photo by Cassandra Mohr
There are some things that you just take for granted.
You hear something from a reliable source, and you never bother to check it out for yourself.
Case in point:
The statement that the gondola is only 55% in the water.
I've heard it, I've read it, I've shared it more times than I can count.
Better defined, it means that only fifty-five percent of the length of the gondola is in the water.
The gondola may be eleven meters long, but her footprint in the water is only fifty-five percent of that.
After two decades of being associated with these remarkable boats,
I have still never bothered to find a long enough tape measure and crawl around on a dock or shoreline to investigate.
Then, while going through some recent shots from a proposal cruise,
I came upon the above photo. Looking at the gondola in profile,
I was once again reminded of the 55% thing.
I said to myself "one day I've got to measure that to see if it's accurate".
Gazing across my desk (and the hundreds of things piled on top of it),
I spotted a paper ruler from Ikea. I never throw anything away.
Enlarging the photo to something I could work with,
I held the ruler up to the screen and, "Eureka!"
It was true!
(yes, I do get excited about small things sometimes)
Crunching the numbers, I was able to determine that the length at the waterline was almost exactly fifty-five percent of the overall boat length.
This gives the gondola her striking crescent-shaped appearance.
She seems to be barely floating on the water.
It's as if she weighs almost nothing at all.
An old salty boat builder friend in my neighborhood likes to say that
"the gondola leaves the water early on both ends".
She certainly does; in fact I don't know of another boat that has so much overhang on both ends.
Sure, gondolas vary, with different builders custom building for rowers with different criteria, but it's not unusual to see a gondolier rowing from a position that's behind the waterline.
Of course if you put a whole family of sumo wrestlers in your gondola,
your length at the waterline is sure to increase
(along with your stress level if they decide to rock the boat).
The benefits of this design are not just aesthetic.
With a bow that overhangs like this, you can beach your gondola and allow passengers to climb on or off the boat without crawling all over the foredeck.
Similarly, you can get enough of the stern up on the beach to allow a dry boarding, but it does involve some rather ungraceful climbing.
I tried it once.
There were photos taken,
but you will never see them if I have anything to do with it.
The biggest advantage that comes from such a short footprint,
is the gondola's remarkable ability to turn.
When you stand at the back of the boat, and perform a "dar-zo" stroke
(that's the "prybar" to anyone I've ever taught it to),
you can easily spin the whole boat with little effort.
In normal rowing it doesn't take much to change the direction of the gondola either, thanks to the length at waterline.
You may be rowing a 36 foot boat, but she'll corner like a 20 footer.
Fifty-five percent: It makes quite a difference.