Once again this year, a mixed group from the University’s rowing team were invited to represent the University of Warwick at the Regata Storica 2018, an historic water pagaent along the famous Grand Canal in Venice. The International Universities event was especially exciting this year as it was being held in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the University of Ca’ Foscari. The invitation was met with great anticipation and excitement from all participants having heard from those who came before us of the brilliant experience we could expect.
We arrived on the Friday of the weekend to a slightly damp welcome, more representative of the English weather than we had expected from Italy. Nevertheless, we were greeted with a smile by our student guide from Universita Ca’ Foscari, who set us up for the weekend ahead, ensuring we had water bus tickets to get around and found our hotels okay in the maze that is Venice! We dropped our bags off and headed out to explore our beautiful surroundings and, of course, to grab the trip’s first pizza of many in preparation for the qualifying rounds the next day!
Our allotted practice time was 10.30, so we hopped on a water bus and made our way through the canals and across to the island of Giaudecca. We were greeted by some more Venice students and of course Sergio, the university’s coach. Having arrived slightly early, we had the daunting experience of watching the two other universities attending, Harvard and the University of Lausanne, practice in the traditional Venetian galleons. The boats were extremely different from anything we had ever experienced rowing in, at around 800kg compared to our boats which are fine, racing shells. However, when it was our turn, we found that they were more similar than we had originally thought, although still very heavy!
After our practice session, we were pretty tired and so delighted to be greeted with a traditional Italian meal of multiple courses, enjoyed with all the athletes from the four different universities. The qualifying draw was made after dinner, composed of three rounds in which each university raced all of the others. Our first race was against the experienced team from Ca’ Foscari. We knew it would be a tough race and so it proved to be; we lost out in the end but, by closely observing Venice’s race tactics, we were confident that we would be able to perform better in the next round.
Next, we were up against the University of Lausanne. We rowed up to the start again, determined to get a win on the board and give ourselves a chance of qualifying for the A final the next day. We had a much smoother race and came out the winners, shaving four seconds off of our time from the previous round! We went on to beat Harvard also and therefore, were able to qualify for the A final against Ca’ Foscari who had won all three of their qualifying rounds.
We were delighted with our performance, already the best that Warwick had ever achieved, but well aware of the challenge that faced us the next day: almost triple the distance against a well-drilled crew. However, we were positive that we had more to give and were ready to try to compete for first place.
That evening, our amazing hosts treated us to a culinary treat with dinner at Restaurant Al Storico Da Crea. Not only was the food brilliant but the restaurant also had a fantastic view and was located in a boatyard where we got to see the famous Venetian boats being crafted! After dinner, we headed back to our accommodation to prepare for the big day.
We awoke in the morning, excited and nervous for the day to come. Since our race was not until the evening, we decided to partake in some sightseeing to begin with, making the trip to Piazza San Marco, which was truly breathtaking. We fuelled up for the afternoon with pizza for lunch and then headed to Ca’ Foscari Palace for the team meeting. We were delighted to have the support of Rachel Sandby-Thomas, the University’s registrar as well as Chiara and her husband (who was fully decked out in a Warwick blazer!) from Warwick in Venice. We now had a pocket of home support to cheer us on our way, a welcome encouragement among the Venetian crowds lining the canal!
The B final came first with Lausanne securing third place just ahead of Harvard in fourth and then it was time for us to take to the water. The atmosphere was truly special, with a plethora of traditional Venetian boats accompanying us down the Grand Canal towards the Rialto bridge. We turned around, lined up and were ready to go!
We started strongly, using the little experience we had gained from the previous day’s racing to stay with the Venetian boat for as long as possible. However, it became evident that Venice’s tactics and experience in the traditional galleons were giving them the edge and they began to pull away, finishing ahead of us and taking first place.
Regardless, we were delighted with our second-place result, well aware that it is the best result for Warwick in the seven years that we have attended the event. Just the experience of the atmosphere and sense of occasion at this historic event was enough in itself! After the race, we were able to truly appreciate the university itself, enjoying a buffet dinner in the courtyard following the presentation ceremony. It was a great opportunity to speak with both the organisers and our fellow competitors and reflect on the weekend as a whole.
We would like to thank everyone involved, both from Warwick and our hosts in Venice, for making this trip possible and giving us all a once in a lifetime experience. As most of us have never had the opportunity to see the Warwick-Venice partnership in action, it was amazing to see how special it really is.