| The calm before the struggle: the caorlina of my first rowing experience|
photo credit: Nicola Capuzzo
After the first attempt, made one week before yesterday, I was convinced I would have made a terrible galley slave. It's not a position one associates with a lot of job-training, but rowing in time with others is much harder than it looks in those old Hollywood biblical epics.
The first challenge a novice faces is getting the hang of the particular wrist movement needed to position the oar correctly: that is, horizontal to (and out of) the water as you move it into the forward position, then vertical to (and in) the water as you push into the stroke.
Well, actually, let me back up. The first challenge a novice faces is stepping into--and staying inside--the boat. The first boat I went out in was a caorlina (a rather large and heavy boat with places for six rowers, as used in the regatta storica) and I was told to step only on the thin ribs that spanned its bottom, not on the broad inviting and much more stable open spaces between the ribs. I didn't ask why, I was too busy trying not to fall out. But it's a comfort to the novice to see that even expert rowers move quite gingerly aboard the boats. In fact, even the two cats belonging to the remiera, or rowing club, moved very carefully around the neighboring boat they were exploring.
In any case, once you're in the boat, and have properly positioned your very own forcola (or carved oarlock) in its designated opening in the side of the boat by hammering little wedges of wood around it, you must concern yourself with that wrist rolling I mentioned. Just before pushing forward with the roughly 12-foot-long oar into each stroke you must roll both wrists back as you would roll just your right wrist if you were riding a motorcycle and wanted to increase its speed. You must also dip the oar into the water. The latter action is of course obvious. But that doesn't mean it's easy. Especially when the lagoon is wavy in the wake of one infernal vaporetto after another and the surface of the water, or the boat's position on it, is no longer where it's supposed to be.
The Remiera Francescana is located near the Celestia vaporetto stop within the Arsenale, and after a bit of warming up in one of that massive old structure's placid basins, we headed out into the lagoon in the direction of Murano. I recalled noticing on my way to the remiera what a beautiful early morning it was, with the Dolomiti clear and brilliant beyond the western edge of the lagoon, but once I was in the boat I might as well have been rowing inside a small dark barn. My eyes were fixed on the end of my oar, to be certain it was how and where it was supposed to be at every moment. In fact I was supposed to be watching my friend just ahead of me, at the front of the boat, and rowing in time with her. Almost impossible, no matter how I tried to utilize peripheral vision. I considered it a great triumph to be rowing at all.
|Something like a pupparino|
Yesterday, however, I was much better. And the conditions were much worse. Initially, my improvement seemed to make up for the high winds and rough water, but as I tired Nature (as it or she always will) got the upper hand.
Rowing into a strong head-wind, on a lagoon just barely lacking whitecaps, we got nowhere near Murano yesterday. But the issues with hand and oar position that obsessed me my first time out vanished--to be replaced by others involving leg position. Yet it was, nevertheless, infinitely easier. I was at the very front of the boat and was able to get into what seemed to be a regular rhythm. And when I switched positions with the woman behind, I was even able to follow her movements rather than being obsessed with the end of my oar.
And there, all around us, was the Venetian lagoon! There, beside us, was the cemetery island! And then, thankfully, there, right there, at last, after our strenuous jaunt, a venerable archway of the once mighty Arsenale welcoming us back! Which, I must admit--the water all wild with wind and waves and the wake of a water taxi--we actually crashed into just a bit before passing safely inside.
But neither boat nor arch were damaged, everyone remained standing and dry, and it was probably the first assault upon those old walls in many years. Sore as my muscles are today, I can't wait to get out on the water for a third time. After two outings as a guest, I've decided to sign up as a member of the remiera and, amazingly enough, I think they'll actually let me.