Do these paddles look familiar? They are gondola oars. I think they look a lot like very large Greenland paddles. Isn't it interesting how over a thousand years of gondola evolution the business end of the oar took on the same shape as a Greenland paddle?
I love Venice. It was by far my favorite stop on our Europe tour. Of course I was overcome with fantasies of exploring all the canals and islands by kayak. I know people have done it before and written about it, although I think it might be illegal or at least very difficult to pay off the right officials to get permission. I've read that gondoliers give dirty looks to foreigners messing around in kayaks and getting in their way.
Gondola design fascinated me. Why do they have such high upturned ends? Is it just "wasted length", as Corey Freedman said about Greenland kayaks? What is the big metal piece on the bow for? And how can one person paddle (row?) a gondola from one side only?
Gondole have asymmetric hulls. Look at an empty gondola head on and you'll see that they lean to the right. They are about 5 ft wide but the left side is 1 ft wider than the right. That acts to balance the weight of the gondolier who stands on the left side at the stern. The stern is high to give the gondolier better visibility. The high bow with the iron bowpiece (ferro) acts to counterbalance the weight of the gondolier. When you see these boats in action you realize quickly why the waterline length is relatively short for an 11 m long boat. They can make incredibly tight turns in small canals. The ferro protects the bow as it scrapes against those old brick buildings.
They are not all the same design. I saw some that had flat ends also (and maybe symmetric hulls?). But they are ALL painted black. I was never able to figure out why until I read this article.