Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Life-changing Event

Our friend's larger heavier sanpierota tows home our own boat yesterday evening, with Sandro (barely visible behind the 9.9 hp engine) driving
Our neighbor, a native Venetian, saw me on the street last week and greeted me with a smile and a handshake and congratulations, saying "It will change your life." From his manner he could have been responding to the news that we were expecting a second child but, in fact, he'd heard that we'd agreed to buy a boat.

Jen and I had been thinking about it for at least two years, as I've written about here before, and almost exclusively in terms of what we'd been told was the most practical and inexpensive of boats to buy: a cofano. A cofano is usually about 5 meters long, usually made of fiberglass (which requires much less maintenance than wood), and there's no shortage of used ones around for sale at reasonable prices.

And yet after all those months of envisioning our practical fiberglass cofano, it is a wood sanpierota that we ended up buying yesterday and towing from a sailing club in Mestre, where its very kind owner had used it, to Venice proper. A sanpierota is also a traditional Venetian craft, but unlike the typical contemporary fiberglass cofano, it can be rowed or used with a sail--rather than just an outboard motor. Ours measures 5.8 meters in length, and is made of compensato marino (or plywood), which means it's very light. It came with a pair of forcole (oarlocks) and remi (oars), which we do know how to use, and a sail, which we do not (yet). A 6 horsepower engine will be arriving for it next week, which is plenty large for such a light boat.

Of course there is nothing very practical in general about living in Venice--not in the opinion of many visitors, at least a couple of whom have told me outright that it strikes them as simply the most impossible inconvenient place they've ever seen. Perhaps this was an argument in favor the more practical choice of a cofano, and yet it was the possibility of rowing and sailing the boat that made it impossible for Jen and I to resist, regardless of any other considerations. For the way we hope to use the boat, only a sanpierota would do.

But I'm afraid I don't even have the time to shape this post into any final form, there's still much to do with the boat--tonight--the details of which I'll spare you. Instead I'll close with something I jotted down in a notebook in April as I watched, as I like to do, boats returning from a day out on the lagoon, something I'm sure contributed largely to my sense that the sanpierota is what we wanted:

"...no fewer than a group of ten people, of all different ages, in a beautifully-painted (red and white) large old underpowered wooden sanpierota. Looks to be about a 6 horsepower engine on it, an ancient one that sounds like a mosquito, and the boat plows slowly, uncertainly among the waves--wavers its way through the waves, you might say, so unsteady and tentative and almost plaintive its lack of power renders it, as it leaves the calm of the Canale di San Pietro and turns into the deep busy waterway of vaporetti and car carriers and big ships leading toward Piazza San Marco.

A woman onboard looks a little sheepish at the quality of their progress and waves vaguely in my direction where I sit on the bench quayside watching, a gesture motivated it seems more by a bit of embarrassment than friendliness or recognition, as it's no one I know. As if the gesture will distract my attention from how the boat lopes and loops and sidles and almost waddles its way along. But she has nothing to be embarrassed about. I stare at the beautiful boat, full of family and/or friends, in unabashed envy, with its four kids sprawled across its foredeck, blissfully at home in the late warm sun, the soft breeze, the amniotic movement."

14 comments:

  1. Sandro must be beside himself with excitement! Do you know the etymology of sanpietora?

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    1. According to the beautifully-produced bilingual book Le Barche di Venezia/The Boats of Venice, Andrew, the name is derived from its place of origin, San Pietro in Volta on the island of Pellestrina.

      Sandro is indeed beside himself. He literally never wants to leave the boat.

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  2. Congratulations!!!! I follow your blog loving reading about your life in Venice I cannot help and smile whilst reading this post and an image comes into my head that if you could you would be sleeping with the boat right next to you just like Sandro did when he got his cart - if ever you wonder where he gets it from - you can hear the excitment in your writing - I shall look out for a very smiley family on a boat when I am next over in July! Enjoy:)

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    1. Thanks very much for your comment,and I suppose now that you mention it, it would be nice to sleep IN the boat (as long as one had mosquito netting). I know Sandro would love to, and I've met an old fisherman--though not that old--who told me how he used to sleep under his sail in his old caorlina (a larger lagoon boat) when he and his partner would stay out on the lagoon for a 15 day stretch of fishing. By July we hope to have enough confidence in our ability with the little outboard motor to be tooling all around the city, so perhaps you will see us in July.

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  3. Nothing like having a boat, and hats off for buying a sanpierota vs. a cofano. More work to maintain but the fun!

    Sandro is a lucky kid, the memories you are building for him will last a life time. Name of the boat?

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    1. Thanks, Laura. We're excited about how much one can do with a sanpierota--such a different feel than a fiberglass cofano. Its name is Refolo--whose meaning you know better than I do--but for those who may not, it means "gust of wind."

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    2. Great name! Happy adventures!

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  4. What a happy post. And, how evocative is your notebook entry in April! Welcome to the new member of your family. I look forward to meeting her next year.

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    1. I look forward to introducing you to her, Yvonne. We may even know how to safely pilot it by then. When is your next visit?

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    2. I'm hoping to be there in May next year, Steven.

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  5. Well, if there's anything Venetians are really famous for, it's boating! And yeah, while tourists may find transportation in Venice to be inconvenient, owning a boat in Venice does make sense! What made you change to a sanpierota from a cofano? Was it because it is has more utility? Either way, I hope you're enjoying your new boat. It certainly seems than Sandro is ecstatic! Take care!

    Kent Garner @ White's Marine Center

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    1. Perhaps the most important factor, Kent, was the fact that you can row a sanpierota in the Venetian way: the one we got is a pleasure to row. And more generally a sanpierota fit in every way the manner in which we imagined we would be using it. A cofano is typically more about getting (quickly) from one place to another. That's not what we wanted a boat for.

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    2. And PS, yes, Sandro is very happy with it indeed.

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