I Relitti della Spiaggetta dei Canottieri di Ranco (Va) Lago Maggiore
In the winter of 2016 I had a long-time meeting with Daniele, a former classmate in high school that I had not seen for years and who had now looked for me after finding, I believe the year before, a copy of my book at the International Show of the Book of Turin; on the stand of my publisher. With him, a series of dives was planned together, aimed at increasing his diving experience, which began with another school that was essentially recreational.
Daniele, perhaps influenced by some of my stories of underwater adventures, had shown the desire to learn how to use the drysuit and gaseous mixtures based on air with enriched oxygen; or Nitrox. What opportunity could be better then, if not going with him to visit the excellent sequence of small wrecks placed in front of the Circolo Canottieri di Ranco, on Maggiore Lake in the province of Varese?
Their location is lost in time, or perhaps I have not yet been able to find a local elder who could explain to me who, why and when someone placed them on a backdrop that does not exceed twenty-five meters of depth. The spot on the ground is so called because in the past years this patch of land on the shore of the lake was used by the “Canottieri Pro Ranco”(rowers): them headquarter was in fact just above the spot, now become the headquarter of the “Pro Loco” (local touristic Authority). The small quiet beach with a nice little lawn, very clean and clear water due to the stony lake bed and the presence of underground springs that we shot in the video are clearly visible. Ranco, in fact, has stones in abundance on its municipal territory; rather we can properly define it as “erratic boulders”.
According to my sources, during the Geological Age defined Quaternary, started about 2 million years ago, four glaciations involved the northern part of the Po Valley; they are between 60,000 and 15,000 years ago. The most important of these was the one called Wurmian Glaciation: its front reached the town of Gallarate and it was assumed that it could measure more than 400 meters in height. It was this glaciation, therefore, to transport the biggest boulders, probably coming from a huge landslide in the area of the current Gotthard pass. In its slow and inexorable progress, the glacier, which probably had two different origins (the Gottardo, in fact, its most important source of nutrition and the Sempione) then merged into a single system dragged in fact morainic material including the large boulders that, wandering along the flat terrain, finally ended up stranded in the countryside of the current town of about 1400 inhabitants and set at 214 meters above sea level. However, the retreat of the huge glacier formed did not occur in a regular and continuous, but rather at time intervals with long pauses between one phase of withdrawal and the other. The erratic boulders are now considered by the theory as witnesses of events and geological upheavals occurred in very distant times.
In fact, the whole surrounding area is full of erratic boulders: from Sesto Calende (Sass di Preja Buia, for example), to Ispra (Sassone), up to Taino. For its particular orography, however, Ranco was the territory that accumulated the greatest number: most of them constituted by the rock/mineral of “Serpentine”, to the point of being able to be really considered “the country of the erratic boulders”. The huge detrital material, in fact, originated from colossal landslides occurring in the Alps and descending along an inclined plane, was more frequently struck on the northern slope of the hill of San Quirico which met, as a form of a natural insurmountable obstacle, on its path. On the southern side of the side of Angera, there are no erratic boulders. In Ranco, in only 3.24 square kilometers of land area, there is a large number of erratic boulders with truly impressive densities.
Many others of these natural monuments are present in the 3.11 square kilometers of municipal surface normally covered by the waters of Lake Maggiore, where they often pose a danger to navigation, emerging in large numbers only in conditions of high drought. Others, even of large dimensions, emerge following excavations. There are testimonies that inform us of how, in the past, the smaller erratic boulders were used directly as a building material, so much so that many local houses were built directly on underground accumulations of these naturally allocated stones.
With this knowledge, we were preparing to make a dive not only on the sequence of wrecks that we knew to be all connected by a line but also with the expectation of documenting the backdrop of such a particular territory and witness of a past so far. The cold of January would have helped us make the icy water of the lake (or at least we wished it) extremely limpid. Prepared our minimalist diving equipment on the frozen green lawn of the Club, given the lack of depth and the need to not have too much weight on us also due to the articulated penetrations in the small wrecks that we had planned, we became aware of having to follow an itinerary that would take us to the “Tinca”: a larger and relevant boat of the sequence that was used during the shooting of the film “The Bishop’s Room”, made public in 1977, directed by the Italian Dino Risi and taken from the homonymous novel by Piero Chiara; published the previous year.
