16th June 2015
We were filming an interview at a restaurant opening just off the Strand, and the Producer remarked, “We’re doing the Clipper Race again. I’m starting to look for Camera people in the morning”
“Look no further” I replied
And that was it. Less than a week later I’d been hired as a shooting P/D for the next edition of the series.
I’d worked freelance with the broadcaster for years, mainly on the Davis Cup, and ever since I first encountered the race back in 2014 at the homecoming in London, I wanted to be involved. Since I’d left University, I’d always wanted to travel, but never as a tourist – and this race certainly doesn’t carry passengers.
I’m a proud Welshman, and I’ve worked in the media since 2005 when I graduated from Staffordshire University with a first class degree in Film, Television, and radio.
I started in corporate video, before a brief stint teaching A-Level Media back in my hometown of Wrexham, and then made a full commitment in 2009 back into Television, specifically documentary and sports.
I’ve since produced documentary for BBC4, multiple sports series broadcast on Sky Sports, and worked as a Producer for an award winning video communications agency in Cambridge, travelling extensively in the process.
“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did do” Mark Twain famously remarked.
So I decided that covering 40,000 nautical miles over 11 months, working with 600+ crew, and being part of 7 x 1 hour documentaries was worth the risk.
The apartment and car had to go. I gave up all my clients and personal engagements. To take on something like the Clipper race is no light commitment, whether you are completing one of the eight legs, or if you’re going all the way round the World.
Make no mistake, sailing is a dangerous sport and over the course of the race, there will be injuries, tension, and conflict – especially when you have 20 people living together for 30 days at a time, on a boat which is racing 24 hours a day, and on these 70 foot clipper yachts – there is no place to hide.
The mental and physical challenges of documenting such a race will be exhausting, and you’re really reliant on the people around you to keep your spirits up, and luckily you’re surrounded with some very positive people.
I’ve already been warned about the rough seas in the southern oceans, and the sub zero temperatures between China and North America.
“Pack light, pack right– and take an open mind with you” is some of the best advice I’ve been given so far.
So how does a cameraman with no real sailing experience prepare for something like this?
Like most others on the race, I’m an amateur sailor and have to undertake 4 levels of intensive training, which allows you to certified as a competent sailor and which you must complete to join the race. The first 3 levels are all about applying some quickly but expertly administered theory to practice, which is a little like my Film Television and Radio (FTVRS) course at Staffs – just with a little more water.
Level 4 is all about racing. You go to sea for 7 days, and you race. You enter a watch system, and you work for 6 hours, sleep for 6, work for 4, and sleep for 4 with the most challenging shift is between 2am and 4am. You lose all concept of time and space, and if you avoid seasickness in the first couple of days, you’re an extremely useful crew member.
Working in these conditions is extremely challenging. At race speed the boat heels over at 40 degrees, so you need a lot of energy to move around down below deck, and you need to be organised because everything takes longer – including eating and getting dressed. You can’t shower, have to wash with baby-wipes, and all race crew have to share bunks (Hot-bunking)
My job is to document the race, not to race – and I’ll never lose sight of that. You sometimes revert to a mind-set of ‘it’s not perfect, just get pictures’ because of the conditions, but that is the most important thing – just tell the story.
Before we leave, there is much to get through. Pre-race interviews for the first episode, build the story, VISAs, jabs, the boat deliveries into London, sponsor launches, and official engagements at number 10 are all part of the experience.
Choosing the right shooting kit is important. You want the best image, but also gear which allows you to remain safe, so there has to be a compromise. We’ll be shooting with Canon 5D’s in waterproof housing for when it gets really rough, and a Sony PMW200 as the feature on board camera. A C300 is available for the port/stopover shooting, and a Sony PMW500 on the chase boat for race starts.
We also have Go Pro’s, on-board security cameras, handy-cams for the crew, and the helicopter for race starts and finishes, which completes the shooting gear.
There is media training for all nominated crew members per boat, which includes how to send footage back over the satellite link and go live to newsrooms across the globe. At £24 per minute, that’s a resource which requires a bit of know-how.
There is no time to relax in the run up – although it would be sensible to do so. You’ve just got to hit the ground running and go with the flow.
Anticipation is building and for the most part, you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into too. Will you love it or will you hate it? Can you cope with the demands of making a television show in these conditions? All I really want to do is make decent telly and some friends along the way.
The race attracts some incredible people with some incredible stories, and the opportunity to tell these stories is an exciting prospect, especially to a global audience. So far this edition of the series has been sold to numerous well-known broadcasters around the World.
So, forget Sydney, Vietnam and NYC, for now it’s all about Rio, host of the 2016 Olympic games. I start on board Team GREAT Britain, and we’ll go from there.