Friday, 22 February 2008

James Joyce's 'needleboats'

I have been searching the web for a possible original for the 'needleboats' that James Joyce watched on the Adriatic at Trieste in his poem 'Watching the Needleboats'.
The top suspect is the Venetian sandolo, because it is one of the most needle-like boats you can actually stand up in, but I understand it is used only in the lagoon, not the open waters of Trieste.
The standard boat type in the Adriatic is called the batana, which might be a needleboat although it is a rather beamier dory-style hull wiht a tombstone transom.
In Rovinj, further down the coast in Istria (Croatia) the batana is cherished.
The hull may be a familiar shape but the rigging is extraordinary.
The boat is usually rowed standing up facing forward, the oars working in thole pins on the ends of a cross beam that forms a pair of outriggers. Most boats seem to have Venetian style forcoli as well, so they can be rowed like a gondola.
The mast is set almost in the centre of the boat, with a balanced lugsail decorated with a symbol signifying the family that owns it, so the wife can put the kettle on as soon as her old man's sail is spotted coming into the harbour.
There is a splendid description of the batana on Istrianet, and there is a rather spiffing museum in Rovinj devoted to it.
Most villages on the Istrian coast will have batanas for hire, apparently, but Virtual Tourist has a stern warning about checking their seaworthiness before setting off in a boat hired at Porec:
"In case you wont to rent local type of rowing boat, you better check its conditiones before. If there is a long period of sunny and dry weather and you find the bottom of the boat is wet just quit of renting it. In case you don't trust to my advice, this is what might happen to you."

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