Book of the Week: Fairground ride at the ends of the earth

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The Independent Online
Risk To Gain

By Rick Tomlinson

and Mark Chisnell

(MPC Isle of Man, hardback, pounds 29.95)

POWER, SPEED, wild weather, desolate empty spaces, the huddled- together determination of man and woman against the elements, these are the stuff of dreamy adventurers. There are many accounts of man against the sea and man against man at sea, but seldom has there been such a panoramic portrayal of life at its cramped, frenetic and frightening worst as this examination of the latest winning Whitbread Round The World Race campaign.

The sheer size of this book, nearly 14in deep by 10 wide, gives it the scope to do what it most wants to do, which is to present pictures in such a way that they achieve maximum impact. Rick Tomlinson has worked this beat before and by now knows how to squeeze the maximum out of a box brownie in the most hostile of conditions.

A sports arena a little shorter than a cricket pitch and, even at its widest, barely wider, is not one which would appear to offer the most exciting scope to a photographer. But that is all you have when it is in the shape of a racing yacht and you cannot ask them to stop while you launch a little rubber dinghy to take a few shots as it is charging along. The southern ocean is not like that.

Nor does the task accord with the textbook which says you should be able to keep everything nice and steady. These yachts jump around like a fairground ride. Tomlinson says the twin secrets are the ability to wait for just the right light and then to give his shots the maximum exposure. The rest of us would be grabbing anything we could get and using the fastest shutter speed possible to avoid blur.

Tomlinson's way has produced pictures which can shift the mood from dreamy to violent, show speed and power and also bring elemental and geographical feelings together with human emotional ones.

Alongside him, Chisnell has produced a text which takes in the story of the race as well as the personal accounts of two of the crew, Magnus Olsson from the all-male EF Language, Anna Drougge countering on the all- female EF Education. At 10,000 words this is not a thick tome, but Chisnell has married a novelistic style to a narrative account which, for those who understand sailing, does the trick.

If there is a criticism, it is that there is no compromise in the use of technical language which would allow a non-sailor to breeze through. And Chisnell has left out a lot of the politics and soap operas which formed a strong undercurrent throughout the 32,000-mile circumnavigation. Perhaps he is saving those for another day.

But where it avoids a trap is in that, while the whole book concentrates on just one race syndicate - rather like trying to write about a season's Formula One featuring only one team - the flavour of the race comes through strongly. Nor is it going to date as quickly as books in the past, when racing yachts were developing so quickly. This should last well through the next Volvo Ocean race, in 2001.

Stuart Alexander