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Monday, November 08, 1999

November 9, 1999-The Day New York Broke In Two

wingssail image-fredrick roswold
Drama on the Hauraki Gulf

Kauwau Cat heaved in the grey swell and the long lenses of the six photographers rose and fell with the waves to keep the big glass centered on the two AC yachts rounding the bottom mark. New York and Nippon dropped uneventfully and turned up-wind to chase after Young Australia plodding alone since her opponent had broken down. No action.

The driver engaged the big jet’s forward gear and started to turn into the wind.

“Shit! We aren’t going up there again are we?”

The sentiment was shared by four of the men. Three miles upwind in these waves was brutal punishment on the 46’ open photo boat and for what? The grey day and flat light robbed all color from any photos taken that day and the results of the race between these back runners wasn’t news, so why bother? Auckland was the other way.

But the Japanese guy wanted to shoot this race to the end. Back home it was big news.

“Let’s follow them.” He said.

“Yeah” I echoed, “let’s go up for the last rounding.” Not popular. The other photogs shook their heads sadly. But when have I been popular? Anyhow my motivation was different from theirs. I didn’t care about bright colors and blue skies. I wanted wild shots of the boats sailing in the big waves and wind; I liked the flying spray and the plunging bows in these conditions, and I took a rather masochistic pleasure from anticipation of the flying ride to the top mark. I knew what was coming if we went there. Kauwau Cat could bull the waves aside like no other and with her big diesel roaring the ride would be exciting but it wouldn’t be comfortable. The only way to take it was put the Nikon in the dry bag, button up the foulies, and take the trip leaning into it, standing so the knees could absorb the shock not seated which would punish my back and then revel in the salt spray, feel the big RIB ride the waves and troughs. Yes, I wanted to go up to the top mark one more time. I loved it.

Minority rules; the driver wouldn’t risk any complaints about going home early. We headed up wind; six men huddled with their collars turned up and their heads down to keep the wind and spray off. The engine roared when Kauwau Cat leaped off the waves and the Hamilton Jet and sucked air but driver never backed off the throttle. I liked this guy.

No other photo boats made that trip and we were going to be alone at the top mark. “OK” I thought, “I don’t care”. In fact there weren’t even any spectator boats there, just the chase boats from the two racers and an umpire boat; they had to be there.

We arrived just after Young Australia rounded and as the jet boat settled down off plane we got our cameras out. The Auzzie’s white kite was filled and they going away fast but Nippon Challenge was closer and we watched her bear away for the mark. I didn’t see any drama here. I turned to New York, a little behind and just getting to the starboard layline.

I brought up my Nikon to shoot a few frames at the tack which I knew was coming. It was a little far away even for 400mm but I was ready to bang off some shots anyhow.

wingssail image-fredrick roswold
The Moment

The dark grey boat came around and then rode over a big crest and dropped into the inevitable hole after. I was shooting and I saw a big splash and then I knew something was wrong: the boat stopped in her tracks and then suddenly crumpled in half as I watched, the bow lifting to the sky like the barrel of an artillery piece while the stern itself rose like an elevator from the water carrying the stunned afterguard upward.

I must have exclaimed something because the other photographers swiveled around and started shooting too.

“Get over there!” Someone shouted to the driver.

“I can’t go inside the course”, he answered, panic in his voice.

Six voices in unison: “Get Going, Now!”

Kauwau Cat roared and heeled as the driver swung around and hit the gas.

The crew of New York was jumping off as we got there and we all expected to see the big yacht founder at any moment. The chase boats closed in to pull crew from the water but there was nothing for us to do. We circled and stayed out of the way fired off frame after frame. This was the news moment of the week and we were there. If we’d gone home early there would have been no photos of this, and thank God we were there because how would we explain that to the photo editor back at the office. “You mean you got no shots of this?” But we had it.

New York sat wallowing in the water looking like some kind of crazy Italian gondola, but it wasn’t sinking. Somehow the skins stayed intact as the hull folded. Two men climbed back aboard and started to drop the sails. A line was passed and New York’s tender started to tow the broken boat home. We followed for a while and then when it looked pretty safe that they would make it we powered up and headed in. There was film to soup, news at eleven. Yeah!

Fred Roswold

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