Self Portrait


From above  (or below)

If it is possible to truly love a kayak I love my Skim Dex. It is probably the seat I sit in the most from April to October.

À faire en Italie – Canadian TV

Somehow myself, Steve Lutsch from Canada and my friend Loretta from Venice, end up in a Canadian-French TV programme, called “À faire en Italie – La liste de Françios-Etienne”.

I’ve only seen this little bit, so I have no idea what kind of figure I cut in the rest of the show.

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Launching from a beach

For almost four years I’ve been doing my kayaking tours of Venice from a camp site on the Lido di Venezia.

It has been, and is, in many ways a good launch spot close to Venice, but it is not without its drawbacks.

The shore there is a road which is 1-2m over the water level, depending on the tide, so we launch one at a time from an inflatable platform.

For many of our your guests it has been an almost intimidating experience. One of the busiest shipping lanes in the lagoon passes just in front of the place, and the waves from each passing boat rebounds from wall causing the platform to bounce up and down.

Even if the waves are at most 1-2ft, they rebound and intersect, making it look violent and dangerous for the inexperienced holiday paddlers that often come for our tours. I’ve seen many scared face there in the last four years.

It isn’t really dangerous, but it looks so, and often perception is just as important as reality.

What can at times pose a risk is the 2 knot tidal current in from of the place, which can easily cause people to drift away before we have the last of the group on the water.

Once everybody is in the boats it is necessary  to cross the shipping lane immediately, heading for the calmer waters across the canal. This too can be intimidating for inexperienced paddlers.

For the last month or so I have done the tours from a beach on the island of Certosa, just on front of the old launch spot. We can easily see the 500m across, but it couldn’t be more different.

Its a shallow beach on those calmer waters we head immediately for from the other side.

Launching from a beach like that does have its advantages.

There is practically no fear factor. Little could be and feel safer than a beach without waves.

Launching is so much faster when you can line the boats up on the beach and send them off simultaneously or in very fast succession. Likewise, getting people in, out of the boats and the boats back in storage is way faster too.

The passage from the beach to the first stretch of open water is a canal following the shoreline of the island, separated from the shipping lane by sand banks where most waves break. The area in front of the beach is therefore very sheltered and safe, so there’s little problem in launching ten beginners before I myself get in the boat.

There are some disadvantages too.

When people feel safer they also act more by their own accord. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it a lot harder keeping a check on what is going on. It is, for example, more likely that somebody very eager will just set off, without lifejacket or spraydeck.

Also gear and persons tend to get quite a bit more dirty when launching from a beach full of sand, mud and algae.

The water is very shallow at times, and if people don’t land in the right spot they can run aground rather far from the beach, and if the land on the wrong part and step out, they’ll be in the mud to their knees.

In any case, the minuses are minor and nothing more that can be handled with a bit of well placed instructions.

I still don’t know where operations will be for the rest of the season. Nothing has been decided yet.

UFO – Unidentified Floating Object

When paddling around Venice we often see slightly weird boats around — different shapes, odd names, alternative behaviour — but the other day I encountered something in a category of its own.

I tried to get a good photo of it, but waterproof point-and-shoot cameras aren’t always that great for taking photographs, so this was the best shot I got.

We have some of the usual mix of boats here.  There’s the gondola, the taxi, the cargo boat and a building barge:

Then in the middle there’s this unidentified floating object

It appears to be the workmen from the barge in front of Palazzo Grassi, who got the sudden urge to cross the Canal Grande on a rather busy stretch, using some kind of steel box and shovels for paddles.

They did get across, but I’m not quite sure it qualifies as safe paddling 🙂

Acqua Alta

Yesterday we had one of the first acqua alta‘s of the winter. It wasn’t exceptionally high, reaching a level of 100cm above the historical average water level, but it was just enough to wet a few places around the city, and more than enough to ground all but a few of the gondolas of the city.

The basis of the tide is the gravity of the sun and the moon, which gives the astronomical tide. In Venice the astronomical tide is from approximately from -40cm to +70cm at spring tide, and from 0cm to +50cm at neap tide. The astronomical tide is predictable and can be calculated for years in advance. A year’s worth of tables are available on the city’s web site.

