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.