Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /14

Last week I left you with a sight of the forward deck, more on it on this post.

As you might have noticed, I avoided the modern, tapering-planks method in favor of a more traditional and efficient way of planking. I believe these two photos here below can explain more than a thousand words what I did:

Here is the finished deck, with the planks cut flush with the breasthook. At the tip of the bow you can see the top of the stem, with two small triangles filling the gap on its sides. These are normally separated from the breasthook but Ioanna liked the idea of making them all out of a single piece.

I haven’t caulked it yet, but it might need to be if the planks shrink too much.

At the bottom of the picture you can see a cross piece made of oak, steam bent into place. In Venice it would be bent with open fire but we went for a method I’m more familiar with.

We then installed the two upper strakes called falche (waterboards in English maybe?). The overlap the sheer plank and are fastened mainly to stanchions and frames (but also into the thwart and the deck cross pieces).

At the aft, the transom got its final cut, and looks very elegant now.

After fastening everything, it was time to flip the boat. We therefore dismantled the strongback, since we have no plans to build another sandolo here in the near future.

Now it’s easy to trim the bottom of the frames, flush with he floor timbers.

We also faired the stem and the filling piece at the bow, ready to install the side planks. These are almost ready, just need a few dutchmen and plugs on a few nasty knots here and there.

The extra width will get cut after they are fastened in their final position.

But the side planks are the last to be installed. First we need to close the bottom.

Since we were afraid the dry bottom planks would swell up once in the water, pushing the side planks out of place, we decided to soak them in the sea for a couple of days.

Such a nice weather, right?

I am not sure how they prevent this from happening in Venice, but I’ll try to find out. That’s it for this week, see you the next one, hopefully with the boat ready to be painted!

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /13

Happy May Day, everyone! Today we are not working, it’s also International Workers’ Day after all.

But this week we had good progress and you can really tell that the boat is getting close to be ready…

To be honest, the week started slowly: on Monday Albaola hosted the press conference for “La Fortuna”, a series produced by Movistar+, and directed by Alejandro Amenábar (

Laguna got a place in the first row.

Some of the scenes were filmed in Pasaia, with the partecipation of tall ship replicas Étoile du Roi ( and Shtandart (,_1999)). We were lucky enough to be invited on board both of them!

After all these distractions, we could get back to work. Ioanna started by caulking the aft deck she had installed last week.

We used oakum instead of cotton string, in order to follow more closely the traditional way.

This might need to be redone after the boat sits under the sun for a while, but we thought that the caulking would prevent the deck planks from warping too much while still out of the water.

Then, together with Alejandro, they managed to prepare four out of five of the sotocorboli, the pieces that will receive the foot of the forcole and prevent them from rocking while rowing.

They have quite a complex shape, as you can see from the one in the bottom right.

Also notice that we painted the interior with some primer, after Ioanna had sanded everything.

This is how the thwarts are traditionally painted, in Venice but also here in the Basque Country.

Regarding this semicircular patter, I was once told that it is a reminiscence of the times when boats were covered in tar. You wouldn’t want to stick to the tar with your “clean” trousers, especially in the summer when it all melts. Therefore the seats would be left without tarring.

We followed the tradition, and oiled the thwart instead (with a mix of boiled linseed oil and turpentine).

I devoted my time to the closing of the forward deck. Ioanna had prepared the breasthook last week, but kindly left it to me to finish.

After installing the first beam and cutting a rabbet on the socheto (breasthook), I positioned two more beams in between with the help of a batten. The beams have been made out of larch, as will the deck.

As you might have noticed, I had the two smaller beams seated too low and decided to glue two small strips on top of them to reach the right height. I was just too lazy to cut new ones.

In this group picture, you can see how the deck turned out. It still need to be fastened, but you can already notice that it is asymmetrical. It’s been made the traditional way, in order to waste as few material as possible.

The new neighbor is a fishing boat called Zardara, whose faith is still uncertain.

After fastening it I will take some more pictures and explain more in detail how it is done.

