Tasmanian Photographer Richard Bennett has become synonymous with the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. For 50 years, he has been out there with the fleet, capturing every boat as they fight for the best time across Bass Strait to Hobart.
Today, at 1 pm, the firing of a cannon will mark the beginning of the race, and the fleet will sail out of Sydney Harbour. Richard, now 78 years old, will watch the race tracker and the wind, ready to take to the skies and photograph the iconic race for the 50th time.
Yachties describe him as courageous and dedicated and his work as the pinnacle of yacht race photography – spectacular and realistic.
One yachtie said:
The sight of his beard behind the camera as he hangs out the side of the branded aircraft has become as familiar and exciting a sight to yachties as the tall dolerite cliffs that mark the entrance to the home stretch.
For Richard, it all starts before dawn. At 4 am, he heads to the airstrip to meet his pilot to take off at first light. He wants the beautiful morning glow, and he doesn’t want to miss a minute, an opportunity to capture a yacht and a crew in their element approaching the finish line of the world’s toughest ocean race.
His daughter Alice, also a photographer, will be shooting the race with him this year, something she has been doing intermittently since she was 14 years old. She is in training for the eventual day that Richard puts down his camera, which he is adamant is many years away.
“To share that experience of being there with Dad, with him in his element, is very special,” Alice says.
In between shooting, Alice says they are ‘giggly’ with excitement, literally hopping from toe to toe, eager to get back out there. Richard monitors the weather constantly, and if there is a huge wind off the south coast, they fly down there to ‘get the west coasters’.
“We’re just having so much fun. The light, the waves and the boats are coming. We’re so excited to get out there, the pilot is always telling us to wait and let the yachts get a little closer until we can’t wait any longer, and then we leap into the air again.”
They are out from dawn to dusk getting every boat possible in the daylight. Alice says Richard goes so hard for that week and then crashes at the end. A couple of times, Richard has finished the race with pneumonia from being in extreme conditions, pushing himself hard for the duration of the race.
“What struck me the most,” says Alice, “is how much he cares – about getting every boat and about getting the best shots. He wants a shot that the yachties will be proud of.
“As he approaches, he assesses the yacht, and if the sails aren’t set correctly, I can hear him talking to them (into his headset) saying ‘come on’, sort of willing them to get everything perfect. He instructs the pilot to come around again, allowing the crew the time to put everything right. “Oh, hang on, they’re getting on the rail,” he’ll say “do another pass” to get the portrait.
“He appreciates what they are going through below and wants to capture what they went through.”
“The wind is where the action is. And yachties like to see their boat sailing well in rough conditions. They go home and talk about how rough it was out there and the water can look flat calm. And people say, that isn’t rough, it looks like a mill pond. So, I capture what they go through. Out at sea. And to do that I need a jet ranger helicopter with a highly skilled pilot to provide the platform and the experience to put me where I need to be – where the action is. And it’s been said that the harder it blows the happier I am. And that’s generally, true. There have been occasions where it has blown too hard. But fortunately, that doesn’t happen often.”
On when he’ll retire, Richard says “I’m only 78. Approaching my prime.”
Photographing the race is demanding but he says “When you’re concentrating on a major project, you need to put in 100 percent effort.”
“It doesn’t matter how hard it is. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It requires total commitment, determination and relentless pursuit of the goals, irrespective of the difficulties, because the yachts don’t stop until they get to Constitution Dock.
“And until I have photographed them all, I’m going to be out there chasing down every yacht because when they get to Hobart they’re going to turn up at my stand and ask to see their photographs. So, it’s my job to make sure the photographs are there when they get to Hobart. It’s a shared experience really. It’s telling their story in amazing photographs.”