THE HENLEY WHALERS - Velalonga Raid 1st - 5th June 2010 - Version 28/7/10 Press your REFRESH button to up-date To Homepage

The magic of Venice enticed the crew of MOLLY back again, for a third time, to enjoy the charms of the VelaRaid and sailing in the Venice Lagoon. The reputation for fun and adventure on this special Raid has been spreading and this year attracted 28 boats, with crew from seven different nations. MOLLY had a crew of eight – Geoff, Madeleine, Bob, Paul, Peter and Steve from the Henley Whalers, plus friends Jane and Nigel who have sailed with us before. We were also delighted to have different guest crew on board most days: Alexandra, Marja, Guy, Jacques and Pelham. In prospect were five days of sailing, and four different overnight stops, in one of the most romantic places in the world!

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DAY ONE - The itinerary took us from Punta San Giuliano to Isola di San Servolo, staying overnight in the student accommodation of what is now the Venice International University. The following morning we were ferried over to the neighbouring Isola degli Armeni for a fascinating visit to the Armenian monastery. The island was originally a leper colony, but abandoned in the 16th century. At the beginning of the 18th century the island was given to a group of Armenian monks who had escaped from Turkish persecution, in order to build their own monastery. The founding Abbott, Mekhitar, was a great scholar and theologian and this set the direction of the Order, which is reflected in the huge library and collection of manuscripts and artifacts from many parts of the world.

THE SECOND DAY OF SAILING took us down to the deep south of the Lagoon. At lunchtime we were warned by the local sailors on the Raid that stormy weather was moving in; we were advised to set sail promptly, thus foregoing a siesta! We were glad that we had put on our full oilies because the rain and wind set in well before we arrived at Chioggia. Our sodden spirits were lifted when we arrived at the Residenza Domus Clugiae, our welcome shelter for the night; we stayed there last year, so we knew that there would be hot showers all round! This was followed by a fantastic seafood dinner at a nearby restaurant, so we went to bed happy!

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DAY THREE - We awoke to an almighty thunderstorm, accompanied by torrential rain and massive hailstones. When we finally ventured down to the quayside to find our boats we were confronted by the sight of market stalls that had been blown around as if they had been made of paper. Fortunately our fleet was unscathed and we reluctantly set sail in the continuing rain, each with a bag of picnic food – no lure of lunch ‘in paradise’ to urge us on (this will be explained further on)! The original plan for the third day was to sail out into the Adriatic Sea and follow the coast north to Treporti, but in view of the weather we were advised to stay within the Lagoon, under the protective eye of the safety boat. In fact, the rain stopped, the wind eased down and the clouds parted and ringed the Lagoon, so we were soon basking in the sun once more. MOLLY finally arrived in the marina at about 17.00; progress had been slow, with some rowing required, so on arrival we relaxed on the pontoon. We enjoyed some cans of English bitter and waited for LATIS to arrive, as Jane and Nigel had opted to sail in Pelham’s boat that day. We were told that Claus, in his boat CRAIC, and Pelham had decided to sail the original passage, where they discovered there was hardly any wind out at sea. They finally turned up, under oars, just after 18.15! Then we made our way to the Locanda Zanella where we have stayed before and where we soon found that some things have not changed: still no hot water in the shower in Room 8, but luckily we knew where to find the staff shower! This was followed by another sumptious seafood feast, so all was well!

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THE FOURTH DAY was marked by light winds, lovely sunshine and a lot of shallow water! From Treporti we sailed north to the romantic little island of the casone Lanzoni. As we approached we had to take care not to run aground. We tested the depth regularly using MOLLY’s patent measuring stick (aka the boathook with measured markers)! Time ashore was spent exploring the charms of the island: the somewhat derelict casone (used by a fishing club) and the new latrine (a la Slumdog Millionnaire, but no door!), followed by a photo shoot of the whole group of raiders, with the casone as backdrop. Low water was imminent, so all too soon it was time to set sail for the lunch stop, where we were entertained by Peter, Marja and others who went for a swim; they were banned from coming back on board until they had cleaned the sludgy mud of the Lagoon bed from their feet! After lunch, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and with few landmarks to guide us, we headed south again. It was up to each boat to pick a way through the shallows and marshes of this part of the Lagoon. It felt as if we were sailing through a labyrinth with invisible walls! It was tantalising to see other boats managing to find a way through, but unable to follow them. Eventually we popped out of the ‘maze’ into deeper water and the rest was plain sailing. It was such a pleasure to arrive at Mazzorbetto, in the sunshine! We chose a dorm in the stone scout camp (originally a gun emplacement) and Bob set up the anti-mosquito defences. Paul and Steve had opted to camp, so they settled into the already-erected tents. Then we explored the island and generally relaxed before dinner – still in the dry! A wonderful meal was cooked up by Giuseppe and some of the raiders in the camp kitchen and eaten in the camp mess tent.

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ON DAY FIVE -  We were greeted by wonderful sunshine, with not a cloud in the sky, and not a single mosquito bite! Was I dreaming? Would I wake up to find the rain and mozzie bites that we have experienced at Mazzorbetto on the previous two Raids? No, it was all true and moreover it meant we started the day with a very enjoyable breakfast, sitting outside a café in Burano! However, for sailors there was a downside to all this glorious weather: no wind! The final regatta of the Raid was a sail down to the Arsenale, at the eastern end of Venice. This turned out to be a three boat rowing race between MARIE, RUZIEND and MOLLY, as none of the other boats could finish in the time allowed. Actually, we didn’t know we were racing, we were just having fun keeping in contention with the other two boats that were nearby! Once moored up we explored the eerie old shipyard, imagining the days of impressive ship building where now there are acres of deserted wet docks and a few vessels left stranded on land: some small boats, and …. a submarine! A lovely lazy lunch, chatting to fellow raiders under the shade of a huge tree, was followed by the closing ceremony of the Raid with a speech by a Venetian dignitary welcoming us all as honorary citizens of Venice.

All that was left was to sail back to Punta San Giuliano for the final Raid dinner, at tables laid set out on the grass in the centre of the Circolo Velico Casanova. The moment for prizegiving arrived, although we were hardly aware that we had been racing during the Raid. To our greatest surprise and delight MOLLY was awarded first in class, and first overall! This was matched on the following day by coming first in class in the Velalonga race.

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A review of the VelaRaid 2010 must include the lunch arrangements, as they are part of what makes this Raid so special. Giuseppe came back again this year with his trusty bragozzo PARADISO and prepared the most delicious meals for us – antipasti followed by pasta (after the legendary pasta-making ‘ceremony’). Usually we all moored up against his boat, several boats deep, and then we took it in turns to pass along the plates and cups, food, wine and water from boat to boat, making sure that everyone had enough to eat and drink. The meals would pass at a leisurely pace, with plenty of time to chat with fellow raiders, and this surely helped to engender a real sense of community.

Finally, we must acknowledge a huge debt of thanks to the organisers of the VelaRaid: Giorgio, Marco and Vincenzo. A huge amount of time and effort was spent planning and organising this event, with lots of help from their friends, family and the CVC.
We would also like to say a big Thank You to the safety boat boys! They generously volunteered to forego sailing to keep a watchful eye on us and to oversee the races.
We have thoroughly enjoyed all three Raids that we have attended, each time coming home with memories to treasure. We hope the VelaRaid will continue and that it will remain one of the ‘best kept secrets’ in the world of raiding!
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For pictures click here

The Velalonga Raid 2010 was followed, the next day, by the Velalonga Race.

Report awaited.