Blogs

The Finger of Zeus

I thought I would share a story regarding a recent trip to Halkidiki in North East Greece.

We spent 16 nights walking and cycling much of the Kassandra peninsula, with occasional forays to other areas such as Vergina and Sithonia. Typically at this time of year, the weather was hot and humid, so our walks rarely exceeded 11 miles and cycling was limited to approximately double this. It is incredible how much more difficult physical exercise is once the temperature hits 35°, particularly when unaccustomed to high temperatures. As usual my camera accompanied me on every journey we made, enduring heat and dust while getting covered in sweat, sun tan lotion and sea spray. The sensor required cleaning on more than one occasion, thanks to reluctantly changing lenses in exposed areas. At one point, the touch screen stopped working, leading me to momentarily question the camera’s durability - until I realised that it was the sheer amount of sun lotion on the screen that prevented it working! Each evening I cleared off the day’s debris while enjoying a glass of chilled Retsina.

This is the first system camera I have owned that is not weather sealed and I often forgot this fact while enjoying days out. Even without weather sealing I expect a modern camera to stand up to a certain amount of abuse, and the days were not exactly punishing, there again it was exposed to several factors that do not play nice with electronic equipment.

But it was on the last night of our stay that the T was really put to test. Several days prior to this had seen the temperature and humidity rise to uncomfortable levels, so it came as no surprise that storms were forecast for the evening of the 10th July. Sure enough, as we prepared to pay our bill at a local taverna, lightning began to silently flicker across a darkening sky. Our evening ritual was to walk around the village, taking in the sea view from a headland about ten minutes’ walk away. From here it was a quick ten minute stroll back to our room. And tonight, being our last night, was no exception…impending storm or not.

A few minutes before reaching the headland, power was cut to the entire village, plunging it into total darkness. No problem we thought, having walked the same route night after night. Anyway, mobile phones act as torches.

We reached the headland at the same time as a huge downdraft from a supercell, and in seconds the almost constant lightning revealed the terror of what we stood on the edge of – a tornado. Having nowhere to shelter, we were caught fully by the severe wind, rain and hail, along with a massive amount of debris picked up as the wind touched down. Almost losing site of each other in the howling darkness, we managed to keep in touch only by occasional glimpses offered by lightning bolts, and shouting loudly above the wind.

Absolutely none of our possessions escaped the intense rain and sand that blasted us. Within seconds we were drenched to the skin and started receiving cuts from the amount of airborne debris. Immediate priority was to get to shelter so we began fumbling our way off the exposed headland, seeking shelter in the village. The next ten minutes or so were like a scene from a disaster movie as we picked our way through a maze of back streets in what we hoped was the direction of our room, but really hoping to find shelter in a shop or bar sooner. Due to the blackout, the only visual bearings we could take were during lightning strikes and this was difficult due to the wind and hail. Then came the floodwater, running in torrents a few inches deep down the roads from higher points in the village. Disorientation and panic caused us to veer way off course from the village centre, so we knew we were not going to find sanctuary any time soon. Stumbling on for another ten minutes, we found ourselves outside of the hotel and seconds later, reached the safety of our room.

For a couple of minutes we stood in total darkness in complete disbelief as to what we had just experienced. Phones turned in to torches as we assessed each other for abrasions, which were mostly confined to our legs. It soon became apparent the wind had picked up a whole bunch of prickly pair spines and blasted them at us, which turned into an unwanted leaving present for days after we arrived home. Absolutely none of our possessions escaped the intense rain and sand that blasted us, my camera included. Attached to it that evening was my 60mm f2.8 Macro-Elmarit that I selected to grab a few last portrait pictures. I had thrown the camera and lens onto the bed and looked on as the bedsheet started to darken around it as water dripped from the camera.  

Fearing the worst, I dried it as best as I could. Water ran from the dials, flash and microphone holes and the exposed element of the lens was hazy with moisture. Whichever way I tipped it, water ran out and I began to prepare myself for impending, possibly irreparable damage. Leaving it to dry, we turned our attention to each other again, thankful we were safe. Outside, the storm raged on as wind drove rain horizontally, blowing sun loungers, lanterns and God knows what else in all directions.

Having dried ourselves and changed into dry clothes, my attention turned back to my camera. At this point, I would have been happy to have just salvaged the memory card as it contained an entire record of our time in Halkidiki up until an hour before the storm struck. It was very warm in the room and the camera exterior soon dried, so I removed the lens, cleaned the sensor and allowed the interior to dry. Thinking that my efforts would be in vain, I reattached the lens and powered it up. To my surprise it sprang into life and did not seem any worse for the encounter. My next concern was that this would be temporary as water ingress slowly made its way to the electronics and it would be dead when I switched it on again the following day. I was also deeply worried about the lens and the impact water would have on its motors and internal elements.

A sleepless night passed as we replayed the events in our minds over and over. Dawn broke battleship grey over a scene of devastation. Light rain fell as we prepared to leave for the airport, not knowing at this stage if 1) there were any closed roads that affected our journey to the airport and 2) if the airport was even open. Thankfully the northbound carriageway to Thessaloniki was clear (southbound was blocked due to fallen electricity pylons), but the severity of damage was visible everywhere making the drive a cautious one. The storm had tracked south of the airport, miraculously missing it. Power was also unaffected the further north we drove and after about 20 miles, there was little visible trace of what had happened further south.

Most tragically, several adults and children lost their lives as the storm swept through, and along with the massive damage caused, the survival of my camera is insignificant to the point of absolute triviality.

On arriving home and over the course of the next week I went through all of its functions and nothing appears to have been affected. Keeping a close eye on the lens, I expected mould to have appeared but the elements remain clear and it works fine. I could not help to be impressed by the T systems robustness in such poor conditions, especially as it does not have any form of weather sealing.

Our thoughts lie with those who lost loved ones on the night of the 10th July, and also to the businesses and people affected.