42nd Vogalonga : 15 May 2016

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A team from the Barbers’ Company took the Barbers’ Cutter to Venice in order to participate in the Vogalonga – a non-competitive rowing procession through the canals and lagoons of Venice on Sunday 15 May 2016.   The whole venture was run along military lines, under the title of ‘Operation Italian Hair Cut’, and involved months of planning and preparation. The blog below outlines the progress of the expedition/operation.  Congratulations and well done to all who took part!  You’ll find more pictures in the members’ area and a video compliation here. 

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Monday 16th May 2016: input from John Deverill


On Saturday night, if you remember, we were hosted by a lovely classic rowing club in Venice who also afforded us a mooring and much Useful Advice.   The club president of the Canottieri Querini is Marco Ghinami, and it was to him that we (Tom) presented a barbers bowl on Saturday.  The presentation is, I believe, captured on unforgettable film including the senior members of the club singing Venetian boating songs (Eton eat your heart out) and Tom having a 10 minute fight with the Safe Wrapping on the bowl, while Brind on microphone extemporises and plays for time.  The committee member of the club who was really significantly helpful to us was Antonella Marconato, who gets an Honourable Mention for her troubles and patience.

Now to Sunday and the race.  We were up bright and early in various states of well being, and strode manfully across Venice to prepare the Cutter, which we did in traditional fashion – in some chaos, but effectively.  Brind then announced he had forgotten our race number and strode manfully again the 15 minutes back to the accommodation and then ran back again.  When he returned pink from his exertions we set off, down a minor canal, where we had to deploy canoeing paddles rather than oars given the width of the channel, and onto the Grand Canal.  There we gathered with a few hundred other boats (!) opposite St Marks square, photographed and were photographed in turn.  It was jolly impressive.  Nick, who at the time was sitting under the canopy, was taken to be Royalty, and rose to the challenge with a disconcertingly practiced wave of the hand and occasionally tipped his hat to acknowledge the cheering masses. We had brought hats mostly to please Catherine Rounce who had made them a while ago, and Tom was determined that we would afford them a watery grave thereafter.  But they were perfect and Tom is now hat aficionado first class, although such was his initial venom in their rejection that I fear he may have to eat his own chapeau…

There was a starting cannon fired well after the bells of the Basilica had sounded the 9th hour of the day, but by then we were well under way, carried along by a sea of boats on a sea of water, in a much more pleasant and convivial atmosphere between boat crews than we’d anticipated based on the stern competition of the Great River Race.  It was rather jolly.  There were a couple of collisions, but what does one expect taking 1700 boats around a hairpin bend in a tight channel somewhere near Burano? Then we were off and rowing and I, for one, don’t remember too much as I was rowing, and therefore was busy.  I don’t know how it was for the others. Rowing well is a state of mind in harmony with wooden machine and water, so I didn’t notice too much, but one couldn’t help being simply awestruck at the majesty of this former City State.  The weather was kind.  The scenery was just achingly beautiful.  After a bit we probably all became conscious of physical pain too, which being blokes we didn’t talk about too much as it would not be terribly manly to do so.  We were with 4 oars in a heavy boat, and thus had much harder work to do than most, but our Style Coefficient was very very high, and we were proud.


We went through both Burano, with its gaily coloured houses and Murano, with its cottage industries and factory level focus on glass, and then back to the north of Venice itself, through a side channel only wide enough to allow the passage of a lambretta motorised canoe (thank the Lord for those paddles)  then back onto the Grand Canal, past the Rialto and then the Guggenheim where Tim Cutler and his lady, together with our families, were waving and calling.  We tossed oars in salute and covered the last few hundred yards to the end, which was marked by Dick fielding a thrown bunch of bananas intended no doubt as nourishment with the aplomb of a practiced Yorkshire fielder waiting to dispose of an outwitted Shropshire batsman at Silly Mid Off. There were lots of individual highlights, and doubtless Tales will be told, and Songs will be sung, but it would be remiss not to mention the chaos inflicted on our team cohesion by a husband and wife team propelling a gondola, she wearing a gossamer thin wedding dress over underwear so alluring that Dick’s glasses steamed up and David caught several crabs, nor Brinds use of David’s piss pot – without even asking!  Teamwork only extends so far, after all.  Happy Days.

