Mare Nostrum Project

A couple of French kayakers are on a journey along the northern side of the Mediterranean, a 10.000km trip from Gibraltar to Istanbul.

We hope to host them when they arrive here in Venice in a few weeks time. They’re currently half way up the Italian east coast.

Mare Nostrum Project.

Valley Pintail – the very last

In July I was on a brief visit to Canada and Michigan where I participated in the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium.

On one of the tours I was on there was a beautiful three-part almost golden Valley Pintail, and the owner, a local coach named Belinda, let me have a go in it in the waves.

It was such a fantastic boat.

A few weeks later, again back in Venice, I spotted a notice on a British blog that Valley Sea Kayaks would terminate a bunch of older Valley models, including the Pintail:

Valley Sea Kayaks have just announced that they are intending to rationalise their range of sea kayaks. … The result of this rationalisation process is that certain models are to be discontinued permanently.

The last date for placing orders with Valley is the 31st of August this year so anyone considering purchasing one of the soon-to-be discontinued models has just over a week to make a decision and place an order.

I wrote to them, and Joshua from Valley answered by email:

Yes this is true, the Pintail will be discontinued at the end of this month.

So, I had a few days to decide if I wanted a Pintail or not.

There’s no Valley dealer in Italy, which complicated matters a bit, but in the end I ordered a Pintail through Kajakhotellet in Copenhagen, and they were very fast in getting the order in before closing time.

Hopefully I’ll get it in the colours of the ancient Venetian flag, which is orange and wine red, with lots of glitter, so it’ll be really flashy when I’m paddling down the Canal Grande at sunset 🙂

I had already started to gloat just for the anticipation of it 🙂

Then, just the other day, Anders of Kajakhotellet posted this on my Facebook:

Hi René, just wanted to let you know that we talked to the Valley Sea Kayaks guys at the Paddle expo in Nürnberg, and your new Pintail (in Venice colours) is the last Pintail in the world!
They threw in a Kevlar keelstrip just to celebrate…. and then they chopped up the mould 😉

So apparently my Pintail will be the very last ever made.

It will be a historic boat in a historic city.

Kayaking anniversary in Venice

At this time, five years ago, I came to Venice for the first time to kayak. I had only been to Venice a two previous occasions, and only for short one day visits.

Being married at the time to an Italian, most holidays would automatically go to Italy, and I had been searching for interesting places to go paddling in Italy for a while. One day in 2006 I was looking at online maps of Italy, following the coast line starting from the west, taking notes about interesting places to go paddling, and at the very end of this virtual journey my finger reached the northernmost part of the Adriatic coast.

My interest and curiosity was immediately arisen.

Everybody has an image in their head of this iconic city, and as soon as my mental image of Venice, and my wish to go kayaking in interesting places connected immediately and I couldn’t let go of the idea of kayaking in Venice.

An initial search for outfitters, kayak rental places, local kayaking clubs and such found nothing. After a very persistent search I finally found names and email addresses of 6 or 7 persons, and I wrote an email to all of them. The only one who answered my email was Marco, my now business partner in Venice Kayak.

Marco lent some equipment to me and my friend Jes, and we came down too Venice for one week in  late June 2007. We stayed in a camp site on the Lido di Venezia which Marco knew about, and he gave us some maps and a bit of instructions before we set out on our little adventure.

We moved slowly the first day, and we just paddled around the islands closest to the camp site, Sant’Andrea, the Vignole and Certosa where Venice Kayak is based now. We only ventured into the very closest parts of Venice, the area around San Piero de Casteo.

The next day we paddled around the Lido, and we didn’t even get close to the city. From the camp site we paddled around the northern end of the Lido  into the Adriatic Sea, fifteen kilometres south and back into the lagoon at Malamocco, returning north on the opposite side of the Lido. It was rather longer that we had anticipated, and we returned around the time of sunset after a paddle of some 35km.

On the third day we took the vaporetto into the city and walk around, doing normal touristy stuff.

Thinking back, we must have been a bit intimidated by the prospect of paddling into the city centre. We certainly took our time. It seems silly now that I spend so much of my time roaming around the canals of Venice in a kayak, but the first time wasn’t that easy.

