Zakynthos '13

B.A.S.E. jumping in paradise – without any exaggeration

Four hours on the plane were definitely worth it. That was immediately obvious to me upon my arrival in Zakynthos. Already from the plane we were able to spot all the little islands that were surrounded by beautiful, crystal clear water. Zakynthos is located on the west coast of Greece and is regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in the Ionian Sea.

The Venetians who had controlled the island for more than 5 centuries called it “Flower of the East”, famous for its emerald colored, clear water and white sand beaches. Its Mediterranean climate makes the island a very popular vacation retreat for anybody enjoying water sports and/or outdoor activities. One of the most spectacular events on the island is the B.A.S.E. jump event at Navigo Beach, better known as Ship Wreck Beach. Many post cards and calendar pages have featured images from this location.

The drive from the airport to the hotel in Agios Nikolaos took only about 45 minutes. There I was greeted by the first of a total of 23 jumpers who were already hanging out comfortably by the hotel bar right next to the pool. Stratos, the event’s organizer and B.A.S.E. jumper himself welcomed each and every one of us. Stratos’ and his girlfriend Liana’s faces showed the strain of spending long and exhaustive hours organizing the event. However, we still had one more day to relax and get acclimated before the event and there are truly worse places for having to spend some time. We spend the day free-diving and cliff-jumping right at the beach.

After an extensive safety briefing by Stratos and Domenik Loyen in the evening we were introduced to the French television team, which was supposed to accompany us during our stay on Zakynthos. The three people from the film crew planned a 30 minute documentary of the event for the show Thalassa on French television. Our job for the documentary did not sound particularly challenging because we were simply asked to be ourselves – keeping everything natural and realistic. This made the cooperation with us very easy. At no point did we feel pressured since we were not asked to pull off any spectacular stunts but instead could simply jump in the way the we felt the most comfortable with.

The next day started off bright and early. The whole crew was loaded into a bus and off we went on a one hour ride through the Greece outback to the cliff on Navigo Beach. There, right on the white beech lies a wreck that once was the ship Panagiotis, surrounded by 200 meter high cliffs that lead straight up the rock walls with a small platform on the top. This is the only point from where the shipwreck can be seen from the land side. A team of local rock climbers had already installed hooks and fixed ropes at the exit point. This was done not only to give the camera men a safe position to film but for a rescue aid as well in case of an emergency.

The view from the cliff right down into the bay is more than breath taking. You truly have to spend a moment taking it all in and enjoying it for a moment. The fact that you can do a B.A.S.E. jump in this environment is just the icing on the cake. Early in the mornings the beach is still absolutely deserted without a human soul around. The bay was still in the shade of the morning sun and the first jump was simply for pure pleasure. After three to four seconds of free fall you open the parachute, make a small trip around the shipwreck and land on the white sand right at the beach. You really do pinch yourself to make sure that this is not a dream before joining the giant sea turtles for a swim in the nice cristal clear water, watching the rest of the jumpers have their turn. Sometimes B.A.S.E. events can be so tiresome…

An arriving boat (the beach is only accessible by boat – or parachute) brought us to the Stenitis Bay about 20 minutes south. From there we took a bus to a small village were we could pack our parachutes in an old school. Afterwards everything started from the beginning once more. The logistics were truly remarkable and worked without a flaw on every one of the days.

Around noon the entire beach is lit up by the sun with temperatures at the exit point reaching all the way up to 40 degrees Celsius without any shade to be found. Unlike in the morning the beach was now filled with spectators and swimmers who made the landing area much smaller. Now you had to find yourself a place to land somewhere between all the hot bikini girls. The wind conditions had taken a strong turn for the worse and we had to wait for about an hour until we were able to jump in better conditions again. The wind is an important factor in this jump because there is very little distance between the jumper and the cliff during the canopy opening. It’s important for the parachute to open straight and forward without being influenced by the wind.

Despite all of the precautions the cliffs still claimed a few parachutes during the four days. All of which were professionally and safely rescued from the wall by the team of local climbers. To everyone’s surprise not a single jumper or even parachute was seriously hurt or damaged in these incidents. The most anybody had to deal with were a few cuts and bruises as a reminder.

The organizers had planned for a total of 3 jumps on each day, however, strong winds and local authorities challenged this goal on multiple occasions. In the end, despite of all this, we were still able to pull off a total of 200 spectacular, injury-free jumps during the four day event, making it a huge success. Even the TV team was very happy with their footage. The cooperation with them had gone very smoothly, and was fun and entertaining at all times.

The final party at the hotel pool was the culmination of an unforgettable time in Greece and made the departure very hard for everybody involved. A big thank you to Stratos and Liana, everone on the support staff, the sponsors, and the crew of climbers for an event with great organization and logistics.

PS: The shipwreck on Navigo Beach beached on October, 1980 during a storm. It had been used to smuggle cigarettes and was chased by the local coast guard when it ended up in the bay. The entire crew of the ship was able to rescue themselves.