About 9:00 last night, while reading on the couch on a rare night off, I got the call. While fighting the last blast of wind, Jacomo, an excellent gondolier, feet away from the lee of our canal, heard and felt a massive "crack". The oar had snapped and Jacomo was hurled forward into the baggage area, dropping the remains of the oar. The blade gone Jacomo focused on keeping his passengers safe and calm while the gondola flew side ways toward the yachts and docks on the other side of the main canal. At the last moment, Jacomo, 2 meters tall, stood to his full height, his body acting like a sail, he was able to land stern first and roll the rest of the gondola against the dock instead of slamming into it. Then he called me.
Within 15 minutes I was leaving the dock in the sandolo with extra remi and with Roto Sorixo, another gondolier. The resourceful Jacomo had already arranged transportation for his passengers and Roto and I arrived to bring the vessel back. We walked the dock for a while looking for the oar pieces. It was a full moon but the wind, waves, and 11 miles of canals made finding the oar a needle in a haystack. We gave up the search, Roto rowed Nelly back and I followed in the sandolo.
We have never lost an oar. On three occasions gondola oars, improperly stored, have slid from the gondolas at night and, after a search, we have always (grazie Deo) found them. So now, not only was the oar broken, it was gone, and it alone could answer the big question "Why?".
It was 11:00pm I looked at Roto and said "We have never lost an oar I am going to go find it."
Roto looked at the sky and the black, wind swept, waters and meaningfully said "Good Luck."
I rowed vaisana to the place where the oar snapped and made a guess based on wind direction, and the swift incoming tide, where it might go. Gusts up to 22 mph (30+ kph) were a gentle reminder of my great cross lagoon row of '09 from which my left shoulder has not recovered. I rowed and sailed to where I figured the oar might be. Tying off the sandolo I began to walk along the docks with a flash light knowing the odds were against me. But there it was, the blade, 8 feet of it, bobbing against the floats of the dock. To say I was happy with myself is to say the least.
In 11 years of rowing I have only seen one oar snap. It was an old gondola oar, worn from years of use as the stern oar for a 14 passenger caorlina, and it snapped on a windy day. Our oar was two months old, it was aboard the lightest of our gondolas "Nelly". I have a collection of gondola oars, most of them were old when they were shipped over in the gondolas, but not one has broken and they have been through much worse wind than last night. It was the first time in 4 years of operations that one of our boats didn't finish a cruise.
There will be critics, those who say the oar was used incorrectly etc., This is why the recovery of the pieces was critical. I did not want a cloud over Jacomo. By the grace of San Marco, I found the blade and the tale it tells exonerates Jacomo. He was beaten, not by the wind, but by his equipment.