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An interview with Pacific Northwest-based sailing photographer Jan Anderson

by David Schmidt 26 Jan 08:00 PST January 26, 2022
Racecourse action at the 2021 Duwamish Head Race © Captain Jan Anderson;

It didn’t take me long to figure out a few things about the Pacific Northwest sailing scene when I first moved to the area in 2009. For starters, most big-boat racing takes place in the winter, a time when there’s breeze but also usually clouds covering the area’s gorgeous mountains. I learned that the sailing community is fairly tight-knit, and populated with many die-hard racers who don’t flinch when it’s raining sideways and blowing 30-plus knots (you can usually find the same people out skiing in similar conditions).

And I also caught word about Jan Anderson, who is widely respected as one of the absolute best photographers on Puget Sound. It didn’t take me long to figure out who she was, given that there’s usually just one RIB with a shooter aboard out on the water on the days with the lousiest weather.

I soon started checking out her work after races, and was impressed to see that Anderson has the eye and the knack for being in the right place at the right time to create great sailing imagery. Which she does on a regular basis.

I checked in with Captain Anderson, who also helps professional mariners get (and stay) certified through Flagship Maritime (which she co-owns), to learn more about how she practices her craft.

How did you get into sailing photography? Also, how long have you been shooting on Puget Sound?

I met my husband, Skip, in 2004 (sadly, the same year [that legendary sailing photographer] Kelly O’Neil [Henson] passed), and sailing with him quickly introduced me to the possibility of taking photos on the water.

I first started shooting with a cell phone, soon graduated to a real camera, then stepped up to the full-meal deal for the years since [and] ahead. Fifteen-plus years and counting…

Are you also a racing sailor, or are you more interested in the sport from a photography perspective?

I’m not a racing sailor; my focus is on photography.

Skip had been a racing sailor his whole life, but very early in our relationship shifted his focus to serve as my Boat Boy, putting PhotoBoat into position to get the very best shots I can. We love working together!

What are your three favorite events to shoot on Puget Sound? Also, why?

Regional Favorites (In no special order)

—Round the County: great scenery, racing, dinner and shopping in the San Juan [Islands]

—Swiftsure: the huge fleets, aggressive starts, breakfast in Port Angeles

—Race Week: buoy racing equals better shots start after start, [and a] terrific venue

Puget Sound Favorites (Again, in no special order)

— Grand Prix: best-of-the-best buoy racing, super-pleasant race committee

—Winter Vashon: our original turf, old friends, warm welcome, home at night

—Race to the Straits: Whidbey Island backdrop, shopping and dining in Port Townsend

That said, though, we enjoy all events, bar none – different venues, fresh smiles, old friends, new faces, and we look forward to every weekend we spend on the water.

Do you ever shoot other area events such as the Van Isi 360, Round the County, or the Vic-Maui? Or, do you prefer to stay focused on Puget Sound racing? Can you please explain?

Skip and I own/operate Flagship Maritime Training Center in Tacoma, so we necessarily need to focus on nearby Pacific Northwest events that fit with our work schedule.

We did trailer PhotoBoat to San Francisco back in 2013, to cover the America’s Cup action on the Bay – pretty exciting stuff! We’ve also spent time working events on the Columbia River most years (nice freshwater for the outboards!), such as One Design racing with Columbia Gorge Racing Association (CGRA) at Cascade Locks – [it’s a] GREAT getaway!

Throw in Hobie action at Skamokawa and on Lake Quinault, which we’ve done for years, and we actually have had a strong, balanced blend of fun, large to small, PHRF to One DEsign, you name it, we’ve worked it. Darned good fun!

How did you learn to put yourself in the right place, at the right time, to nail the image without interfering with the racecourse action?

Skip’s extensive racing background gives me an edge regarding boat positioning, foreseeing well in advance [when] “stuff [is] about to happen”, lighting, weather, when to be where, etc.

He and I enjoy a good blend of talents [and] purposes when we’re on the water, and PhotoBoat can safely get us to where we need to get on the racecourse in a hurry.

Let’s face it: The Pacific Northwest can often deliver more clouds and rain than sunshine and blue skies during the winter racing season, yet you have a knack for always coming home with great images. What have you learned about working with the prevailing conditions to maximize your photography results?

We have a terrific T-top on PhotoBoat, not so much for the sun as for the usual likelihood of rain.

Early on, I quickly learned that: (a) wet lenses don’t work so well, (b) bring a towel no matter the forecast, and (c) on a wet and really breezy day, position the boat so I’m shooting downwind and somewhat protected by our canvas work.

Now that doesn’t always work for lighting or scenic backdrop, but let’s face it, if we only went out when we had sunshine and blue skies on the horizon, we: (a) wouldn’t be as active as we are, and (b) we’d miss out on the beautiful contrasts Mother Nature and happenstance provide.

We also stand by to render assistance to vessels or crew as needed, and it’s typically the gnarliest conditions that produce such situations.

Can you please tell us a little it about Flagship Maritime and the work that you and Skip Anderson do to help experienced mariners earn their captain’s license training and credentials?

With over sixty years of experience on the water, including a full career in the U.S. Navy (and BTW, urged by me!), Skip launched Flagship Maritime back in 2007, to help professional mariners earn their USCG merchant mariner credentials.

I serve as the school’s Registrar and “Legal Instrument Examiner” for their credentialing packages, and he’s the instructor – works great! [Flagship Maritime is] approved by the USCG National Maritime Center, licensed by Washington State as a private vocational school, and with over 2,500 graduates to date, Flagship earned this year’s U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) Center of Excellence designation, one of only 27 training entities in the U.S. so designated, and the only two-person operation in the nation to do so.

Throw in professional-grade marine law-enforcement training FMLE (Fundamentals of Marine Law Enforcement), Tribal FMLE, EVOC (Enhanced Vessel Operations), RBO (Rescue Boat Operator), and you’ll find we’re very, very good at what we do.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

SMILE when you sail by PhotoBoat, or when PhotoBoat passes you–I’d love to “shoot you”.

Oh, and be sure to check out our two websites for more information: and

And for the record, Skip’s favorite quote of all time, which I have come to fully agree with, just might apply in your life, too: “The cure for anything is saltwater; sweat, tears, or the sea.”

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