Race over, we paddled through minuscule waterways back to the club Querini where we de-rigged the Cutter.  Doug was extremely determined that we row no further, and we all agreed.  A boat was hired to tow us back while we dozed the 12km or so to the trailer and the waiting Beast. Once there we celebrated our great success with German beer (what happened to Peroni) and pizza, talked about our various highlights (many of which I’ve mentioned above) and then with colourful oaths and various degrees of mechanical inefficiency we re-loaded probably the worst trailer in the world with our boats, stowed our gear, packed the Beast, and came away. Doug, with Bart, is driving the cutter back now.  I’m sitting in St Marks Square.  No breakdowns so far (30 minutes in).  Two days to go.  Hmm.  I’m going to have another beer.

But before I do, I’d just like to say on my own part to the Crew, to our many supporters, to the many people with a small but vital role to play in all of this, to our Company root and branch, and to all (both?) of you who read these musings, thank you very much for making this a worthwhile and great fun thing to do.  Hopefully we’ve started a trend. But – it’s not over till it’s over – all back safe and sound, boat and stores put away and maintained, accounts accounted, lessons learned. Thanks everybody!


Sunday 15th May 2016: input from John Deverill

Well today I can report that we completed the Vogalonga in safety and style – both terribly important.  That we are of good heart and worked as a team.  That the boat is re loaded on the trailer ready to start its long journey homeward tomorrow courtesy of Doug, the Beast, and a tremendous Polish chap called Bart.  That we are all really, really tired.  And that a longer report will follow tomorrow.  There will be masses of pictures – hundreds of them – but we’ll try and post some of them tomorrow to give you a flavour anyway.

Saturday 14th May 2016: input from John Deverill

What a difference a day makes!  Yesterday – welding in the rain…today was rowing on the Adriatic!

It didn’t start quite so well – Brind and Chris having led each other astray apparently had some difficulty returning to the accommodation from a local hostelry and not only woke most of us up but also most of the neighbours including the feared Signora Albertina Biancello, widow of the late butcher Bisncello and very much a person to be reckoned with.  Also several cats and two dogs gave voice to their disappointment at their inability to open the door.  Once reparation had been made in the form of a coffee bought in the local caffe, and an explanation that it was the very hospitality of the region which had led to this Unfortunate Event, we repaired to the boat and what barbers rowers do best.  Yes, dear readers.  Faffing About.

There were strops (to Doug’s unbridled joy) and orders and counter orders.  Tom, together with numerous other talents, is a fluent Waluf conversationalist and was able to engage a local Ghanaian (if such people can be said to exist outwith Ghana), who knew more about launching boats than all of us – and mirabile dictum, the Cutter kissed seawater for the first time. The crew had beer and pizza to celebrate, and then we gently rowed the 12km to the boat club where she is spending the night.   Brind coxed ably and with considerable volume.  Navigation was a slight issue as it turns out that his sunglasses render him completely blind given their black hole like efficiency, but never mind, we all enjoyed the scenic route, with David in bow taking the unexpected swell and coping with the stress of imminent Vaporetto impact.  No impacts actually occurred, but hairs breadths were fully employed. We celebrated our safe arrival with more customary beers and pizzas.  I have just retired to supper following a reception at the Venetian boat club, where a barbers bowl was presented.and traditional Italian rowing songs were delivered with gusto – but others are more able to write of this than I.

Tomorrow is the 42nd Vogalonga.  And we are going to be in it.  Well done everyone!

Saturday 14th May 2

Saturday 14th May 2016: input from Tom Lee

Venice is magnificent and after trials and tribulations, the Cutter and the crew are all here. The route has been recced on foot and we have seen how difficult rowing will be in certain places.  The canals are just so narrow.  Top tip: bring some paddles too! We didn’t, but now have been lent some.  The boat yard at St Guliano has been very helpful, especially two Ghanaian chaps (Mighty and Prince – great names – suppliers of the paddles) and the boat is to be launched in to the Mediterranean for the first time today. It will be rowed over to Venice and left at a friendly local rowing club (Club Querini) until tomorrow.  Of course, it will be adorned with the Barbers’ flag, pennant and blue ensign (thanks to the Clerk and as it turned out, the Gendarmerie) together with canopy.