On top of the astronomical tide comes the meteorological tide. Sustained strong E or SE winds in the Adriatic Sea push more water up into the Adriatic and then into the lagoon when the tide is rising, and impede the water flowing out with the falling tide, causing both lows and highs to stay above the level of the astronomical tide. The meteorological tide can be forecast for several days in advance.

The municipal tide forecast office publishes updated forecasts several times each day, for three day periods.

Yesterday’s high tide consisted of an astronomical high tide of +41cm, and a meteorological tide of +59cm. The wind in the lagoon was F4 NE in the morning, rising to F5 NE in the afternoon.

We went paddling, at bit with the hope that we could have a bit of fun on St. Mark’s square in a kayak 🙂

Acqua Alta - approaching S.Marco

A couple of hours before the expected high the water was already at the edge of some campi, like here at the Campo dell’Arsenale. I often take people under the the bridge behind the lions, but there was no chance of doing that today, so we paddled back out to the Bacino S. Marco to enter the next canal.

Acqua Alta - Campo dell'Arsenale

At the Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, or Campo Zanipolo in Venetian, the water was also at the edge of the square, without spilling over.

Acqua Alta - Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo

We had timed our arrival at St. Mark’s to match the highest point of the tide, and as we arrived under the Ponte di Paglia (from where you can see the Bridge of Sighs), the water was washing over the pavement on the left.

Acqua Alta - Riva degli SchiavoniAcqua Alta -

The wind didn’t make itself much felt inside the city, but outside it had a free reign. In the city there were no gondolas about, because the level of the tide blocked their passage under most bridges. This was the only gondola we saw working all day. It does look like its can be a cold, wet and rather hard job being a gondoliere in Venice.

Acqua Alta - Windy gondola ride

The tide was not enough to paddle across St. Mark’s. There were maybe 20cm of water on parts of the square, but the parts closest to the bacino are higher, just about the 100cm mark, so there was no water just behind the gondolas, unlike further in towards the basilica.

Acqua Alta - S.Marco

This building in Rio S. Zulian, just behind the basilica, was clearly build when the level of the city was higher and the tides lower.

Acqua Alta - Rio S.Zulian

The Campo di Guerra had a bit of water on it.

Acqua Alta - Campo di Guerra

The Fondamente della Regina in the Rio Baratteri had the water up to the edge of the fondamenta.

Acqua Alta - Fondamenta de la Regina

This gondola in Rio delle Procuratie is not going anywhere with this tide,

Acqua Alta - Rio delle Procuratie

and neither will these

Acqua Alta - Rio delle Procuratie

There are some low lying areas around the Rialto too

Acqua Alta - Rialto

including the Erbaria where the cafés often have tables outside, only today their guests would have gotten wet from above and from below.

Acqua Alta - Erberia

The Ca’ d’Oro is on the best preserved Gothic buildings on the Canal Grande, dating from the 15th century. It is a nice portico towards the canal, albeit a bit humid today.

Acqua Alta - Ca' d'Oro

Not many have done this before

Acqua Alta - Ca' d'Oro portico

The inside of the Ca’ d’Oro is a museum, where they have boats too, and water on the floor.

Acqua Alta - Ca' d'Oro inside

Two hours after the highest level of tide the water was still high in the Cannaregio area, as here on the Rio della Misericordia. Normally in Venice you’d step down into a boat, but here you’d step up into it.

Acqua Alta - Rio della Misericordia

When we started heading back home it quickly became clear that the NE winds in the lagoon were well above their remaining strength, so I decided to tow the two boats back, and let the couple return to the camp site with the vaporetto. It was a bit complicated towing two boats down narrow canals in a headwind, but at least I was moving forwards. When I arrived in the Canale S.Pietro and the Rio Quintavalle, which leads out of Venice in a NE direction, the wind was so strong that I only managed to move forwards at a snail’s pace.

In front of me I had the Canale delle Navi, which is one of the busiest canals around Venice. It is the main passage from central Venice and the Lido to Murano and the airport.

The time was about an hour before sunset. Light was waning, the sky was overcast and it was raining a bit. The canal in front of me was full of two feet waves with white foamy crests.

I would have been foolish trying to cross it into a F5 headwind with two empty boats on a rope, moving at less than a knot, with vaporetti and taxis moving up and down the canal around me.

Consequently, I entered a little harbour on the island of Olivolo, where I hauled the two kayaks up and tied them safely to a railing, before I took my own kayak and started the paddle back to the Lido to meet the other two.