In the film, as in the novel, there are two boats, the Lady and the Tinca, which was originally called Jamaica and was a lifeboat of the Angelina Lauro, the Italian transatlantic of the famous Lauro fleet, of 205 meters length for 25.50 of width and gross tonnage of 24,000 tons; then sank due to a devastating fire in the Panama Canal in September 1979. The small boat was sunk instead of Ranco (it is said after the shooting of the film) and is located about 200 meters south of the city port, 30 meters from the shore. Anna Brovelli di Ranco, who took care of the nautical part of the film by Risi, remembered the shooting of the film and sailed with the director in a television interview with a local magazine. The immersion itself does not involve any kind of difficulty, except those foreseen by the fact that, diving in winter, it is necessary to be well covered and able to face the rigors of the correlated water temperatures. It would be different in summer when the waters of the shallow lake are full of various organisms and micro weeds opposing to the good visibility a thick greenish-opalescent blanket: in this case, then, to venture on a sequence of wrecks that is unknown could represent a problem.
It starts with a nice motorboat still equipped with its beautiful wooden steering wheel; it has only the residues of the two front seats and has obviously suffered the removal of the outboard engine and the stern wheelhouse. Continue then, following the pulled connection line up to the largest wreck of the “Tinca”, where you can penetrate, paying the utmost attention not to get caught in the accesses: the boat was designed as a longboat of a large cruise ship and therefore it is not indicated to expect a wide and luminous environment. Going forward, you meet other boats of various kinds, including a small sail with bow cabin of little interest as it is completely bare. Following this, however, there is one with its excellent engine within the white rim still intact, with its control levers and the small propeller. This type of boat reminds us, closely observed, the old work boats that were used for centuries on the northern Italian lakes, designed to sail in deep and also low water of the dense canalization network that from the Ticino area was reaching up to the center of Milan through the various Navigli of medieval origin, then redesigned by Leonardo da Vinci.
Continuing in the dive you go back in the same way, hoping to have been careful before not to move the relevant very fine silt of the bottom, to find the “Tinca” and then head towards an old and strong element perhaps a rowing part. Of this boat attracts the solemnity of his firmness: almost as if, instead of underneath it, it was still afloat and in navigation. Some traces of it suggest that it could also have been used as a means of transport. At this point, the path must be lengthened and the route must be almost reversed, with respect to what should naturally be done, to go back from where we started and meet the small initial motorboat. Without losing heart it is now necessary to aim decisively towards the north to reach the imposing silhouette of a large overturned cabin, whose interior has become home to myriads of silvery perch.
It still has its control console, including the wheelhouse intact: the commander’s seat and accessories survived the extended water bath. It is possible to penetrate the wreck, but in this case, the diver’s attention must be double that of the one previously placed on the “Tinca”. The boat lies on a backdrop that has become muddy and every single small wrong movement is paid in terms of visibility, besides of course to consider that it is found in a completely upside-down environment, inside which the marine plywood panels are decomposed and stacked on each other with what remains of the furnishings. It must have been a good boat and it is supposed that it is in that position to be sunk in the bow, embarking a lot of water and overturning during the descent to the bottom. Daniele seems already extremely satisfied arrived at this point of the dive: in fact, almost forty minutes have passed since entering the water and now we both imagine that everything can be considered complete.
We’re wrong. Continuing a few more meters towards the nearby coastline we meet two large specimens of what can be considered the shark of the lake: the “Pike”. Stuck, almost motionless, watching us closely as if to wonder why we, clumsy and uncomfortable tourists of the liquid element, we are at that moment in their habitat. Swollen with joy we try to get closer to take photographs: we just managed to do that when one of the two, almost giving an imperceptible command to the other, begins instantly to run away with two powerful strokes of fin perfectly synchronized to the body line.
We have no more hope, I think inside my mask, almost speaking to Daniel, who instead persists in the pursuit and is thus rewarded with the discovery, not of the duo of freshwater predators, but rather of the bubbling spot of light sand that hides the resurgence below. In fact, together we have recently been to take videos to the extraordinary and tiny Beinette lake, in the province of Cuneo, where it maximizes and highlights the extraordinary effect of underwater karst thrust. So we both understand immediately what we now have before our eyes: it is the cone of water exit, channeled who knows where and who knows when.
I am going to perform in front of the camera lens of Daniele, the typical Italian gesture of that “who knows” and put the right forearm until it reaches the center of the apparently seething white sand circle: I cannot find the bottom; but I was aware of it because of my recent previous experience. At the end of the dive therefore, while chatting during the dismantling and storage of the used equipment, we can both consider the winter immersion at Relitti di Ranco a great experience, made of emotions and diversified suggestions, ranging from the observation of what man considers a lost object while for the fish instead, it is a new house (the wreck), up to the particular surrounding natural setting; outside and inside the water.
The neighboring village of Angera then certainly does not need to be further publicized here: among its well-known Museum of the Doll and Toy of the Epoch and its many ancient devotional paintings, it makes mention of itself throughout Europe and from a long time.
You can find the YouTube link of our video of this dive at the following address: