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.
The 35th Vogalonga was held on May 31st, on the Sunday following Ascension as tradition dictates.
The Vogalonga is a 30km non-competitive “race” through the city of Venice and the lagoon. It starts a 9 from St. Mark’s with a cannon shot, and proceeds around Sant’Elena, past the islands of Certosa, Le Vignole, Sant’Erasmo, San Francesco in Deserto, Burano, Mazzorba, San Giacomo in Palude, Murano back to Venice for a final trip down the Canal Grande back to the finish at St. Mark’s.
As an exception to an otherwise firm rule, Venice Kayak rents kayaks for the day of the Vogalonga, so we were a bunch of people launching from the camp site, in addition to the maybe 50 or more other kayaks, canoes, inflatables and other boats starting from there too.
Marco and I had to get everybody off safely, so we launched last, at about 8.30, with the prospect of not getting to the start on time, as the paddle to St. Mark’s normally takes about 40 minutes.
The weather gave us a hand, though, for which we paid dearly later. The forecast was for a NE wind, turning ENE later, of force 4 to 5 for most of the day. The sky was ominous, dark and menacing, but we were spared any rain during the day. The only trial would be the wind.
With a F4-5 tail wind and waves of ½m we half paddled, half surfed down the Canale San Nicolò and around Sant’Elena to St. Mark’s, where we arrived in less the 20 minutes, well before the cannon blast and the start of the Vogalonga.
The start was as chaotic as ever. One thousand five hundred boats or more, assembled without any order or system, all starting at the same time, is bound to create some disorder. Being in a small vessel you need to be careful and look over your shoulder every once in a while. A gondolone with twelve, fourteen or eighteen oarsmen cannot turn or stop in a jiffy, and the many backwards rowers often have little idea of where they’re going or what they’re hitting.
The first critical point was when we turned left at Sant’Elena, straight into the wind. Many rowers weren’t prepared for the wind that suddenly hit them, and had difficulties turning the corner. A caorlina just in front of me completely cost control and veered to the right, straight across the path of many other boats struggling to turn left. Much shouting ensued, but being behind and left of the fight I didn’t get involved.
The next 15km was one long hard slug into the headwind. Initially, the canals there were narrow and the field still close together, so there was little choice but to keep up with the speed of the others. The average speed of the many Venetian boats with four, six, eight or more oarsmen was around 5km/h in spite of the headwind, so we just had to push harder and keep up with them.
After a while I spotted Marco maybe 200m ahead of me, paddling in a leisurely pace just in the wake of an eight oarsmen gondolone, shielded from the wind by the much higher Venetian boat, and I started paddling even harder to catch up with him. I didn’t gain one metre on him, but I did succeed in geting very tired way too soon during the Vogalonga. After a while I gave up and found a similar place in the wake of a caorlina, where I could relax a bit. There were still over 20km left of the trip, and I had no intention of pushing myself out of the race.
I followed other boats like that for a good part of the northward part of the itinerary, breaking away every once in a while to try to take some photos. It was almost impossible to photograph anything. As soon as I stopped paddling, even for the few seconds it took to pull the camera out of the pocket to turn it on and drop it on the spraydeck, the wind would cause me to lose speed and turn sideways across the path of the others. The few photos I did manage to take were almost all shaken because I had to lower the camera before the autofocus has finished.
As we turned left around San Francesco del Desterto towards Burano I made a small mistake. Most other boats kept a course more to the left, downwind, which seemed to take them south of Burano, not north of the island as the official itinerary said. I assumed they had been blown a bit off course by the strong winds, so I kept more to the right towards the northern side of Burano. As a consequence I ended in secca, in shallow waters due to the low tide, and for about 1-2km I had to fight the winds from my right with only 10-15cm under the keel. Had the tide been just a little bit lower, I would have been stuck.
As I approached Burano and finally got enough water under the boat to paddle faster, a completely devastated Marco pulled up besides me. He had ended up behind me earlier because he wanted to take some pictures, and had had to paddle like a madman to catch up.