Only on the fourth day of our stay here did we finally venture into Venice centre by kayak. Looking at the photos now its quite amusing how many of the interesting places we found straight away. We paddled past the old cathedral San Piero de Casteo, past the Arsenale, in front of St. Mark’s, had lunch at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, did a good deal of the Canal Grande, up to the station and Piazzale Roma, down the Canale Giudecca, past some of the squeri (gondola shipyards). We came back with loads of photos, some of them are still among the best I have, and a good deal of video which we later used to promote the first tours we made to Venice the same autumn.

Based on the photos that I have, we must have spend some eight or nine hours paddling that day, criss-crossing the city.

After our Venetian padding adventure, we headed for the islands north of Venice. First to Burano to look at the glass works there, which left much more of an impression on Jes than on me, and from there north to Mazzorbo and Burano where we had a short walk to enjoy the spectacle of the multi-coloured houses of the island. Burano has ever since been one of my favourite places in the lagoon.

That was the last day we paddled in Venice that June. The day after we took the vaporetto to the Vignole islands to check out a trattoria we had spotted paddling by the day before. It was quite good, and became a common stop on our evening paddles in the following years.

We went home with thousands of photos, and a good deal of video, which we used to promote a second tour to Venice in September 2007. There was only a handful, but that too went well, and with more experience,  photos and video, we started promoting tours for September next year. Those tours were sold out in early January.

That left me with a problem. I had promised to sort out the logistics of equipment and accommodation, and we needed gear for 15 persons for two weeks. I couldn’t find that anywhere, so in the end I decided to buy the equipment needed, and thus Venice Kayak was born.

First paddle of the year in Venice

Between this and that it was late January before we got the kayaks out on the canals of Venice. It was before the cold set in, so there was no snow or ice on the canals. We had much of the city to ourselves, as most other boat people in Venice are having a slow period in January.

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Stupid things you do …

Every once in a while you do something silly, only discover afterwards that your “good fun” could have had other consequences.

In November last year there was an alert for a high tide in Venice. Nothing extreme, a forecast of 115cm which will flood mayby 20% of the city with at most 20cm of water, much less in most places. It should, however, give some 20-30cm of water on parts of St. Mark’s Square, at around 7.50am.

So, we headed out to the lagoon island where we have our kayaks real early, got on the water and paddled down to the canals behind St. Mark’s to see if there was a passage into the square. There was a way in, with only 5-10cm of water, but doable, so we headed into St. Mark’s Square, just to take a few photos and then head out again.

Not so …

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Just a few seconds after we were out in the clear, we had a handful of photographers running through the water to get photos of us, and for a time we were surrounded by 10-15 photographers all keen on getting just the right shot of these two kayakers on the square. After a short while a TV cameraman from national Italian television came over and started filming, and even interviewing my companion.

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When one of the photographers jokingly asked us to hang around until the local police showed up, we decided that we’d better stop while we were still having fun. Apparently the fine for taking a boat – any kind of boat, even a completely innocuous kayak with a wooden paddle – into the square was worth a €1000 fine each.

We headed out to the normal Venetian canals again, watching for policemen or women over our shoulders, but we got safely out and enjoyed a nice paddle around the city, with very little traffic due to the high tide.

Then, when we came back home, Facebook and our email was full of messages of the type: “what have you two been up to now?”. Our little stunt had earned us a cameo appearance on a couple of afternoon national news broadcasts, repeated in the evening, even with an interview with my companion on the regional news, where they did not miss the occasion to underline that “all boating is severely forbidden in the square”.

So now we’ve even been reprimanded in TV.

The day after the photos were all over the regional printed news, and in some of the national newspapers as well, not to speak of the ones from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and probably a whole bunch of other places we don’t know about.

We just wanted a few photos for ourselves, so we could say “been there, done that” 🙂

Sicily Circumnavigation 2010

sicily

In March, 2010, I intend to paddle around the Mediterranean island of Sicily, a trip of some 900 km along a stunningly beautiful coastline, where, besides the natural beauty of the coast and the sea, we’ll pass Greek temples, Phoenician settlements, Roman ruins, Arab architecture, Norman city fortresses, Spanish towers, baroque cities, active vulcanoes and much more.