Saturday 14th May 2016: input from John Deverill

Well.  Yesterday reinforced my belief in French engineering and culture, but our first stop was a Mr Bricolage where Doug bought strops.  And, in case they came in handy, bolt cutters.  And steel wire rope.  And a saw.  And a fuel tank.  Sigh.  However, the welded bit of the trailer being probably its only roadworthy component, Doug and I struggled up to the Mont Blanc tunnel past bewildered locals and waving children, then past sweeping turns into the roaring chaos and endless beauty which is Piedmont and Italy. 

We drove with style, panache and complete faith in Jocelyn’s welding skills.  Outside Milan we swept past a convoy of Ferraris stuck in the slow lane.  Outside Verona the traffic was like the M25 fuelled by Italian bravado and Machismo.  Outside Padua Pete’s rig left us – Doug with a tear in his eye – on his way to Bologna.  Our musings on the poetry of the countryside were interspersed with Dougs ‘interesting’ collection of music. Some sounds made by Kygo, a Norwegian ‘tropical house’ singer,  filled my eardrums most of the way.  My hopes for Vivaldi were dashed by the Spotify Calm playlist (actually the Spotify Aural Destruction playlist) which Doug had kindly downloaded to last the entire journey. We arrived in triumph to meet Tom our bargemaster wearing a top that it would have been possible to see from 20000 feet – so finding each other was not a problem – and safely parked the trailer, and then the Beast.  Later the Team went to supper at a local hostelry, and we met with Brind and his family, David and his, Chris Coveney, the Man Mountain known as Dick, and over prime and secundi we mused on our adventure so far and the adventures to follow.  What a day.  We all slept well.

This morning – the Cutter is in the Adriatic!  We are very much on the way.

Saturday 14th May

Friday 13th May 2016 : input from John Deverill

Today we rose early to get to Venice on time. We had coffee and brioche and more coffee.  And then we found that there was a huge crack in the front of the trailer – it was about to come in two.  Two Chinese people came to watch, but kindly helped.  I think they took pity on us… The air was blue.  It was pouring.  It was grim. I retired to the hotel for a swift think and whiskey – I know – and rang around.  We found a local garage about to open run by a lady called Christine.  When I got to her garage she said her team didn’t do welding but would I like a Campari? The answer being no, she rang another garage run by another lady also confusingly called … Christine.  She confirmed that her son Jocelyn could weld but we had to get the boat there, as they have no portable kit. So we fastened the trailer together with gaffer tape.  I rode on the back of the trailer for the 2 km or so talking to Doug on the wallow talkie, praying a bit, and hoping for the best.  Amazingly we got here in one piece and Jocelyn is now on the case with sparks flying.

And yes, the flag did arrive last night…

Friday 13 May (2)


Thursday 12th May 2016 : input from John Deverill

Today has been a very damp day indeed.  We have mostly aquaplaned to Geneva through millions of gallons of eau, but we are here and in one piece.  We’re a bit shattered to tell the truth. It’s been quite eventful in other ways too.  Firstly, this morning my new best friend Hercule of the French Police rang to inform me that the Blue Ensign had been recovered and would be delivered, with the apologies of the Gendarmerie, to the destination of our choice.  It’s on its way here now apparently.  Entente very Cordiale!  Meanwhile our own Clerk has located a back-up copy – brilliant – and has even gone so far as to consider ‘borrowing’ a stylish and appropriately sized Army replacement from Horse Guards – many many thanks Peter, hugely appreciated.  We’d have thought an 8 square metre flag would have been completely fine and looked rather dashing on our boat, but never mind. Secondly, the hirsute and tattooed Pete whom Doug befriended on the ferry has made several appearances at our many morale-critical cake stops.  Not too sure how this is working but I’ve noticed that Doug tries to get us to slow down whenever Pete is astern of us on the road…

