Why the Venetian gondola looks lopsided

The Venetian gondola is a sublime work, beautiful to behold and ingeniously designed to navigate the threadlike canals of the city of Venice.

But while it might seem like a masterpiece of symmetry, if you look at a gondola along its bow or stern you might notice it's fatter on the left side than on the right, and longer along the waterline.

The port, or left side, is 23 centimetres wider than the starboard side.

The reason is the gondolier rows with a single oar on the right side, which is where the forcola, the oarlock, is located.

This would give the gondola a tendency to bear towards the left, and in the narrow canals of Venice this would be fatal.

A gondola costs around €30,000 and its glossy black sides are delicate.

By making the vessel longer on the left it creates a natural resistance on that side and cancels out the tendency to steer left. In that way the gondola travels in a straight line, even when the gondolier is applying all his power to the stroke.

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