Let’s sort things out…

Now I don't and never will be in a position where I claim to know everything, but I do like to think that no matter what my affiliations I can cast a fair and balanced eye over situations and events.

I don't think it will surprise anyone who knows me when I say that powerboat racing is my absolute favourite sport. Having been a keen motorsport fan my entire life, and a life-long lover of being around water, the two combine perfectly in this high-octane, adrenaline-fuelled sport, and it is through this sport that I have met some of the people I am pleased to call my closest friends.

What I don't understand is the divisions. Back in my teens I was a keen mountain biker, specifically into downhill riding. There were divisions within cycling then: cross-country riders (XC) would pass us on the flat with ease on our big, heavy bikes and we would whinge and curse. Riding on the road to or from our rides, "roadies" would fly past us and again we would mock and curse them. I think back on it now and I simply don't understand it. The only possible explanation I can come up with is that I was a immature and didn't appreciate what others saw in their preferred discipline within a sport all based around the same basic model.

For the last 6 years, I have been involved in circuit racing in the UK, photographing the National Championship rounds. That said, I love powerboat racing for what it is and if you gave me the chance to go to an offshore race I would snap it up. What baffles me though, is that looking in from my position at what I believe to be a fun, exciting sport that the competitors love, it appears that it is being torn apart by the divisions between disciplines, and in many instances in a very public way.

A lot has happened within the world of powerboat racing over the past months and this week in particular. It saddens me that journalists who I believe should be presenting a fair, unbiased view of the sport take sides and provoke comments on public forums. It saddens me that the UIM World Offshore Championships in Guernsey have been cancelled today due to a lack of entries. There is a part of me that wonders how long it will be before someone somewhere comments that there aren't enough races in the UK, yet a club such as the GPA went to such lengths to secure and promote a world class event only for people to not enter.

I love powerboat racing. I love the friends I've made through it and the experiences I've been lucky enough to have had through it. I also wish I could change it. At the moment, the most publicly accessible face of powerboat racing in the U.K. is through social media. And it is not a good face. People don't remember the photographs and videos they see, or the results sheets that are posted throughout an event weekend. They remember the slanging match they read between groups of individuals who frankly stoop to behaviour more befitting of an 8 year old.

Don't get me wrong, I have a very strong nostalgic streak and having recently posted some photographs my dad took in the 80's I have noticed that they draw as much if not more positive reaction than anything I post of current racing. I will never try to claim I have all the facts. But I have seen comments about "going back 30 years" written recently. Times change. Sometimes the change is reactive. Sometimes it is pre-emptive.But change happens. It is unstoppable. If I could go back 30ish years and watch the likes of Spalding, Percival and Seebold racing round Bristol docks I would. I wouldn't want racing to be like that today though.

I'm aware this has been a bit of a waffle, but ultimately my point is simple. Despite my limited involvement over a relatively short period, I consider powerboat racing to me "my" sport. Not circuit, not offshore, but powerboat racing as a whole, and at the moment "my" sport is not coming off well to the public. We want people to get involved. We want to make people want to come and watch. I don't think we're doing that at the moment.

Back To The Future…

I recently had a decision to make. For the last 10 years or more, I have been using Nikon DSLR’s. Not the smallest or lightest of cameras, especially when paired with my Sigma 50-500mm lens. The thing is though, when working for Powerboat GP, this lens is the most versatile piece of kit I’ve ever owned. It’s well priced, and has a range which makes it suitable for close-up shots in the powerboat pits and then the action shots when the boats are out on the lake and I’m stood on the bank. It’s a set-up that works for me, and I can’t see myself giving up on it in the near future.

It’s not exactly easily portable though. Sometimes I want to be able to go out, grab my camera as I run out of the door and know that I’ve got kit with me that will produce the results I need without breaking my back.  So I started looking at Compact Systems. The market is awash with mirrorless cameras at the moment, and each manufacturer has their own USP’s and little quirks. I’ll be honest. What swayed me in my decision was nostalgia.

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My first SLR, given to me by my dad when I was 10, was an Olympus OM-10. I remember my dad had a range of OM bodies in cases, and I was made up to have one like his. We would go to Oulton Park in Cheshire to watch club motor racing, and I have memories of sitting on a fallen tree at Deer Leap, watching the cars come out of Old Hall, blast past us through the dip, then up the rise to the start finish straight. After the OM-10, I was then given an OM-4Ti. Even at such a young age (probably about 15 I think) I found that this was such a lovely camera to use. 

