On-Board with John Kelsey and Our Seagoing Duffels


We took a few of our newest Seagoing Duffels to meet up with John Kelsey, a professional photographer, with noble intentions of putting them to the test on his sailboat, on which he lives. The duffels are, after all, made to stand up to the rigors of a hardworking sailor, just as they were when they were first imagined in 1974. The sea, however, had other plans. The water was choppy and the winds were upwards of 30 miles per hour, which, to translate for the land-prone among us, does not a leisurely afternoon boat ride make.

So instead, we did what any self-respecting sailor would do – made the best of it with a chat about seagoing life over a few drinks in the cabin…

Lands’ End: How did you first get into sailing?
John Kelsey: I grew up on Vancouver Island on the West coast of Canada, and from a young age I spent a lot of time on boats and on the water. My family had a little speedboat growing up, which I loved, but I was always drawn to the raw power of sailing, and I would do various sailing camps in the summer, learning to sail hobby cats and lasers.

LE: How did you come to live on your boat? What makes it more appealing than life on land?
JK: I moved to New York to pursue opportunities in photography, and although I love the city, living in the one of the biggest concrete jungles in the world was taking its toll on me mentally, so buying a sailboat and moving onto it was a way for me to find an amazing mental balance in my current life. When I go back to my boat I feel like I’m in a completely different world from the city, and it has made a huge difference.

LE: What’s the most exciting place you’ve visited by boat?
JK: My east coast explorations still leave a lot to be desired, but I have had some amazing explorations on the west coast, including Desolation Sound and the San Juan Islands.

LE: You’ve worked with some renowned photographers – Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger – how did you come to work with them?
JK: After obtaining a degree in a totally different field and traveling and working for a bit, I went back to school for photography in California at Brooks Institute. I was lucky enough to make some really good connections there, and in my final semester I moved to New York for an internship, and one thing led to another!

LE: What’s the most important photography-related piece of wisdom you learned from either of them?
JK: I’ve learned so much from both of them that it’s really hard to answer this, but most of what I have learned from both of them has been related to lighting. It’s absolutely crazy what goes into some of our shoots on a lighting level, and working for these photographers at the top of the industry has really opened my eyes to what goes into a single photo.

LE: What’s the most important non-photography-related piece of wisdom you learned from either of them?
JK: The biggest thing I have learned from both of them is the value of hard work and extensive preparation, no matter what you are doing.