Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Tanta Passione e Tanti Soldi": To Boat or Not to Boat

In recent weeks I find myself coming perilously close to agreeing with my wife and son that we need a boat. In spite of the fact that need actually has nothing to do with it.

One doesn't need a boat to live in Venice as, for example, one needs a car to live in Los Angeles or many other towns in the United States. The places where we buy our groceries, where we buy our fruits and vegetables, meat and cheese, they're all within walking distance of where we live (or one stop away on the vaporetto). Even Sandro's school, located as far away from our apartment as you can get without leaving the city of Venice, is reachable by foot in 50 minutes--which is not much longer than it takes to get there on the vaporetto.

And yet...

One cannot really be a Venetian--even a late-arriving non-Native Venetian--without spending a fair amount of time out on, and out in, the lagoon. The many English and American journalists who write about how "claustrophobic" Venice becomes after 24 or 48 hours inevitably have no experience of the lagoon, which remains as integral a part of life in the city as Piazza San Marco--if not more.

I thought that learning to row in the lagoon would be enough to give me a sense of Venetians' relationship with their watery world--and it certainly has gone a long way toward doing so, but it's not everything. The fact is that every native Venetian I've met without a motor boat of his or her own seems to feel the lack of it, even if--or perhaps especially if--they know they don't really need it.

If you have any doubts about the importance of a motor boat to Venetian identity, just sit on a fondamenta or riva some time and watch Venetians setting out or returning home in their motor boats on a holiday such as the recent Liberation Day. Do Venetians ever look quite so satisfied as when they're seated in a private boat, no matter how small or humble?

As one Venetian friend told me a year ago when the subject of buying a boat came up: "Ah, yes, with a boat you will really be free."

As another told me more recently in regards to a specific boat boat for sale: "It's a small boat, the perfect size to learn in. And with a motor of less than 10 horsepower you won't even need to register it. And without a registration number on the side of the boat, you don't need to worry about tickets." (On Venetians' anxiety about tickets and the one main way they try to avoid receiving them, please see

Of course, the impossibility of finding a place to moor your boat hasn't diminished a bit since I wrote about it over a year ago ( I've found out that you can rather easily apply for a place at any time--but, first, you must present proof that you already own a boat. You cannot apply in anticipation of the boat you plan to buy as soon as you are granted a place to put it.

Then, once you and your verified boat have put in your application, you must wait a couple of years to actually get a spot.

What do you do with your boat in the interim? You ask everyone you even vaguely know whether they have any leads on a spot: perhaps a friend of a friend's grandparent who's gotten too far along in age to use the mooring place that came with his or her canal-side house. Perhaps someone who's willing to rent you their empty spot on the sly. Or there are private marinas with spots available to rent, such as the one on Certosa. A mooring place there, I've heard, may run you at least 1,500 euro per year.

And yet... With a motor of less than 20 horsepower you need not even bother to get a license to operate a boat. The little boat that a friend of a friend is selling is a traditional Venetian style boat in fiberglass; only about 4 meters in length, and low-sided. It's perfect for tooling around the city; less so for wavy days or wake-y heavily-trafficked canals--though the current owner's wife and daughters regularly use the boat to go between Venice and Burano.

Some friends with boats tell me that a small used motor from a reliable repair shop--the one they take their boats to--won't cost much at all.

But what I keep coming back to is what another friend--who drives mototopi (large Venetian workboats) five days a week--recently told me. To own a boat, he said, whether of wood (with its annual maintenance requirements) or plastic, requires "Tanta passione e tanti soldi" [a lot of passion and a lot of money]."

The problem in my case is that while my amount of the former seems to be growing when it comes to boats, my amount of the latter remains quite constant.


  1. A conundrum indeed! I appreciate there are sound logistical/ financial reasons for NOT getting a boat but here are some reasons in favour of the propsition:
    1) Sandro will never forget growing up in Venice, tooling around on a boat. He will acquire that uniquely Venetian insouciance as he nimbly manages steering and docking.
    2) Will you ever again have the opportunity to be a Venetian resident AND boat owner?
    3) Your eager readers will appreciate your expanded capacity to share Venice with us.

