Venice’s Vogalonga

The first boat to appear at the Dogana on the Grand Canal after the 30 km Vogalonga rally round the lagoon and canals of Venice was a coxed eight. It was another 40 minutes before the arrival of the first of the traditional Venetian boats, the ones everyone really wants to see.

All the boats finished further up, beyond the Rialto, and they then paraded down to the official pontoon at the Dogana, which is at the entrance to the Canal.

A coxed eight was the first to arrive

There they received their awards for participating in the lagoon marathon, which is open to any boat as long as it can be rowed or paddled. It took place on the Sunday before the Transadriatica.

A big international occasion has now evolved from what began in 1974 as a local event for Venetian rowers protesting against the damage motor boats and their wash were causing to the city. Since those days there has been a great revival of interest in Venice in traditional rowing craft, stimulating the creation of many clubs and training programmes.

First traditional Venetian boat to arrive, 40 minutes later

The Vogalonga itself, which is non-competitive, has changed its character over the years. Indeed, we heard that there was some resentment among local rowers at the way it has evolved, with boats appearing from all over the world, many of them starkly different from the traditional craft of the lagoon. There were reportedly 1,700 boats with 7,000 rowers this year.

One of the biggest competitors.
The Dogana (customs house) behind the official Vogalonga pontoon

There were dragon boats, rowing eights, fours, pairs and single skiffs and a variety of kayaks, including an exceptionally long one with four paddlers which was one of the first back, and a number of inflatable kayaks that were hauled out by their owners and packed into bags.

A great display of assorted craft passed by before we saw the first of the traditional Venetian boats with their forward-facing rowers, working gondolier-style.

Competition skiffs and kayaks can be seen anywhere in the world, but Venetian craft in their many forms are unique. The gondola is the most famous but there is a variety of other types, of which the sandolo is the commonest.

Packing an inflatable kayak

Some of the eights and other fast boats were from Venice, but many others were from elsewhere, including Britain, and the sheer number made it hard to keep track of all the national flags as they passed by.

The British coxed four in this picture was flying a Queen’s Jubilee flag. It was Jubilee weekend.

You can certainly see the advantage of facing ahead in the crowded waterways of Venice. While eights and most fours have coxes who look forward to steer, the uncoxed pairs and single skiffs must find it hard to avoid collisions at the speed they go.

The 2022 Vogalonga poster

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