2008-03-24-150018In 2007 I embarked on a project of circumnavigation of the two largest Mediterranean islands, Sicily and Sardinia. The plan was to paddle around the two islands in October and November, 2007, but things didn’t work out as intended, and I stopped having done 2/3 of Sardinia only. The following year, in May, I went back and did the remaining part of Sardinia alone. The posts from that trip are here.

My plans for Sicily were put on hold as all my effort and energy went into starting a kayaking business in Venice, Italy. I have now worked in Venice for two seasons, with quite satisfactory results. I have therefore decided that I deserve a holiday, which brought the circumnavigation of Sicily out of the bag. One has to finish what one begins, even it it takes a bit of time.

I will do the journey with a dear friend of mine, Cori Donohoe. I’m very happy to have found in Cori a paddling partner I feel I can fully trust, both in terms of paddling skills, endurance, dedication to our common project, and personal compatibility.

2008-03-20-182532I’m also very happy that I finally get to do something that has been high on my wish list for three years now, almost since I took up sea kayaking.

The journey will start in Catania on the eastern coast, and take us counter clockwise in the shadow of Etna past Taormina, Messina, along the north coast to Cefalù and Palermo where we will no doubt have to take a break or face the consequences. From there the journey goes to western Sicily, to Castelammare, Segesta, Lo Zingaro, San Vito lo Capo,Trapani and Marsala, and along the southern coast with Mazzaro del Vallo, Selinunte, Agrigento, Ragusa, then up north past Syracuse back to Catania.

March is not the best time of year for such a trip. It would have been easier to do it during the summer half of the year, but I have to tend to my business in Venice from April to October, and Cori exploits a period between jobs to do the journey. As such the period was more or less forced on us.

2007-11-13-164346The weather shouldn’t be extreme. Conditions for the seas around Sicily in March are average winds of F1-F3, at most up to F4-F5, average waves of 0.5-1m, up to 1.5m and water temperatures of 14°-16°C. We have paddled in such conditions before, and it should be well within our abilities.

The entire trip is approx. 900 km. We should be able to average 40km/day as we’re both fit and healthy, which means 22-23 paddling days. We’ve allocated the entire month of March to the trip, so we can have two weather (or rest) days à week and still be within schedule.

2007-11-13-162532We definitely want some days on land during the trip, for touristy stuff. Sicily is full of marvellous things to see, and it wouldn’t be just not stopping at places like Selinunte, Agrigento, Siracusa, Taormina and Cefalù, not to mention some of the places along the coast where we have friends. Sicily is not a place where you offend you friends by declining their hospitality 🙂

Should we have a few days left after the trip there’s still plenty to see and do in Sicily.

Cori will be paddling a Sea Kayak Design 526, on loan from the producer, Over-line Kayaks in Catania. I had planned on using a Skim Distance from Skim Kayaks in Sweden, the same boat I paddled around Sardinia, but haven’t been able to get it repaired in time after the journeys it has made in Sardinia. I will instead paddle an Aretusa from Over-Line Kayak.

St. Mark’s paddle

April 25th is the day of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice since his relics were taken to the city in AD 828. I haven’t heard of any official celebration, maybe because the day coincides with the national celebration of the liberation of Italy after WWII. Anyway, Marco (not San Marco, just Marco 🙂 ) and I decided to go paddling in the lagoon, since the forecast promised a splendid, almost summe like, day.

I started the day in Mestre, so I had to take the ferry to the Lido, where I saw this pretty sight.

Caorlina in Canale Giudecca

The boat looks like one of the municipal racing boats, but the rowers didn’t look very expert. They had loads of problems with the waves you often find in the Canale Giudecca.

From the Lido we headed for the island of Sant’Erasmo, often called the vegetable garden of Venice.  There are some 70 small farms on the island, and only a few hundred residents.  The island also have a few canals between the fields and gardens, though they’re well hidden. We had to paddle through a lock to paddle into the island.

