Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Red Racing Gondola

In Venice's Regata Storica, there are many races.

The most popular one is the gondolino race.

The six-man caorlinas and women's mascareta races are well known, even outside the Veneto, but one of the favorites among Venetians, is a race between rowing clubs.

As I understand it, four-man teams from rowing clubs throughout the lagoon, compete during the rowing season for a spot in this regata.
Only nine boats are available, and each club gets their boat a few days before the regata.

These are racing gondolas.

They look like regular gondolas except they are stripped down (no parecio here), painted one of the nine racing colors, and have an unusual sort of cut-out at the stern.

The cut-out is actually a vent hole to allow air to flow through the boat and out the back - thereby creating less wind resistance. I don't know how much of a difference it makes, but it's a cool concept and I'm sure it works.

Racing gondolas also weigh a lot less than passenger gondolas and more marine composite (plywood) is used in their construction.

When the guys at a rowing club get their hands on the boat they will be racing in, certain things are done:

To begin with, they go over it with a fine-toothed comb and make sure everything is sound.

Next, they flip the thing over and expend much energy and time making sure the bottom is as smooth as it can be. Venetians can be obsessive about the hydrodynamics of their boats. In Albany, before we started down the Hudson, Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi beached my gondola and scrubbed, scraped and even used sandpaper and steel wool to make sure it would slip through the water with ease.

After the bottom has been tended to, the guys at the club set the forcolas the way they like 'em and take her out for a row to make sure everything is right.

The following photos are of the red racing gondola, propped up on the lawn of my rowing club in Mestre after a bunch of guys "obsessed over her".
Now that's a smooth bottom!
Notice the cut-outs on either side of the tail section in the above and below photos.
In 2005, while watching from the Mestrina, a 14-man boat from my club, I watched this race for the first time, and I have to say that it was my favorite of all the races.

My club is the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre.
Mestre is on the mainland, and the club is located near the base of the bridge to Venice.

I love the people there - they are fun-loving real people, who row because they enjoy it, because it's a part of who they are, and because they understand the value of spending quality time with friends.

They are the kind of people we need more of in this world.

I call it my club, but I'm really darn lucky just to be a member...a member who visits from time to time, pays his dues, and gets to row with some great guys - some of whom are true masters.
It seems like every time I step on one of the orange and blue club boats or the big varnished quattordesona, my brain switches to "record" in High Definition, and I come home with great learning and amazing memories.

One of the reasons the club race became my favorite, on this unforgettable summer day in September of '05, was because the red boat had "our guys" on it. Four guys from our club had secured a spot in the race and were determined to make a go of it.

Another reason I loved the club race was that everybody there (and there were thousands, watching from boats, balconies, and every place in between), was cheering for them.

Once it was explained to me, I understood that the guys in this race, were the "guys from the neighborhood" for many of the spectators.
I'm not certain, but I think the cheering was louder and more energetic for the club race than any of the others that day.

The biggest reason I liked this race, was the way they competed.
The club rowers rowed with more excitement and passion.
There was a lot more communication between team members and between boats, which included a fair share of yelling.
The other races were aggressive, but this one was downright scrappy, with gondolas slamming and grinding against each other as they rounded the marker in front of the Ca d'Oro.

It struck me as the gondola equivalent to rugby.

The GSVVM team rowing the red gondola past Santa Maria della Salute.

I don't know where our guys placed in the red gondola.
I know they didn't take first, and I know they weren't at the back of the pack.
But I do know that they gave their best...and they made us proud.

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