Considering how well my personal Vogalonga went this year (along with my six boatmates), it’s taken me this much time to find anything to say about it other than that.

Also, I have no photographs whatsoever of us, for one reason which explains both these little paragraphs. We didn’t start in the Bacino of San Marco.

A glimpse of the Bacino of San Marco on or about the start this year, which we didn't see. This image is even more beautiful for that very reason. (Thanks to the unnamed photographer who took this picture, which I found on the web.)

The tradition in any boat I’ve been in that includes Lino (all but one — the first year — of the 16 editions I’ve joined) is that we start in the Bacino of San Marco when the cannon fires and all the bells ring.  It’s thrilling and I love this moment, which is all too brief because we then commence rowing, along with a mass of boats surrounding us like migrating krill.

This means that while we have the chance to savor the richness of the moment — boats, cannon, bells — the krill create many well-known problems along the way. Such as at what I think of as the “death corner,” the first turn at the point of Sant’ Elena, where any number of non-Venetian rowers suddenly discover some problem which they hadn’t planned on facing — such as a tricky current, or some boats around them also having problems, or, I don’t know, existential lack of nerve, like cragfast climbers.  You can expect to see at least one capsized vessel here, and a batch of confusion from the mass of boats trying to avoid it.

Then there are the snaky curves along the flank of Sant’ Erasmo, also excellent territory for making miscalculations of available space, relative speeds, and wind direction and force.

Then, of course, there is the every-year-more-difficult (I meant to say “ghastly” but changed my mind) passage into and through the Cannaregio Canal, where inexperience, fatigue, and lack of common sense create packs of boats like Arctic ice.

This year we didn’t have any of that — I mean, ANY of that — for one surprising reason.  We forgot our boat’s number, without which the boat can’t be checked at various points along the way and hence acknowledged as officially doing the course.

So when the cannon/bells/confusion began at 9:00 AM, we were back at the boat club behind Sant’ Elena digging the numbered bib out of Lino’s locker.

Which meant that we joined the scrum after the “death corner,” and — this was unexpected — in some way near the head of the herd.  Please note that this does not mean we started early, as some unsporting people tend to do.  We slipped into the traffic stream at 9:10, roughly the same time it would have been for us at that point even if we’d started in the usual place.

The result of all this being that not only did we cover the entire course in record time without even breaking a sweat (three hours — unheard of), we were able to do it in unearthly tranquillity.  Yes, there were other boats, but noticeably fewer at that stage.  We slithered along Sant’ Erasmo as if there wasn’t anybody else around, and we entered the Cannaregio Canal (over which I always see an invisible sign saying “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”) as if it were a normal day, only better: The reasonable number of boats ahead of us were proceeding in a reasonable way at a reasonable speed and behaving, well, reasonably.  I had never imagined I could see such a thing.

The only flaw in the ointment, as a friend of mine used to say, was that we were also ahead of the photographers.  We missed the departure, which is always good for spectacular pictures, and we missed the mass return, ditto.

So unless some unknown photographer makes him- or herself known, I’m just going to have to keep my memories dusted and polished, because there isn’t anything else I have to show for this event.

It was so wonderful that I’m already trying to think of ways to convince the crew to leave before 9:00 next year.  If all goes well, I’ll be able soon to report that we finished the course before the others had even started it.

Crazy?  Unsporting?  Simply wrong? Yes indeed.  But now the rot has set in.

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  1. John Garrett says:

    Carissima Erla,
    With all respect to Lino, you just need to be in a faster boat. My first Vogalonga, in an English-style four, with an average crew age of over 65, was done in about 3 hours and 30 minutes with more or less the experience you report. I do recall some problems slaloming around kayakers at the “death corner” (perfect name for it) and in the narrow bits along Sant’ Erasmo. To be fair I also recall being passed in Murano by an elegant young couple in a double racing kayak who went by us like we were standing still.
    Nevertheless, slow boat or fast, I wish I had been there too.
    Ciao, John

  2. Erla says:

    With all due respect to you and your crew, Lino has done the Vogalonga in a four-oar “Veneta a 4” (essentially an English rowing shell rowed in the Venetian way) in 2 hours and 9 minutes. But as he points out, it isn’t a race, so keeping track of the elapsed time is only important to the rowers of the boat in question, whichever it might be. Anyway, I think you should start looking for cheap airfares so you can be here next year. We’ll put you in the bow position so we can really build up speed.

  3. Otolini says:


    After experiencing this regatta over the past 26 years I can honestly say that was definitely the most pleasant one yet. Weather, crew, boat and position in the fleet would be hard to replicate again but one must have goals and hopes. To do that again, like that, with those and on that is one of mine. Doing the race with a complete American team gives me a view more from a bull in a china shop view. We are there, we are doing it well enough, yet we are seen. We are are looked at, pondered upon and treated as a foriegn object. that is not to say as in a bad way, I quite enjoy it, we row well enough to garner enough respect but if one mistake is made, or an oar pops out of the forcola, or this or that, we are exposed! this year was more like that classic dream of being a “fly on the wall”
    I was totally undercover! I was on a very “local club boat” with a crew of Venetians. I consider Erla a Venetian while on the Lagoon based on the number of seppia she has passed over while rowing voga veneta. Unexposed, no stars and stripes, rowing fast and having a strong enough crew and the ultimate co-pilot I don’t think even the vongole knew I spoke a different dialect from a far off land. Wow, to see the Vogalonga as a Venetian was a bit surreal. Of course it did make me the hungriest fly on the wall at the the most incredible Venetian lunch after the most incredible Vogalonga yet… thanks to all the helped produce this day for this man from a far away land.

    For now,
    The fly on the wall

  4. Erla says:

    Hey Wall-fly: Thanks for the enthusiasm. I can tell you that nobody on the boat ever thought of you as an American, at least not in the sense you define. That’s probably because you don’t give the impression of being from a far-away land. More like from a far-away planet. It’s all part of your charm and we’re all ready to do it again.