Acqua Alta - kayaks at Olivolo

Without the two kayaks behind me I made good progress and crossed the Canale delle Navi quickly, only meeting a couple of vaporetti. They crew pointed at me and made some gestures that probably meant they didn’t think I were in any kind of sensible place and situation at that time. They might have been right, but I still made it to the other side.

Just as I came across the canal and passed the elephant sculpture in front of the Certosa island, lightning cut across the sky over the Lido. Thunder followed a while later, indicating the lightning was some two kilometres away. Somehow the weather forecast for the day had let that part out, or I would have cancelled the tour completely.

I paddled around the Certosa island as close to the shore as I possibly could for wind and waves, and found some shelter in a small canal behind the Sant’Andrea fortress. A few more lightnings greeted me along the way, now a bit closer.

I waited a bit, and spend the time finding some headlamps and glowsticks in my hatches, while I counted the time between lightning and thunder until I had the impression that the thunderstorm was moving down the Lido over the sea, away from me.

The crossing from Sant’Andrea to S.Nicolò is only about 250m, but its the main canal from the sea to Venice, used by everything from small motorboats to fifteen storey tall cruise ships. I paddled as fast as I could, it was now very dark, looking left and right to make sure any other traffic would spot my blinking headlamp and avoid me. There were nobody else stupid enough venture out, it seems, because I saw nothing.

I was more or less in the middle of the canal, when my phone rang (playing one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs), lightning blasted across the sky and thunder roared simultaneously. The thunderstorm had turned around and it was now straight above me. I sped up (and didn’t answer the phone).

Once across, I hauled by kayak out of the water, carried it into the camp site and started taking my inflatable platform up.

My guests called back, came back after a while, and we got the last few things in order before I closed the gate and headed back home. The couple were as wet as me, and probably more tired. We all got a bit more adventure than we had bargained for.

I still have two kayaks tied to a railing on the Isola di S.Pietro, and will have to go and fetch them tomorrow.

Venice Kayak in the Guardian

Kayaking in Venice: who needs a gondola? by Teresa Machan in The Guardian, September 26th, 2009.

Forget water taxis and tourist rides, if you want a fresh perspective on La Serenissima, jump in a kayak and paddle up to St Mark’s Square

It’s rush hour and there’s a traffic jam on the Grand Canal. Popping out into the canal from one of the narrower waterways is a trio of gondolas; hurtling towards them is the number-one vaporetto (water bus) loaded with its summer cargo. So far so familiar, but in the midst of this waterborne whirl of gondolas, buses, taxis, pleasure and motorboats there’s me, in a kayak, with a honking, crane-bearing delivery boat up my backside.

Thanks, Teresa 🙂

Fire Brigade on the Canalazzo

There are strict speed limits on the Canal Grande, and its under constant surveillance, but the speed limits don’t apply to the fire brigade, as can be seen from these photos.

Fire Brigade on the Canalazzo - 1

Fire Brigade on the Canalazzo - 2

Fire Brigade on the Canalazzo - 3

Fire Brigade on the Canalazzo - 4

When you hear the siren you better move – or even better – keep to the sides always, as any rowed boat is expected to do in the Canalazzo.

The photos were taken on September 5 on the Canal Grande just in front of the City Hall, Ca’ Farsetti, very close to the Rialto Bridge.

This is not a regular occurrence. I have only seen it twice this year, and I do spend a good deal of time around the Canal Grande.

The Elagoonephant

The Elagoonephant in all its tyresome glory

There has been a larger than usual mammal on the loose in the lagoon this summer.

The life size elephant stands on a shallow island near the Certosa island, just east of Venice, on the canal that leads to the airport. Most boats pass at a distance, but we can paddle right up under its trunk. It doesn’t seem to mind, though.

It appeared there in early June, just at the opening time of the Biennale, so it probably has something to do with that. If that’s the case, it will likely disappear in November when the Biennale closes.

Seen up close it looks like its made from old car tyres, heated and moulded into shape, and some pieces of drift wood.

Paddling with the elephant

Some have suggested that the little red ball is like a key stone on an arch. Remove that, and it’ll all come apart 🙂


At high tide the water in the canals at Murano is clean enough for the local children to swin and play in the water. The kids were jumping from the bridge in front of the medieval church SS. Marie e Donato.