Archive for Cannaregio Canal


Vogalonga photo op

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In my last post on the Vogalonga (though I suppose it would be more accurate to say that this is my last) I acknowledged the lack of any photographic evidence of our excellent — and rapid — circuit of the northern lagoon.

As I had hoped, a kind soul did in fact take some pictures of us, and that kind soul knew some friends of ours, who sent them along. Perhaps there are more such souls out there, but I don’t know them or their friends.  So here’s a big shout-out to the club Voga Fortuna Berlin, and Sandra, who chose to work the camera rather than the oar.

Here we are returning to the club to get our numbered bib. If you ask where are all the hordes of rowers waiting for the starting cannon to fire, I can tell you they're behind us. Where most of them stayed all morning. The crew this year was a sort of mixed fishfry. (L to r): Sandro Graffi, his 12-year-old son Davide, 14-year-old Filippo Novello, Antonio Borgo, me, and Mike O'Toole, a/k/a/ "Otolini," master and commander of Gondola Getaway in Long Beach, California. Lino is sitting on his starboard side, as navigator and co-pilot, though he rarely intervened.

And our return, down the incredibly spacious Cannaregio Canal. Somewhere around Murano we reshuffled the squad: Antonio is now in the bow and Sandro is at #4. Lino has moved from the stern to sit in the bow, which was undoubtedly more comfortable but which reversed his view of the proceedings. What you can't hear, unfortunately, is all of us saying some variation on "Holy Sacrament, I can't believe how few people are here. I'm never going back to the old way."


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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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