We agreed on taking a break after we had rounded Burano, in the canal at Mazzorba, where the wind would be in our favour. We picked up some drinks and bananas at a service boat in the canal, and as I ate my bananas and drank the sugary greenish stuff they had give us, Marco paddled across the canal to say hello to a friend. I drifted along, leaving Mazzorba towards the island of Madonna del Monte, while I took photos of the passing boats.
Each year in the Vogalonga there seems to be a boat that attracts more attention than the others, and it usually involves female rowers for some unknown reason. Last year it was a beautiful wooden sandolo with a couple dress in white with golden scarfs, and this year it was a smaller sandolo or mascareta rowed by four women from the Remiera Querini in Venice. The boat was adorned with blue flowers and the girls dressed in matching colours.
Most rowers were relieved of having turned the corner and now having a good strong tail wind, but for some the problems seemed to get worse. Many of the backwards rowers seemed to have problems with the following waves, and many went way off course. A black gondola, the only one I saw doing the Vogalonga, also went off course at times, but they definitely made it, as I saw them later in the city.
The strong winds and the open landscape in the middle of the lagoon gave more and larger waves than I have ever seen in the lagoon. As I approached Murano, especially after I had passed the island of San Giacomo in Palude, the waves were between ½m and 1m, which is a lot in a shallow lagoon. It was definitely enough for me to catch a wave and surf a little. I had loads of fun, until a backwards boat almost rammed me from behind as I was waiting for a wave.
I was full of energy as I entered Murano and continued towards S. Alvise on the NW side of Venice. The official route was towards S. Alvise then right to the start if the Canale Cannaregio where we were to enter the city canals.
The waves were building up as I came closer to S. Alvise, and they were now mostly around 1m from the back slightly on the right side. When I was almost at the Canale Cannaregio, I had to do a detour because a large area was closed off by a floating barrier. As I paddled around the area, I noticed a sunk dragonboat and two or more backwards boats in the water, in a mess of oars and other stuff from the capsized and sunken boats. A couple of persons were swimming inside the area, apparently trying to collect oars and other floating items.
The Canale Cannaregio, especially at the Ponte Tre Archi, is another critical point where boats often pile up. This time is wasn’t that bad, but the backwards people still caused problems as they had problems getting through, even hitting the central arch with getting too close to the sides.
Once I was through the Canale Cannaregio and into the Canal Grande everything eased up and traffic flowed without problems. There were no vaporetti or taxis, and very few gondolas. It was a fantastic experience paddling slowly down the completely quiet Canal Grande which hardly had a ripple on the surface.
At the finish I got my diploma and medal, and moved over to the side to watch the others coming in. Marco arrived soon after, as did the gondolone from the rowing club Diadora (where I’m a member now) with Lino Farnea a poppa, and the splendid red peata from the Remiera del Brenta.
Tony from the UK was the only one of ‘our’ paddlers who came in at that time, and the three of us started our return paddle towards the Lido. To avoid having to fight the wind again around Sant’Elena, we went through the inner city canals until we came out at San Pietro in Castello, which is little more then 1 km from the camp site.
We returned very tired, with the expectation of finding several of our guests there, as it was clear that a substantial number of participants had dropped out of this year’s Vogalonga. To our surprise there was nobody.
They all came back in ones and twos during the afternoon, and everybody who started made it through to the finish. Most were completely exhausted after many hours fighting the headwind, but also content.
According to what I’ve heard and read afterwards, the Vogalonga 2009 was the hardest ever. Over 100 boats left the race shortly after the start when they got hit by the headwinds at Sant’Elena, many others were blown on ground in too shallow waters, and some 30 boats sank or capsized at the Canale Cannaregio. About 80 rowers ended in the water there, and 20 in hospital with minor injuries.
Yesterday I was paddling around Venice with a German couple and their daughter. The girl was almost mesmerised by the crabs scuttling around on the walls and steps on the rii, so daddy picked one up to show her, then put it down on the kayak so it could get on with its life.
I tried to get a photo of the crab on the kayak, but the camera wouldn’t obey, and I missed it.
