In one video, the men interview a hunky blond sailor, declaring him the ultimate fantasy date for 12-year-old girls. In another, they tape a teammate relieving himself over the side. In one more, they shove a flashlight in a sleeping crewmate's face to see what happens. Later, they shoot a sailor's rear end, in close-up.
This is hardly your typical documentary.
Instead, this is what happens when someone puts a video camera in the hands of occasionally stir-crazy crew members sailing in the nine-month Whitbread Round the World Race. It is perhaps not what race organizers had in mind when they required each boat to put the cameras on board, but has certainly turned into entertainment for the masses.
"Most of our favorite stuff doesn't have anything to do with sailing," says Christen Horn Johannessen, 31, one of the irreverent Norwegians behind the camera on Innovation Kvaerner, the Norwegian boat responsible for the above-mentioned madcap videos. "It's more the experience of living aboard the boat that we're trying to capture."
The crews capture plenty of serious sailing, of course, including Southern Ocean waves so high they block out the sun.
"We're trying to get grit, reality and opinion," says Chessie Racing cameraman Rick Deppe, an Englishman who works the bow on the Baltimore-based boat. Deppe has captured the sensation of climbing the 85-foot mast by attaching the camera to his head and scaling the rig.
"We call it headcam," Deppe says. "It's attached to a canoeing helmet -- and you can shoot down, shoot your hands. It works."
Each of the nine teams is required to transmit eight minutes of video a week. The result: more than 20 hours of live-action footage from the boats by the time the 31,600-nautical-mile race ends next month.
These shots include everything from Chessie sailor Greg Gendell's getting a gash stapled shut without painkillers (he didn't even wince) to racer Kiny Parade's using sail needles to knit a scarf for a toy duck after the all-female boat EF Education broke its mast. They can be poignant (EF Language sailor Kimo Worthington missing his son's first day of school while at sea), and they can be absurd (Kvaerner's Nick Willets chatting with a bird on deck and naming it Stanley).
Such scenes have helped make this race a television milestone.
"There has been more television coverage for this event than there ever was for the America's Cup -- more than for any sailing event, ever," says Michelle Amato, production manager for Trans World International, which produces sports television shows and has created weekly half-hour programs on the Whitbread aired around the world. "The footage from the boats are the basis for our whole show."
Indeed, the race has delivered its own prime-time characters. On Kvaerner, they call themselves Snus Productions, after the chewing tobacco that the team is constantly pinching. A favorite Kvaerner shot: A crewmate sleeps with a wad of Snus dribbling from his mouth.
Although cameras were first used in the last Whitbread four years ago, the equipment was unsophisticated and the results spotty. This time, the Whitbread required each boat to buy at least $150,000 worth of on-board video equipment. To send one week's worth of tape, a team must spend at least $2,000 for the satellite transmission alone.
The taping seemed burdensome at first -- camera operators must use their precious time off-watch to shoot, and easily spend three hours a day taping and editing. It takes up to 40 minutes to send one minute of tape, a process sailors often must baby-sit. When the boats travel too far from the Equator, the communications apparatus cannot reach the satellites, and sailors must keep trying to make the connection.
Despite the headaches, several sailors are hooked. After only a half-day of video training before the race -- which they promptly ,, forgot -- crew members taught themselves to become mini-documentarians.
On Chessie, Deppe has found his leading man: crew boss Jerry Kirby. The America's Cup veteran seems every inch the Hollywood version of a sailboat racer, with his 15-karat grin. Deppe jokes that the camera should create a big white sparkle from one of Kirby's teeth every time he smiles.
Deppe, who hopes to produce sailing videos full time after the Whitbread, is jazzing up his footage with props (a rubber death mask at Cape Horn) and unusual camera angles (he shoots the boat from afar by dangling from a spinnaker pole off the side of the boat). He even waterproofed a set of questions from his wife and put them on the boat for the inspiration during his interviews.
But he and other teams stick largely to action shots. The problem is, when the best scenes play out on the boat, the camera operators are participants, too busy sailing to stop and tape.