John Synco mentioned this piece of rowing hardware in a comment a few days ago, and my interest was piqued.
He simply described it as an oar with a blade "riddled with holes".
I didn't know what kind of holes he was talking about, and hadn't seen the remo, but I offered the following possibilities:
1. It was left in the water and worms got to it. I'm not an expert on wood-worms, but it's a possibility.
2. Someone used it for target practice, or maybe he was rowing near an island he shouldn't have and took some "double-ot-buck". Ask the gondolier to show his backside, check for scars.
3. Holes were drilled deliberately to affect the blade's ability to push water because:
a. the gondolier wanted to practice-row while the gondola was tied to the dock.
b. the gondolier was rowing tandem with someone not as strong so they weakened their remo's efficiency.
c. for some add reason, the gondolier wanted to have to execute more strokes to accomplish the same goal - perhaps for training purposes
4. the owner of the remo pissed somebody off
...somebody who owns a drill.
5. a drinking game and a dare might have been involved.
6. It has to do with fraternity-like hazing within the traghetto.
7. It was once used on a traditional s'ciopon (the little sandolo with a big duck gun"), and the blade was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
8. The wood chosen by the remer who fabricated the oar had holes in it. The remer filled the holes, completed the piece, and either:
a. didn't tell the gondolier about the problem. Surprize!
b. told the gondolier to keep the remo varnished to protect the plugged holes, but the gondolier never got around to it, and now he rows with Swiss Cheese.
I asked John to please send me the photo.
I was dying of curiosity.
So with the above image now in the equation, I think we can rule out worms and shotguns. Drinking games, hazing, and angry people with drills are technically still possible. I doubt the remer who made the oar encountered pre-existing holes and tried to sell the piece, with or without filler.
So that leaves us with option #3 - "holes deliberately drilled either for practice-rowing at dock, or to lessen the remo's ability to push water."
I asked Nereo Zane to talk with some Venetians about it. He spoke with world renowned rowers Vittorio Orio, Enzo Liskza, and Bepi Suste.
After their conversation he wrote: "Bepi and Vittorio told me today that the remi with holes are used for training when the boat is tied to the dock or in a sort of giant basin, so the correct answer is #3a. The answers #4, 7 and 8 made me laugh loudly!!!"
The "giant basin" mentioned above sounds like the indoor rowing tanks used by sit-down rowers in the English style. When the weather isn't conducive, they train on platforms indoors with their oars in "small swimming pools".
Nereo told me, with congratulations, that one of my guesses was correct, although I feel as though I was throwing spaghetti at the wall by producing eight possibilities. Nevertheless, I'm happy that I did guess it, rather than miss with eight attempts.
I do have first-hand experience with rowing while tied to the dock. And I'm here to tell you - it's not such a good idea (unless you're willing to drill holes in your remo!). About a week prior to the 2007 Hudson River Gondola Expedition I tried a little "static rowing" exercise of my own.
Because of my hectic schedule, I'd had some trouble finding anybody to row tandem with, and was desperate to get some practice in, rowing off the port side.
I went down to the docks late one night, and with the gondola tied to the dock so I could row up front, I put my favorite Metallica CD in the boombox and settled in for a good 45 minute workout.
In less than 20 minutes, my right wrist was in considerable pain and I realized I'd been putting too much stress on it by not simulating things correctly.
I suppose if I'd tied the gondola alongside a river that was moving quickly past the gondola, I could have lessened the stress of each stroke, but tied to the dock in still water created a tendenitis which I ended up having to monitor for a long time.
"Static rowing" is nothing new to me, I've trained countless students by beginning with the gondola tied to the dock, showing the strokes, and having them mimic the movements.
It's a lot easier for them to understand the strokes if they don't need to worry about crashing into things.
But "static rowing" for a workout is entirely different.
The natural tendency is to push as hard as possible, with muscles you might not have had when you were first learning.
I'm not quite ready to drill holes in a perfectly good remo yet, but if I ever need to "static row" again, I'll use John Synco's photo for a guide,
or piss somebody off...somebody who owns a drill!