I’ve been lucky enough in this industry to meet some of my heroes. I’ve come late to yachting, but it is one that is all-consuming once you get a taste for it. One of those such heroes is Rick Tomlinson, arguably one of the best and most revered photographers within this adrenalin-fuelled world. I first came across Rick when I moved to the island in 2013 and happened across one of his calendars at a race sailing friend of mine’s home. I was utterly blown away. The images he captured were, at that point, like nothing I had yet to witness first hand and filled me so full of excitement that even if I was not to be crew, I wanted to be part of the industry no matter how small.
Roll forward seven years and I have managed to achieve a lot of what Rick inspired in me, albeit on a smaller scale. Sadly no round the world races yet…. And then, mid pandemic, Simon Relph, editor and owner of this wonderful magazine set me a new post-lockdown assignment – interview Rick Tomlinson. It was one of those “play it cool Trigger, play it cool”, moments. If I’m honest I’ve never loved video conferencing and as half of the island seemed to be online when we attempted the interview, my mild hero worship was thankfully disguised, through a series of blips and freezes but we got there in the end. In fairness, had we met in person he probably would never have gotten rid of me, though from talking to him and how he got where he is, I think he would have understood.
Rick started out on the Isle of Man, having moved there as a very young boy, and was surrounded by everything to do with the sea. It was in his blood, he literally breathed saltwater. He soon learned to sail and along with his friends would often head off for the Irish coastline. But while the Isle of Man will always have a place in his heart, as a young teenager and then a young man, he felt the same as all of us, the need to escape. He soon realised that it would be cheaper for him to sail off the rock than pay for the ferry and so that is exactly what he did.
Having grown up seeing photographs of what was then the Whitbread Race, he knew that that was what he wanted to do, and would stop at nothing to achieve his goal. As he says wistfully, those were the days where if you drank in the right bars and with the right people, and were persistent enough you could actually find yourself on one of the boats. In this case the person was Skip Novak and the boat was to become Simon Le Bon’s infamous Maxi, Drum. Renamed and ready to race they took her to the Fastnet only for her to lose the keel and capsize. Despite this fairly harrowing event it was not going to put Rick off, whose sheer determination to be involved saw him as one of the crew that raced the 1985 Whitbread.
Photography at this point was a hobby, but one that was swiftly becoming a passion. So Rick became the unofficial photographer on Drum, confounding the team half of the time as he experimented with different techniques, including taking photos in the dark, which to the amazement of all, when they eventually got to shore and had the film, yes, this was pre-digital, processed, that those experiments had in fact worked. For the first time sailing the Southern Ocean had actually been documented. Over three further Whitbread races Rick joined various different legs with various different teams, at one point being the only man surrounded by 11 women, which I suspect is a novel in itself. He was also asked to complete an assignment to photograph the event for National Geographic magazine, one of the most prestigious magazines in the world. I put it to him that he is the inspiration for the modern OBR who are now able to live stream from some of the most remote places in the world, but he’s far too modest, instead allowing that perhaps he had a small influence somewhere along the line. I think we all know the truth in that though.
Rick eventually hung up his extreme race sailing boots, preferring instead to chase the boats from any means necessary, be it a helicopter, fixed-wing plane, or rib. I’m mildly surprised that he hasn’t attempted to take pictures of races whilst sky diving, but maybe that’s just a story he didn’t tell me!
That wasn’t the end for him actually being on board however, and he tells me of his adventures with good friend Phil Wade, along with many others, aboard Timoneer where they went north to Alaska and photographed all manner of wildlife. And about his dream job aboard Adele whose two and a half year itinerary was absolutely to die for! Rick went along and joined them at various points cataloguing their adventures for a book.
If this wasn’t enough to keep his diary full to bursting, Rick also works with agencies, boat builders, charter agents and anyone else looking to get the best possible shots of their boat for advertising campaigns, brochures, websites and general marketing, flying off all around the world to bring back that perfect shot.
Whilst photographing boats is both his career and love, his parallel and perfectly aligned passion is wildlife photography. He tells of the time when a humpback whale breached the surface and decided to drift alongside the boat that he was on for a couple of hours. He says that the expedition-style trips and anchorages have taken him to some of the most dramatic places in the world, with some of the most amazing people, who have subsequently become dear friends for life. He says he is so very aware that he is living the dream.
I ask what his plans are now amid the chaos of Covid and he explains that at this exact moment he should be in Spitzberg and the Arctic on one of the numerous trips that he runs where he takes amateurs and semi-professional photographers on the trip of a lifetime to give them hints and tips on photography wildlife. But I will leave Rick to explain more about that in his feature on his recent trip to the Falklands, that can be found inside these very pages.
Instead, what he is about to do right at the moment that we are talking is to take his wife and son out sailing to celebrate his son’s 21st birthday. Apparently a keen sailor and photographer himself, he looks set to follow in his father’s footsteps. Closing out the call I cannot help but be impressed by the man I have just been talking to. Many, with such an amazing history and doubtless future to come, would have been blowing their own trumpet, instead, I was presented with a lovely, humble man who appreciates that he is truly living the dream! He really is an inspiration to all!
Rick Tomlinson Photography
6 Marina Walk
Cowes Yacht Haven
Isle of Wight
This office is not attended all the time but visitors are welcome.
Tel: +44 (0)1983 248512
Mob: +44 (0)7785 317198