RIBs are very popular in Italy, and with the mediterranean weather and reasonably sheltered seas the emphasis is on gentle cruising, sunbathing and long lunches.
The Associazione Gommonauti Pordenonesi (AGP) is a regional RIB club based in Pordenone in the northeast corner of Italy. They organise various events throughout the year, with the highlight being the "Gommonata Europea da Pordenone al mare" - the European RIB Raid from Pordenone to the sea. As well as the Italians, there was a sizeable German presence plus Peter Zurrer from Switzerland, sharing his RIB "Highlander" with four of us from England.
September 2000 was the 24th time that they have run this event, and the experience shows. The event organisation was nothing short of superb. It takes a lot of preparation just to run an event with 40 boats, but when you include all the accommodation and food for 120 people over three days it becomes a hugh task.
The first indication of how well the event was organised came at the launch site on Thursday evening. No less than three cranes were launching RIBs as fast as they arrived, with tractors collecting and returning trailers to and from the car park. The whole operation was unbelievably slick and a fantastic sight.
First thing Friday morning, with the last arrivals safely launched, the whole fleet was blessed by a local priest, and then we were off.
The river at this point is narrow, not much more than ten metres from bank to bank. I had assumed that the trip downstream would be slow and gentle, avoiding any wash that might erode the bank, but I was just about as wrong as could be! Powered boats are normally prohibited from this section of the river, but the AGP manage to negotiate special permission for the event and there is no speed limit! This is probably the only time and place where you can legitimately take your RIB down a narrow, winding river at upwards of 20 knots, and it's certainly an experience to remember.
Hurtling down the river!
As the river widens things become a bit more relaxed, but the speed is kept up only slowing down to pass the occasional bankside moorings. The surrounding landscape flattens into open fields, as villages and towns flash by with their characteristic bell towers sticking up prominently above the raised river banks. At intervals we pass underneath massive fishing nets suspended above the river by towers on each bank - apparently this is one of the local methods of fishing, and they simply scoop the fish out.
Before long we turn left into a section of canal which leads into the winding system of waterways in the lagoons, and on to the Ristorante Laguna at Bibione Pineda where we stop for lunch. This is all part of the deal, and is covered by the entrance price; even the wine! A couple of hours later after plenty to eat and drink, we are off again, escorted by the Guardia di Finaza in a grey powerboat. The channel is well marked with substantial pilings, giving the impression of road cones on a motorway, which is just as well as the water shallows dramatically if you stray from the route.
A leisurely couple of hours or two sees us into the pretty fishing town of Grado which is to be our base for the next two nights. The entrance to the harbour is a narrow channel lined with fishing boats and houses, and once we get into the town we find a substantial area of quayside has been reserved for us, and the organisers are there giving directions to the hotels that they have arranged.
Saturday was devoted to a visit to the Roman town of Aquilea, a short RIB trip away. Once again, the organisation was wonderful, with moorings organised right in the middle of the town (the local boating club had actually moved their boats for the day to make room for us!), and guided tours laid on in three languages.
Moored at Aquilea
Another leisurely lunch followed, accompanied with the speeches and presentations that were to become a major feature over the next couple of days, then back to Grado to refuel and prepare for the evening meal.
Nine o'clock on Sunday and we're heading back to Pordenone. The first leg today is by sea rather than through the lagoon, then it's back onto the river, stopping for lunch half way home at Villanova di Motta di Livenza. This is as relaxed as ever, and has been laid on in a fantastic courtyard of Villa Rietti-Rota a few minutes walk from the river, preceded by welcome drinks in the village square! More speeches and presentations, then it's off on the last leg up to Pordenone through the twists and turns of the river, and the mad rush to get all the boats craned out and back onto their trailers ready for the trip home.
Peter wanted to get away quickly as it's a long drive back to Switzerland, but he tells us that there's a prize giving later. We wandered along, expecting a few more speeches and presentations, and were amazed by the array of cups and trophies on display. All this for a non-competitive event! A local shrugs and tells me that this is just the way that the Italians like to do things . . .
For more information about this and future events, visit the AGP web site
(mainly in Italian) or contact Conny Goldberg at the German Allgemeiner Schlauchbootclub web site
for help in German or English
Many thanks to everyone at the AGP for their fantastic organisation and a marvellous weekend, to Conny Goldberg at the ASC for his tri-lingual coordination, and to Peter Zurrer for sharing his RIB with us!