What a year 2014 was. Besides a normal pipeline filled with marine-based writing assignments, I had the fortune and privilege of producing a mini-documentary for The New York Times and PBS on the New York to Barcelona Race. Working with some of the world’s top visual journalists defined a very real distinction being created in modern media where video news is not just videographers’ footage being edited by a producer, overseen by an editor. I wrote more about the experience for the Times’ Lens Blog. The professional sailors I was with, in this case, work hard for their salaries and the conditions, both on the sea and contractually, are often rough. But what an amazing life to capture.
This year began in a much different fashion for me. January produced an assignment that took me through the trash-choked canals and streets of Port au Prince, Haiti, to an orphanage on an island void of cars or electricity where some children are laying on the ground, with various disabilities, unable to move, and onward to a rough neighborhood in Jamaica and finally into the bizarre time warp that is Cuba.
Next up is the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Caribbean 600, February 24, where my assignment is to document the experience of racing aboard a classic yacht, in and out of the islands of the Caribbean. And like the rest of the Caribbean racing circuit, we will see the luxury and squalor of these islands each day when we walk the streets and travel the harbors. It is always a bitter sweet experience when you are on your way to a regatta party with flowing Rose’ and you pass people living under ratty blue tarps with little, if any clothing covering them.
January’s trip, aboard the Gannon and Benjamin wooden schooner Charlotte was 180 degrees off what the 600 represents. That was a humanitarian trip that, strangely, Charlotte’s owner, designer, builder, Nat Benjamin took because it was the most rewarding and enjoyable way to spend his time. Nothing gives Nat more pleasure than to load his boat with supplies (donated sails and tools, boxes of crayons, canvases, garbage bags and a few hundred clothes pins), at his own expense, and sail through a snow storm from Martha’s Vineyard to Isle a Vache, Haiti, and deliver these items to people who seem to have nothing.
As I write about all the major yachting events of 2015 I will certainly have a different view of who the heroes are in our sport. Professional sailors have chosen their careers. They earn an income and their personal “brands” are pushed out to the world through every imaginable technological platform. They are paid to do what they love and their challenges inspire us.
Nat Benjamin has also chosen his career and his sailing experience. And though his Caribbean winter experience is vastly different than most of ours (paying thousands of dollars to help teach art to children and bang in rough-hewn garboard planks so a family can continue subsistence fishing), he reminds us that a sailing hero does not have to be eating freeze dried meals in between lifting tons of sails while sea water is being fired at their bodies.
I will share my work on these Caribbean adventures as it is released in the Times Travel section, Sail, Sailing and Wooden Boat. And I am excited to continue looking at the sport of sailing and its players through an ever-changing and focused lens so we all can gain a broader perspective on its relevance today.