At least I thought I missed it. When I zoomed in a bit I found that I had caught the crab in mid jump 🙂
They’re restoring the back side of the Palazzo Ducale and the corresponding side of the Prigioni Nove, both facing the Rio Canonica. The Bridge of Sighs connect these two buildings across the canal.
To get funds for the restauration works they have sold advertising rights to the façades being restored, and the sponsor have clad them in blue.
It makes a paddle down that rio an almost surreal experience, and even if the Bridge of Sighs is still visible, it just isn’t the same experience. On the other hand, we can hardly complain that the city is maintaining our common heritage.
I have a quite decent camera in my mobile phone, and often take photos where I go, but I also often forget to download them to the computer. I did that today, and here’s a selection of point-and-shoot photos from we left Denmark in early April until now here in Venice.
The phots are in chronological order, from April 2nd until May 14th.
We met this rather violent viking lorry somewhere in Germany – every surface was covered with painting of savage vikings murdering and pillaging. Notice the monk being attacked on the beach.
Its a bit tiring driving long hours, so I had a nap on a lawn somewhere in France.
Fancy a nap with your head on this pillow? We spotted it in a parked car in Port de la Selva in Spain.
At the symposium dinner they prepared a special Catalan drink which had to burn for a while before being drunk.
Paella is good – we shared this wiith a bunch of Sicilian friends, Nigel Dennis and one of his coaches.
This is a patisserie in Carcassonne, in the city below the walls.
This fellow we met at the markets in Nîmes. I smiled back and walked on 🙂
The Pont du Gard just outside Nîmes.
In Venice I found a place to stay in the city, and here is all my stuff in two Ikea bags as I wait for the vaporetto at Piazzale Rome.
The apartment is close to Campo S. Giacomo dell’Orio, which is a very cozy place.
There’s a small supermarket at S. Giacomo dell’Orio, and one day I found this fellow tied to the old well outside the shop.
There’s a small war going on Riva degli Schiavoni. The area is full of tourists, and therefore also of illegal immigrants selling counterfeit goods, like designer bags and belts. The local shop keepers have put out signs warning people not to buy the counterfeit products, and complain loudly that the police don’t do anything. The other day there were some policemen on the bridges, and the immigrants had moved somewhere else.
This is an Italian monument, but still with a fiece lion of St. Mark’s.
I know this guy who’s having and ice cream on the steps at Campo S. Stae. There’s a very nice gelateria in the Salizada S. Stae about 100m behind the church.
In the Salizada S. Stae there’s a house with model wind mills on all of the first floor. I have no idea why.
One day on the vaporetto stop returning from the Lido to Riva degli Schiavoni they had these huge water bags lying on a platform. It wasn’t clear why, but it might be a stress test of a new vaporetto platform.
I saw this beagle at St. Mark’s. He’s French, thirteen years old and in fine health.
Walking down the Salizada S. Stae you hardly notice the campanile towering over your head.
There are many rowing regattas in and around Venice during the summer, with various kinds of boats participating.
The Regata di Mestre is the first of the season, and it was held last Sunday, May 10th.
My initial plans were to watch it from a kayak, but Mother’s Day intervened causing friends to stay home, so in the end I walked to Sacca San Girolamo in the Cannaregio area, from where I had a good view of the canal where the race had to pass.
Mestre is a city on the mainland, but the race started from Murano north of Venice, touched the NW corner of the city in the Cannaregio area, before heading towards towards San Giuliano on the mainland, on the outskirts of Mestre.
I was watching at the mid point, so I didn’t get to see the finish, and I still don’t know who won.
Flickr.com has a way of assigning “interestingness” to photos. I’m not quite sure how they do it. The algorithm probably includes the number of views, number of times it is marked a favourite and the number of comments, and it seems, also who views, marks or comments the photo and when and how fast they do it, but there is very little information about the details on the net.
The algorithm does seem to work well, at least it has picked some of the best of my photos, and the overall best on Flickr are usually really really great photos.
