Life Behind the Lens: The Clipper Race Cameraman

25 August 2016

If you follow the Clipper Race you will likely have watched some of the YouTube videos or seen episodes of the recently award winning race documentary Race of Their Lives 2, the series which follows our crew around the world.

You will also have read the inspiring stories about Clipper Race crew and seen photos of them on board and arriving into the various ports. However unless you have had the experience of sailing with him, one person who went around the world will have remained unknown to most outside the race.

Rich Edwards is one of the videographers for 1080 Media, the company that film and produce the documentary series in conjunction with the Clipper Race media team, and had the unique view as the only person on the last edition who experienced at least one race on board every one of our twelve teams.

Not a sailor but there to capture the action, Rich now explains his experience as "the Clipper Race cameraman."

"Is there anything else I can get you sir?" My broccoli and stilton soup has just arrived, and the bar is relatively peaceful ahead of the impending Friday night rush on this balmy August evening in West London.

I look across the room into a corner and a mother is quietly reading a children's book to her daughter. On the cover is a picture of a sailing boat, and I could be forgiven for believing the last eleven months of adventure were written straight from those pages. This however is a world away from a galley on a Clipper 70 ocean racing yacht.

Prior to the Clipper Race, my sailing experience was practically zero, reflecting that of 40 per cent of the crew involved in the tenth edition of the longest ocean race round the planet. I'd only heard fleeting tales of Drake, Chichester and Knox-Johnston and their all-conquering endeavours.

My profession until now had been solidly based on terra firma, ranging from filming international tennis competitions to creating space documentaries, producing commercials for communication agencies, and spending a lot of time in airports eating Pret a Manger. Sailing was not my world, but storytelling is my passion.

Filming the Clipper 2013-14 Race homecoming in London however whetted my appetite when I saw these adventurers return full of pride and accomplishment, and thus began the journey of the 'Clipper Race Cameraman'.

Picture taken by Rich Edwards on board Da Nang - Viet Nam

Capturing the story and the crew personalities for the 'Race of Their Lives 2' - a seven part TV series filmed and produced by 1080 Media on behalf of the Clipper Race - was always going to prove unsurprisingly tricky, irrelevant of my experience. It just takes a little time to figure how you work best in a new environment, and my new environment just happened to be Mother Nature, the most unpredictable, changeable office you can imagine.

I learnt early on that you’ve 'just gotta be flexible' because Mother Nature doesn't care about how you feel, nor does she respect your best laid plans. Any well planned filming 'schedule' became a living, breathing organism. If I wanted to interview someone, it could take five days to get them in the ideal situation. The weather dictated this because changes in circumstance occupy people and their time. Eventually reading the weather 24 hours in advance allowed a smoother way of working, but ultimately at the beginning of each race I had a notepad with a few names, what I wanted to talk to them about, and this fitted in with pre-production planning on how each of our programmes would be constructed which also included the stories of the stopovers in 14 ports around the globe.

I always prepared for the unexpected. Stuff happens constantly at sea, and often quickly without warning. The general rule is 'always have a camera to hand.' I was on board GREAT Britain for the opening leg from London to Rio de Janeiro, when crew member John Charles became trapped up the mast. Documenting this was straightforward for me once I'd internally risk assessed. The camera provides a disconnect which can be dangerous because the crew may view it as invasive, but if you show respect and create an unspoken boundary, you can go about your work without hindrance. Thankfully, John made a full recovery and re-joined the race from Cape Town.

Every day, like the crew, I faced some kind of challenge albeit different. For one reason or another just two hours from the finish into New York I had no cameras available to capture the drama unfolding on the winning boat ClipperTelemed+. I am not a technical specialist, I am a storyteller. I have no assistance on board, but I can't afford to arrive in port with a hard luck story because that is a concept so alien even typing it seems disloyal to my professionalism. One of the biggest ‘take homes’ from this Clipper Race filming, and indeed the overall experience, is that 'you've just got to find a way', irrespective how tired or emotional you feel and irrelevant of the conditions. I found a solution and without drama.

En route from Rio to Cape Town in the second leg, realising that I could not control my environment enabled me to be more relaxed, and allowed me to focus on the crew and telling their stories. As a 32 year old 'non-sailor' my means of documentation are pretty hardwired, but you've just got to go with the flow or you will fail.

