The gozzo sorrentino is the typical wooden fishing boat of the Amalfi Coast and Sorrentine peninsula. It is both practical and elegant with its rounded stern, its polished gunwales curving gently up to the raised bow, and its ‘panciuto’ or plump appearance when seen from above – which provided stability in high seas and a large deck area for landing the day’s catch.
Today only a handful of artisanal boatbuilders keep the tradition of the gozzo sorrentino alive, among them Bottega del Gozzo, which still operates out of the old Sorrento fishing port of Marina Grande. This family-run firm both makes and restores the traditional wooden boats that have plied the waters south of Naples for centuries.
Inside the workshop that burrows into the cliff behind Marina Grande’s beach, wooden boats in various stages of construction occupy the central space, while planks of seasoned wood are stacked around the whitewashed walls, alongside templates, workbenches and clamps, pots of paint, oil and caulk. Few power tools are on show; mostly, chief boatbuilder Vincenzo Aprea works with chisels and other traditional hand tools – as befits a maestro d’ascia or ‘axe master’ – the name given in Italy to a skilled boatbuilding carpenter.
Part of Vincenzo’s job, he explains, is selecting and seasoning the wood from which each gozzo is made. Mulberry is one of the woods still used for the boat’s skeleton, as it is easily worked, has a straight grain, and does not decay in contact with water. The trick, Vincenzo tells us, is to find planks from a trunk with just the right degree of natural curvature.
Once the boat is planked and decked, it’s time to apply the colour. The frame timbers will already have been sealed with boiled linseed oil, which gives them a jaunty orange hue. For the hull, either pearly white or traditional colours such as emerald green or coral are favoured. But Bottega del Gozzo also make the tiny boats that ferry visitors into Capri’s Blue Grotto – and local tradition and by-laws stipulate that these can only be white and baby blue.
Bottega del Gozzo’s exquisite works of nautical art are destined for collectors and coastal sailors who prefer vintage crafts to today’s fibreglass and resin boats. The company also has a close connection with a local folk group, Sorrento Folk, which is dedicated to keeping the town's 'tarantella' musical and cultural traditions alive. In 2017, Aprea made a gozzo especially for the group which was launched on Marina Grande beach. Called 'A Tarantell, it currently takes visitors on short excursions around the port – courtesy of Giusy Apreda, one of the founders of Sorrento Folk, who rows the boat standing up, like a true gozzo pilot, dressed in traditional costume.
Photos © Roberto Salomone
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