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Mighty Chieftain

Mighty Chieftain

In February of 2015, a major winter storm had just passed through, leaving behind clear skies and rare snow on our local mountains and foothills. I headed off one morning, hopeful to get a shot of Ventura Harbor with the snowcapped mountains in the background. Unable to find the harbor shot I wanted among the docks and moored boats, I walked to the harbor entrance where thundering, 25 foot plus waves were imploding on the breakwater, sending geysers of spray and foam high into the sky. I wanted to document this power and beauty, but still something was missing. I needed something in the for perspective and scape. That’s when I saw the Hawaiian Chieftain looming on the horizon.

I waited. So did the Chieftain. She hovered off the entrance of the harbor, perhaps assessing the risk of attempting to enter the harbor. I waited for a half hour before those on board made the decision to give it a go.

The Chieftain approached from the west. For long moments all you could see were the tops of her mast as she fell into the giant troughs. The current and massive swells had no pushed her into a very dangerous position, turning her broadside to the incoming waves, rearing nauseatingly high. One wave broadside and she would go over. This was no mere photo opportunity but a very real moment of desperation. I looked up over my camera to confirm that the waves weren’t an illusion created through the compression of my telephoto lens. They weren’t. My stomach twisted. I was sure the Chieftain’s captain had made a life-altering mistake that would see his ship and are into the cold, unforgiving water.

As the Chieftain made her final run I stayed focused. Her speed was impressive. With 50 yards separating her from the safety of the protected waters behind the breakwater, a think ball of black diesel smoke bellowed from her stack (she was at full power and moving fast) as the waves exploded, whitewater reaching hundreds of feet into the air.

In the end, half a boat length was the difference between joyous celebration and tragedy.

-Steve Munch