Athens from the Sea, or, How I Nearly Died.

Athens old port from the sea scaled

“That’s a big camera!”, exclaimed the Captain. Leaning in, he conspiratorially whispered:

“Would you like to go up the mast?”

I peered up into the sky, into which the mast disappeared like a beanstalk. I looked back at the Captain, wondering if this was some sort of practical joke.

“Sure, why not”, I replied, not clear as I did so who was more surprised, me, with my general fear of heights, or the Captain, whose bluff I was fairly sure I had just called.

As it turned out, the most surprised of all was the organiser of our trip, who, upon hearing of the plan, turned a rather pale colour and started murmuring in a concerned fashion about insurance.

We should probably rewind a tiny bit for context.

greek flag sea

I had the pleasure in April of this year to visit Athens for a few days, to attend a local travel trade show and put together some content for the upcoming TBEX Travel blogging conference.

I spent the first few days in the Vougliameni region – think fast cars, big boats and gorgeous beaches, with a side order of recession – an adventure that I told you about here.

After that it was into Athens proper, where I saw as many of the sights as I possibly could whilst finding time to fill my face with a giant pile of tasty Greek food. Naturally, a post filled with pictures of the Acropolis is en route.

In addition to that, another adventure that was arranged for me was a day on the open sea with luxury yachting firm Brama Yachts.

Brama yacht from the sea

This seemed like a jolly fine way to spend a day, particularly as I’ve never suffered from sea sickness, so despite the weather on the designated day being towards the blustery tempest end of the wind scale, I was excited to take part. Last time I sailed in these waters after all, I had a most magnificent time.

Our vessel for the day was a four bedroom Catamaran, naturally featuring loads of space, both for living and for getting a lovely view as the horizon gently lurched from side to side. To help with the horizon lurching, there was a table loaded up with local treats, including both wine and beer. Yes indeed, a fine way to pass a day.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, the sea was a little rough and the wind a little strong, so we couldn’t explore quite as much as we had hoped, as the ride was a little bumpy. We went up and down the coast though, admiring such sights as the old port, the vista of Athens from the sea, and various point of historical interest. Greece has quite a lot of those, it turns out.

yacht sailing 1

It was around mid way into our adventure when the conversation at the start of this tale took place. I was wandering the deck of the catamaran with my camera in hand (to see what caught the Captain’s eye, check out our photography gear post here, full of essentials for getting sent up a yacht mast), and well, before I knew it, I’d agreed to something possibly quite dangerous.

Still, the Captain seemed convinced of his brilliant idea, and I was committed. Before I knew it, a deckhand was helping me into a worryingly flimsy looking chair, and instructing me that, whatever I did, I should not let go of the mast. Doing so would cause me to swing about all over the place above the deck, which would be A Bad Thing.

My fellow travel companions looked at me in the way that people look at people whose bits they might have to scrape up in the imminent future.The trip organiser was clearly already envisioning the paperwork.

people yacht sailing greece athens

I wondered how I was going to take photos whilst clinging desperately to the mast, because one hand clinging seemed like A Bad Idea.

The boat lurched all over the place in the sea, oblivious to the fact that this was going to make my adventure just a little bit more exciting.

All of the above happened in pretty much an instant, because the next thing I knew, someone was pulling a rope and I was going up the mast.

Some things you should know about masts. They are not obstacle free poles. They are surrounded and coated in all sorts of wires, bits of communication equipment and vital pieces of metal. The rope that was pulling me up was coming down right from the top of the mast, and it was important that this didn’t get tangled with all these bits, otherwise I’d probably get rather stuck.

 

I didn’t want to get rather stuck. I was starting to wonder if perhaps everything would have been better if I’d stayed on dry land with a nice cup of cocoa and a copy of some newspaper. A basset hound could be relaxing at my feet, a warm fire could be crackling in the distance.

As it was, I clung onto the mast as it yawed to and fro through the sky, with the sea really getting quite into the whole going up and down thing, and gently inched upwards, attempting to not break anything crucial as I went up, and still wondering how I was going to take any pictures.

It might be worth pointing out at this juncture that I’m not terribly good with heights.

Up I went though, camera dangling, until I was about half way up the mast. A voice wafted up on the breeze, enquiring as to whether or not I’d like to go higher. I risked a glance down, at the dots of the people below, and concluded that, no, thank you very much, I was doing just fine where I was.

view from the mast sailing

The voice came back, to say that they would leave me up there until I was happy with the pictures I had taken.

Ah yes, the pictures. I wrapped my legs around the mast, clung on with one hand, and went for the one handed camera operation technique.

One of the tips I give to people when teaching photography is the importance of knowing exactly how your camera works. You don’t want to miss a shot because you couldn’t quite remember that setting for that particular scenario.

Whilst my camera doesn’t exactly have a setting for shooting whilst dangling from a mast in high seas with one hand, it certainly helped that I knew how to use it properly at this point. Good to know that tip is valid.

I fired off a few shots, and peered at them. At which point I got quite into the photography part of things, and sort of forgot where I was. After all, how many times does one get to have these opportunities presented? Whilst I would have killed for a fish eye lens, my 17-40 wide angle did a pleasingly good enough job. As hopefully the photos show.

View from the mast

Finally, I hollered that I was all good, and no, whilst the offer was generous, I really didn’t need to go any higher, and if it was quite alright, I wouldn’t mind being lowered back down.

And so I was, and before I knew it, I was back on the ground, still alive, and very much pleased to be so.

When I got back down to the ground, the deckhand responsible for my hoisting pointed out that my seating technique had not been perfect. He motioned towards the mast climbing chair device, and said I had been leaning too far forward. Most of my weight, he said, had been taken up by two flimsy looking buckles. Good thing, he said with a grin, I didn’t weigh too much.

Anyway. The rest of the trip went very well. I had a bit more wine. We docked at an incredibly fancy port, where we saw the world’s most expensive and technically advanced sailing yacht – the Maltese Falcon. Yours to hire for €400,000 a week. Plus expenses of course.

maltese falcon athens

All in all, a rather exciting day. Tips for anyone given this opportunity:

  1. Get some decent instructions as to how to position your body in the chair so you don’t risk death
  2. Hold on to the mast. A lot. Like it’s your new life partner.
  3. Take a fish eye lens. Or go really really high.
  4. Have a strap so your camera is safely around your body. Something like this.
  5. If your lens has a zoom lock, engage it, as many lenses exhibit zoom creep when pointing straight down
  6. Take a lot of pictures. You probably won’t want to do this again.
  7. Go as high as you dare.

And that’s it! Safe travels!




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