Wednesday, February 3, 2010


While sitting out on the bow of a vaporetto one day, taking a ridiculous amount of pictures of everything even mildly interesting, I noticed this guy.

He was rowing from San Toma toward Rialto. It looked like he was making his way toward the Rio di San Polo but he was moving a bit fast for that corner, which is more than a ninety-degree turn.

I watched as he applied a remo technique that probably has a specific name, but for now I'm calling it the "skid-brake".

Invariably someone will read this and say "Oh, that's a ___". Please feel free to chime in with an informative comment to let us know what you've heard it called.

And for the rest of you, I encourage you to throw out your own comments, indicating what you think it ought to be called.
So here's a photo sequence:

Gondolier rowing toward the Rio di San Polo.

That corner is a blind one, in fact if someone was coming toward the Grand Canal, they would see the ferro of the gondola right about here as it came into view.

From my vantage point on the vaporetto, I could see that the canal was clear, but the gondolier was still not in a position to know. He must have done this so many times that it didn't faze him. Because that's along the Grand Canal, gondoliers can't just swing really wide for the turn, so they've got a trick up their sleeve.

As the gondolier came into the turn, he placed his remo just aft of the forcola in the sotomorso position, and began to pry over. This "skid-brake" allowed him to come into a turn in a flat bottomed boat without skidding over. The remo served as a sort of keel, tracking his boat through the turn, and helping him stay as tight to the corner as possible. This technique allowed the gondolier to avoid a rail-to-rail collision with the guy who buzzed in on the motorboat, ignoring the sign forbidding such traffic in that canal.

Towards the end of the turn, the gondolier got his remo into a nice flex, while leaning out a bit to starboard.
The "skid-brake". Anybody got another name for it?


Bepi Venexiano said...

No name for it, but it is a technique used in your presence and caught on strap cam while rehersing for the Boat parade. I use it on outgoing tides when I need to check the sidelong momentum of my stern while entering our marina channel.
I would like to know the official term too.

Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

I'd guess such a manouver requires considerable physical strenght? The gondolier holds the remo single-handedly, without any support, since he placed it aft of the forcola. Even if the water pressure helps keep it in place, there must be a lot of torque to counter?

As for the offending motorboats, I'd like to point out the second picture from the bottom, with the prison building in the background and a police boat and gallows conveniently displayed in front of it. Maybe if they hanged an effigy there, it would offer some deterrence against motorized intrusion?

If one is no fan of medieval punishments, here is another suggestion: gondolas could be fitted with a water-ballast moving pump system, which icebreakers use to quickly raise and lower the bow.

Such equipment would allow a properly sharpened ferro to act as a hacksaw. Chop up intruding motorcraft to flotsam and teach a lesson to the owner, who hopefully won't risk his next boat in forbidden places!

Bepi said...

There are ways to counteract the force of the water. The first is to choke up on the oar so less of the blade is in the water. Another way is to angle the oar so that it does not receive the full force of the water immediately. With out this the oar would pop out of your hands or take you with it. Think of the lever and fulcrum with the rail as fulcrum. The amount of force needed is less than one imagines. Still and all he appears to be giving a very strong pull.

Nereo said...

I agree with Bepi's comments. I don't know if there's a name for what the gondolier did anyway it is a sort of "remi in acqua" used to correct the path and avoid to smash the bow against the paline or the wall instead of a "stai".