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High Water Gondola Rowing

Rowing a gondola at high tide requires some special skills. The higher water makes for lower bridges, and a gondola is not a low profile boat that’ll just go under anyway. The gondoliere have to do all sorts of weird manoeuvres to get the boat under the lowest of the bridges.

Crouching

The simplest way of lowering the height of the gondola is for the gondoliere to crouch on the back deck, while he keeps the oar straight backwards, propelling the boat with a sculling movement. The forcola, or oarlock, has a bend exactly to allow the operation where the oar is almost parallel to the boat.

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1329

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1330

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1331

Another example of the crouching gondoliere, same place near Santa Maria Formosa:

High Water Gondola Rowing - Crouching - 1

High Water Gondola Rowing - Crouching - 2

High Water Gondola Rowing - Crouching - 3

High Water Gondola Rowing - Crouching - 4

Edging

If the bridge is very low, the gondoliere might have to edge to boat to lower the stern ferro, which is the highest point of a gondola. He will do so by stepping over to the right side of the boat, in front of the forcola. From that position he will scull the boat forwards. On many gondolas the stern ferro is on hinges, so it can be flipped down. If the bridge is too low for even the bow ferro the pass, he will have to edge the boat even more, by telling the passengers to all sit on the right side of the boat.

From Rio del Mondo Nuovo, near Santa Maria Formosa:

High Water Gondola Rowing - Edging - 1

High Water Gondola Rowing - Edging - 2

High Water Gondola Rowing - Edging - 3

Lying down

At times the gondoliere will have to pass a bridge where there’s just only enough space to squeeze through, and to make sure that he will not get stuck, with ferri scraping the underside of the bridge, he will lie down on the back deck of the gondola, and push it along with his hands until the stern ferro is well through the passage.

From Rio San Provolo, S.Marco:

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1334

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1335

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1336

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1337

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1338

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1339

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1340

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1341

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1342

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1343

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1344

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1345

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1346

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 1 - 1347

And another case from Rio della Maddalena, Cannaregio:

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 2 - 1382

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 2 - 1383

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 2 - 1384

High Water Gondola Rowing - Lying down 2 - 1385

4 thoughts on “High Water Gondola Rowing

  1. Jiminy Christmas! How do they edge the boats so far without going over? In the one series of photos I don’t see any pontoons. How are they so stable?

  2. Hi Rene – I just started following you on Twitter and saw this post – these are FABULOUS photos, with a perspective one gets only from a kayak! The “edging” technique is very sophisticated! I wish we had known about your service when we were living in Italy…we will definitely be in touch on our next visit!

  3. Great blog! I’ll be checking back regularly.

    Tiffany, a gondola is a flat bottom vessel, which makes tipping quite difficult. If the rail came down far enough the gondola would just start filling with water, then who knows? I’ve never seen one flood like that.

  4. Rene,
    Thanks for the photos and the terms. The tides where I row have an 8-10 foot difference between high and low tide. Sometimes the bridges get tight. Roberto Vianello who rows at Bacino Orseolo showed me the edging trick and it has saved me a lot of extra rowing. The photos of the gondolier lying down are informative. It allows you to do a “push-up” under the bridge forcing your stern lower in the water. Dulce.
    Hope to see you this May.

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