What’s the plan for next week?

Nailing the forward deck, hanging the washboards (you can see them in the last picture, lying on the floor next to Laguna), fix the stanchions supporting them, fasten the sotocorboli, cut the transom, and maybe even flip the boat and start closing it for good!

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /12

A bit unexpectedly this week I have been to Venice. I took advantage of this opportunity to photograph lots of boats, both under construction and moored along the city’s canals.

Of course I have been rowing a sandolo, too. This one is called “Miss K”.

Needless to say, it was wonderful. Especially now that there are almost no tourists because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in the Basque Country, the work on “Laguna” didnt’ stop. Ioanna and Alejandro kept on going and finished the aft deck and all the stanchions.

There are different ways to build the decks, here is how we decided to do it:

The aft-deck planks are actually notched into the plank on the forward side, in order to give the deck some more steepness.
A cross piece at the aft end prevents the transom from cupping and helps supporting the deck as well.
We nailed the deck planks straight into the edge of the planks, even though they often are nailed into another piece next to the plank.
At the end, a piece is placed on the connection between deck and “gunwales”, to protect the edge of the deck and visually ease the transition between the two different bevels. We also added two small triangular pieces to the planks in order to have an extra-raked deck.

All this seems quite easy and straightforward, but has all been coordinated via messages on Whatsapp and phone calls. Luckily in Venice I had access to many boats and books that I could take pictures of and send to my team.

Our invaluable volunteer helper Alejandro worked on the stanchions (mancoli), which we decided to make slightly taller than the original boat, in order to have a higher washboard (falca), and account for the mistakenly low sides…

Ioanna has also been working on the breasthook (sochéto), but I’ll post more pictures of that next week, together with the other deck.

Oh, and happy April 25th!

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /11

Time to fasten the seat-risers! Or is it?

Normally, the spaces between two frames and seat-riser and outside plank are filled with larch blocks. There is no gunwale on the sandolo s’ciopon and the blocks help strengthen the whole boat.

Usually, every other space is left empty in order to be able to tie a rope around the seat-riser when mooring. This is especially useful if you think that there is no stringer either on this kind of boat.

Here is a picture of another s’ciopon in Venice. Excuse the low res, it came via Whatsapp.

These blocks are traditionally fitted after the seat-riser has been fastened, but we decided it would be easier to fit them before.

We found out later that usually they are only about half the height of the seat-riser, unlike ours.

We also finally installed the last frames, which sit directly onto the stem and don’t have a proper floor timber.

Since they are hidden under the deck, many times they are not even cut like the rest of the frames, and square pieces are used instead. But we had a couple wrong frames left from the previous weeks and decided to recycle them.

Everything nailed into place: the shavings around the boat come from fairing the top edge of both plank and seat-riser.

Alejandro, a volunteer interested in applying for the Aprendiztegi, has been helping us this week, therefore we managed to get a lot of work done.

What do you mean you don’t know what’s the Aprendiztegi?

Here he’s drilling the hole for the mast in the center of the thwart he has been preparing.

We were lucky enough to find a hole saw with the same diameter of the smallest mast we have in Albaola.
The seat-risers get cut in order to notch the thwart, and a hole is carved into the mast step in order to receive the mast.
Then the sides get planed flush to the planks, and nailed from the outside of the boat into the end grain of the thwart.

Next week we’ll focus on closing the decks, plus some other little things… Stay tuned!

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /10

This week was all devoted to the preparation for the launching of the patatxe.

A patatxe (we use the Basque spelling here:, was a light sailing vessel with two masts originally used for patrolling the coastline, especially in this area close to the border near .

Patatxes later took part in trans-Pacific expeditions and because of their speed and versatility they were soon favored by pirates as well.

Here she is: oiled and tarred, and ready to go

The launching went well, and we now have plenty of space in the workshop! Now back to the sandolo.

As you can see from the picture, we found some time to position the stringers and fair the frames in order to fasten them.

