The Dawn Patrol

A photographer's passion project in Florida comes to light after hours.

moth sailing at night
To make her creative vision come to life, Jen Edney not only had to find the right equipment and conditions, but also sailors willing to take on the challenge of foiling in the dark. Jonny Goldsberry, Patrick Wilson and Brad Funk (left to right) were up to the task.Jen Edney

It’s just before sunset in Key Largo, Florida, and at the end of a long day of racing, three Moth sailors are gearing up to launch again. They’re stoked — it’s not often they go night sailing in their foiling craft. Plus, they’re about to be part of something unique, a photography project of mine.

The project is meant to highlight the soulful, adventurous side of sailors as well as the evolving technology of sailing, letting the boats star in the shoot. I’ve pulled inspiration from other adventure sports, working to come up with images that are as innovative as the technology in the boats and the tools I use to shoot them. I initially tried to make the project work with Lasers, but there was too much light bouncing off them. It didn’t work. The camera technology and the subjects didn’t produce the look I’d imagined.

Then a friend suggested using Moths. I tried once, but conditions were unfavorable. For this third attempt in Key Largo, in March, I recruit Brad Funk, Patrick Wilson and Jonny Goldsberry. The plan is to shoot from the water, but we can’t secure a chase boat for the night, so I stage from a jetty. The sailors launch 30 minutes before the sun dips below the horizon, and once on the water, they sail in tight formation, buzzing the jetty in several passes while I click the shutter. They communicate among themselves to avoid running into one another, as I’m unable to give direction from land. “When your vision is limited, your other senses become more alive,” says Funk. “Extrasensory perception starts to take over. Your hearing, your balance and your tactile senses take control of the situation and give you a better sense of where you are, both [in terms of] altitude above the water and in relation to objects around you.

“We sail the Moth because of the exhilaration and full conscious awareness in the moment. You have to be so aware of the now when you sail it in the day. That’s what we love about it. At night, it enhances that intention and focus. Sailing at night actually can make us better sailors, especially in Moths, because of that heightened perspective.”

I’m happy with the results in the dark, but I’m eager to get more into the action. We try again at sunrise the next morning, when I’m able to shoot from a powerboat as the sailors zip past. The guys do what they do best and make the shoot a success. I would not have been able to make the images come to life without their support and enthusiasm. To see them out on the water, fully excited for the vision I created, is a reward in itself.