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When Olympus launched the OM-D range a few years ago I was intrigued. Mirrorless cameras were relatively new to the market and I didn’t know much about them. Now things have changed. There is a firm place in the world for a small-bodied, SLR style camera and their appeal has been steadily rising. And there are some good deals out there now, so I took the plunge. The Internet is a wealth of information, and when it comes to technology I’ve always found that quality reviews are easy to come by. When a review by a respected tech publication says a product “ticks boxes you probably didn’t even know about“, then it’s probably worth a shot. So I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II.

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I’ve only had it 2 days, so this is by no means a review. This is simply a post to say thank you to Olympus for creating something that both keeps up with current requirements and takes me straight back to my early days of photography every time I pick it up.  Will it replace my Nikon kit? Almost certainly not. Will it go with me to places the Nikon doesn’t?  Almost certainly .

Last Man Standing

There’s a house beside a wheat field, and at this time of year the farmers and their combine harvesters begin to reappear.

The wheat field’s edged with Poppies, red beacons shining bright like guardians defending their Kingdom day and night. 

The time has come to bring in the crop, as every year dictates. The machines arrive to do their job, the guardian’s fate awaits.

The wheat is cut, the field bare, this season’s so demanding. And there beside the empty field is this…the last man standing. 

Impromptu Portraits

My daughter, who will be 4 in November, can be such a poser. She loves to “get beautiful”, putting makeup on in the mirror and most of the time she loves having her picture taken. 

This afternoon we were outside and I happened to have my camera to hand. Walking by a recently harvested field, she started to play on the edge of it, kicking up the loose bits of straw. She spotted me taking her picture and these are the results.

My ‘Not a Race Report’

I don’t think I could write a race report. Not in my current role anyway. In my understanding, writing a race report requires you to focus your attention on as many aspects of the race as it develops as possible. Sure, in some cases it might be possible to look back over lap charts from race control to ensure accuracy of reporting, but you also need to watch the race as a whole. What I see during a race is almost completely through my viewfinder. Framed, almost like watching it on TV. That said, I’ve just spent two days watching for things that might be about to develop.

The Lowestoft Grand Prix provided entertainment across all the classes. One of the first things that struck me was how quick Scott Curtis looked in qualifying. Considering how recently he had got his hands on the boat he was showing blistering pace. Watching the attitude of the boat on the water you could see that he was on it. I watched him round the top turn and head towards the club house, then the gasp from the crowd caught my attention. It happened so quickly. In a fraction of a second, Steve Hoult was going skyward. Looking up I saw his boat, pointing very much in the wrong direction. I pointed my camera and caught from the moment his Molgaard touched down and barrel rolled to a rest. I then did what I always do when I catch an accident – I watched to see that the driver was safely out of the boat. Seeing him standing on the Osprey Rescue boat, I let out a sigh of relief. The boat had suffered extensive damage. The right sponson had been completely removed, the deck split, screen and other body panels cracked, and of course the engine had been submerged. All fixable, but not in time to race.

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With what turned out to be the only major incident of the weekend behind us, my focus returned to the racing; and what a display of racing it was. The level of maturity and standard of racecraft demonstrated by the young GT15 drivers was outstanding. F1 Atlantic GB’s Harvey Smith, putting his new Povvat hull through it’s paces, pulled out a great lap in qualifying to take pole for Race 1, but Thomas Mantripp’s race start was enough to see him lead as they passed the crowd on the bank for the first time. The grit and determination shone through though, as each and every driver did what they could to maintain their position or make their way through the pack.

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The GT30 class was equally entertaining over the weekend. In qualifying, Ben Jelf picked up where he left off last year, at the front, and Thomas Mantripp showed promising form in his first National outing in the class by taking second. Tiegen Goodfellow impressed with a great drive to third on the grid, but it was with her starts that Tiegen really made her presence felt. Rocketing away from the start pontoon, Tiegen established herself firmly in second place after the first turn; a position she would claim as her own in all the races of the event. With Thomas Mantripp now down in third, he found himself beginning a weekend long battle with Jack Pickles. Race 1 had to be restarted after Jack hooked in front of Thomas in the Wherry Turn and the two boats collided, becoming locked together in a slow spin. Neither driver were injured in the incident, but their emotions were clear out on the water. I saw the two drivers after their first race, shaking hands and checking each were ok. It was great to see. From here on in, the rest of their weekend seemed to be spent chasing each other round the course, both displaying great driving skill and putting on a really good show.