We also cut all the frame heads, which is always a difficult and at the same time relieving step in the construction process.

So many lines marked on that frame!

Notwithstanding all the measuring (“measure twice, cut once”, they say), some of them look a bit off and will need to be trimmed again later, until they are all nice and consistent. There is no gunwale on this kind of boats, therefore the frames will be visible and we want them to look good.

It sure starts to look more like a boat now

This week Ioanna and I will be back to work on Laguna at 100% and we hope to get some real progress done.

In fact, there are great news from Venice: apparently, the Vogalonga committee is trying to organize this year’s edition for May 23rd!

In 2020 it was sadly cancelled

We may have a deadline for finishing our project.

I’ll make a post devoted to the Vogalonga further on, when we have more news about this year’s edition… and our possible attendance.

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /9

I am writing today, because we have been working until Easter. The museum of Albaola was open and a few of us students had to keep the workshop “active” while the guided tours passed by. Good for us, because we actually lost a lot of time trying to wrap our head around many small details that are still not so clear in our minds…

All in all, it has been a week devoted to frames. We finally finished and installed all of them!

A detail of the peculiar connection between frame (sancon) and floor timber (piana), called “ponto soto” in Venetian.

Unfortunately, trying the stringers on, we realized that they will need a bit of fairing on the inside of the boat. One of the frames is actually quite different in dimensions, because it was made by a volunteer, interested in joining the school next year.

It’s always difficult to make sure that volunteers have a full picture of what they need to do, probably we should have double- and triple-checked the frame before installing it. Now it’s too late, I hope we can fix it next week without having to disassemble it…

Another volunteer (he’s also interested in the school, let’s hope next year there will be more new people than there were this one), made the mast-step. It touches the bottom of the boat, even though sometimes it is suspended on the frames to allow water to pass below it in the bilge. It raises two cm above the frames, so that it will be flush with the floor boards.

The actual hole for the foot of the mast will be made when we have the thwart/mast-partner in place.

I have started thinking of the forward deck, and cut the first beam out of a curved-grain larch offcut. There will be three beams in total, but I never got to installing it because we still need to trim the edges of the planks.

This is where we lost a lot of time. The edge of the planks, which is now square, has a rolling bevel with the angle changing as you move towards the ends of the planks, where it flares out. This bevel is usually planed “by eye”, and we don’t have that skill yet.

The top of the planks also affects the angle at which the frame-heads will be cut (the edge is not level, since Venetian gunwhales are usually tilt outwards). Nobody wants to cut them and then find out they are too short!


My boatbuilder friend Nicolò Zen has been helping me a lot during the last weeks, and he has sent me a couple interesting things lately. The first one is a picture of the boat from which the plans we are using were taken:

Say hello to Gino

The second one is a video. And what a video. It’s an episode of “Pianeta mare” hosted by Tessa Gelisio, from Italian tv channel Rete4. From the info I could gather (here: it was aired on March 2007.

It’s a two-day build of a s’ciopon by Agostino Amadi (this one:, one of the most renowned names among Venetian boatbuilders.

Two days from start to finish, yes.

It is amazing and depressing at the same time.

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /8

Sorry if I am bit late with this update on last week’s progress. As I mentioned in my last post, we had a press conference on Wednesday, and this weekend I have been busy looking for all the articles that have been published. They are quite a few, both in Spanish and Basque (plus an Italian one, on a local newspaper of Venice).

You can find them all here:

But let’s go back for a second at the beginning of the week. This is the boat as we left it the previous week.

It starts looking like a boat, right?

We had decided we wanted to have something to show to the journalists, so on Tuesday we finally nailed the sheer planks on.

Galvanized nails are our fastening of choice: traditionally irreproachable and also cheap!

Here a close-up of the new stem (the cutwater still needs to be shaped). The nail heads will later be covered with puddy, and then painted over together with the sides. On the plank it’s easy to spot one (or two) diamond-shaped repairs, which replaced dead knots.

