Jan
18

Motondoso: Suck it up

By

The dynamics of waves aren’t so hard to understand — anybody who’s ever gone to the beach remembers the thump of the wave that has just arrived.   (Am I the only person who’s ever noticed how much that sound resembles the slamming of the car doors as your  family arrives for a visit?).

We don’t really notice what the thump does to the sand because an infinite series of  them has  already created the sand.   It’s not a bad idea, though,  to recall that the sand was once a hefty piece of mountain.

What isn’t so obvious, and maybe is even less obviously disturbing, is the hissing sound the wave makes as it departs.   It is caused by a force called “risucchio,” (ree-SOOK-yo)  which literally means “re-sucking,”  though I suppose “undertow” is close enough for Anglophones.   And it’s the force that tears asunder what was once clearly put together by God, man, or whatever’s in between.

This is the ferryboat which carries wheeled vehicles to and from the Lido.  When it approaches the landing stage, the captain throws the engines into reverse to slow and stop the boat, then keeps the engines grinding in reverse in order to maintain tension on the lines.  This is considered necessary for safety.  The result is an impressive vortex of spinning water..

This is the ferryboat which carries wheeled vehicles to and from the Lido. When it approaches the landing stage, the captain throws the engines into reverse to slow and stop the boat, then keeps the engines grinding in reverse in order to maintain tension on the lines. This is considered necessary for safety. The result is an impressive vortex of spinning water..

Cruise ships create the same effect when they are maneuvering out of their berth.  Here, the TK Princess is on its way.  In high season there can be as many as seven cruise ships in the Maritime Zone; although they don't create waves, the force of their engines here has gouged a crater TK feet deep.

Cruise ships create the same effect when they are maneuvering out of their berth. Here, the "Ruby Princess" is on its way out. In high season there can be as many as seven cruise ships in the Maritime Zone.

Even natural waves caused by the wind, aided and abetted by the retreating tide, will do some of this work of demolition.   But then there are the big public boats — and I’m thinking specifically of waterbuses.   They come in several versions here, but the highest number are the vaporettos.

A standard vaporetto.

A standard vaporetto.

The vaporetto is a specific type of boat, and the public-transport company, which goes by its acronym ACTV, operates 52 of them.   Sometimes called “battello,” the vaporetto  has a regularly scheduled cousin correctly called a “motoscafo,” though it gets called “vaporetto” too for convenience.   It sits lower in the water and carries fewer people, though you might not believe it if you try to get on one at rush hour.

A motoscafo.

A motoscafo.

At this moment, the ACTV website informs us that the company operates “about 152” waterborne vehicles.   (“About”?   You mean you don’t know?)   They break it down  thus: 52 vaporettos, 55 motoscafos, 10 “single agent motoscafos,” which I can’t interpret for you just now, 16 bigger  vaporettos that travel the lagoon  (“vaporetti foranei”), 9 motonavi, and  8 ferryboats.

A motonave.

A motonave.

Naturally all of these  vehicles cause waves, but what compounds the effect is the undertow they create when they stop at one of the 100 or so bus stops (city and lagoon) to drop and pick up passengers.

It’s pretty simple.   Here is an illustration of what  happens every time one of these craft comes and goes:

The vaporetto approaches the next stop.  The captain may not have noticed whether is going with or against the tide; if he's going with it, he'll probably arrive faster than he meant to and have to hit the reverse really hard to break the momentum and get back into position to tie up.

The vaporetto approaches the next stop. The captain may not have noticed whether he is going with or against the tide; if he's going with it, he'll probably arrive faster than he meant to and have to hit the reverse really hard to break the momentum and get back into position to tie up.

He reverses the engines to stop the boat; the mariner throws a rope and ties the boat to the dock.

He reverses the engines to stop the boat; the mariner throws a rope and ties the boat to the dock.

The captain revs the engine in order to bring the boat parallel to the dock.  The water shows the effect of the earlier reverse and the momentary forward.

The captain revs the engine in order to bring the boat parallel to the dock. The water shows the effect of the earlier reverse and the subsequent forward.

