Monday, September 8, 2014

Regata Storica 2014

I really do love where I live, and there are only a few other places I wish I could be.  A change in season or a language barrier usually dampens any longing I might have to live somewhere else.  Oh, but there are times when the grass, as they say, is definitely greener somewhere else.
This week it was Venice.
I truly wish I could have been there (living or just visiting) to be part of the amazing event that is Regata Storica.

Like most years, I was able to catch the RAI SAT feed through Dish Network.
You have to have a second dish to get it, and I justify the expense by saying that I'll be watching Italian TV shows throughout the year, 
but the truth is that I'd keep the second dish just for this one event.
This year, more than any other, it was worth it.

Some of you reading this are already aware of some of the details of the event, but just so everyone is on the same page, I'll lay some things out for you.

The festivities begin with a parade - an "historic regatta".
Yep, that does translate into "Regata Storica".
This is a re-enactment of an event that took place in 1489 when the wife of the king of Cypress renounced her throne in favor of Venice.  
This was a very big deal. 
Whether in the 1400's or the year 2014, when someone in royalty renounces their throne in favor of another country, It's big news.
I'm guessing that the folks in Cypress weren't thrilled, 
but clearly the Venetians were.
They launched a welcome parade which included the Doge, 
and pretty much everyone else who was important.

And while the festivities might begin with this great procession, 
the day really begins before dawn for many lagoon residents, 
who board their boats and row or motor into the city to be part of it all.
Some rowers come in club boats and full uniforms to join in the parade - this is something every serious rower should do at least once.  
It's not as much rowing as the Vogalonga, but it's a fantastic experience.

So why do all these people (thousands really) all come into La Serenissima? And why are they joined by thousands more on shore, on rooftops, and populating windows and balconies?
Well, we talked about the "Storica" part,
now let's talk about the "Regata" part.

After the brightly colored procession of 16th century boats has made its way down the Canale Grande, the races begin.

Oh sure, like all Italians, Venetians love soccer (depending on where you live, you might call it "football" or "futbol" - they call it "calcio").  But as much as they love their "calcio", fill the city with residents of the lagoon, and launch the gondolini, and you'll know which sport is nearest to their hearts.

Let's back up just a little bit further.
Trust me, it's worth it.
Before the big parade in 1489, centuries before that in fact, Venice was a great maritime power.  
Her wealth came from sea trade, and her might came from her navy.

Training and competing in rowing contests was a military thing.
Back then, if your ship could row faster than the enemy's ship, you won.
Then, as now, rowing was the most important sport in Venice.
The first historic regata took place in the 13th century.
We believe that Venetians were racing their boats long before that.
Come one, think about it: you've got a group of guys who all row the same kind of boat.
They're sitting around talking about who's the best, and a contest is the natural next step.

In fact the word "regatta" comes from the Venetian word for a fight or contest. The only difference is that they only spell it with one "t".

These days there's a regata season, which begins earlier in the year.
It's kind of like formula one or horse racing: competitors enter and compete in several regatas around the lagoon.  The ones who have fared the best, get to compete on the big stage - right down the Grand Canal.

There are four events:
Pupparini - these are rowed by young men (the "giovanni") and the guys, are typically the future of the sport.  The pupparino is an elongated member of the sandolo family.  With a raised deck (like that of a gondola), this boat is known as a training platform for a gondolier. In this race, the boat is rowed by two guys.

Mascarete - the mascareta is light and maneuverable. She is arguably one of the most fun boats to row.  In Regata Storica, the mascareta event is a women's race.  Competitors from around the lagoon compete in teams of two.

Caorline - taking her name from Caorle - the city she originates from, the caorlina is the biggest, and by far the heaviest of the boats that compete in Regata Storica.  Rowed by six men, these boats may be big and heavy, but they move!  The wave created by the bow of the vessel is proof alone.

Gondolini - A gondolino is a sort of racing gondola.  There is another class of gondola (which has the same dimensions as a passenger gondola but is lighter) - but this is not that boat.  The gondolino is a long, spindly, high-speed, balancing act disguised as a racing boat. Like the pupparini and mascarete, the gondolini are raced by two rowers.  The men who row these are held in the highest regard in the world of voga-alla-Veneta. 