Doug has done a great thing for the Company and the Cutter for allowing us to use the Beast like this, and I’m sure this is recognised.  Doug has an awful lot of serious kit.  The latest thing is webbing straps used to tie things down.  I think we have about 40 and we keep buying more!  When I foolishly made an observation about this, Doug offered to strap me into the jolly boat on the rain for a few hours using the self-same straps if I didn’t shut up. He only relented when I pointed out that the jolly boat is probably already full of illegal immigrants, and anyway I might enjoy it.  Phew.  Close call.

Tomorrow, dear readers – to Venice!

Thursday 12 May 2016: input from the Clerk

Having just spent a fortune getting a replacement Blue Ensign — which is being couriered to the Barge Master’s home address so that he can take it in his bag when he flies to Venice tonight – this request for an Army flag came as something of a surprise.   However, given my love of the Cutter, I gave it a go.  Thankfully the flag company previously used for the Navy flag didn’t have an Army one in stock (just as well as the Blue Ensign had already gone and the same day delivery cost was exhorbitant!).  I did approach a number of army contacts but none were able to provide the right flag of the right size.  The best offer came from an unnamed source at HQ London District who was prepared to “borrow” the flag from on top of Horseguards – providing we could get it back to him by Monday morning.  We turned the offer down – on top of which the flag was 4m x 2m and would have dwarfed the cutter.

Army flag

Thursday 12 May 2016: input from John Deverill

It was a jolly day yesterday in a very British way.  Rain pelted.  Doug and I were nervous.  The Beast (land rover) was packed and ready to go. I’d been running a board meeting minutes before and was stressed.  Doug had to drive first and was even more stressed. The boats were loaded onto the trailer, which it turns out creaks, but works.  Putting the number-plated trailer board onto the back of the Cutter took a combination of improvisation, bungees, and extremely colourful language.  We have the turning circle of the Queen Mary.  We got out of Richmond OK (tight turns, two petrified old ladies, no casualties) and into the joys of Driving in British Weather.  We did the DBW thing for hours yesterday as there had been accidents all the way and got to Dover late.  Luckily our ferry did too as it had been held up by recalcitrant ferrymen in Calais.  Loading on was a doddle – we skipped the lorry queue by deciding to be a car towing a trailer, then became freight again when we loaded.  Doug became fast friends with a lorry driver called Pete with impressive tattoos – I read the paper instead.  Doug had Lobster, John had Lamb.

In France we did the tenez la droite thing OK – Doug had selected a hotel with a massive car park in Calais where we had decided to hole up over night – and we had resolved to avoid the French police with their insistence on carrying breathalysers as much as possible.  Zounds!  The car park was full as there was an annual police speed checking conference being hosted in Paris that day.  The Beast and the Cutter are very very hard to park, but we had a go, and narrowly avoided scraping two black and white patrol vehicles as we did so. 

Today we are off towards the South-East Corner (Bourg-en-Bresse or somewhere) after checking for Breakages and Thefts.  I have a suspicion that finding a copper to report something to shouldn’t be a problem around here, anyway.  On checking the boat and Beast this morning (a first parade) we found that the Blue Ensign had been nicked.  I reported this to one of the local Boys in Blue who first shrugged and muttered something Gallic about Trafalgar and the Navy and then sighed, said he suspected he knew the culprit and asked for our details should the flag ‘show up’ again. Fear not, the ex Army Clerk is heroically trying to find a replacement flag as we speak, dear readers.  We have pointed out that the Cutter is being driven with great skill and panache across Europe by two more ex Army chaps, and he might consider using his very considerable talents to obtain a suitable Army banner as well. Or maybe instead.