Filming in various weathers requires different kit, which you can only work out as you experience the conditions. If it was bad weather I’d use the small and light waterproof cameras on deck because they allow me to get around without hassle. If smooth, I would revert to the heavier cameras because I don't need to hang on. Judging the transitional period is difficult, because play it safe and you might miss capturing the action in a specific way, with more sound and dialogue. Get it wrong and you're risking kit damage, and you can't play cricket if you haven't got a bat to swing when the ball arrives.

Filming for weeks on end, much like sailing, is the biggest challenge because you question your own willingness to continue owing to the repetitive nature of the adventure. Luckily this is a very human race, and as a self-proclaimed ‘people person’ you easily find solace connecting with people. Everyone is beaten at some point, so realising everyone needed help every now and again was important to staying focussed. There were times where I felt extremely isolated and almost helpless in my solitary role, because the filming buck does stop with me on the water, but the thought of failure only served to galvanise a response.

Over the course of my 'accidental circumnavigation' I was privileged to sail on each of the twelve boats which comprise the Clipper Race fleet, and as the only person on the race to do did this I gained a very unique insight into the social dynamics of the race as a whole and of each team. From the very first second I stepped on every boat I had to form a fresh opinion on how best to engage with each team which was based on some simple, yet important factors.

Picture taken by Rich Edwards on board Da Nang - Viet Nam

Primarily, how competitive is the team? Will they be more or less relaxed about my positioning on the boat as a result of that? How are the team viewed by their peers in the fleet? Are they easy going? Who are the personalities? Much of my strategy was to work closely with the Skipper and align with the dominant personalities on the boat, with an aim to understanding the ideologies and the 'DNA' of the team. There were circumstances where documenting a more popular figure on a boat ensured acceptance into the group, in addition to keeping an open and honest policy with every member of the crew. Not everybody wanted to be documented either, and I respect that. This created an easier-going environment to work within.

My personal observation during the documentation is that some crews subscribe to becoming a racing team, others a family, and the remainder a mixture of the two. The Skipper very obviously sets the tempo and intensity, which is evident in the filming, and how they impart and implement that knowledge is integral to the success of the boat. Each boat tends to have approximately four super competitive characters, and the same number of people just wanting to get around. As a filmmaker the middle group interested me because whichever smaller group emerged as the dominant personalities normally won them over and that dictated if the boat was fixated on success, or just took things with less intensity. I enjoyed the longer races more because it takes time to be accepted wholeheartedly by the group.

In these extreme environments, you absolutely see the best and the worst in people. The camera is like a flame. Sometimes people are drawn to the warmth of its glow, but get too close and the wrong moment and it can burn both of you. Sometimes you need to rush in, other times you just need to let it develop. We're not looking to make an obscure or 'exposé' type of programme, so to some degree we are removing an element of sensationalism because I also have built friendships and trust.

Different people require different approaches, and in my position you have to recognise these in order to get the most out of them, and ultimately to be respectful. Some people will happily communicate to the camera if they have just wrapped a kite, others will disappear to reflect for four hours. Both provide interesting reactions, so it is just about timing. If you have trust, you have content. How you go about achieving this defines how you will be remembered, so I tried my best to show them my respect.

This leads nicely into establishing what makes interesting viewing. People can be interesting, but you have to look deeper for variety in their story to make really compelling content. They must be motivated, that is my prerequisite, and they must have an opinion. They also must have a personality the audience can be either intrigued, educated, or entertained by. The story behind them always provides the backdrop of inspiration, so they must be prepared to communicate their story as a platform on which to build, otherwise it is very difficult to tell their tale.

For the reasons given, some of my favourite contributors across the race included Bridget Keevil from Da Nang - Viet Nam, Stephen O'Connor sailing on LMAX Exchange, and Linda McDavitt on ClipperTelemed+. They all embraced the adventure of the Clipper Race and were prepared to communicate 'their race' and backstories with interest, enthusiasm and totally honesty.

Personally I most enjoyed the filming dynamic on Visit Seattle, where we had a number of varying characters ranging from a 'zany' former air traffic controller obsessed with the weather, to Martin Frey, who by crossing the North Pacific became the first man to sail the seven seas and climb the world's seven summits. There are some very special people on this race and I have so enjoyed getting to meet them in such memorable circumstances.

