Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Mis-Step on the Path to Venetian-ness: Il Trofeo del Nonno

All photos by Jen
Last Sunday Sandro took an important step on the path to becoming Venetian with his participation in a regatta of full-sized sailboats in the lagoon. Or, rather, he would have, had he not declared after the event was over that he never wanted to set foot on a sailboat again.

He'd actually been on this particular sailboat before. It belongs to the grandfather of one of his close friends and he'd quite happily, for example, scrubbed its deck while it motored around the lagoon one summer day. He's mad for physical labor, loves to work. So much so, that the bike club he had this past summer with the neighborhood kids has recently morphed into what is essentially a "carting club". Meaning that he and his friends go around to local neighborhood businesses with his own real hand truck (a post on this cherished possession here: and a variety of ersatz carts (luggage carts, a scooter or two) and collect cardboard boxes to haul around. How he's managed to inspire in older kids his own enthusiasm for such activity is beyond me.

But, in any case, while he'd been on this large sailboat before, he'd never been on it while it was under sail. Nor, much less, in the heat of a regatta.

Now, this wasn't a regatta with a venerable tradition; not one that the city can market to tourists and pimp out to advertisers--though, if they hear about it, they'll probably try. It was simply Il Trofeo del Nonno, created this year by a Venetian nonno (or grandfather), which took its name from the requirement that while the crew could consist of anyone, each boat had to be piloted by a grandfather or grandmother and include at least one child. There would be an awards ceremony afterwards, but it was all supposed to be--in keeping with its family theme and the number of kids on each boat (Sandro was one of five kids on his particular sailboat under the age of 9)--about fun, not winning.

But the sun was shining last Sunday, the wind was blowing hard, and among the adult crews of the various boats it seemed that old habits honed in years of competition kicked in.

For all the beauty of the day and the bracing sound of the sails above, it was terrifying. That's the report I got from both Jen and Sandro. Where was I? I had work to do and missed the whole thing.

The boat, they said, was basically horizontal, the sails practically dipping into the lagoon. Capsizing was, it seemed to them both, inevitable and imminent. For much of the race--from near the Armenian monastery island to Alberoni and back again--Sandro remained curled into the "Duck-and-cover" modified fetal position that American kids were trained to assume beneath their desks during the 1950s in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack.

So: "Never again," he declared when he arrived home. After the race was over, everyone had assured both Sandro and Jen that the boats were weighted in such a way that they'd never tip over.

This was the kind of information that might have been useful to pass along before the race began.

But Sandro had had all he wanted of sailboats under sail.

I reminded him that Venetian work boats used to use sails. Reminded him of the old fisherman I met in the North Lagoon who 40 years ago was still going out in a heavy caorlina (now used in 6-person rowing races) for 15 days at a time around the lagoon using nothing but a sail and oars.

"I would use oars," Sandro said.

And, furthermore, he added, I could forget about him going out with me in our own little sandolo sanpierota when (or if) I learn to use its single sail! He had no doubt that that light, little flat-bottomed thing could definitely capsize! (And he was right about that, as a Venetian had told me how miserable, and costly, it is when that actually happens and you lose the individual custom-sized wood panels that cover the ribs in the bottom of your boat and you must have them all remade again.)

In the last couple of days, after being approached by the owner of the sailboat about making a very slow leisurely voyage on it under sail (no racing), Sandro has seemed inclined to give it another try. But he's remained adamant about never risking a trip in our own little flat-bottomed boat under its own lone small sail. Which shows he probably has more sense than his father.

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