The Vogalonga was created over 40 years ago by a group of passionate Venetians from Burano who wanted to speak out against the ballooning trend of speedboats at that time.
The idea was for it to be an ‘non-competitive’ race and open to everyone or any type of boat. At the end, everyone receives a medal simply for participating. In essence, this is a simple yet lovely reminder to everyone the joy of traveling by oar.
Initially, the event was held in November, but nowadays it is held at the end of May. This is more beneficial for both the participants in the water and the onlookers on the shore! In the last 40 years, the number of participants from all over the world has steadily continued to increase. Now, the boats are averaging nearly 2000 participants.
The 44the Vogalonga, MAY 20th 2018
In total, the course is 30 km and will be as follows: Bacino San Marco, canale delle Navi, canale della Bissa, canale Passaora, canale Crevan, Burano, Mazzorbo, canale S. Giacomo, canale Scomenzera, canale Bisatto, Murano, canale di Tessera, rio di Cannaregio, Canal Grande, Rialto, Punta della Salute. At the end of the course, there is the traditional salute that ball members of each boat make in unison, called the “alta remi” or “high oars.”
Although I’ve only ever been a bystander, year by year I’ve gotten closer to the water and am considering signing myself up. Despite the fact that is not competitive, the event is no small undertaking. I am immensely impressed by my friends and acquaintances who have done it. Ranging in age and fitness, everyone wants the next boat to succeed just as much their own team.
On the banks
All along the Grand Canal, onlookers peer out of windows, stand on decks or watch from behind a crowd of heads. It’s truly a wonderful and contagious atmosphere.
Starting in the Bacino di San Marco, it’s visible from Giudecca Island or San Giorgio. The problem with those locations is that there’s typically a crowd near Rialto, San Stae, making the view difficult. With this in mind, we suggest getting there early, making a plan and brining a picnic. However, if you are fortunate enough to be renting one of our Truly Venice apartments with a Grand Canal view, you can enjoy it all from the comfort of your own home. RIVO ALTO, ALBA D’ORO, SERENISSIMA, DOGARESSA and DOGE (just to name a few).
(The view from the Dogaressa Apartment)
The race starts at 9.00am and most participants have crossed the final line by around 13.00 (1 pm). Afterwards, there are few exhausted athletes determined to celebrate and so the parties often go well on into the evenings. With so much going on, one can’t help but get excited, along with the fact that it’s an uncompetitive race. This creates a sense of camaraderie and celebration throughout the whole city. There are those doing it for the 44th time and those doing it for the 1st time. Regardless, the event reminds everyone of the essential part of life in Venice that is the rowing boat. While it may not play such a large role in everyday life as it once did, the row boat tradition is intrinsic with the word Venice, or Venetian.
Why La Voga alla Veneta is done standing up?
There are three main reasons why the Venetian style of rowing is done standing up as apposed to the English style.
Firstly, while the lagoon varies in depth, it’s generally surprisingly shallow — especially when the tide is out. There are also several rocks and semi-submerged bricole (the water poles that guide the boats) that one might not be seen unless standing up.
Secondly, it’s a sport often exercised alone. Therefore, it’s much more practical and easier to see where you are going when facing the right direction.
Lastly, traditional boats would have also been used for hunting the fish and birds of the lagoon. Because of this, standing up allowed hunters to transition quickly between oar and gun, or oar and net.
P.S. There are still to this day several rowing clubs in Venice that I will talk about in greater length in another post. All of these clubs participate in the vogalonga wearing their colors proudly.