Friday, May 15, 2009


This is why Venice and its lagoon continues to be magical for those who live there:

The Friends of Sanpierotta are proposing a way of life, with traditional wooden boats, that is respectful of the lagoon and the city. To perpetuate the habits of their ancestors in Venice, a city of water, this humble fishing and working boat is recognized as one of the most secure and safe vessels for canals and lagoon.

The history of this traditional boat is contained in the everyday life story of lagoon fishing practiced by the fishermen of San Pietro in Volta, a town on the island of Pellestrina, the source of its name. Similar to the "sandolo”, San Piero is lanceolata in shape with straight sides. It measures about seven meters and is built in larch or oak. While other types of boats from the lagoon have long been extinct, the sanpierotta is going through a period of recovery. Robust, safe and spacious, it can be equipped with one, two or three sails. It is unsuitable for a single rower, but lends itself to the popular "a Valaisan", with two oars.

Prior to the use of engines in small fishing boats, the sanpierotta was equipped with oars and a mast with a single sail for favorable wind conditions. Among the older fishermen of Pellestrina there was a picturesque tradition of dyeing the sails with vibrant colors using natural dyes. This treatment protected the sail, which was a very expensive accessory for fishermen who lived in poverty. Special designs with distinctive symbols and color combinations represented each family, which allowed people on the island to identify any boat from shore.

Life aboard the small flat-bottomed boats was not easy for these fishermen. They fished anytime conditions were favorable, dependent on weather, tide and season, for the duration of a particular fishery. In the summer, when the lagoon was full of fish, extended trips in a small boat required ingenuity to make men as comfortable as possible. For shelter from rain and burning summer sun, the boats mounted what fishermen called pellestrinotti tiom, a typical shelter of reed mats supporting a canvas soaked in linseed oil to make it waterproof.

Course meals were prepared and consumed in the boat. The Pellestrina fishermen, preferring good food, trusted the preparation of meals to the oldest member of the crew, who was the most experienced and talented cook. Eating was not confined to a schedule, but indulged when work was slack. To be able to cook on board a wood boat, without running the risk of triggering a fire, the fughèra, a wooden box of about half a meter wide, lined with tin and filled partially with sand, contained a fire of wood. The embers of this fire improvised a grill on which fish, taken from the catch, simmered. A typical meal consumed in the fishing boat would include fish, polenta, and some fresh vegetables. Then there was wine, in which fishermen could take comfort during long vigils in the boat, on cold and stormy nights.

These are precious memories from elderly islander fishermen, of a world of weariness, fear and danger, but also of joy and love. The profound transformations of modernity and a rapidly changing society have not spared the small islands of the lagoon or Venice and have led to the abandonment of traditions, condemning them to oblivion.

This was the stimulus for a search for the living voice of the oldest fishermen's traditional culture of Pellestrina by:
Rita Vianello, Pellestrina fishermen, the fishing culture of the island
veneziana, Cierre Edizioni / Canova, 2004.

(translation by Doryman)


Unknown said...

Super Michael, you should be elected as the best Sanpierotta promoter in the world. Next thursday I will meet the mayor of Venice and I will talk about you. Maybe he will invite you here to see and sail the traditional Venetian boats. Atually the is a big show i the Arsenale where many old boat were built starting from the ninth century till 1960.
Is a wonderful scenery and set to expose boat. In the arabian language A'zana, means, the place where boat are built, indeed!
Thank you Michael
A big hug giacomo

doryman said...

I've come to love the sanpierotta, it's true. One frustration for me is that there is not more documentation of these beautiful boats available in English.
I hope to rectify this!
Nothing would be more appropriate for me than to visit and sail in the lagoon on a traditional vessel. I would love to see some of these fine craft under construction too, even if I need to build one myself!

You are responsible for introducing me to the sanpierotta, Giacomo and for that I am grateful!
All my best to you my friend!

Thomas Armstrong said...

Michael, I am also falling for this boat and the culture around it. English would be great. While there are plenty of boats and lifestyles worthy of preservation here at home, there are also many , or at least some , groups attempting to do so. I know there are strong preservation efforts afoot in Britain and Ireland,Scandinavia and France as well, but for the rest of Europe and the Mediteranean basin? Traditions, technologies and the language tied to them are disapearing at an alarming rate. I hope we can support preservation efforts worldwide and perhaps ha ve some effect.

Great post

doryman said...

You are prescient! I was just looking at your blog about kayaks as you were here reading about sanpierotta!

I would be proud to be the one to introduce this boat (and the many other boats of the lagoon) to the US. Even to the point of building one. I may have to clone myself to accomplish that...

You are right, there seems to be little documentation of these beautiful boats outside the Mediterranean, so I'm on it - and will offer as much as I can find, hopefully with help from my new Italian friends!

Thank you for your support... and keep up the good work on your end - truly an inspiration.