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Captured Rapture

The winners of our ‘Real Boats, Real Boaters Photo Contest’ each had an eye for awe-inspiring image

The right time. The right place.

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For Robert Olesen, those key elements were months in the making. In fact, Olesen even planned a cruise around his photo “Whaling Ship at Night,” shown here and chosen as the Grand Prize winner in the Soundings “Real Boats, Real Boaters Photo Contest.”

Olesen’s photo of the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport and four other winners (first, second, third and cover) were chosen from 135 submissions displaying a variety of moments captured on the water: midday fog in Maine, a brightly painted rowboat on a Caribbean beach, the Queen Mary 2 turning just outside the Charleston (S.C.) Maritime Center marina.

To our readers “Real Boats, Real Boaters” apparently means fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, big boats and small boats, wind and spray, sunsets and fishing rods. The photos on these pages — our five winners and the runners-up — are just some of the images that stood out.

It was the otherworldly quality of Olesen’s well-composed photo that immediately grabbed the judges’ attention. “I was trying to capture history, a historical perspective that’s gone,” says Olesen, who took the photo a few years ago. “That’s the reason I went to Mystic. I went with the intent to look for that shot.”

With the photo in mind, the 52-year-old electrical engineer packed his family into their 1973 Pearson 30, Talesman, and set sail from their home port of Huntington, N.Y., for Cape Cod, Mass. — with a scheduled stop at the seaport museum in Mystic, Conn. They pulled in for an overnight stay one September evening, and by 2 a.m. Olesen figured the lighting and atmosphere would be right. Walking around the seaport grounds he found the perfect subject to embody that lost moment in history: the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world. “The ship itself is somewhat haunting,” he says.

Olesen took several shots at around a 30-second exposure each. “It took about an hour,” he says. “The only thing I added was a sepia filter on the camera.” He says he doesn’t “believe in” altering photographs using Adobe Photoshop or other image-editing software.

Olesen has since sold the Pearson in favor of a 2001 Beneteau 331 named Nightingale. He continues to pursue perfection in his two favorite hobbies, though they aren’t always easy to combine. He remembers well every great photo he let slip away in favor of prudent seamanship.

“Sailing a boat and taking a photo both take concentration,” he says. “Many times I haven’t been able to get a shot because I’ve been sailing the boat.”

Olesen believes good photography takes a lot of time and preparation. He estimates he has about 30,000 images stored on his computer. “Maybe 20, I think, are any good.”


Perfect boating moments happen all the time to first-place winner Bruce Hopkins, who lives in Camden, Maine, and works as an accountant for Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding. For his first-place image the rocks in the foreground and the hills in the background perfectly frame this popular Camden-based charter boat, built in 1927. “Photography is just like boating,” he says. “No two sails are ever the same. It’s the same with pictures. No two sunsets are ever the same.” FIRST PLACE

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Hyfield’s moment of serendipity was captured during a rainy day of boating with a friend around Point Judith, R.I. “There’s this thing called the Point Judith Miracle where you get to the [Point Judith] Pond, and it’s sunny every time,” says Hyfield, 44, a human resources manager. Hyfield leaned back in Thistle, his 14-foot Jimmy Steele-designed Peapod, and captured his perfect summer moment. SECOND PLACE

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The composition of a magazine cover is very different than that of other photos. Cover shots must work in vertical format and leave enough breathing room for text without allowing the photo to be overwhelmed by the words. Five photos met the criteria and were named cover finalists. We then posted the images on Facebook and asked our Soundings Facebook fans to weigh in on their favorite. To see what our Facebook fans had to say, log on and search “Soundings magazine.” Interestingly, our first-place photo winner, Bruce Hopkins, was also a cover finalist. Missing the big prize in two categories was a dual honor he likened to kissing his sister. Twice. Here are the covers that could have been: (From left) Breaking Light, By Robert Fitzgibbon — Fitzgibbon took this picture at around 11 a.m. in Napatree Point, R.I. WoodenBoat School Sunset, BY Bruce Hopkins — The schooner Victory Chimes and the Dear Isle Bridge, near Brooklin, Maine. Lake Mohonk Fog, By John O’Dair — This photo was taken with a Nikon 6006, 35mm camera on Lake Mohonk, N.Y. Seagull in Spring Morning Sunrise, By Thomas Rogers — Taken in Vineyard Haven, Mass., with a Canon Digital Rebel EOS XTI on automatic setting.

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Taken in Cuttyhunk Harbor, Mass., with an Intova IC600 6MP digital camera. THIRD PLACE

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A skipper enjoys the beat to the weather mark in this 2005 photo, taken in midafternoon with cloud cover off Larchmont (N.Y.) Yacht Club in Long Island Sound. This photo was chosen as the Fan Favorite on the Soundings Flickr site (, an online destination where photographers share and comment on each others’ work. Soundings readers and Flickr members had the opportunity to vote for their favorites from all of the valid entries and gave top marks to this photo. The image was also a favorite with our judges, who gave it high marks for the contrast between the skipper’s relaxed attitude and the dynamic movement of the boat. FAN FAVORITE

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See related article:

- 'Aha' moments shared by readers

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue.


Watercolor by Walter Jones.

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