November 2007

Everything ‘Under The Sun’

Rich Roberts Covers Sailing In Words, Photos

Editor’s Note: It is our pleasure to present the following interview with well-known sailing writer and photographer Rich Roberts. Much of the colorful action that captures sailors’ imaginations is relayed to us through Roberts’ commentaries and pictures.

AZBW: Please describe what you do and for whom? 

ROBERTS:  I do public relations for various sailing events, including Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac), Newport-Ensenada, First Team/Hoag Regatta (Newport Beach), Congressional Cup, Long Beach Race Week, Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta, several world championships (including 2002 Star, 2004 Mumm 30, 2006 Laser Radial, 2006 International 14, 2007 Melges 24)  and, most recently, the U.S. Olympic Trials (eight classes in Southern California), plus several events hosted by my own Alamitos Bay YC (volunteer).

AZBW:  How did you get started, and tell us a bit about your background. 

ROBERTS: My grandfather started a small daily newspaper in Wilmington (LA Harbor) in the mid-20s. My dad, aunt and grandmother managed it into the 50s. I worked there as a carrier boy, printer's devil, sports editor and photographer until 1957, then as a sportswriter at the San Pedro News-Pilot, Long Beach Press-Telegram and L.A. Times until 1994. Although I majored in journalism at USC, I decided after my junior year they weren't teaching me anything I hadn't learned growing up in the business. My wife and I have lived in Wilmington all our lives.  

AZBW: You not only report, but also take photographs of the major races, correct? How do you do this, and who uses your pictures? Is there a Web site where readers can view or purchase shots? 

ROBERTS: I have covered pro football and the outdoors beat most of my newspaper career while taking up sailing on my own. I was assigned to sailing (America's Cup, '84 Olympics) as a secondary beat because nobody else on the staff knew (or cared) squat about the sport. After leaving the Times in 1994, I did freelance writing that somehow evolved into sailing (the Log, LA Times, etc.) and returned to photography as part of it. I actually preferred to take my own pictures to illustrate what I was writing about without having to explain it to somebody else with an ego. I gave up most freelance writing in recent years because PR work was building into RRR Communications, Inc. My son Rick started working with me this past year. He also writes releases and shoots his own photos, a service not offered by most sailing PR operators who have to hire photographers. Keeping it all in-house seems a lot easier. Our photo Web site is

AZBW: Are you a boater, sailor yourself? 
ROBERTS: Not really anymore. The PR stuff got to where I had to work events most weekends instead. I did enjoy racing a Catalina 22 locally for about 20 years, then a Lido 14 that is now for sale (make me an offer).   

AZBW: And, your family? Are they involved with you? Are they boaters? 

ROBERTS: My son and granddaughter loved it.  

AZBW: What is "home base" for you? 

ROBERTS: Wilmington, Calif., or Alamitos Bay YC in Long Beach.   

AZBW:  What major boating publications carry your material?

ROBERTS: Most sailing publications use the PR offerings (press releases and photos).

AZBW: Do you have any particular future plans? 

ROBERTS: I try not to plan too far ahead. One year at a time.

AZBW: Do you have anything else to add, Rich, that might be of interest to our Arizona and SoCal boaters? 

It's a shame for the sport that the governing and participating organizations (SCYA, US Sailing, all racing yacht clubs) have done next to nothing to promote their sport to mainstream media such as newspapers and magazines. Many complain to me that, say, the LA Times doesn't run anything about sailing. I try to explain that I'm only the shill. What they need is delegations of influential representatives (including maybe some advertisers) from the above groups to approach editors and publishers and explain that it's a dynamic sport with interesting people of all ages who seldom get arrested for crashing their cars, using steroids, snorting cocaine or beating up their girl friends. Maybe that makes it too dull, like "watching grass grow," but sailing powers at least need to try.

One more point about photography: It can be a strong selling point for the sport by itself, but the pictures must be interesting. My best advice is to concentrate less on the boats than the people sailing them. Personally, I hate to write about boats when people are far more interesting. When photographing boats, you don't need to show the whole rig to the top of the mast, or even the entire hull — just enough to frame some action. Everybody knows or can imagine what the rest of the boat looks like. And, you will seldom see a photo of ours that does not show faces on the boat. People want to see and read about people, not boats. That's the best way to sell the sport.