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Venetian kayaks

Kayaks aren’t as foreign to Venice as one might think. In the 19th century several types of kayak-like  boats could be seen in the canals of Venice. They were of an indigenous design, hence not related to the kayaks of the Inuits in any way, but with a striking similarity.

They were referred to as sandali a sbatole.

Sandalo a sbatole - Venetian kayak

The sandalo is a traditional Venetian type of boat, normally 5-9m in length, shorter than a gondola, but with very little rocker, and the kayak-like boats looked a lot like small sandali. The main difference is that a sandalo is normally rowed alla veneta, that is, like a gondola standing up using a one blade oar, while the sandalo a sbatole was rowed sitting down with a two blade paddle.

The second part of the name, a sbatole, refers to the paddle or the way it is paddled. The word sbatola is essentially the same as spatula in English.

Little is known about the actual use of these boats, but apparently they were rented to tourists and hotel guests, so they could move around the city at their leisure.

The photo below is a very curious sandalo a sbatole, shaped as a fish.  It is a detail from a larger photo, taken in the St. Mark’s basin in the second half of the 19th century. Note how few waves there are in the basin, compared with today.

Sandalo a sbatole - Venetian fish-shaped kayak

This boat, or one very similar, is now on display at the Museo della Marineria di Cesenatico. Gilberto Penzo has a photo of this boat at the museum.

The above material comes from, by Gilberto Penzo, which is an impressive collection of information Venetian boats of all kinds, from the Bucintoro to the modern vaporetti.

Photos reproduced with kind permission of Gilberto Penzo –

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