12 May 16

Wednesday 11 May 2016:  input from John Deverill

We are mobile! – op Italian Haircut now on the road…

11 May 16

Monday 9 May 2016:  input from John Deverill

Yesterday was a glorious day for a BBQ by the river. But instead of doing that very sensible thing, the Crew assembled and gave the Cutter (what an excellent name for the class of boat to be rowed by Barbers) a real ‘Going Over’. Tom brought rags, Dick brought elbow grease (he seems to have great elbows), David brought more of that articulated emollient and a disturbing-looking bottle to use if we get Caught Short in the course of the 30 mile, erm, course, Brind brought an extended and helpful family, John brought a pressure washer, Doug brought the Beast (his massive land rover), and Nick, very sensibly, brought both beer and a first aid kit.  All brought a sense of humour. The boat is now cleaner, drier, shinier, and ashore, to be loaded onto the trailer today. If, that is, we can find all the outstanding bits…


Sunday 8 May 2016:   input from Brind Waldron

Details of the parties – oh, and of work – are firming up:

 – Thursday 12 May:   there will be a meeting at the Voga Venete Club in Mestre to thank club members for their help in providing space for the trailer and arranging for a crane to lift the boat into the water.   Drinks and canapes essential.

 – Saturday 14 May:  Cutter craned into the water, then rowed to Club Querini where it will be moored.  Brunch and drinks will be needed.   In the afternoon, the Cutter is taken for a row in the lagoon and Bacino area.    Any Barbers in the area should come along.

 – Saturday 14 May:  Welcome drinks – to include Venetian food and entertainment! – at Canottieri Querini (Castell 6576/B, 30122 Venezia).   Casual/smart attire. http://www.canottieriquerini.it/

Friday 6 May 2016:  input from John Deverill

This weekend (7/8 May) the whole team are fully preparing the boat and loading her (and one other boat) onto the trailer.  The intrepid rowers are Tom (Lee), Brind (Waldron), David (Brown), Doug (Johnson-Poensgen), Nick (Goddard), Dick (Blanchard) and John (Deverill).  We also have Chris Coveney as a guest and potential back up should we need it. He has rowed the Cutter and knows it well. The Vogalonga is in the Venice lagoon which has been – very occasionally – stormy in the past.  Safety is an important concern and we have taken steps to address this with life jackets, first aid kit etc.

Next Wednesday pm, Doug JP and I will drive in his trusty land rover, towing the trailer, which was not initially in the best possible state but has now been repaired by skilled welders and electricians under Tom’s expert mechanical scrutiny, from Tom’s house to the Dover ferry.  Doug and I are the Road Crew, and our intrepid journey over the Alps will include frequent stopovers at suitable hostelries of ill-repute.  We will stop overnight twice and try to avoid breaking anything on the way down. We will arrive fashionably late in Venice on Friday to meet Brind and other rowers who will have flown out by then.  Brind has organised a welcoming reception for the Road Crew which include Champagne and a selection of Fabulous Cheeses.  We can’t arrive too late or we will miss our slot with a crane to unload and moor the boat under arrangements made by Brind, who has also led on negotiations for accommodation for most of the crew (in the Dodgy End of Venice in a place called Apartments Lilia – address is in OpO).  The club which Brind has been liaising with has been really helpful and hospitable in sorting cranes, storage, mooring etc. Saturday we have dedicated to ‘Faffing About’ (which is maritime speak for contingency and practice rows etc).  Sunday is the Vogalonga itself. We will fully prepare the boat, including assorted flags and pennants, for an early start on Sunday: we don’t want to finish too late as we need to load up the boat again ready for Doug, this time with his charming wife Julia and young son Thomas, to drive back again Monday – Wednesday. Nick is leading on putting together a social event on the Sunday night in a Hostelry of Good Repute: I am unclear where it is but it will include family and friends who will have flown out to spectate. 

This isn’t over till all back safely, kit stored away, boat and trailer maintained and back where they need to be, all bills paid and accounted for, ‘lessons learned’ document completed in case it happens again and all PR done.  As Brind says this has been a real team effort to date and we look forward to it being rewarding and fun in consequence.

Finally, as this is an international event, we shall be required to fly a national flag. This would normally be a red ensign, but as Tom is ex RN and he registered the Cutter with the RNVR, we are permitted to fly a blue ensign. Very smart indeed!