Recording the Voyage

There was never any question about what action-cam or POV camera I would use on Howard’s boat. I’ve used GoPros on a number films and I’ve always found them reliable with pro level video.

There was never any question about what action-cam or POV (point of view) camera I wanted to put on Howard’s boat for his voyage. I have used GoPros on a number films and always found them reliable with pro level video quality. This kind of film is what they were made for and there are a number of solid aftermarket accessories available.

For this application the GoPros did have some issues that needed to be resolved. The first was a bomb proof way to attach the cameras to the boat. Howard specified that if he were to mount cameras on his boat that they had to be strong enough mounts to also act as hand holds. Because the GoPro mounts are not that heavy duty I had planned to build housings that would protect the cameras and their underwater cases from being ripped off the boat by boarding seas or by Howard should he need to use them as a hand hold.

This seemed like a reasonable solution because I am a boat builder as well as a film maker. I was in the process of designing a housing when I found what I was looking for.

Redrock Micro makes the Cobalt cage for the Hero 3 and the Hero 4.

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The cage is covered with threaded holes so securely bolting the camera to the boat would be easy enough. Now I had a bomb proof way to attach the cameras.

Also, in my search for the cage I solved another GoPro issue. I found a way to connect the cameras to a large battery. Switronix makes a USB Battery Eliminator Back for the GoPro 4 housing with a 10 foot cable.

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The 10 foot cable meant I could put the cameras almost anywhere on an 11’ 11” boat. Another real benefit was that the back and housing were waterproof to about 10 feet. This meant the cameras could take a roll over and come up running.

So some big issues had just fallen away; I had a bulletproof housing for the GoPro’s that I could secure to the boat and a method for attaching the cameras to a battery bank.

The battery issue had been a major concern. It was critical that Howard be able to turn the cameras on and off remotely with their wireless system but this would eat up battery life.

This meant carrying a minimum of 4 or 5 batteries for each camera and a multi-battery charger. I wanted four cameras on board so that totaled up to at least 20 batteries.

Having to constantly swap batteries put the cameras at risk whenever they were out of their waterproof housings. It was also a distraction for Howard who would need to be focused on what was happening around him. And he would more than likely be trying to make the swap with heavy gloves on and often in extreme weather conditions. Switronic Backs were a welcome solution.

Once all the on-board cameras and their issues were sorted out we needed to find places to mount the cameras and figure out a good way to attach the housing to the boat.

Howard had added partial bulkheads to the aft end of the cuddy cabin and we felt that these would provide a perfect place for two cameras. They would be out of the way yet offer an excellent view of the cockpit. I fabricated a mount from a wooden wedge, aluminum track, and 2 inch aluminum angle stock. This gave the clearance for the backs and placed the cameras where I wanted and the track allowed for easy removal.

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These mount points covered aft facing cameras but I also wanted forward facing cameras. I felt a GoPro mounted on a 1” stainless steel pipe in an aft deck mount would give the desired coverage. Now we had a forward facing camera mounted on the stern about 24” above the deck that was basically Howard’s view as he sailed.

For the fourth camera I suggested a GoPro chest harness. This would go over his dry suit, PDF and harness. This offered the advantage of easy access to the camera and again Howard’s point of view.

Next we needed to think about filming on shore. Howard will shoot much of the film on shore as he explores and climbs. Originally, I thought that he could use the GoPro’s but in reality they are POV or action cams and not really suited to general videography. What we wanted was a good, small prosumer camera with a zoom lens. I settled on the Sony HDR-CX900. The Sony also offers infrared night videography capabilities.

With all the camera issues resolved storage became the focus. On a weeklong shoot storage isn’t an issue. It is easy to carry enough SD cards to cover the shoot or move the video from the cards to an external hard drive at night and be ready to start again in the morning. Unless a huge amount of footage is shot it would be unusual to need more than two 1-terabyte external drives; one for storage and one for back up. But this wasn’t an average week-long shoot. This shoot could turn into several months with four cameras running simultaneously at times. Even burning just hour and a half of video a day for 30 days is 45 hours of video or about three terabytes of storage and three terabytes of back-up. So if we doubled that to 90 hours of video (which is enough video for 5 feature length films) that’s 6 terabytes for storage and 6 for back up.

I’ve spent more than one night lying in bed at 3 AM wondering if I allowed enough storage. I think it’s more than likely too much, which is fine. The last thing I want to hear Howard say as he steps off the boat is “I ran out of storage so I had to stop shooting.”

Once we settled on how much storage Howard would need, I chose 6 LaCie 2 terabyte external hard drives. These external hard drives meet military standards for rugged construction and it is a safe bet that the hard drives and all the equipment would need to be rugged. Not only rugged but Howard needs a certain amount of redundancy. So where feasible he will have back-up camera equipment and gear.

In a situation where too much equipment is as bad as not enough, remember Howard’s boat is only 11’11”, the choices were tough ones. So I spent a good many hours agonizing on how to fit a steamer trunk into a coin purse.

Howard will be alone. He will be the film crew once he sails away from Punta Arenas and until he returns. For the film to be equal to the voyage, Howard needs to take camera equipment and gear that will allow him to bring back the best quality video possible.

The footage Howard shoots is the vehicle that will allow the post-production team to create a meaningful film. A film that will capture the beauty, drama, and loneliness, as well as the intense personal moments. That footage will allow all of us to share this amazing voyage and the grandeur of Terra Del Fuego.