To keep tension on the line while loading and unloading passengers, the captain keeps the engines at a very high rate of rpm's.

To keep tension on the line while loading and unloading passengers, the captain keeps the engines at a very high rate of rpm's.

Everybody aboard; the mariner unties the boat and the captain begins to reverse again.  This will give him the necessary momentum to get moving forward again.  Sounds strange, but that's how it works.  So: Back we go again.

Everybody's aboard; the mariner unties the boat and the captain begins to reverse again. This maneuver enables him to turn the boat slightly to starboard, which puts him the ideal position to throw the gears into "forward" and move on to the next stop. So: Back in reverse we go.

And wham!  We're starting to move forward again.

And wham! We're starting to move forward again.

And off we go. On to the next stop, where the same sequence of maneuvers will be repeated. If this looks even slightly disturbing out here in the open water, imagine it happening virtually constantly all along the Grand Canal. All day.

And off we go. On to the next stop, where the same sequence of maneuvers will be repeated. If this looks even slightly disturbing out here in the open water, imagine it happening virtually constantly all along the Grand Canal. All day.

Trailing clouds of glory in our wake.

Trailing clouds of glory in our wake.

On September 15, 1881, the first vaporetto (“Regina Margherita”) began regular service in the Grand Canal.   The imminent arrival of this creation caused tremendous distress and revolt among the gondoliers, who foresaw their doom.   Their turmoil is the focus of a marvelous film, “Canal Grande” (1943), starring several then-well-known Venetian actors, such as Cesco Baseggio, plus a number of real gondoliers.   Too bad it’s all in Italian.

The first vaporetto was soon followed by  a fleet of eight, run by a French company, the “Compagnie des bateaux Omnibus.”   Nothing against that noble nation, I merely note that Napoleon Bonaparte, who conquered and devastated Venice in 1797, was also French.

In 1890 the Societa’ Veneta Lagunare began service between Venice and assorted lagoon locations.   And so it has gone.

Lino remembers when there were still very few vaporetto stops  in the Grand Canal; they were at San Marco, Accademia, San Toma’, Rialto, the railway station, and probably Piazzale Roma, though he won’t swear to it.   In what was still a flourishing local culture, the Venetians could find almost everything needed for daily life in their own little neighborhoods.

This is a bus stop, essentially a dock called a "pontile," to which the vaporetto is tied while exchanging passengers.

This is a bus stop, essentially a dock called a "pontile," to which the vaporetto is tied while exchanging passengers.

There are now 17 stops on the Grand Canal.   They were not installed as something useful to the residents, as noted above, but for the transport of tourists.   Shops have begun to close (I don’t lay this fact at the feet of the wave-and-sucking-causing public transport), so as the population has dropped, and the number of tourists has risen, the locals have had to range further afield to find forage, so to speak, and at the same time have had to use public transport which is usually overstuffed with tourists and their luggage.   During Carnival, most Venetians do their utmost to stay the hell at home.

The city recognizes that  there aren’t enough vaporettos most of the year; during the summer (and Carnival) extra routes and supplementary vehicles are laid on.   But eventually some crisis point will be reached where the number of bodies requiring to be moved and the available space in which to do it will collide.   To use a term which nobody in the navigation business wants to hear.

Zwingle’s Fifth Law states that “You can get used to anything.”   You may quibble, but I can attest that you can definitely get used to this roiling and churning and sucking of many waters.   This isn’t good, but neither can you travel all day in a constant state of rage and anguish.

You can give yourself an interlude of relief by going for a little stroll.   Ignoring the roaring of motors and the shattering of waves, you can really relax in the city which is extolled for having no cars.   I think people who say that must  merely mean  “no traffic.”

Before too much longer, the Grand Canal is going to resemble Runway 3 at O'Hare.

Before too much longer, the Grand Canal is going to resemble Runway 3 at O'Hare. At the moment, it's only like I-95 from Washington to Richmond.

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Categories : History, Nature, Problems, Water

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