40 years ago, in 1974, a bunch of Venetians, who all loved rowing, decided to have a boat race around the island of Burano. They had such a good time that the idea was repeated the following year as a regatta around the Venetian islands and lagoon. And so was born the Vogalonga or long row!
Any type of rowing boat can register – the first Vogalonga was originally to celebrate the dying art of Venetian rowing and also to protest against the increase in motorboats causing swell and damage to the city’s buildings. These days over 2100 craft enter with the regatta now including a wide variety of craft from single kayaks and canoes to traditional Venetian gondole ( the plural of gondola! ) and multi-coloured dragon boats. Rowing is alive and well in Venice again!
In fact the Vogalonga which started so modestly has, over the years, grown into a truly international event. And the city teems with boats even before the day of the regatta as crews arrive from around the globe to practice in the emerald waters.
Waterbuses neatly navigate around the oarsmen along the Grand Canal as they get used to the currents and course before the big day. And the waterfronts of the Arsenale basin and the Church of the Salute become temporary boatyards for all manner of crafts.
On the day the Sunday morning sun slowly swings up across the hazy lagoon as boats begin to congregate in St Mark’s Basin. Skippers skillfully steer through the narrow canals out into the morning sunlight as the festive flotilla floats out onto the water.
And finally, as the sun’s heat just begins to break through, the loudspeakers at Punta Della Dogana burst into life with a crack announcing the opening of the 40th Vogalonga. The Deputy Mayor ( standing in for the Mayor who was under house arrest regarding corruption allegations ) makes a short speech rousing the teams to celebrate Venice, her great history and sea-going tradition before a single boom from the canon signals the start.
But there is no jostling for position today. No tactical maneuvering to out-row the others. The 30km-long scenic Vogalonga is purely for fun and there are no trophies for winning, only a small number of prizes awarded at random by the Vogalonga committee. So although some teams may be here to prove an athletic point to themselves, others are here to celebrate life like the Pink Lionesses team composed of Venetian breast cancer survivors. And many more are here purely for fun and to get their medals whilst enjoying the day rowing, just like the founders did 40 years ago.
Today’s regatta is just a little longer than the original! Even the fastest teams take around 2 hours to do the circuit with the first boats arriving back to the start just before 11am. Its an awesome feat and is duly applauded by the crowds glad to support rather than participate! (Or maybe that was just me!)
And the applause keeps coming for the next 5 hours as boats gradually sweep, stagger and saunter over the finish line ready for the welcome reward of bananas, iced tea and water from the refreshments barge. With over 8000 rowers to replenish, that is one heck of a lot of bananas!!!
Finally the boats U-turn back up the Grand Canal to collect their medals before a final promenade for the crowds and then gradually dispersing back into the city’s maze of canals for another year.
Ultimately, the Vogalonga, which started out as just a bit of fun between friends to celebrate the dying tradition of Venetian rowing, has grown in size and the regatta is now truly international, attracting teams from around the world. Despite its size, however, the atmosphere is warm, friendly and sociable, retaining a lot of the original spirit of the first vogalonga. And no-one can deny this is a fun way to spend a sunny Sunday in a motor-boat free Venice, whether as a participant or spectator! So, although registrations for next year’s regatta don’t open for another 11 months, if this year’s events have whetted your appetite now is the time to start training for the 41st Vogalonga which the organisers promise will be bigger and better than the last! What are you waiting for??
2015 Vogalonga – Sunday 24th May
Start & Finish
Start 9am from the San Marco Basin between San Marco, Punta della Dogana and Santa Elena island.
Finish 11am to 4pm at Punta della Dogana.
Good viewing points
- Punta della Dogana for the start and finish
- Canereggio canal – the canal is quite narrow so the boats slow down giving a great opportunity to see every one
- Accademia bridge – for views over the canal ( although it does get busy )
Website – www.vogalonga.com ( includes video of this year’s Vogalonga with English subtitles! )
Note # 1 : ACTV vaporetto water bus services are suspended along several routes, especially the Grand Canal for most of the day from before 9am until after 4pm so if you need to get about the city you’ll be walking or paying through the nose for a taxi!
Note # 2 – lots more photos on Facebook page www.facebook.com/DreamDiscoverItalia
If you liked this, you might also like –
La Festa della Sensa – Row, row, row your boat – http://wp.me/p3asep-gR
Behind the mask – http://wp.me/p3asep-gg