    Best of luck with your deliberations!

    1. You present 3 very persuasive points, CV! Of course the side of me that's trying to resist doesn't appreciate them at all precisely because they're basically impossible to argue against.

      A friend would let Sandro steer his boat sometimes when Sandro was still only 3, so he's gotten a bit of a start toward that "insouciance" you mention. As long as it doesn't develop into that full-blown, well, arrogance of most Venetian water taxi drivers, who have v. bad reputations.

  2. I had not even finished reading your first paragraph when I though to myself "He is becoming a true Venetian". Lovely post!

    1. Thank you, Susie, I'm glad you enjoyed the post--and that you don't write me off as merely a wannabe! But I really need to speak more Italian and, if not Venetian, at least a good sampling of Venetian parolaccie (bad words).

    2. I'm sure Sandro could teach you a few naughty Venetian words! ;)

    3. His, er, language acquisistion in that regard, Susie, has slowed as he no longer attends an infamous public asilo in Castello. I believe he's also gotten more crafty about keeping them to himself...

  3. Owning a boat (again!) or not owning a boat and relying on friends for watery outings (the current situation) is a discussion that happens in this household on a regular basis. And we don't - unfortunately - live in Venice! But then I am married to someone whose only idea of relaxation is being on the water - and hang the expense.......

    But I'm with the pro-boat group on this one, a little boat does seem to be a necessary and wonderful part of really living in Venice.

    1. I find some comfort in learning from you, Mary, that we're not the only ones who struggle with such a decision: having never been a position in which it came up, it's all new to me. Do you live near a sea (ocean), lake, or river?

      I think you're right--though I'm not able to say hang the expense, so now have to consider what those expenses might be beyond the obvious. For example, a friend just told me that one night someone crashed into his boat where he moors it outside his house (a hit and run), destroying the motor's cover. Of course the cover had to be replaced or the elements would wreak havoc on the parts inside, and the cover alone cost 1,000 euro. And it was a used cover! So...

    2. We've always lived near some type of water - and I met my husband of 35 years - while we were both regularly sailing. Until a few years ago we lived very near some terrific protected sailing water on Port Phillip bay in Victoria (Australia). Now we live overlooking the Southern Ocean, which is the opposite of 'protected'! I've happily moved on from 'feeling the boating need', but for Jon it is very much the best way to relax.

      A trip to Venice for him always includes several watery jaunts - usually courtesy of Brussa's boats - which are not the most nimble in small canals let me tell you, but he loves the opportunity for some puttering about the canals, a dash across to Giudecca, and swanning up the Grand Canal!

      At home he is currently boating the inexpensive way - using other people's - but a quick look at the computer's internet history or the magazines littering the living room will show that another boat is very much simmering away.

      And yes I VERY much understand the ongoing horrendous expenses associated with boats...... there is always a never ending list of vial things they absolutely need, or could do with to make them better, annual maintenance, those huge mooring fees....... etc etc etc. And as for hit-runs on the canals of Venice - how absolutely rotten!!

      I still think that the Getting a Boat wins - but good luck with making a decision.

    3. It's nice to have the opinion of someone with so much experience on the water, Mary, someone who's not a Venetian but still familiar with going about on the lagoon and its canals. So many other things have suddenly come up lately that there's been no time to consider the boat issue any further, but I know it's not going anywhere. I wonder if there's some advantage to waiting until Sept?

  4. Oh, boy, I don't think anyone will come down on the "No boat" side, somehow. We should all pledge a certain amount per month to help defray your ongoing costs, perhaps?

    1. Well, okay, Yvonne, no one needs to flat out say "no boat," but if only their points in favor of one were less sensible I'd still have some chance of maintaining my place on the fence. As for pledges, I consider your reading of this blog as generosity enough.

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