Each race includes nine boats, and each boat is a different color.  
This makes it much easier to discern who is in the lead and who is trying to take that lead from them.
The colors are, in no particular order: red, violet, orange, pink, white, maroon, yellow, light blue, and green

The Grand Canal is in the shape of a backwards "S".
The races each begin in the basin off the bottom of that "S", off the shore of Castello in an area where many of the boats in Vogalonga start out from.
From there, the boats head west up that "S", pass under the Accademia Bridge, and then they pass the judging platform.  This platform is towed in and placed there for the event.  Everyone and everything in Venezia seems to have at least one nickname.  The Judging platform is affectionately referred to as "La Machina" (the machine); it's located about a third of the way between the Accademia and the Rialto Bridges.
The route passes under the Rialto, then it's a race to the pole which is located in front of the train station.
In the mascareta race, the boats turn at a floating marker which is a little closer to the Rialto.
After the turn, it's a race back down the Grand Canal to a finish in front of the "Machina".

Alright, now that we've laid out some of the details, we're off to the races.
Well, I thought I was, until I started the event on my DVR and realized that I'd missed the pupparino race.

All the same, from there on out it was a remarkable spectacle of Venetian rowing.
The women, in their small and maneuverable boats charged through the course, and fought valiantly for positioning.
For several years I've watched the team of Luisella Schiavon and Giorgia Ragazzi win this race handily.  This year they rowed a violet boat and ended up getting passed fairly early by the team of Valentina Tosi and Debora Scarpa in a red boat.  It was an energetic chase all the way to the finish line. Schiavon and Ragazzi are a remarkable pair of rowers, and I really didn't think anyone could beat them.  My hat is off to them for all they've accomplished over the years, and also of course to Tosi and Scarpa in the red mascareta. All of the competitors fought hard and deserve recognition.

Next it was the caorlina event.
Unlike the other categories, each boat in this event was powered by members of a particular club or organization.
Pretty much right from the starting point, which is out in the San Marco Basin, it was the yellow boat with men from the Remiera Jesolo out in front.
The orange boat with rowers from Vogaepara - from Mazzorba was on their tail not long after, and through to the finish, it was yellow, then orange.  
The rainbow of boats continued to pass by the judges stand. Third place - maroon, fourth place - pink, then red, light blue, white, violet, finally green.

In between the big races there were head-to-head competitions between "galeoni" - these are rowed by crews of eight (six men, two women).  
They sit facing the stern and row in what we call a more English style, 
while someone standing on the stern steers while barking at them 
(depending on the boat, those may be encouraging or insulting words).
I happened to be watching this year's Regata Storica while sitting on a traditional rowing machine, so these short races between university teams encouraged me to pull harder and faster.

Finally, it was time for the big one, 
the Venetian equivalent to the Superbowl - the gondolini.

There are many great champions who's names are spoken in reverent tones in traghetti and among rowing club members - most have competed in, and won multiple times in this storied race that dates back generations.
Often they have been "the biggest thing on the water" with all others trailing behind them, but not always.
Today we happen to have two of these teams, and they have been fighting over first place in the historic regata for well over a decade.
The team of Rudi and Igor Vignotto, often called the "Cugini" because they are cousins,  and the team of Gianpaolo D'Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat have been duking it out since 2002.  
Prior to that, Gianpaolo D'Este (known by many as "Gigante" and "Super D'Este") was rowing with Bruno Dei Rossi (also known as "Strigheta").  
That team bumped heads (and remi) with the "Cugini"in the early 90's.  
This is a rivalry some would say beats that of the Yankees and Red Sox.
There has been shouting, I've heard that there's been spitting, and more than anything...there's been racing.  Nothing makes you go faster than the presence of a competitor trying to go faster than you.