Not sure the dutchman on the bottom side is visible from here, though (same reason, but with knot too close to the edge)

All in all, the boat looks cool. We took out our oars and forcole, plus an ikurrina ( and even a Venetian flag ( Thanks to our colleague Antoine’s parents for this last one!

Here: judge by yourself

Very happy with the result, after the press left we realized we had actually hanged the planks lower than they should have been. This is what you get when you work in a hurry!

Nobody noticed, of course, and until the boat stays in the Basque Country nobody ever will, probably. But today a Venetian friend (Gilberto Penzo, the author of the plans, nonetheless) called me to ask why the sheer looked so low…

I guess that for your first construction you are bound to make mistakes.

The problem is that by now we have already started fitting in the other frames, nailing them in place. There’s no way to move the planks now.

I really hope nobody else has Gilberto’s eye out there.

Albaola’s museum will open this Easter, so we’ll keep working through the holidays. I hope we can finish all the frames, and install the seat-riser by the end of the week. Maybe we might as well start thinking about the decks?

Intermezzo – Rassegna stampa

Il 25 marzo, con la scusa che era il 1600° anniversario della fondazione di Venezia, abbiamo tenuto ad Albaola una conferenza stampa per presentare ufficialmente al pubblico il progetto del sandolo Laguna.

Il museo infatti riaprirà al pubblico per la Semana Santa, per poi iniziare ad aprire nei fine settimana di aprile e, si spera, di nuovo a tempo pieno a partire da maggio.

La risposta è stata molto positiva, per cui ho deciso di raccogliere qui sotto gli articoli mano a mano che usciranno.

Gaur Egun, 25 marzo 2021 14:00, EiTB 1 (notiziario della tv pubblica basca)

“Albaola construye un barco de trabajo veneciano”, Noticias de Gipuzkoa

“El astillero Albaola presenta su ‘barco veneciano’ y reabre al público”, El Diario Vasco (paywall)

“‘Laguna’, un sándolo veneciano que se está construyendo en Albaola”, Naiz

“‘Laguna’, un sándolo veneciano que se está construyendo en Albaola”, Gara (paywall)

“Un Sándolo s’ciopón en Albaola, Pasaia, 1600 aniversario de la fundación de la ciudad de Venecia”, GipuzkoaDigital

“Albaola reabre sus puestas al público esta Semana Santa”, Cadena SER, Radio San Sebastián

“Albaola, Aste Santuan barriro zabalik”, Bizkaie!

“Saul diventa maestro d’ascia a Venezia e con il “sandolo s’ciopon” solcherà l’Oceano Atlantico”, La Nuova di Venezia e Mestre (paywall)

Non poteva mancare il sito di Gilberto Penzo, autore dei piani di costruzione e coordinatore del rilievo dell’originale. Alcune delle foto pubblicate sul suo sito sono inedite:

E ovviamente il sito di Albaola:

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /7

This week was a short one: Friday was San José (Saint Joseph), Father’s Day and national holiday in Spain.

It sort of makes sense that we wouldn’t work. After all, he’s the patron saint of all carpenters (including boatbuilders). For sure Noah would have been a much better choice, since he was an actual shipwright (Medieval depictions of him building the ark offer a wonderful representation of the tools of the trade, which haven’t changed much since then).

But Noah was not so lucky, having made the mistake of being born before the coming of Christ. He was friend with God and saved all humanity (plus the animals, obv), but he was not a Christian and therefore is spending the rest of times in Hell. Probably forever fairing a hull that will never be fair, or sanding something for eternity… I could not thing of a more terrible torture.

Anyways, let’s not dwell on theology, we have a boat to build!

This week Ioanna has finished planing the after filler block, so that the side planks arrive nice and snug, hopefully without letting water in.

I bet Noah would have liked a power planer

We have also cut both sheer planks at the desired width (around 20/25cm), drilled out some nasty knots and plugged them, and painted the inside with a first coat of primer. It is much easier to do it now then after they will be hanged, with all those frames installed.

