Thursday, May 15, 2008


On Sunday, May 11, Nigel, Kristine, Giorgio, and I paddled the Vogalonga – definitely a “life-time” experience that I will never forget! We kayaked almost 20 miles among an incredible assortment of human-powered craft through one on the most beautiful cities in the world and I would highly recommend it!

The Vogalonga is an annual event in Venice that began spontaneously in 1974 when a group of Venitians decided to protest the every increasing dominance of power boats in the canals and the surrounding lagoon, and to remind Venice of it’s rowing traditions. Power boats on the canals are not only dangerous, loud, and smelly, they create significant wakes which are slowly undermining sediment and foundations and are destroying the city. Once a year, for the last 34 years, the canals have been closed to power boat traffic and thousands of rowers in all forms take to the lagoon. This year there were about 1600 boats, and almost 6000 rowers. The event is non-competetive, although some take it seriously. There are no awards other than the “diploma” and medal that everyone gets at the end and the memories and images of a life time!

We got up early to get to Venice ahead of the crowds and find a parking place close to the water. This left us with a leisurely paddle to the starting line in front of Saint Marks Square. The number of kayaks, canoes, row boats, dragon boats, and traditional Venitian boats putting on the water was staggering. We followed a beautiful canal towards the heart of the city and stopped for an espresso along the way. We kept running into people we knew – mostly Giorgio, but all of us. All the things I remember about Venice when we visited as a teenager still fascinated me: the windows and shutters, the carvings on the facades, the rotting bottoms of huge carved doors that opened onto the canals, the light and shadows in canals, and people going about normal, everyday life in this most unusual city!

At Saint Marks, the sheer number of boats on the water was impressive, although they were very spread out and photographs can’t portray the feelings and sights. We paddled under the “Bridge of Sighs” which prisoners crossed after being declared guilty in the courts.

A huge canyon fired and we were off! Well, not really. Like I said, it’s non-competetive and in typical Italian fashion, we took our time. The participants must have spread out for many miles, but the boats within our area became familiar. There was an enormous red rowing vessel rowed by about 20 people that Giorgio called the “wine” boat because it was sponsored by a winery. My favorite boat was one of the traditional vessels rowed by standing. I’ve included a photo because the couple rowing and the boat were just so elegant! In Burano, our group had grown a bit with friends of Giorgio’s and we paddled up a tiny canal for a cup of cappuccino. Every family on Burano paints their house a different color so it is a colorful place! The course took us through Murano, known for it’s glassworks, and then across the lagoon back to Venice and down the Grand Canal. At the entrance to the canal, a huge bottle-neck was created by the narrow low bridge. Only one rowing shell at a time could pass, but with 1600 boats to get through, things were a bit crazy. Luckily, it was easier to sneak through in a kayak. My camera battery died just then and so I was camera-less for the whole of the Grand Canal which was disappointing as the sights were fantastic! All the cafes along the canal were full of people and many cheered us on. I was dying to explore the little canals, some only meters wide that intersected the Grand Canal. Separated from the others at the bottleneck, I was paddling with Rene and he took me on a detour through some of the smaller canals and past two Gondola boatyards, one of which has been in the same family since the 1600s.

By the time we returned to the Grand Canal, it was past 2:30 and the power boats had returned. Every block or two is a “bus” stop and the water buses were working their routes in full force. It was chaotic and a bit frightening and I quickly realized why kayaking in Venice is not a popular pastime on most days! How lucky we were to get to experience it as it was years ago, before giant “water buses” and fast taxi boats took over. The water was quite lumpy from wakes and it was easy to see how damaging to fragile foundations and delicate sediment the relentless waves could be. We made it to the finish line and officials dropped “diplomas” and medals into our hands from their stand at the waters edge and it was over. We had to make our way back a short distance along the Grand Canal dodging giant buses and trying to guess which way gondoliers were going to go. Even the secondary canal that we followed to the car park, which had been so idyllic in the morning, was now a tight squeeze between power boats, gondolas, and kayaks – very exciting and fun. I didn’t even mind getting yelled at by a power boat driver (or two). Having no idea what they were yelling about, I just grinned and moved closer to the walls!

I’ve got to run to class, but I’ll post again tonight – we’re currently in a lovely resort on the Adriatic not far from Venice….


Lots to update and not much time....

Anglesey was awesome as usual. The tide races were fun and the weather was excellent. The last place you want to take out your camera is in the middle of a big tide race, so the photos don't do it justice! There were some big waves, and I was rusty! Need to come back more often!!!
All the old friends were there including Rowland Woollven who stopped on his circumnavigation of Britain.

I went to Nigel Dennis' factory a couple of times and got to see a customer's kayak ready for shipment. Also saw the kayaks being built for "The Vacation to Hell" this summer as well as the NEW Plastic Romany which I hope to have in stock in the next month or so!