I didn’t get to participate in last fall’s all-woman regata della voga alla veneta (rowing with one oar, standing up, facing forward). Regate rowing races are held throughout the year for every sort of oared craft and combination of rower. The more serious competitors — referred to as agonisti — compete in those; we are instead called esordienti, or something akin to rowing debutants. We are women of all ages: single, married, widowed, moms, working professionals, and students; all passionate about the voga for the challenge, the exercise, the chance to be on the lagoon, the camaraderie and sheer allegria that are all natural by-products of participating this very-Venetian rowing tradition.
Last Saturday was the first of this year’s series of regate for us esordienti. It was March 8th, the Festa delle Donne, and we were in 8 mascarete: the lighter, more agile versions of the Veneto lagoon craft. My rowing partner (names are drawn to form the pairs that pilot each boat) was Amelia Coco, a young Venetian woman who’s studying to be a veterinarian at the University of Padova. Thanks to intemperate weather conditions ranging from wind, fog, and even a four-day bora with gusts of up to 40 kph lashing across the lagoon, in the weeks prior to the race we only had four opportunities to get used to each other as rowers.
No matter, though…we WON. I have no idea how, but it was one of the most delicious, exciting, breathtaking experiences I have ever had. Amelia was amazing as a provina (at the front): young, strong, and determined; it was all I could do to hold our mascareta on course (“Where’s the bouy? Non la vedo!” “Dritto! Sempre dritto!” Straight ahead!). After a come-from-behind partenza, we were in second place when we managed to round the bouy with a big swousche, cutting in between the bouy and first-place boat which had swung wide. We took the lead (oh, Serena, forgive me), and then managed to not to lose it between there and the finish.
Che soddisfazione. This ridiculous, giddy grin will simply not leave my face. Every time I believe I have dreamed it, I go check on the bright red, hand-sewn, first-place bandiera rossa, that remains my proof. Perhaps in the next race, someone will cut us off, or we’ll have a weak start, or scontrare up against another boat at the start to cost us time and the race. But for now…
Abbiamo vinto! Evvia!