Report and photos from Tim Wood
What a weekend, rowing a pilot gig through Venice in the Vogalonga must be one of the best rowing experiences ever, and the FMPGC crew did it in style. It had taken 3 years of careful research and planning, which of course was all immediately thrown away as soon as we got there – as we now know Italians don’t plan, but somehow stuff happens! Driving the 1200 miles there via Eurotunnel, France, Mont Blanc tunnel and through Italy was uneventful, the “Huttmobile” taking it all with ease. Our hotel was excellent, run by a lovely couple Rosa and Loris (a dead ringer for Robert De Niro), the laid back slightly eccentric atmosphere suited us fine. Once in Venice (which really is as magical as they say), some of the crew took on a new persona. Tom who speaks impressive Italian seemed to become Italian with lots of gesturing and shrugging. Dave on the other hand decided he too was now Italian and started introducing himself as “Davido”. We were fortunate to have 3 Italians in our group who had been pestering various launch sites for several weeks, but even so we were worried that we had no definite agreement to launch. However this being Italy everything suddenly just clicked into place and we launched Pinnacle at the Mestre rowing club on a worryingly wet Saturday morning. Then off into Venice for some sightseeing, team bonding, an excellent meal, lots of Aperol Spritz and a memorable water taxi ride down the Canal Grande.
The day of the Vogalonga dawned and it was perfect weather – sunny, with a light coolish breeze. We climbed into Pinnacle and off we went, initially rowing alongside the causeway into Venice and then straight into the Canal Grande – fabulous and totally surreal. The race start is in St Mark’s basin just in front of the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Square, the sight’s on land were magnificent. On the water the collection of 2000 colourful boats awaiting the start was impressive. We waited alone on the start line, as we now know Italians don’t queue and most were probably half way round the course when the start maroon was fired! We were off, but the Vogalonga is not a race, it’s a protest against powered craft taking over the waterways, however everyone races! We rowed away from St Mark’s following the banks of the main island up to Burano, with 2000 boats there was lot’s of jostling – the Vogalonga is definitely a contact sport! As we rowed away from Venice and between mudbanks many crews stopped where they could for a comfort break – the sight of rows of colour co-ordinated crews silouetted against the skyline “topping up” the Lagoon was memorable. Steve used the bucket! Soon we were halfway at the beautiful island of Burano and stopped for a lunch break (good race this!).
Off again and a long haul down to Murano, through the pretty canal and then the last mile towards Venice and the Canal Grande. We had been warned that the Canal Grande could be manic and had packed canoe paddles for manoevering where oars couldn’t be used. In their wisdom this year the organisers (and I use that term loosely), had decided to restrict the flow of boats into the canal at the Tre Arche bridge which was now only Uno (very narrow) Arche. The result was a massive log jam of thousands of boats, as we know italians don’t queue and every boat was pushing forward into non existant space – it was carnage!! Amongst the yelling, screaming, swearing and general “badhomie” we had one of the most memorable moments of the event when Tom advised a particularly pushy Italian competitor in Italian that ‘his behaviour was that of a small boy’ the putdown was perfect – classic. After a very long time and helped by folk in the water under the bridge (how safe was that!) we suddenly shot out into the Canal Grande, got the oars out and off we went into now fairly quiet water. The canal is very narrow and progress had to be quite slow however we still had a few clashes on the way but nothing too serious. Just before the Rialto bridge we heard our supporters cheering us on so Dave gave a noisy “Oggy Oggy Oggy” with great response from the spectators many of whom must have been wondering why this strange crew from the UK were shouting “today today today” (the closest Italian translation). Buoyed on by seeing our supporters our pace quickened towards the finish and it was all over. We collected our medals and rowed slowly back to our supporters club for some well earned beer and “Spritz”. Totally surreal, memorable and unique.
Many thanks to our Italian support crew who we could not have managed without Adolpho, Maria and Gaia and to our supporters from the UK Des, Heather, Sue and Jane.
And of course congratulations to the crew for completing the 30km almost unscathed – Davido, Steveo, Terrio, Tomo, Timo, Lizao, Madeleinio and Pedro!
What shall we do next? I have heard of a great row up the Amazon – anyone interested?