This year, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the gondolini started off like they always do: in their designated starting lanes before falling into a group to splash their way down the Canalazzo.
The Vignotto cousins had a bit of a lead as thee boats were rowing in their lanes, but by the time the race was passing Piazza San Marco, it was clear that they would need to throttle up if they wanted to keep that edge.  The Cugini were in a red gondolino, D'Este and Tezzat were rowing a green one.
As the pack of gondolini passed under the Accademia Bridge it was red and green, side-by-side.  Not long after that a third pink gondolino came up parallel to them, the brothers Roberto and Renato Busetto rowing hard to make it three across.
It was a beautiful thing, and honestly, if they hadn't been rowing so fast, 
it might have looked parade-like to an outsider.
By the time the group passed the judges platform the pink boat had fallen back behind the red and green.
The Cugini and D'Este/Tezzat teams rowed in a dead heat all the way down the Grand Canal.
There may have been a few instances where one gondolino had a lead, 
but it was only by a foot or two and was quickly remedied by the men 
on the other boat.

The course for the gondolini follows the Grand Canal to a post near the train station and then the racers go back towards the finish line - which is between the Rialto and Accademia bridges, but much closer to the Accademia.
As everyone watched the two gondolini powering down the canal towards the pole, it occurred to anyone who has ever raced, well, pretty much anything, that when they reached that pole, the boat on the inside of the turn would have the advantage.  In this case it was the Cugini.
To a non-rower it might not have been all that remarkable to see both boats turn side-by-side around that pole, but that's just what they did.
The Cugini took the turn as tight as any competitors would wish to, but the green boat was right alongside them, leaving enough room for the oars, but otherwise following the same line on a slightly wider arc.
D'Este and Tezzat surprised a lot of people when they made that turn.
A few meters later they were right back to the grudge match that they'd been fighting just thirty seconds ago. 
This race is eight Kilometers from start to finish. 
It's not a sprint, and there have been plenty of hard lessons learned in this and other endurance races.
You've got to establish a pace that you can win with...and keep it.
As the two teams worked their way under the Rialto Bridge, you could see the fatigue setting in.
They powered on.
The Cugini managed to snatch a foot or two of advantage a few times.
At one point they were edging into a meter's length of lead, only to have D'Este and Tezzat close it down to a foot.
Next there was a small skirmish where the boats got too close.
It's hard to say who's fault it was, although I'm sure there are plenty of people with opinions on the matter.
Shortly after that, the red and green gondolini put some distance between each other and the mad dash to the finish was on.
I think the best way to describe this might be to say:
Imagine running a marathon, and then finishing with a sprint.
You could tell they were tired.
You could tell that both teams wanted  to win.
More than that, both teams wanted to beach each other.
What you couldn't tell, was how difficult it is to row a gondolino,
because from start to finish, both teams made it look so easy.

In the end, we all saw a classic "photo finish".
This photo, shamelessly snatched from the facebook page of someone 
else who snatched it by taking a picture of their TV.  Don't sue me.

At the end of this grueling side-by-side fight for dominance, it was the guys on the green boat who, in the last twenty seconds, managed to out-row their rivals on the red boat.

The 2014 Regata Storica champions are Gianpaolo D'Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat. 
Second place (by about a foot!) goes to the cousins Rudi and Igor Vignotto.
While the rivals in the red and green boats were trying to beat each other, they managed to get ahead of the rest of the boats by a margin, but the brothers Roberto and Renato Busetto stayed close and earned a respectable third place finish.

I considered populating this post with lots of images, but I would have to snatch more photos that weren't mine.
If you want to see more images, you can search Regata Storica 2014 and there's plenty of great footage out there.

To read all the names and placings of each race (including the pupparini), go to:
or visit and navigate around.

Regata Storica 2014.
I sure do wish I could have been there.
But maybe next year I'll manage to - I'm sure the rivalry will continue.

1 comment:

Bepi Venexiano said...

D'Este described the finish as one CM difference. Would have loved to see it. Greg lets start a tour company. We'd travel free. Rick Steves is getting under my pelt. What kind of a last name is Steves anyway. It's like an noun for someone who seeks out micro animalia for their nether regions. We need to do it... the tour company that is.