During my time on Visit Seattle, I enjoyed myself so much I decided to make a video to celebrate their North Pacific crossing. On board was Video Producer Amancio Maciá, and we went through one or two ideas together to produce some video content a 'little more crafted', with the theme being more of passion and love, and the music juxtaposing the power and ferocity of those infamous waters. The video needed to be under four minutes, and was to be told as a visual memory of the leg, rather than a story with interviews from the start to finish of the race.

We can talk all day about the video, but the key to producing content the fleet could appreciate is to go through what they went through. How do they feel? What do they do? What do they see and experience? Visit Seattle were a very closely bonded team, so in that sense you 'feel the love' which motivated me to make something memorable for them, but also inspired the warmth in the video. If I could just represent these themes from a number of creative angles it would work. If you don't 'feel' what they went through, you can't produce it. Much of this video was based on how I emotionally felt at the time and this very much guided the order and tone of the edit.

It was a 32 day process where I tinkered every evening with the video, screening it to the crew, constantly gauging their reaction. Having feedback like this on-site in that situation was real guidance and totally unique, so I can never underestimate the role of which the crew played in the finished product. Although the North Pacific provided many beautiful visuals, it does take a month to actually capture them, so once this had been achieved I was able to fill in the gaps with more controllable factors, such as people laughing in the galley and the kettle boiling. Slow motion cameras played a huge part in capturing these moments, really showing off the detail in the wonder of everything we came across.

The overwhelmingly positive reaction of the fleet was telling when the video was premiered in Seattle, and it certainly resonated with people and their experience crossing the most open, desolate and dangerous expanses of water on the planet. I think it made the Pacific Leg real for those at home too as you could really feel the experience in a way we hadn’t tackled before.

Picture taken by Rich Edwards on board Visit Seattle

Making that video was a highlight, albeit a work related one, and something I will always watch back with awe, but I have many personal highlight moments which I'll never forget. My absolute favourite was 'discovering' Australia for the first time as Willem Janszoon would have seen it on his approach in 1606, untouched and with no signs of human intervention. Filming Sir Robin and William ringing the opening bell to open the stock markets in New York at Nasdaq was pretty cool as you could see and feel how much it meant to them, as was seeing our Clipper Race adverts on the big screens filling Times Square. A proud moment. Crossing the North Pacific with Visit Seattle was special, as was documenting ClipperTelemed+'s emotional victory into New York. My closing highlight was certainly a more homely one, and this was hearing the Irish Coastguard over the VHF whilst sitting in the Derry-Londonderry-Doire Nav Station with Circumnavigator Ellie Fearon, because it signified the emotional beginning of the end to this seemingly never-ending journey.

Ultimately, the experience taught me that people can only achieve when they come together, and this lesson is very evident within the documentation of the Race of Their Lives 2 series. Never empower a problem because that isn't positive problem solving. All the problems we faced, we solved.

I've met some truly amazing people over the past twelve months, and as I sit here back in 'reality', typing and watching my soup go cold, the mother has finished reading to her child in the corner of the room, concluding her story and thus concluding mine as the Clipper Race Cameraman, because even good stories must come to an end, and new ones await to be discovered.

Click here to watch the Race of Their Lives 2 trailer.

Click here to watch Rich's Seattle Pacific Challenge video and The Journey Home video filmed during the LegenDerry Finale.

The Race of Their Lives 2 picked up the ‘Best Documentary Series-UK’ Award in the industry TMT Media Awards 2016 a couple of weeks ago.

The programmes have been distributed to broadcasters around the world, reaching well in excess of one hundred countries so far, and have run as each show is completed during the race. The final show will be distributed in September when the full series is expected to be repeated in its entirety on many channels, with additional broadcasters also taking it at that time too.

The shows have been distributed throughout Asia including China, Australia, Middle East, Africa, Europe including the UK and Russia, plus North and South America.

In the UK, Sky Sports is also taking the series and transmission times will be published when we have them.

Other broadcasters include: Fox Sports Europe, Africa and Australia; Bloomberg; Fox Sports Asia; FoxTel; STAR Sports; BeIN Sports; Supersport; TV3; Globosat; RBC TV; POP TV (US); China New Media; Viettel TV; Leonado TV; Astro TV; and Edge Sport.

A number of airlines and ocean cruise liners are also taking the series for their on-board TV channels and entertainment systems.

A DVD set of the latest series will be available to purchase in November.

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