Wild Thing (1990)

Yacht: Wild Thing

Race: Melbourne to Hobart

Year: 1990

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I was always looking for the strongest breeze and in 1990 a south-westerly gale was blowing on the south coast of Tasmania where the Melbourne to Hobart “Westcoaster” fleet was approaching. That was the place to be and so we headed down there making very slow, expensive progress into the 50-knot gale. Paying for air charter sharpens the eyesight, and as we approached South Cape I noticed some white water which looked a little different to the whitecaps and breaking waves all around.

We came down, buffeted by the wind, and found Wild Thing approaching. She was surfing down eight-metre waves at amazing speeds. Twenty-eight knots, I later learned. When a boat is surfing downwind, there is a peak of the action. It comes up onto the crest and hesitates, and then it starts to surf.

I stuck my head out of the plane, watching for the peak. I was fortunate that she was nearing the top of the wave and the first frame I shot was this image. People imagine that you’ve got the camera on motor drive and eventually you’ll get the perfect shot. But I only ever take one of two shots per pass. Sometimes you go around the boat four or five times trying to coordinate your pass with the peak of the action and don’t take a single shot. But we nailed it with this one. There was a lot of action.

Note the hole in the water behind the boat. This image ended up being published in most of the yachting magazines around the world. I produced a poster which I sold in 46 countries and some yachties would go on referring to me as “the man who shot the Wild Thing picture”.

This has been the most successful photograph of my career. And not just for me. A recent article about skipper Grant Wharington, claimed that this picture “established Wharington’s reputation in one image”.


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