Lake Garda Ferries

Just over a week ago we spent seven days on the shores of Lake Garda which lies between Brescia and Verona in northern Italy. The largest of the Italian Lakes, Garda was not unknown to me prior to our visit since I spent a summer holiday in Torbole on its northern shore over 50 years ago; yes I am that old!
Gardonne, Lake Garda

Back in the 1960’s my parents and I stayed in some chalets on the shore of the lake and one of the things that I particularly remember as a young teenager was being impressed by the Garda ferries and the rapid hydrofoil that raced around the lake. 

Hydrofoil Goethe on Lake Garda

Garda is a large lake being over 51 km long (32 miles) and covers around 370 km square. It is also deep having a maximum depth of 346 m. The mountainous terrain, particularly at its north end where it resembles a fjord, has in the past made road travel difficult and ferries have been important for transport around the area since the middle of the nineteenth century. Today’s ferries are run by the Navigazione Lago Di Garda which is government owned. Their boats vary from a vehicle ferry which crosses the lake from Maderno to Torri to high-speed catamarans and a hydrofoil. The value of having rapid transit ferries along the lake is clear. The hydrofoil is scheduled to take only 2 hours and 15 minutes to travel the whole length of the lake whilst the high speed catamarans take another half an hour and a conventional ferry takes 4 hours and 45 minutes. 

Goethe at speed near Salo, Lake Garda

On Monday April 20th we left our hotel base near Salo and travelled to Torbole and subsequently Riva del Garda by ferry. This involved a hydrofoil trip to Limone, a conventional slow ferry to Torbole and Riva. We returned by hydrofoil. In case you are confused about what exactly is a hydrofoil then I will try and explain. A hydrofoil is actually the water equivalent of an aerofoil or wing which keeps aircraft airborne. In this case they can keep a boat out of the water and enable it to operate at high speeds. A hydrofoil usually consists of a wing-like structure mounted on struts below the hull – the so-called water piercing arrangement. As the boat increases speed the hydrofoils develop enough lift to raise the hull out of the water and reduce drag. This produces a further increase in speed and also reduces fuel consumption. The term hydrofoil itself, which should refer just to the underwater “wing”, has now become synonymous with the vessel attached to it.

Goethe at Limone, Lake Garda
(Note the metal fenders to protect the hydrofoil and snow on Monte Baldo)

The boat we travelled in was the Goethe which was a RHS 150FL hydrofoil designed by Rodriguez and built in Italy in 1988. It appears that the vessel I remember from my youth was the Freccia del Garda a Supramar PT20, also designed by Rodriguez, which entered service in 1958. Hydrofoils are quite rare beasts nowadays as they are gradually being replaced by slower but less expensive fast catamarans. The Goethe can travel at speeds up to 63 km per hr (approximately 40 mph) and is powered by two 1045 kw (1,400 HP) engines and carries up to 188 passengers. The travelling experience is akin to going down a runway in an aircraft and is quite exhilarating. The process of approaching a quay is interesting as the boat slows and then settles into the water rather like a water skier, which is in fact a suitable analogy. To protect the underwater structures and hull of the Goethe it has extended metal fenders that come in handy when loading and unloading but give it an unusual profile.

Goethe turning, slowing and settling into the water, Salo, Lake Garda

Later in the week we travelled from Portese to Salo and back, and from Portese to Malcesine and back via more conventional boats. Unlike the Goethe you can experience the open-air of these vessels. They are much more sedate. The scenery along Lake Garda is spectacular and we can thoroughly recommend it for a holiday destination, particularly if like us you enjoy being on the water.

MV Andromeda

MV Solferino at Torbole

Converted vehicle ferry MV Brennero

If you are interested in fast ferries there is a specialist magazine dedicated to this topic, Classic Fast Ferries that is available on-line. It has some great photographs of hydrofoils from all over the world and includes much on the history of hydrofoils. If in the Garda area, or the other Italian lakes I would try to travel on one of their hydrofoils before they come just a memory. You certainly will not find a hydrofoil or anything similar travelling down your local canal or even river!