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Kayaking Capalonga 2009

The June 2009 Bibione Kayak sea kayaking event and kayak marathon at Capalonga Italy attracted people from all over Europe. On a wonderfully clear morning we launched from a sandy beach at the edge of the lagoon by the Capalonga campground. There were about 15 of us in kayaks of all kinds. we drifted out from the sheltered lagoon past the fishermen's casoni,(simply designed thatched shelters) onto a startlingly blue Adriatic Sea.

The warm northwesterly breeze was kicking up small breakers over the sandbars, and we soon took advantage of the follwing sea, surfing along the long curving sand beach. This long section of coast is undeveloped. There are no houses or hotels behind the shore, only a belt of trees and shrubs with farmland behind, and an access road for those who don't mind a hike to reach a remote beach.

Giorgio Sartori the man most responsible for organizing the event!

Some of those in search of solitude had already claimed a patch of sand for the day. The hazy towers on the skyline of Caorle on the distant point of land jutting out from the beach marked our target, but we were making such rapid progress we stopped on the beach to walk around, snack and chat. Drought-tolerant plants at the top of the beach clung to the sand, and windblown ripple patterns creased the beach

Launching once more into the small surf, we cruised on toward Caorle, past the entrance to a river toward the two distinctive towers.

Here was a crowded holiday beach with swimmers and sunbathers, kids jumping into the shallows, and rental boats. The shore hooked around into a tiny hidden bay behind a sea wall, and we crowded our kayaks into the corner to land. Here were small fishing boats pulled up onto the sand or moored in the shallow water. This was not the main fishing fleet; that gathers in the canals behind the town, closer to the center where the fish can be unloaded almost directly into the many restaurants. Situated on the River Livenza, Caorle is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in this part of the Adriatic.

Carrying our paddles we strolledthe promenade by the church tower and headed for the town. Caorle is a natural port first used by the Romans and later becoming a refuge for the Venetians and Friulians escaping Attila the Hun during the 5th Century AD.

It's a place made for walking with its narrow colorful streets, small squares, churches and cathedral.

We had a reservation at a restaurant  near the fishing harbor and rely on Giorgio to find it, but for him to keep us together was like herding cats. When we strayed we looked out for the distinctive brown Bibione-kayak symposium t-shirts... it was an unusual color and almost everyone in our group was wearing one.

Around me at the table I heard a variety of languages; Italian of course, but also Swedish, German, French and English. but when it came to food, all our languages melded into international expressions showing our appreciation for the flavors. Soon we were sampling each other's dishes, with juicy sepia, calamari, tender white fish and various pastas.

Replete we wandered slowly back to the defensive sea wall, fascinated by the carvings in the massive boulders along the lower level that hold back the sea. Sculptors have carved large faces, shells, and fish, dolphins and ships, and some are so polished we must touch them to feel the mirror surfaces. There is a gathering here every July, when famous artists from around the world come to spend a few days carving. They call this wall of carved stones "the living rocks".The rock is Euganean trachyte, the same igneous rock used for paving slabs in Venetian villas, and for mucgh of the Roman road Via Annia.

At the end of the sea wall where we left our kayaks stands a church tower, that also serves as a lighthouse. This belongs to the "church of the blessed virgin of the angel on the sea". The church dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, but built on a more ancient sacred site. Much of the original church was destroyed by the sea before the current sea defenses were built, and it was completely reconstructed in 1476. Since 1751 all that has survived is a single hall.

The church is associated with a strange tale which tells how fishermen were attracted to a light on the water and discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary with Child, and carried it ashore. It was very heavy, and the townspeople could not carry it to the cathedral, so the bishop called a group of children to help, and they somehow managed to carry it as far as this church. So the church was rededicated not only to St.Michael the Archangel but also to the Madonna, and it was renamed to "Madonna Dell' Angelo". There is a festival held every year with fireworks to celebrate the "Virgin of the Sea". The original statue was destroyed by fire in 1923 and has been replaced by another wooden statue.

The unique tower of Caorle cathedral

Launching our kayaks into the sun-warmed water we paddled carefully between the swimmers along the beach as far as the entrance to the Lemene River, where we turned inland, crossing the main channel to follow a narrower waterway between the reed beds and the swans. This is part of the sheltered waterways that run all the way from Trieste to Venice offering a safe kayak route in almost any weather.

We passed more traditional Casoni, the fishermen's reed houses that have been constructed from a simple wooden frame thatched with reeds to create a single open room. We paused to check out a restaurant with boat docks; the only place where a bridge crosses to the farmlands on the island, and a place we decide to return to later in the week for a meal. Finally we reached the lagoon and marsh area beside Capalonga and returned to find Fabrizio, smiling and ready to help with the kayaks.

Reed beds provide the materials...

...for cladding waterside buildings; boat stores.... and casoni.

We paused to check out a restaurant with boat docks; the only place where a bridge crosses to the farmlands on the island, and a place we decide to return to later in the week for a meal.

Finally we reached the lagoon and marsh area beside Capalonga and returned to find Fabrizio, smiling and ready to help with our kayaks.

Later in the week we paddled to the restaurant on the Litoranea Veneta, about 20 of us drifting past the casoni trying to see the birds that sang so loudly in the reeds. We had with us Karen Darke, (shown in the orange kayak in the open-air pool during one of her inspiring demonstrations)

Karen is paraplegic since breaking her back in a climbing accident. She has since become an accomplished expedition kayaker.

... we also had the pleasure of paddling with a young German boy who, inspired by Karen's film about kayaking in Chile, abandoned his wheelchair for a kayak for the evening and paddled to the restaurant.

Some kayakers set off early to take a longer route to the restaurant, while we paddled the shorter route through the channels.

Evening sunlight in the restaurant

Here we feasted on local cheeses and dried meats, fried fishes, and tender sepia, and listening to live music, while the breeze gently blew across the tables.

The tide had risen in the channel when we launched again for our return. The the sun had set, but an almost full moon offered us some light. Even so, it was challenging to keep in contact with everybody in the darkness. It was the first time some of the group had paddled at night, to experience the sound of water slapping the kayak and the occasional splash of a fish, or of a bird taking off, and see the vague shapes of reed beds and kayaks and marker posts.

At the weekend we prepared for the "First Blue Water Lagoon Kayak Marathon". The course along the Adriatic shore to the Tagliamento River and back through the inland waterways was inappropriate because of the weather; a strong breeze had kicked up the surf and created a wild sea.

Instead the course ran inland in a loop toward Caorle and back.
(Here event manager for the marathon, Marco Lipizer, shows the route)

In addition to all the famous racers, who would be speeding away on the wind, the event also attracted some lesser classes; such as sea kayak single, and double, and a touring class for those who wanted to paddle but not race. So there was something for everybody. But even if the water was relatively sheltered, the wind blew hard enough to make it challenging!

So afterwards, when everyone gathered to watch a demonstration of kayak rolling skills by Tatiana Cappucci in the outdoor pool, to sip a glass of cool beer and to wait for the barbecue dinner, everyone was a little tired and hungry and thirsty!

The live band started playing, and the charcoal burner sent flames into the sky as the cooks produced charcoal for their grills. Then the delicious aroma of cooking spread across the field! Dancing began after eating, and local wine quenched the thirst. (Maybe that's why the Sunday events, classes and presentations, seemed so mellow!)

The Capalonga gathering attracted kayak builders and kayak designers  from far away, and offered a really good opportunity for people to talk to real craftsmen who carve paddles or design and build wood strip, or skin on frame kayaks, as well as those who produce hi-tech composite kayaks. On the water there were always paddlers taking the opportunity to learn control skills or to learn how to roll a kayak in the warm water, under the tuition of experts.

A really fun event, sponsored by the Capalonga campground who offered special rates for kayakers that week, and organized by Bibionekayak, especially by the hard-working Giorgio Sartori and his wife Mauritzia.  

Capalonga has a fleet of classy composite kayaks for rent, so if you like the idea of taking a kayaking break to Italy, Capalonga might be the place to go.

You can surf the sandbars on windy days, cruise the coast to Caorle, or further afield to Trieste or Venice, take a day trip on the ferry to Venice, and take an evening trip to a restaurant or two.

It's also the perfect family campground with plenty going on for kids, or partners who would rather sunbathe than paddle.