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Thread: Venice, a water oriented dreamworld.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Newtownards, Northern Ireland.

    Default Venice, a water oriented dreamworld.

    For our 26th wedding anniversary my wife an I went to Venice. We did a lot of walking and touristy things, not to be described here, we also did some boaty things.

    The traditional image of Venice.

    I have always wondered how the rowing stroke for the Gondola works.

    Having done some research I discovered that the Gondola is a tourist cliché developed from the traditional transport of the rich merchant. The normal workboat of Venice is smaller and not curved, normally rowed by two people, some are still in use. These used to outnumber the Gondolas.

    Traditional Venice rowing boat.

    I found a company who offer rowing lessons in a slightly larger version, allowing two person rowing and single gondola style rowing.

    Row Venice, an all girl rowing club inspired by the fact that the Gondoliers Union do not allow women to be members.

    Valentina and Elena, two sisters from Murano, bring the boat from the marina.

    I try rowing in the front position first, and we head out into the lagoon, it’s a bit rough and windy, we soon turn back into the calm of the canals.

    Learning the front rower strokes out in the lagoon

    My wife Louise has a go. She rows competitively in the County Down Coastal Rowing club, and is good at this Venetian rowing.

    I have a go at the full solo Gondola style. It is harder than it looks, It took the full hour and a half before I eventually got it.

    The reason I have included this here on a canoe website is that Gondola rowing is a strange mix of traditional rowing and canoe paddle strokes. The oar is not fixed to the rowlock as it has to be brought in quickly and often in the narrow canals, and passing other boats.
    The power stroke is just like a normal oar or paddle, using the wooden rowlock as a pivot in the middle. At the end of the stroke the oar is rotated and a “J” stroke motion used to correct the steering, then the oar is rotated further and the blade swept back toward the front, in the water, at an angle that creates thrust towards the hull, keeping the oar in contact with the rowlock. This is in effect a massive hanging pry, this was the hardest bit to master. The thrust stoke turns the boat to the left, and the return pry turns the boat to the right, by balancing these the boat can be propelled straight.
    This was my main mission while in Venice, to understand how a gondola is rowed.

    Now try it in the Gondola bedlam on some of the canals.

    The police have rapid response jetskis

    For my next boating expedition I tracked down BV Kayak in Venice. I believe it is run by the University. They advertised a 2 hour paddle through the centre of the city, and require previous experience as the paddle is intense, no time is allowed for instruction. The trip was lead by an enthusiastic and patriotic young Venetian called Nico, who lead from the front with stops for history and cultural talks.

    Nico in white.

    The Kayaks were short sea boats, good for the tight turns, I took me the first 10 minutes before I felt stable in my boat. Bright yellow to be seen by the raging Venetian boat traffic.

    Nico leads on, assuming those behind were following, lag at your peril !

    The first crossing of the Grand canal. All a matter of timing. The waterbuses will not stop and are slow to turn.

    One young lady in the group, we will call her Lisa, was good at paddling forward, but no-one had shown her how to put in a back paddle on the inside of the turn to slow and tighten the turn, thus she tended to go into the turns too fast and too big a radius, crashing into the walls and parked boats. She was a friend of Nico’s from the University, thus I did not interfere.

    Cutting inside the parked Gondolas to keep out of the main traffic.

    Back into the quieter side canals.

    Nico knew all the Gondoliers and they seemed to accept his little band of yellow perils with good cheer.

    A narrow alley, Lisa was bouncing off the walls.

    Back across the Grand Canal and another history lesson.

    The Natural History Museum.

    The bridge to the Jewish quarter Ghetto.

    On the way back to base, just in that low arch bridge to the right.

    This was where I found that paddling a low gunnel seaboat without a spraydeck was not a good idea, the wash from that watertaxi flooded in.

    That hole in the wall that Nico is holding onto is the one we have to go into, pulling ourselves up on a rope. The exit was not very graceful.

    Map of Venice showing the route Nico took us on, 5 kms. 2hours.

    The time went by in a flash, I could have done another 2 hours. It was an excellent trip executed as planned with panache and enthusiasm. I would recommend it to any paddling enthusiast. It is possible to bring your own canoe to Venice, but knowing which canals are safe and which to avoid is key to survival, and I mean that literally, taking a small plastic canoe into some of the narrower main traffic canals is a quick way to die ! Nico’s guidance was invaluable.

    The day after we left was the Vogalonga, a 30km rowing race for any type of canoe, boat, skiff and the canals were full of all types of paddled craft.

    Folding canoes entered in the Vogalonga.

    If I had the good fortune to be able to stay in Venice this is the type of boat I would want to have for my personal use. Rowable but also able to take a small engine, suitable to carry a few guests and big enough to stand up to the wake of the bigger boats, and able to cross the lagoon to the other islands.

    The perfect Venetian boat.
    Last edited by Mr Nick; 30th-May-2018 at 08:57 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    ditch crawling


    Looks very entertaining, Incidentally, did you know there are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice ?.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2008


    Bahamas, Venice...where next, the South of France? Oh, yeah!

    That does look good, particularly the kayak tour, would love to do that. I'd pretty much decided I'll never bother with Venice due to crowds etc, but that might just tempt me...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Bangor, Co Down.


    Looks fantastic. You really do find some great offbeat stuff to do on your travels. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Big Al.

    Only when the last tree has died
    and the last river been poisoned
    and the last fish been caught
    will we realise we cannot eat money.
    ~Cree Indian Proverb

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2009


    Awesome, would love to do that

  6. #6
    Crow's Avatar
    Crow is offline こんにちは。私はカラスと私はスコットラ ンドの出身で す。
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Third stone from the sun
    Journal Entries



    I paddled in Venice a few years ago in my packraft, and I loved it.

    You're right about a quick way to die in the traffic channels though. It was like crossing a motorway on a skateboard!

    Here comes the future and you can't run from it
    If you've got a blacklist I want to be on it

    Crow Trip Log

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Lochwinnoch, Scotland
    Journal Entries


    I do love these bloggs of your travels. So many people fail to make the most of these trips whether business or pleasure. You’re setting a great example to us all to make the most of it.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Cumbria, UK


    Brilliant! Thanks for sharing. I second what those above have already said.

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