Boats of Venice

We just came back from a vacation in Italy and we wanted to share some of our thoughts about Venice in relation to its boats and waterways.

The city is known for its unique public transportation system. No motor vehicles are allowed in the city so everyone gets around by water taxi, waterbus (vaporetto) or on foot.

Vaporetto on the Grand Canal

Vaporetto on the Grand Canal

A water taxi will pick you up at the airport or train station and transport you and your luggage to your hotel. We entered the city via the Lagoon and the Grand Canal in a water taxi from the airport. What an entrance…………….

These water taxis are almost all wood, and they appear to be marine plywood versus mahogany board; they are approximately 28-32 feet, and are propelled by pump jet (similar to the PBRs of the Vietnam Operation Markettime in the Delta fame) or the Hinckley Picnic boats. I’ve never seen such boat handling as these drivers did. They could maneuver their taxis between buildings, in a canal of maybe 12-14 feet wide, with 90 degree corners, and get around each other, or multiple gondolas without touching either the building or the gondola. From afar, many appear to look pristine, be they white or natural wood. Upon getting up close and personal, some of them were fairly beat up from hitting against the pilings when they were stopping to get a fare, or when tied up overnight and all the other boats were creating wakes.

Wooden Water Taxi Underway

Wooden water taxi underway

We saw only one conventional inboard in the four days there, and it was in pretty good shape. They are everywhere in Venice. The larger ones will sit 12-14 people comfortably. Venice is truly a wooden boat lover’s paradise. I was ready to sign up for “taxi school” after only two days there, but I couldn’t sell the program.

Of course no visit to Venice would be complete without a ride in a traditional gondola serenaded by live music. We glided through the centuries old canals, under famous arched bridges, past lavish palaces and quaint piazzas. These long, narrow, flat bottomed boats with a high prow and

Gondola in motion

A gondola in motion

stern were designed specifically for the Venetian canals and made in unique shipyards called Squero. It takes many years of apprenticeship for gondoliers to learn how to deftly propel them along the canals. The Squero, once many in number, made all kinds of traditional boats for the Venetian shipping business that was essential at the time for the Venetian Republic’s prosperity. But now very few, with their highly skilled artisans, remain. There are currently 425 gondolas and gondoliers licensed to operate in Venice.

Gondola Repair Shop

Gondola repair shop

Black is the obligatory color, since a local law was passed to reduce how the rich and noble over-decorated their personal craft. The comb on the front of the gondola is made of iron and serves not only to balance the boat, but it is the symbol of gondolas and Venice. The six comb teeth represent the six Venetian districts.

In case this article is more than you want to know, pack your bags and experience Italy in person. Also if you can’t find him in the years to come, Cliff’s next career will be “water taxi captain”. Somehow I don’t think an Irishman in Italy is going to cut it………………..but one never knows.

Water Taxi at Taxi Stand

Water taxi at a taxi stand

Cliff and Patty McGuire

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