The small beach and looming white cliff faces drew closer, much faster than the captain would have liked. The freightliner, MV Panagiotis, was rocking and yawing: sandwiched between swells and waves that swirled up and clapped each side of the ship on a bleak evening in October 1980. The crew had battened every hatch but they were on a journey in which they had no control. They drifted, and then the hull suddenly gripped with a jarring finality.
Thirty-seven years ago the last voyage of the MV Panagiotis – a boat shrouded in tales and legend of smuggling deeds and defiance – would end up creating one of the world’s most picturesque ‘wrecks’. ‘Navagio’ [meaning Shipwreck] beach can only be accessed by water and the powerful mix of beauty and decay in the shadow of motorised technology inspired a production crew to pursue exclusive use of the location. The idea was to have 2015 MXGP FIM Motocross World Champion and Monster Energy Yamaha Factory rider Romain Febvre ripping up sand around the Panagiotis.
A team of 23 people began to construct a site and a ‘track’ at Navagio by transporting all the equipment necessary from the other side of the island. The build was sizeable and involved shifting twelve tonnes of sand and clocked over a thousand hours of labour. And then with 25 year old Febvre onboard and the filming date in November pencilled, it was almost as if the energy that snared the Panagiotis reared up to again make its mark.
Less than a week before ‘record’ buttons were to be pushed the weather changed. A storm gathered over Zakynthos and in a single day the Navagio ‘set’ was totalled. A period of rapid and stressful recovery work began: some 60% of what had already been crafted on the beach had to be re-done in one day.
Another hurdle fast presented itself. Direct sunlight on Navagio in November was sparse and the shoot expanded into nocturnal activity in order to augment their material. Hauling the lights, equipment and technical backup was another major ‘ask’.
At the heart of the project was Febvre, fresh from a nineteen-round Grand Prix season and a milestone third consecutive success at the Motocross of Nations. “It is definitely the strangest place I have ridden,” the talented Frenchman admitted. “We are used to circuits and beautiful locations and in countries like Argentina but this was right on the beach with the sea so close and that ship stuck right there. It was unbelievable to see, and more so to ride because it is a place you cannot reach by walking or car but by wheeling the bike onto a boat and sailing out.”
The Grand Prix winner has done a number of film and photoshoots in his career but welcomed the chance to put that distinctive blue #461 into a frame that is definitely a ‘first’ for dirt biking. “Being a factory rider is already like a dream for me, so opportunities like this are just a cool part of it,” he says. “Having a sponsor like Monster, who come up with some crazy ideas, is also another nice part…but I like it. I think there are not many people that do stuff like this.”
Most nights Navagio echoes gently to the surf and the occasional metallic ‘moan’ or creak from the Panagiotis. Febvre bounced four-stroke engine howls around the stony walls in a sight unlikely to be seen again. The video and photography effectively chart the experience for a true ‘one-off’.