It is a very green places 🙂

Marco on Sant'Erasmo

Calm canal on Sant'Erasmo

We found this abandoned sandolo in one of the canals. It looked like it had been a beautiful boat, but it might be beyord salvaging now.

Abandoned Sandolo on Sant'Erasmo

The canals were full of life, like small fish, transparent prawns and loads of crabs. Here’s one taking a stroll on my spraydeck.

Crab from the canals of Sant'Erasmo on my spraydeck

We also happened on this old gondola in front of a couple of farm houses.

Old gondola on Sant'Erasmo

From the canals of Sant’Erasmo we paddled around the Lazaretto Nuovo, to a corner of the lagoon I hadn’t visited before. Behind the Lazaretto Nuovo are the defensive walls of the island. We had to paddle through some very small canals in the marshlands to follow the  wall, but we got through and were spared having to back out again, through all the hairpin turns.

Behind the Lazaretto Nuovo

The walls of the Lazaretto Nuovo

From Lazaretto Nuovo we continued towards the island of Burano, our chosen lunch island. We were getting hungry but still had a few kilometres to paddle. Burano is my faviourite island in the lagoon. Its quite small, about 3500 inhabitants, and really cosy.

Here’s the leaning campanile of their main church.

Burano in the distance

This is the abandoned island of Madonna del Monte. It use to be a monastery, but it was abandoned in the late 18th century, maybe as a consequence of Napoleons conquest of the Republic of Venice.  He did close down a lot of monasteries.

Isola di Madonna del Monte

The leaning tower of Murano again.

The leaning tower of Burano

Marco paddling towards a nice lunch, with the skyline of Venice in the background.

Marco heading for a good lunch of Burano

On Burano we saw this little boy walking a rather large dog.

Little boy walking big dog on Burano

The coloured houses of Burano are fantastic. There’s every possible colour there, its like paddling on a painters palette. Notice the man taking a photo of us. Natural selection has provided him with optimal camouflage 🙂

Matching house and shirt on Burano

They were doing some maintenance on the canals on Burano, and several passages were closed.  They weren’t closed well enough, though.

Canal closed, but not for Marco

When I get rich I want an orange house on Burano.  It doesn’t have to be big, just orange 🙂

Pretty houses on Burano

Marco paddling passed the pale corner of Burano.

Marco on Burano

Just behind Burano is the island Torcello, the site of an abandoned medieval city.  Now only two churches are left. They’re repairing the campanile, it seems. It almost looks  like a modern high rise building in the lagoon.

Campanile of Torcello under repair

At the entry of another canal on Burano we saw this little gem. It is a traditional boat of the area, a Batèla Buranela. Its an old type of freight boat used in the lagoon, for example by the farmers on Sant’Erasmo for bringing their produce to market in Venice. Very few examples exist now, they can probably be counted on one hand. One of the rowing clubs in Mestre has a Betela a coa de gambaro of recent construction, I saw it there last year.

A beautiful boat full of beautiful people 🙂

Batela Buranese - a very rare example

Batela Buranese

Batela Buranese

Batela Buranese

It was five in the afternoon when we left Burano, and the tide was very low. Many of the passages we’ve used the last years were now too shallow for passage, even in a kayak, and we had to ‘seal’ our way for a while, and in the end we just got out and pulled the kayaks across until we had enought water for another stretch of slow paddling.

Low tide at Sant'Erasmo

The shallow sandy bottom was absolutely crawling with small crabs. When we walked across the shallowest places they would stand down in the 5cm of water, waving their little fists at our feet, and if we got too close they would either scuttle away or dig themselves into the sand.

There were so many we had to be careful where we put our feet.  This one seemed to find the camera rather intimidating and decided to dig  in.

Lagoon crab photographed underwater - digging in

Somehow its impossible to go paddling with Marco without him getting all giddy and silly at some point.

Marco being silly

Marco being silly - again

It might look like a very dramatic capsize, but the truth is we only had about 20cm of water there. An actual capsize there would be quite a feat.

Marco in a dramatic capsize

Another crab taking a walk on my front hatch.

Yet another crab taking a walk on my kayak

We returned to the Lido shortly before sunset, under this sky.

The sunset over Venice, seen from the Lido after our return