Clive Mason, a photographer with the International Olympic Committee’s official photo agency, Getty Images, gives us the lowdown on photojournalism on the waves during the Olympic Sailing events at Weymouth and Portland.
The London 2012 Olympic sailing regatta was the third such event that I’ve covered. Having been in Athens and Beijing, I was really looking forward to covering this Olympic regatta as it would be contested on home waters – and waters that I felt sure would be conducive to Team GBs medal prospects.
My first experience of the Weymouth and Portland venue was in January 2011. I travelled down with a couple of colleagues to find accommodation for the run-up to the 2012 Games. As we all know, a seaside town out of season is a completely different kettle of fish to one during the peak summer season, but the job was done, a house found and sights turned firmly to the job in hand.
When I arrived in Weymouth, just over a week ahead of the Opening Ceremony, the town had been totally transformed. Compared to my visit 18 months earlier, it was buzzing with the anticipation of hosting the Olympic regatta.
During my career as a professional sports photographer I have been lucky enough to experience everything from round-the-world yacht races, Football, Cricket and Rugby World Cups, Euro Football Championships and the last 3 Winter and Summer Games, all on top of covering the Formula One World Championship over the last 15 years.
Now, Weymouth and Portland felt, from the first day, quite special. As it’s on home waters, it has a more homely feel and a familiarity. The new sailing facilities are second to none. We were treated during the first week to spectacular weather. To be honest, not the greatest weather for sailing, but being British and knowing how bad our British summer had been, a spectacular week nonetheless. Temperatures reached the late 20s, under clear blue skies. The venue, volunteers and staff were a great bunch and not only knowledgeable, but charming and friendly too.
The first week flew by and before I knew it I was at the Weymouth Beach Live Site, Team GB were on stage, and the Opening Ceremony was just about to begin. The Games were on!
Working on the water presents its own set of challenges – exposure to the elements, protecting valuable camera equipment and challenging photographic obstacles become all part of the daily routine. We work from RIBs which are rigid inflatable boats with a large outboard motor attached. As one of the major agencies, we are privileged enough to be given a RIB with a handpicked driver and flexibility to move around freely from course to course. The only major obstacle for the photo boats is the ever-present OBS boats. The Olympic Broadcasting Service is the major rights holder to the event and therefore ultimately has the power to make and enforce the rules. Woe betide anyone coming between them and their perfect shot out on the water. The RIB driver is ultimately responsible for putting our boat in the right place for the shot, but he’s also the one who takes the flak if he obstructs the OBS, marshal or jury boats. A tough job!
All our equipment is housed in waterproof pelican boxes while travelling from course to course or mark to mark as obviously, when moving, it’s liable to get a complete soaking. When we are in position to photograph a ‘rounding’ (when the boats turn around a bouy), the photo boat is largely still, all apart from a small amount of movement to combat tide and wind so the gear stays relatively dry – unless, of course, we’re treated to some fine British rain!
Some of the hardest conditions to work in are on the Weymouth Bay East and South courses. However, the harder our working conditions are, the harder the sailors are working and therefore, the better the pictures are.
All the medal races were staged on the Nothe course, which, while disliked by the sailors themselves, allows spectators a great view from the shoreline. From my view on the water, I could see several thousand spectators treated to a great day out. They got to witness some special moments with Team GB winning a history-making gold with Ben Ainslie in the Finn class and several other medals besides.
Sadly, my time in Weymouth has drawn to a close. It seemed to pass in a blur: new friends were made, memories created and a good time was had by all. I won’t be present for the Paralympics – my duty as an F1 photographer takes over again – but I’ll remember Weymouth fondly, and, when I watch the Paralympics, I know I’ll wish I was there.
© Photos Getty Images/Clive Mason