Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Up River

Sailboats on Genesee River

“….as the day wore on I watched the birds all flying in one direction, and said, ‘Land lies there'”.

Joshua Slocum (“Sailing  Alone Around the World”)

Joshua Slocum, of course, was my great, great grandfather and was the first man to ever sail around the world alone.  In a very small sailboat.  With nothing but a used compass and his wits.  I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned old Joshua before – he is, after all, the only “famous” person in the family.  The rest of us have all been pretty dull folk over the years.  He, on the other hand, accomplished what most people thought was impossible.  In an old, small boat and by himself.  He even wrote a book about it.  A good read if you can find it.

Anyway, I was reminded of his great adventure this past weekend when I went down to the Port of Rochester on Lake Ontario.  It’s at this point that the north-flowing Genesee River enters the lake.  It’s also the place where countless sailboats fill the river and lake in the summertime when conditions are good.  And Saturday conditions were extraordinarily good.  Skies were partly cloudy, the temperature was in the 70’s, and there was a very nice breeze blowing in from the lake.  Perfect for sailboats.

When I arrived, there were dozens of boats out on the lake.  I think that maybe some kind of race or regatta was going on.  Photographically, my problem was that they were all too far away.  All I’d brought with me was the Olympus EM5 with a 45 mm lens.  Not nearly good enough for capturing boats at a distance.  So as I was standing at the end of the pier I silently wished that they’d all head back into port.  Son of a bitch, that’s exactly what they did.  All of them, in groups of 2’s and 3’s, right up the river, and right past me.  Since the wind was out of the northwest, most left their sails up as they headed in (usually, they pull them down and come in under power).

My guess is that each of the boats you see here is equipped with all kinds of electronic gear.  If nothing else, they all have radios (Joshua did not).  Most probably have some kind of GPS system.  Interestingly, a number of sailors have replicated his voyage over the years.  Some have even done it in replicas of the Spray (Joshua’s boat).  But none (that I know of) has ever done it with only a compass.


10 Responses to “Up River”

  1. Juha Haataja

    Thanks for the book hint – it has been translated into Finnish, and it seems there are two separate translations, the new one appeared as recently as 2005 if I got the details right. I reserved it from the library right away. Excellent feeling in the photograph – the clouds, the clouds!

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Juha. Yeah, I think the clouds kind of make the picture here……….

      I knew “Sailing Alone Around the World” had been translated into non-English versions, but I didn’t know that Finnish was one of them. I really hope you enjoy reading it!

  2. Earl

    This is a scene I’d probably normally say would be best in color but I’d be hard pressed to like it any better then I do this black and white. Very nice, Paul, it’s got a wonderful sense of depth. I’m not sure I knew that about your great, great grandfather — a brave man, a master sailer and an amazing feat. Much to be proud of.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Earl. Having seen this in both color and black and white, I have to say that the b and w is better. For me, there was way too much blue in the color version. It translated nicely, though.

      Actually, Joshua was one of the last “tall ship” captains (before the change to steam). Most of his children were actually born at sea – including my great grandfather. When the great sailing ships vanished, Joshua became a man out of time. In the chronological sense, I mean. I think that feeling of being disconnected ultimately led to his solo voyage around the world. His intent was to make money out of the trip. A goal that wasn’t completely realized.

  3. Don

    Sometimes you just have to wait a little longer for the image you want. And this was worth the wait.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Don. I wish I could say that it was my “patience” that did it. But alas, it wasn’t. They all just started coming in (a few minutes after I made my “wish”).

  4. Cedric

    For me, there are few things more uplifting than being on a sail boat but I am sure I would not have the cojones to go off around the world on my own in a fully decked out yacht let alone with just a compass.
    Earl is right, your photo has a wonderful sense of depth.

    • Paul Maxim

      Heck Cedric, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t navigate a rowboat across the Genesee River. Although Joshua’s boat wasn’t much bigger than a rowboat. It certainly wasn’t any kind of yacht! The Spray was a 37 foot sloop that was given to him before his trip (in 1895). He had to practically rebuild it. And for all intents and purposes, he was broke when he did it. Which explains the “used” compass.

      The “sense of depth” you guys are talking about comes from playing with contrast and overall tonality. I wish I had a formula for it, but it seems to be an eyeball thing. You know it’s right when you see it, but no two images seem to act the same. Just a question of pushing sliders around…………

  5. Paul

    I love the depth here! It’s great. The clouds almost float right off of the photo. It’s amazing what people did back in the day without GPS or radio. Just a compass and perhaps a sextant! Probably not the smartest way to travel these days, but surely ‘romantic’.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Paul.

      I agree – it’s amazing what people used to do with rudimentary gear. Including photographers, of course. Maybe it’s only a flawed perception, but it seems to me that people were a lot more adventurous (risk takers?) back then. Of course, bad things can happen when you take those risks. Joshua, for example, set out on second trip on the Spray a few years later. He was never seen or heard from again. Just flat disappeared………..


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