Long time, no racks

Venice Kayak has now operated for eight seasons, and to celebrate that we have finally made some racks for the kayaks. For the first time ever we haven’t got any kayaks lying around on the ground.

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IMG_20151001_123303The three boats below aren’t ours 🙂

Next project must be to make a rack for the gondola.

Kayak ban in Venice – new rules in force from tomorrow

The recent kayaking ban on the Grand Canal and other canals has been partially overturned.

The new rules are explained here. They will be in effect from tomorrow morning, April 23rd. The formal publication of the new rules are on the city’s web site:

Disciplina generale della navigazione nei rii e canali a traffico esclusivamente urbano della Z.T.L. lagunare, Testo Unico delle disposizioni in materia di traffico acqueo, sostituisce con modifiche la regolamentazione precedente costituita dalle ordinanze n° 310/2006, 402/2013, 91-92-93-94-95-96/2015 e altre disposizioni specifiche.

January paddle

Venice Kayak doesn’t really do many tours in the winter, but we’ve had a few in the last few weeks.

Yesterday’s paddle was on a foggy day, postponed from the day before which was even foggier, so we ended up doing a rather different tour as we couldn’t do some of the open water passages that we otherwise do.

January 6th, Epiphany, is called the Befana here. She’s an old witch who’ll bring gifts to the good children and charcoal to the naughty ones. We spotted her flying over Rio San Giuseppe.

La befana in Rio San Giuseppe

Here we’re in the Bacino San Marco, with the island San Giorgio Maggiore in the background to the left, and you can just glimpse San Marco and the campanile in front of the kayaks.

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Rio dei Greci boasts one the leaning towers of Venice. We hardly ever go there as the canal is badly infested by taxis, but there were few yesterday.

Rio dei Greci

The Rio della Canonica, or the Rio di Palazzo, which is just behind the Palazzo Ducale, usually suffers from gondola congestion, but that too was rather quiet yesterday, so we had a chance to paddle under the Bridge of Sighs and even get a few photos.

Under the Bridge of Sighs

Our guide Loretta never loses an opportunity to race a gondola in front of San Marco.

Loretta overtaking a gondola at San Marco

I don’t race much. I’m too slow, so I just enjoy the view.

In front of San Marco

Dodging a few airport shuttles we reach the lower Canal Grande.

At the end of the Canal Grande with the Punta della Dogana

And the Madonna della Salute (there’s supposed to be 1,1 mio tree trunks underneath the foundations).

On the Grand Canal with Madonna della Salute

Here we’re further up the Canal Grande, at the beautiful gothic  Palazzo Bernardo from the  15th century.

On the Canal Grande

And in the narrow Rio della Madoneta.

Rio della Madoneta

There was very little traffic in the city, so we only met the occasional gondola on the tour.

Gondola up close

Here we’re in the Rio de la Panada, passing the late 14th century Palazzo Van Axel.

Rio della Panada, Palazzo Van Axel

Passing under the low bridge in front of the monumental entrance to the Arsenale (the ancient Venetian navy docks) is always good fun, but the tide was rather low.

Passing the bridge at the Arsenale

Loretta made it too.

Loretta at the Arsenale gate

The Rio de l’Arsenal is always good a few photos. They sure knew how to make monuments back in those days.

Rio de l'Arsenal

Our guide Loretta kept creeping up in front of the camera.

Loretta in the Rio de l'Arsenal

And again. Here entering the Bacino San Marco, still with a good deal of fog.

Loretta in Bacino San Marco foggy

We continued around the Arsenale with its imposing walls. Close to the eastern end of the Arsenale  there’s an old altar in the wall.

Altare in Rio delle Vergine

The church of San Pietro di Castello is the former cathedral of Venice, with the old residence of the patriarch to the right. Here too is one of the learning towers of Venice.

Loretta at San Pietro de Castello

While we cannot enter the Arsenale from the monumental gate, it is easy to paddle in from the Porta da mar, the gate to the sea, with the huge old mast crane.

Entering the Arsenale

The area here is the darsena grande and its where the Serenissima build and maintained the navy the ruled the eastern Mediterranean for centuries.

Inside the Arsenale, darsena grande

The galleandre are covered areas where they could work on the innards of the ships once the hull was floating but for the rigging was mounted.

René inside the Arsenale

The tese were covered areas used for laying up the keel and building the hulls of the ships. Now most are used by companies taking part in the building of the flood gates which should protect the city from excessive flooding (but not from rampant corruption).

René inside the Arsenale

Along the sides of the Arsenale you can still see the rings used to mooring the ships during the different phases of construction.

Lion of San Marco, Arsenale

Leaving the Arsenale through the gate to the sea.

Bacino San Marco on a foggy day

Our base on the Certosa island is under the fog just in front of the paddlers.

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.