I have spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out the shape of the plank at the bow, and how they meet with the stem.

After some trial and error, and a few phone calls and pictures sent to a boatbuilder in Venice friend of mine, I have come to the conclusion that:

  • the stem was set at the wrong height;
  • the rabbet I had cut was not quite in the right position.

Also, as a bonus, I had forgotten that the edge of the plank should be cut at an angle inferior to 90°, so that it gets trapped into the stem.

Long story short: on Thursday I took off stem and forward filler block, and milled up a new one. I will be installing it next week.

This is what happens when you have never built a boat of this kind before and you don’t have a boat to copy near to you to use as reference. But it’s probably what makes it more fun. Maybe.

On a more light note, if you follow my stories on Instagram (@acqua_stanca) you already saw our new mascot, that Ioanna (@io_moutu) bought: a miniature decoy duck. The full-sized ones are called stampi in Venetian and were used when hunting in the lagoon of Venice. The boat is a s’ciopon, after all.

Have you got any good name suggestions? For the duckie, I mean.

Next week we’ll have a press conference to present the project to the local newspapers, let’s hope we have something nice to show them!

Building a traditional Venetian boat in the Basque Country /6

At last, the patatxe has been moved, and Ioanna and I were finally able to fasten our cantier (the strongback) and start building the sandolo for real. The countdown has officially started: let’s see how long will it take us to finish it.

On the right, our Laguna, on the left Potxua being restored, and in the background the patatxe, still with a strap hanging from the crane.

After marking the colomba (keel-plank) with a centerline and all the frame stations, and making sure it sits level across on the whole length of the cantier, I embarked in the task of fitting the stem, while Ioanna did the same with the transom.

We chose oak for the stem because we have plenty available (a luxury we will miss after we leave the Aprendiztegi, I am sure). We didn’t have any wide oak offcuts to use as transom, so we went with larch, which would be the traditional wood choice in Venice, anyways.

Here’s a look at all the parts together for the first time

With the help of a couple battens, I traced the lines of the rabbet on the stem, and carved it with a chisel. I wasn’t really sure of the shape it would have, but it turns out it is basically a straight line. Now, that’s convenient. I left some extra material in there, you never know: we’ll probably have to adjust the bevel slightly eventually.

A Venetian boatbuilder would probably have used an adze (just like the ones seen on the wall on the left) to cut this. They aren’t called “maestri d’ascia” for nothing, after all…

Since we are actually copying an existing s’ciopon, of which we have the exact measurements, we decided to add and extra step to the traditional construction method and place the first and last frames as well, in order to get a more precise idea of the shape of the boat and, most importantly, height of the sheer.

Frame number 1 and frame number 18 in place, together with the central one (number 10). Notice the rabbet on the stem as well.

Once the frames were in place, the following step has been fitting two filler blocks. These have a triple function:

  • they give some extra material for the nails to bite into (In these small portions of the boat converge all the side and bottom planks, with their fastenings);
  • they help connect transom and stem to the keel plank (more nails);
  • they displace water that would otherwise collect into the bilge, in places under the aft and fore decks, i.e. not always easy to bail and with lack of air circulation = prone to rot.

Once we had everything fitted, we bedded the parts with a mix of linseed-oil based putty and primer (and some blood, because accidents happen). We then nailed everything into place and we were ready for the next step: hanging the sheer planks.

Well, first of all we actually had to go and find suitable planks. Our larch stock is only six meter long, so we considered scarfing two planks together in order to reach the 6,30m (more or less) we needed. But luckily, someone remembered of a pile of cypress planks, which were the left over from a boat we had build in the school two years ago.

Dry stock usually ends up under the belly of the San Juan, the replica of a 16th Century Basque whaler sunk off the coast of Labrador

Obviously the planks that were left were full of dead knots and spikes, but since they are very wide and we only need planks of around 25cm width, we probably found something good enough for us.

Here they are, all planed down to 1,6cm and waiting to be cut and set up next week

The smell of cypress when you cut it is amazing!