Race Cars on Water!

Friday, I found out that the APBA Gold Cup Hydroplane race was taking place this weekend and would a great opportunity for some panning practice. The Gold Cup race has many classes of boast and hydroplanes but it’s the unlimited hydroplanes I want to see again. With top speeds, up to 200mph and those big old roster tails as they turn the corner, there are like race cars on water! The hydroplanes race on the Detroit river in between Detroit and the island park of Belle Isle. Which is connected to the city via the Belle Isle Bridge.

google map image for belle isle

For years now, I’ve been wanting to shoot from the bridge to get a head on shot of the hydroplanes as they race towards the first turn. Shooting from the bridge, you get a different angle of the hydroplanes looking down on them. In past years, shooting from the bridge was restricted and was unsure if I could or could not shoot from it this year. I figure what I’ll do is, once downtown drive over the bridge, look and see if I see any signs and or ropes blocking the walkway on the bridge facing the course. If so, I’ll keep driving and shoot from the fishing pier on the island. If not, I’ll park over by Gabriel Richard park and walk to the bridge. I packed up my gear, downloaded the race schedule and heading out to Detroit.

Once I got Downtown, I had forgotten how much I love Detroit. I used to live downtown for several years and love to venture all over the city with my camera shooting the urban landscape of Detroit. For those images, look here “My Detroit”. Driving through Detroit, was like revisiting old photos that I had lost. Memories of creating images, trying to finding the right time of day for a shots and searching for new ones… I miss those days. But now, Detroit has changed. For better or worse? No, it’s just not the same city that I fell in love with. I think we both grew up and moved on.

Going down on Jefferson Ave, getting into the turn lane so I can take the bridge over to Belle Isle. Moment of truth… No ropes and No signs! Time to “Whip a Shity” (not on the bridge), look for a place to park, gear up, walk to the bridge and wait for the first of two heats of the Unlimited class. The first heat came and went without incident.

Click on thumbnail below to view larger image.


During the second heat, the Miss Rock KISW hydroplane(black with red and yellow stripes) flipped. Thankfully, the driver Kevin Eacret escaped without injury. With the flipping of the KISW hydroplane, it ended the heat early.


So, I headed back to my car and was going to shoot the remaining heats from the fishing pier over on Belle Isle. As I’m walking back, I spotted another shooting location. It’s close to the action and right on the water in Gabriel Richard park. One of the hydroplanes that had stopped due to the flipping had restarted and was heading around the course to get back to the pits. The hydroplane pass by at near top speed dragging a huge wall of water behind (the roster tail). 99% of the time I hate back lighting. But here the light lite up the wall of water, shining light on thousands of tiny drops of water falling back into the river. It looked amazing! But it was another hour until the next two heats and decided to go to the fishing pier. I did not want to shoot the next two heats from there. There was not enough time to shoot one heat than get to my car, drive across the bridge and shoot the second heat from the pier. I’ll save that shot for next year.

I put my gear in my car and drove over to Belle Isle. Once there found some parking and did some chimping until the next heats. A few minutes before the unlimited heats, I grabbed up my gear and found a nice spot on the fishing pier. The advantages of shooting from the pier is four-fold. One, the sun is behind you. Two, you’re closer to the course. Three, you’re facing the first turn. You get a great shot of the hydroplanes fighting the speed of the turn. And four, if you sit on the pier, you can use the lowest run of the rail as a guide for your lenses while panning. I shot most of the day in shutter priority, wanting to show a sense of motion. I starting out at 1/200th then dialing it down to 1/80th. It was a fun little outing and I’m happy with my results.

Click on thumbnail below to view larger image.



Until next post,


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