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The OSY400 class, made up of three regular drivers and two who switched from Hydro’s, was a display of spectacular driving. Luke Hugman and his new boat set the pace from the off, and it was great to see Jason Mantripp settling into his new boat so well. For anyone who isn’t familiar with OSY’s, the driver lies on their front in these boats, controlling the throttle with their left hand and steering with their right, and they are stunning to watch.

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The F4 class saw three newcomers, Leon King, Matt Wood (switching from T850’s) and Ben Jelf, taking on established racers Rob Veares and Sam Whittle. Again it was reigning champion Sam who dominated the weekend, but from my viewpoint the closest racing was that between Ben and Leon. The determination of these two drivers was clear for all to see.

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Returning to the F2’s, Scott Curtis continued his qualifying form, driving a blinding Race 1 to finish second. Colin Jelf dominated the weekend, with Paul Balfour following a close second. From my point of view, these boats photograph best when right on the edge. Don’t get me wrong, in the flesh they’re impressive no matter how high out of the water they are, but a photograph needs to make a statement. Matt Palfreyman’s Moore boat is yet to have it’s livery applied for this year. Apart from one small sticker it’s plain white. It’s a beautiful boat, but not that exciting to look at. Until Matt gets it going. Lap after lap, Matt would exit the turns and stand the boat up, accelerating hard down the straights, crossing the prop wash of boats in front trying to give himself the best line, at times literally flying the boat.

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All in all, the Lowestoft Grand Prix was a great weekend. On display was great racing, great sportsmanship and great entertainment, and in a little over three weeks Powerboat GP heads north to Carr Mill to do it again. I for one can’t wait.

To keep up to date with all the latest news from Powerboat GP, follow them at powerboatgpblog.wordpress.com

Southport Airshow 2015

Farewell to Vulcan XH558. The end of the 2015 display season marked the end of the iconic Vulcan’s display life, and Southport Airshow marked another milestone in this aircrafts active life – it was the final ever time it flew in close formation with the RAF Display Team, The Red Arrows.

I’ve always considered the Vulcan to be a beautiful aircraft, and it played a hugely important role in the Falklands (when I was not yet 1 year old) but it wasn’t until two years before the end of it’s flying life that I managed to see it airborne. Two years later, at one of the last displays of the season, the Vulcan stole the show. The Red Arrows with their amazing close formation flying were spectacular, paying homage to the Spitfire to commemorate the 75th anniversary of The Battle Of Britain. The Eurofighter Typhoon put on a phenomenal display, power-sliding through the  sky, cranking up the reheat and creating it’s own clouds. In fact, every aircraft that took to the skies commanded the attention of the huge crowd lining the front, but I have never heard an applause like that which erupted from the seafront as XH558 banked for one final time and flew off into the distance.

Martin Mere on Mother’s Day

I have always enjoyed photographing birds, and on Mothers Day my family and I took a trip up to Martin Mere. My wife used to visit the reserve as a child and going back there with our own children is something we both really enjoy.

In some enclosures the birds roam freely, crossing the paths. In a lot of others the birds can be as close as an arm’s length away. This proximity provides opportunities to get some great close up shots.

New season, new blog…

So this year I thought I’d keep a blog to accompany my travels around the country with Powerboat GP and of course any other places I might get to.

I have been working with Powerboat GP for three years now and this year promises to be as thrilling as ever. During the off-season we have heard about some established drivers who will not be racing this year, and heard about some new faces who will be joining the action and fighting for the crown of Powerboat GP National Champion in one of six classes.

So, this year promises to be a good one. In addition to Powerboat GP, I intend to get out to some car racing again and will also be turning my hand to offshore racing in the Channel Islands. The aim of my blog is to give you a glimpse into what goes into a race weekend for both the competitors and myself, and hopefully I will provide you with an unusual perspective into the adrenaline-fuelled world of circuit powerboat racing.