On Watch - Fran Grenon

WindCheck is proud to have published many of Fran Grenon’s photographs of the Marion Bermuda Race and the Buzzards Bay Regatta over the years. Fran’s images have also appeared in SAIL, Sailing World and Cruising World, and his dramatic shot of Steve Hollis’ J/105 Sirocco in a stiff breeze at the 2004 J/105 North American Championship graces the cover of J/Boats: Sailing to Success by Anthony Dalton.

When he was three years old, Fran, who grew up in New Bedford, MA, attended an air show at Otis Air Force Base where the sight and sound of World War II fighter planes sparked a lifelong passion for aviation and photography. “I’ve always wanted to be a pilot,” he says. “I had an uncle who was a photographer, and he used to let me borrow his cameras once in a while. Being an aviation enthusiast, I started shooting pictures of the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels at air shows, and I still do a lot of aviation photography.”


Fran Grenon“About 30 years ago, my sister-in-law was getting married and they needed a photographer,” says Fran, who lives in Mattapoisett, MA. “I learned how to shoot weddings, and I did hers. Through word-of-mouth, I started my own business. My daughter Kasey was a Kid Correspondent for Radio Disney about 15 years ago. She interviewed Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears when they were just starting out, and I went along and did the shoots. I was also the travel photographer for Upscale Living Magazine. We went to Tahiti for a shoot, as well as Bermuda, Italy and the Napa Valley.”


“I was taking flying lessons but it was always a matter of time and money – I never had the right combination of each. I took up sailing because I love the technology of sails – they’re similar to the wing of a plane – and because I was always interested in navigation. I started with an O’Day Tempest and it went from there. I had a C&C 33 that we raced in the Buzzards Bay Regatta and most of the other races on Buzzards Bay. I was Commodore of the Mattapoisett Yacht Club in 2001. I’m still on the club’s advisory board and race committee, and I’m a PRO for our Ensign fleet.”


“I used to shoot a lot of the Mattapoisett Yacht Club regattas with 35mm film. If I was shooting on spec, I’d have to print 4 x 6 proofs, mail them out and hope somebody was interested. Digital has made things so much easier because I can post images on my website.” Fran’s business is called Spectrum Photo and his images can be viewed and purchased at “I’ve started a Facebook page called Spectrum Photo by Fran Grenon,” he says. “I will be posting advance photos from regattas before posting to the site, and the page has a lot of my various works on it.”


Fran is the Official Photographer for the Buzzards Bay Regatta and the Marion Bermuda Race. “I was on the Buzzards Bay Regatta committee in 1999,” he explains. “I started doing the photography for the event’s marketing and they took me on as the Official Photographer. A lot of people on the Buzzards Bay Regatta committee are also involved with Marion Bermuda, and they asked me if I’d like to team up with them. I’ve also shot the Etchells Nationals, Shields Nationals, Bullseye Nationals and the 420 North Americans, and I’m one of the pool photographers for the start of the Newport Bermuda Race.”


“Shooting a sailboat race is just as if you were starting the race yourself – you have to be in the right place at the right time. The challenge is knowing where the boats are gonna go, and being a racer and knowing the starting sequence helps quite a bit. I’ll typically start my watch as if I were in the race. I try to end up at the pin end of the starting line, and outside the laylines at the windward mark…the last thing I want is to have somebody say, ‘Hey, you’re in our way!’”


“The weather can also be tricky, but that’s all part of sailing. In the 2011 Marion Bermuda Race, we got hit with a couple squalls right at the start. We had some really heavy gusts, and you can see the size of the waves in some of the pictures. I had to wedge myself in place just to stand up. At the finish of the 2009 race, it was blowing about 35 with 10 to 15-foot seas and it was dark. Luckily I got some photos, and one of them ended up on the front page of the Bermuda Sun.”

Fran advises amateur sailing photographers to buy a camera with image stabilization. “Even some of the less expensive pointand-shoots have a built-in image stabilizer,” he says. “There’s a lot of movement in waves, especially if you’re on one boat that’s going up a wave and you’re trying to get a picture of another that’s going down a wave. Light is also very important, especially here in the Northeast. It helps to wait for the right light.”


“I like to get close to the action and get shots in which you can see the people sailing the boat, not just the boat itself. My wife Deb’s cousin, Michael Pacheco, has a 23-foot Sea Ray and he’s been my driver for eight years. He’s not a sailor, but he always knows exactly where I want to be. We’re good friends – he drives when I’m shooting and I drive when we go fishing. I also sail on Scott Belliveau’s Pearson 34 Satinka on Wednesday nights, and we’re pretty competitive in the Figawi. I’m a construction engineer and my full-time job is with the Mass DOT, so even though we’re competitive when we race, just getting out on a sailboat is very relaxing.”

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