It all started one day in 1974 when three friends took part in a regatta in ‘mascarete’ boats. At the time, enthusiasts of Venetian style rowing (voga alla veneta) were few and far between in a world where many were more and more inclined to favour the use of motor crafts in the lagoon. Other than the three oarsmen in the regatta, there were other friends involved, among whom Lauro Bergamo and Delfo Utimpergher (then Director and Editor-in Chief of Il Gazzettino newspaper), Toni Rosa Salva (who has always been an active member at regattas) and Giuseppe Rosa Salva (known for his work in Venice’s defence). The group came up with the idea of a non-competitive rowing event as a form of protest against the deterioration of the city and the adverse effects of wave motion caused by motor traffic in the lagoon. All those in favour of reinstating Venetian (boating) traditions were invited to join the cause: these included rowing enthusiasts and others who had long ‘laid down their oars’. This simple spontaneous act of indignation led to the Vogalonga venture; the event was proclaimed and strongly promoted by the following committee members: Lauro Bergamo, Carlo Gottardi, Delfo Utimpergher, Lilly Sirolla and several members of the Rosa Salva family (Toni, Lalo, Pino and Paolo). A Corriere della Sera reporter, Sandro Meccoli, would define them as “a small group of Venetians, tired of ‘chatting and hearing chitchat’ about the lot of the city and her lagoon, who have called her citizens to take up arms as they have always done so; with their oars.”
A 30km course along the canals through the most pleasant and charming places in the lagoon was charted out. The press and city institutions offered vital support. Boats were scheduled to meet up in St. Mark’s Basin (Bacino S.Marco) opposite the Ducal Palace on the day of ‘La Sensa’ (Ascension Day). It was May 8th 1975. In actual fact, nobody expected such a huge turnout… What a sight! 500 boats carrying approximately 1500 rowers silently gliding into the calm expectant waters of the Bacino, the shot of a cannon and then the steady swish of numerous oars all at once. There were gondolas with a whole variety of other Venetian boats: the “sandolo”, the “mascareta”, the “caorlina”, the “topa”, the “peata”, the “vipera”, the “s’ciopon”. These rowed alongside other crafts including some of the most prestigious boats belonging to Venetian sports clubs and boats steered by rowing champions who had brought their whole family along for the occasion. Venice had awakened and once again found a voice and taken on a new life form. It wasn’t only Venetians who were present either; right from the very beginning, crews from the surrounding coastal areas and the mainland took part: they came from Carole and Chioggia, and from Padua, Treviso and Riva del Garda; even from as far away as Lombardy and Piemonte. Delfo Utimpergher of ll Gazzettino described it as “a rare victory of the oar over the engine, a rediscovery of the evocative lagoon, a gathering not of protesters but of individuals showing solidarity with Venice: trying to reach out and defend the city against one of its most thorny problems; the adverse effects of wave motion caused by motor traffic. The Vogalonga gradually became more and more popular with ever greater numbers of participants until it reached 1550 boats carrying 5800 entrants in 2007.
In a very short time, this wave of enthusiasm gave rise to more than fifty rowing clubs. Gradually they equipped themselves with splendid 10, 12 or 18-oar crafts. All this contributed to a renewed sense of pride in the area and its handicrafts which prior to this event had almost disappeared.