This photo is taken in Spain in 2006 and it has turned out quite remarkable. It is, however, more a matter of chance than of skill. It is taken with a Pentax Optio W10 mounted on a suction cup mono pod on the foredeck of the kayak, and set to take a photo every 20 seconds. After the paddle up and down the coast from Llança in Catalonia I had hundreds of photos on the camera, including this one of a wave breaking over the foredeck. The photo was used on the front page of the catalogue of my local kayak pusher and is still the top photo on their web site.
I’m back in Venice now, in the camping getting the last things ready before a group of Danes arrives on Sunday for a week of magic Venetian paddling.
I was lucky enough to find myself a vacant window seat on the right side of the plane. The airport of Venice is built on the edge of the the lagoon, and the approach is almost always from the south, so the right side of the plane has a fantastic view of the lagoon and Venice itself, while the left side has a less spectacular view of the Po valley.
Photos taken with a mobile phone through an airplane window aren’t the greatest, but I had no other camera on me and the hostess wouldn’t let me open the window 🙂
The northern lagoon near the airport. The “Tessera Canal” in front with Isola di Tessera and Murano to the far right, and Carbonera island in the centre-left. Carbonera used to house a gun battery, but it is now abandoned like so many other “marginal” lagoon islands.
I have taken a lot fewer photos this time, and they’re not as good as last year. With regard to photographing it does make a huge difference paddling alone. Often taking photos is part of a social interaction which doesn’t take place when you’re alone.
Franceso and i had planned to paddle to Cala Goloritzé in the Golfo di Orosei yesterday, and we got up early and set off fetching kayaks at a local camping where Francesco keeps par of his gear, and then on the road to Santa Maria Navarrese.
We launched in calm weather, a force 2 scirocco (SE) and some following waves and swells, but with a forecast of up to force 4 during the afternoon.
The paddle northwards went easy enough, and we passed Pedra Longa and the Grotta della Columba without problems, but as we approached Capo Monte Santu the going got a bit rougher. The Capo Monte Santu is cape with a 200m vertical rock wall that drops straight into the sea for some 2-3km, and there are almost always difficult winds and waves there.
We had a bit of a fight with waves and winds around the cape. Personally I find following swells and waves quite difficult to navigate, as I have no visual forewarning of what is in arrival, but I think both of us found it a bit difficult there, as Francesco headed directly for the entrance to Porto Quao, which is a completely sheltered natural harbour on an otherwise not very welcoming coast.
We landed in Porto Quao and laid our gear out to dry in the sun. After a while we decided to abandon the attempt to reach Cala Goloritzé and instead enjoy the sun in our little sheltered corner, until the afternoon when there was a good chance the wind would wane a bit.
The little bay was as enchanted in the sun, so we made a little photo session. We took turns to climb the rocky cliffs around the bay to take photos of the other fooling around the sheltered area in kayak. It was hot and sunny, the rocks were steep and razor sharp with dense mediterranean vegetation, which for a nordic type like me translates to sunburn and totally scratched legs, but it was fun and we got some nice photos of our kayaks in the crystal clear waters of the Golfo di Orosei.
At about three thirty we got ready to return. As soon as we rounded the corner, we discovered that the wind was still a nice force 4, with swells of 1-2m but modest waves of less than 1m. It still took an effort to round Capo Monte Santu, and as we moved well away from the coast to avoid the choppy rebounding waves, we got separated and lost visual contact for extended periods.
Francesco knows his waters and was both much more confident and a lot faster than me, so he was well ahead of me most of the time and probably closer to the rock wall than I wanted to be. In any case I lost him for quite some time, and at the same time didn’t feel I had the resources to actively look for him, as the wind and waves gave me plenty to work with.
I wouldn’t say I was in trouble there, but it wasn’t easy going. The first hour took all my effort and concentration, but I did handle it in a controlled and steady way. My own feeling is that I was quite close to the limits of my abilities in a kayak, but not outside.
In the end all went well, and as soon as we were around the cape we found each other again, and we paddled together for the next couple of hours back to Santa Maria Navarrese. I was quite tired in the end, more mental tiredness than physical.
We had a coffee at Santa Maria Navarres and drove home to yet another dinner thet couldn’t be beat, and then off to bed. I slept well.