It’s been quite some time since I’ve packed up my camera bag and hit the road in search of new painting material. My last overnight mid-Atlantic excursion was to photograph the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race back in 2008 in Annapolis, Md. I was lucky enough to hire a skilled boat captain to maneuver me around the dozens of glorious schooners just off of the southern side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. At first the air was still, the start of the annual race down the Bay was unimpressive with schooners jockeying for position to catch any little wind possible. As I took lifeless photos of the ships for detail purposes my disappointment was building. It was a gray day with deteriorating hopes of any improvement in the weather. Sure I could work from these less than perfect photos I was taking but it makes creating an interesting action scene all the more difficult. Turning a hull, mast, booms and setting sails properly to simulate movement in a drawing from a flat two dimensional photograph can be quite challenging. Working from a ship model is ideal because it is three dimensional and one can tilt it to the proper angle. The only problem with that is it’s hard to find ship models for every schooner you want to paint. Thomas Hoyne, the notable ship painter, worked directly from sizeable ship models that he would have made for him. This can become quite costly and is not practical for most painters. The importance of a good photograph means saving hours upon hours of research and drafting time. I was standing on the front of the boat, camera in hand with little hope of getting the action photos I was longing for, when all of a sudden the skipper said “See those ripples on the water?” as she pointed off in the distance. “That squall off the port side is sending a good breeze our way. Get ready!”
Sure enough the distant foul weather suddenly created a good blow that filled the large canvas sails in a hurry. The tall pilot schooner The Virginia and the clipper ship The Pride of Baltimore II, the two primary subjects I was hoping to capture, took off side by side, nose to nose and I found myself flying alongside, standing up in a large rubber raft motorboat shooting action shots as fast as I could. In a split second my luck had changed. We circled the two ships in all their glory, taking photos from all desired perspectives. As they raced off into the distance I was pumping with adrenaline. The captain of the Virginia later informed me that the two friendly rivals were back and forth sharing the lead at a mighty clip throughout the moonlit night in one of the most exhilarating races he has ever experienced. Nearing the finish line the Virginia’s boom broke and the race was won this time by the Pride of Baltimore II. I returned home with some of the best photos that I’ve ever taken.
All of the planning ahead of time, researching the race, lining up a boat to take me out and the expense of it all paid off this time because of Mother Nature cooperating and coming through at the perfect time. I painted several scenes from those photos including Friendly Rivals and The Lettie G. Howarddepicted here. I have a collection of photos of the clipper ship the Pride of Baltimore II from that race that I also look forward to painting some day.
I’m getting ready to hit the road again. I’m doing my research, charging my camera battery, clearing my memory cards and preparing for a quick trip to St. Michael’s, MD on the Eastern Shore. I have in mind capturing some birdlife possibly at the Audubon Reserve, lighthouses, skipjacks and working waterman. I’m hoping for the weather to cooperate again and to stumble across scenes that will inspire me. You never know when hitting the road if it will be productive but the experience alone is energizing. Stocking up on new images to paint, having good material to choose from motivates me to start right into a new project after completing the last.
The Lettie G. Howard
The opportunities are an unknown as I’m not all that familiar with the area. It’s been over 20 years since I last visited St. Michael’s, before I was even an artist. I’ll be looking at it with different eyes. I prepare myself for not finding much and then if I do come across a gem with the “Wow Factor” it’s all the more exciting. I’ll let you know how my photographic hunting trip to St. Michael’s goes. Wish me luck!