Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bottoms Up on the Grand Canal, This Afternoon

A capsized kayaker is towed to safety by a passing group of rowers with a small outboard motor on their boat

The 43rd Vogalonga, a non-competitive 30 km row around the Venetian lagoon, takes place tomorrow, but the rowers were already out in force today. Initiated as a distinctly local reassertion of the importance of traditional Venetian oar-powered boats and an objection to the motorboat waves that were battering the foundations of the city, the Vogalonga has become an international celebration of the oar, with participants coming from far and wide and taking to the water in all styles of boats (as you can see in images from previous year's editions: 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013).

Various types of rowed boats passed up and down the Grand Canal all day today, multi-person crews and single and double kayakers, all of them looking adept, as you'd expect of anyone about to undertake an outing of tomorrow's length. But traffic on the Grand Canal can create difficulties for even more experienced rowers, as became evident when a kayaker found himself upended by the wake of a passing vaporetto in the center of the Grand Canal.

Fortunately, at that moment traffic in that part of the canal was sparse and the kayaker was quickly towed by a passing crew to the safe port, or rather, portico, of Ca' D'Oro. If it had been a work day, or even a typical Saturday afternoon (as today is part of the extended holiday of the Festa della Republica), the kayaker could easily have found himself in much more trouble.

The city has implemented regulations forbidding the use of kayaks, standup paddle boards, canoes, and dragon boats in the canals and most rii (small side canals) from 8 am to 3 pm on weekdays and from 8 am to 1 pm on Saturdays. A wise decision, I think, based upon what I personally witnessed in the days when a kayak rental outfit right near the Rialto Bridge was renting kayaks to absolutely anyone--including rank beginners--and sending them out into the waterways with a useless water-proof map.

This afternoon provided yet another reminder, of the sort that periodically occurs here, that Venice is not a theme park or play land: something that both visitors and city officials would do well to keep in mind.

Ca' D'Oro must qualify as one of the world's most beautiful boat houses

Disrobing in the historic center, much less in one of the city's great buildings, is generally looked down upon by Venetians--but that rarely seems to stop visitors


  1. None of the people in those boats are experienced or adept. The capsized kayaker does not have a personal flotation device. No legitimate, regulated kayaking outfitter would let someone go out without one. The people in the canoe assisting the kayaker put themselves in much more danger than him. There are way too many people crowded into the canoe, which is is inherently much more unstable than a kayak. Eight people is far too many for a canoe, and none of them are wearing a life jacket, including 2 apparently elderly, obese people. These are all novices. Regulating them is the answer, not banning them.

    1. Very interesting take on the image, v.i., thanks for sharing it. Given the day on which this happened (just before the Vogalonga), I thinks it's safe to assume that both the kayaker and canoers are people from outside Venice--my guess is Northern European--who brought their own boats with them to the city, like many others seem to do for the event. And I was about to write that, in contrast, at the very least the kayak rental places in Venice must now certainly insist on floatation devices for their customers--but then I looked at the website of one of them and it's filled with images of people without life jackets. So, you're right, better oversight is needed of what's being done with kayaks in Venice--and enforcement of the rules they already do have would be nice, too. One of which rules is, if I remember correctly, that non-residents are not allowed to kayak in the city unless part of an licensed tour. I don't know that this is enforced, which means that people who know absolutely nothing about the water traffic rules of the city, nor its system of waterways, are free to roam about them, with the expectation that those who do know the rules of boating in the city will accommodate their ignorance.

  2. Kayaks in Venice! What will people think of next? So much beauty to admire in so many legal boats! This is an unfortunate situation.

    1. Well, kayaks are legal, but subject to certain regulations. Though they always look out of place to me, their dimensions no doubt make them well-suited to the city's narrowest canals--though not to its larger ones--and if the regulations were heeded I don't think they'd qualify as a problem. But I think they do become a problem when they're piloted by people from outside the city on their own (ie, without a certified guide).

      Whereas I think stand up paddle boards--slow moving and unwieldy as they are--really have no place in the city's canals at all--though I fear there will be ever more of them. Especially as long as they are welcome in the Vogalonga and otherwise tolerated.