taken up the mantle, and all of it is a result of the direct efforts of the super-enthusiastic, Nicole Shrimpton.

Additionally, when Marc Payet from Ilford heard about it, he simply said, "We'd support that." Now they not only provided the archival stock for all the prints to go on, Ilford also paid for the framing in Australian Oak.

At any rate, Richard has just donated some of his gems to the ANMM, and they will form a special part of the celebrations they have in store for the impending race. Because of the way the prints have been done, and now with the added care of the museum, these amazing images will be available for all, for generations to come. How exceptional.

Now maybe it is on the back of all of these amazing 900x900mm prints that Richard had an idea. Many a sailor has a copy of 'Ocean Classics' on their bookshelf. Some will have even have the one that celebrates the 50th Hobart. Yet it will be quite the special group that has this latest standout achievement.

The new book is 430x430mm, weighs in at around 6.7kg, and is not even completed yet, for images from the 75th will take up the last six pages. Guess what? If you happen to be partaking in the great race, then an image of your boat will be amongst those final moments, thereby making your book totally unique, and just like those special framed prints, these books are on acid-free stock and so forth, making them an heirloom.

Perhaps even more so than ever, this latest book will also capture the true essence of the man, for he also wrote it, in conjunction with Mark Whittaker. Inspired by the wonderful comments you all gave him for the captions to his works on exhibition, Richard has sat down and laid out the whole affair.

Yes, you will learn about each shot from the mind of the eye that took it. The angles, the drama, the weather, surrounding landscapes, and sea state. You will truly discover what drives someone to be totally focussed on making these beautiful, individual and mesmerising pictures. Additionally, you'll see all sorts of weather, all sizes of boats, and all the different technologies that have gone into these racers during the course of Richard's own journey with the sea, and the race.

It would be Richard's expedition experience that started what we know as the famous stall at Mures Seafood on Constitution Dock. Yet it goes nowhere to describing how Richard gets out of bed at about 0300hrs into often very bleak weather, to then board a small aircraft to go and find the boats, which was not so easy in the days before GPS and trackers, when there might have also been some foxing with one's coordinates, so as to keep the opposition guessing. Of course that also meant that once he had shot the three rolls in the three camera bodies he had with him, that he would roll around onto his back on the plane's floor, in a roaring gale, to reload, then roll over once more, and get back to work.

It also meant that he would not finish until 0000hrs, and then of course repeat the process again the next day, for he has captured nearly every boat for every year. Such were the joys of the analogue days, not that the time spent each day has reduced any, for there is all the processing and printing still to be done form all the memory cards.

Richard even qualified as a pilot himself to better understand the platform he was shooting from. In 2015 Richard changed over to rotary wing aircraft, and ever since the 50th, his daughter, Alice, has also been part of the equation. One day, she may even take over the reigns completely, and you could ask for no better teacher than the Great Master who just happens to be her dad.

Fear not, however, for Richard is not ready to hang up the lens; just yet. There is still loads of passion in him, and he is always addressing the ever-changing technology aspects of his craft, just as we have all done with the waterborne ones we race.

One thing that will remain omnipotent always, will be Richard's expression of the mood at the time. During my first in-depth talk with Richard many years ago, we spent ages talking about a juvenile eagle that was inquisitive enough to come back over the hill directly at Richard after his first fly-by. The extra time meant Richard could get his gear ready, and an image that is as special to him today as it was back then was created.

Equally, as we went through things selecting the images for this piece, I would nominate the ones I wanted, and Richard gave me his own little captions to each of them, including the year, conditions, things that had occurred before, during and after shooting, and the number of copies that he had sold. You know a Richard Bennett when you see it.

Guess what, I reckon Richard still knows every shot he has even taken. One day technology will advance to where we can simply print his mind, just like a Vulcan mind meld. In the meantime, we have the exhibition, and these wonderful, unique, and certainly special order books.

So at AUD4995 each, the individual, archive print, hand bound, five weeks in the making (or is that 47 years?), books won't come cheap. But then think of the cost of the exercise of going racing in the first place, let alone the memories they provide, talking points they will gladly create, and that you could well be buying a unique-to-you version, and your pockets will not seem so deep any more... Contact Richard via his website or call Christian Brook at Boat Books Australia to secure your copy of Across Five Decades.

More about this Hobart

The crew from McConaghy checked in on Saturday regarding the repairs to Wild Oats XI. "We delivered and fitted the deck panel Friday afternoon, and it will be glued in place today. We have turned the first corner, the race continues," commented Tony Johnson.

Elsewhere, I was speaking with Ken Read, the President of North Sails, and asked him what was it like to be on the helm as Comanche screamed out of the Harbour in four and half minutes. Like a lot of us, it is still very much front and centre in his mind. "Yes, Jim (Clark) had not had her that long, and then all of a sudden we heeled over to 30 degrees, doing 30 knots. Warwick Fleury, who was on the main just looked at me and said, 'Are we OK?' I said I think so, but I don't know. We had unbelievable control over her, and yet we were completely winging it at the time. It was the coolest start I have been involved in all my life."

Do you miss it? "Yes, I miss the boat and the race. It is difficult for us in the Northern Hemisphere, as we have to be away from the family, at the one time we can all get together. I would have done it a ton more times otherwise. The boat is spectacular, and the aura of the race puts it up there with The Ocean Race and the America's Cup. All that local and national support is phenomenal to be a part of, and I'll be back! All the best to Jim (Cooney) and his crew for this year's race."

Right oh - here today there are some gems for you to review like Sodebo retiring from the Brest Atlantique, 18-footers, St Barth Cata Cup, RORC Transat Race, racing intel from Melges, Spindrift 2 eyeing off the Jules Verne, Knut Frostad from Navico, and certainly there is much, much more below.

Now if your class or association is generating material, we can help you spread your word just by emailing us. Got this newsletter from a friend? Would you like your own copy next week? Just follow the instructions on our newsletter page. Whilst there, you can also register for other editions, like Powerboat-World.

Finally, keep a weather eye on Sail-World. We are here to bring you the whole story from all over the world...

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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