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May 23rd, 2024
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Nicolò Giraldi: a boat’s “whimper”


Protagonista: Nicola Giraldi

In the Monfalcone industrial area there are waterways that draw a peculiar geography.
Hangars and boats, cranes and flagpoles led the enthusiast and the curious in a niche world but very fascinating and full of connections to the tradition.
Between hulls under repair or under, Nicolò Giraldi is moving with ease, as a genuine Piranese.

“I was born in San Bortolo, in via Paderno 702” he underlines immediately, unfolding his local seaman and shipwright frankness; status conquered on the field, a very prestigious business card. But in order to understand his way, it’s important beginning with the boy who played and worked in Sicciole/Sečovlje Salt Pans.

“San Bortolo was in the countryside but my grandpa had important duties in the salt pans, so he took us to work with him.
I started school in Sicciole/Sečovlje when I was six, then I continued the fifth year and the vocational school in Pirano. But when I was home I had a duty: I helped in the field to harvest and sow.
When I was almost seven, as I was independent I had the task to take lunch to my grandpa in the Salt Pans. Forty-five minutes of walking, playing and dreaming.
I was very attached to my grandpa, because he was the male figure I saw more at home. My father, actually, sailed on small cruise ships and once even on a Spanish Minister’s yacht. This happened until 1937 then the Civil war in Spain and later the World War 2 broke out and everything was disrupted”.

How were your days at the Salt Pans?
They were wonderful because we didn’t just go to work but also to fish: some cuttlefish, some “quatto” or also mullet. It was also funny help my grandpa to get the right amount of water from the sea and from the main canal (and we called it river) into the “cavedini” (salty basins), passing through the moat, the “morari” (a tank where the water stayed still), the “corboli”(tanks for evaporation), in the tank with the wind machine, then in the “live” and “servidori” (small basins as many as cavedini) and finally into “cavedini” where what remained was the salt.
When we expected the rain, the mother water was conveyed into the pits from where it was restored (gottata) with the bottazzo, to keep to crystallize the salt the following day.”

For you guys, was it a sacrifice or it was fun?
Both of them, because we wanted to play and it clashed with the work’s duty.
We were young, we walked all day barefoot and the salt pans everything was very hot, above all when it was the moment to collect the salt. The mud’s temperature, even if they were dry, exceeded 50 degrees and from time to time you had to dip your feet into the water.

In what year did you start to work at the squero (boatyard) of Pirano?
“It was 1948/1949.
It had recently changed its name, the boatyard was no longer private, it was called “Cantieri Piranesi” and it was owned by the Yugoslav Government or th Municipality, I can’t say it precisely, I worked there until the end of 1950 when I decided to leave for Argentina to work in their boatyards.

Why did you choose like that?
My father was on a factory ship and he decided to stop in Argentina.
I was under 18 then and I stayed with my family.
And I wanted to learn the trade well and there I could work in the boatyards.
Meanwhile I did my registration, as a matter of tradition because I am from Piran and a Piranese life, you know, is the sea. But in those years Italy wasn’t organized yet, after the war boarding was  very difficult if you waited for the general call.
They called me in 1962 but I had been abroad over ten years, just to know how it worked then.”

Who were the first masters in the construction site in Pirano?
My boss was a Roman gentleman, Tamaro, and then there was Antonio Trani who was a good master carpenter and Gino Desina who was a Friulan who had moved to Pirano for many years, and then Cassetti, d’Alessio and many others”.

What did they teach you?
“During the day we worked and in the evening we went to school to learn theory too.
They didn’t use too many words.
I remember that the general head, Mr Apollonio, when I was seventeen and half called me: “Come here, picio” he told me in dialect and he showed me a 22 metres long, beautiful,straight enough trunk and he added: “Now I teach you how to saw it and how to make it square, and when it will be squared, a little with the ax, a little with the cleaver you make it round.
He first showed me then he taught to cut into eighths and sixteenths until you get the rounded shape. This was my first mast, for a vessel under repair.

How long did you stay in Argentina?
“Thirteen years.
And I made my first glued mast. I worked for someone with the passion for racing, he already had a dragon and one under construction for which I made my first glued mast in Argentina.
Then we made another boat for a Norwegian suited for Rio della Plata.
We moved and I had to work in a specialized carpentry: I made doors, windows and furniture. In Piran I had left my girlfriend and after five years she came to Argentina and we got married.
But the situation was getting worse and in 1963 I decided to go back home; Meanwhile my son was born and thus, in October 1963 I was back to Trieste.”

Why did you go back to Trieste?
A little bit of nostalgia and a little bit of the climate that my wife couldn’t bear.
I went to work at Craglietto where I found the same master of my beginning, Mr Trani and Sergio Crismafrom Portorose/Portorož, a little older than me, who left Piran due to exodus.
With Crisma we decided to set up our own business and we started building a five-meter boat on the model of the Lussino/Losinj flounder.
The second order was for a fishing boat, then he asked us to realize a small ten meters cutter and then, thanks to word of mouth we build boat after boat for twenty-six years.

Who made the drawings?
“Usually Carlo Sciarelli but many times the client gave them to us. Some of our boats won the first editions of the Barcolana (boats race in Trieste).”

Is there a boat of which you are particularly proud?
“Her name is Lauriga, three partners proposed her to us. Beautiful had even been Lisa, designed by Vismara in 1988. And then Valentina, a real champion, for a gentleman from Milan on Sciarelli’s project and Zeliga a fifteen metres for a gentleman from Turin.”

What makes a boat beautiful?
“The love you use while you are building it and then it depends on the client: if he is nice the result is good, on the contrary if he is capricious, alas…
The relationship between client and builder is decisive, as when creating a jewel.
Sciarelli often repeats it: a boat is born in nine months like a child. Not always, however, because the 18 meters boat took us two years to complete it.”

The most exciting moment?
The day before the launch, the agitation is sky high: for the transport, the impacts with water, because there will be a crane to hold it floating.
When it finally float and everything is ok, it’s a moment of joy”.

The launch nowadays is a feast, was it like that even in Pirano?
“During the years I worked at the squero, we hadn’t the chance to make great celebrations; the people from Pirano, the week after the launch of a new boat, went to Strugnano/Strunjan to have it blessed. Craglietto, too, had a priest friend, and he said that the boat had to be blessed before putting it in the water”.

And of course you had to toast?
“We always toasted, but not in the Greek way.
Their tradition says that a lamb and to be slaughtered on the bow so that the blood dips on the deck, then it is thrown to the ground and then it’s roasted on a spit, to delight all the workers.
We are basically fishermen and we eat a lot of fish when a boat is launched.
When the boat is in the water, that is my moment to become a second-hand cook and I put on the table the best fish in the world: cod and fried cuttlefish cooked at “peso non posso” (worse than that I couldn’t)

And what kind of recipe is it?
“It is more a philosophy than a recipe: at ten o’clock in the morning they bring me a bucket full of cuttlefish telling me to cook them for lunch…so I had 25-30 cuttlefish to clean and cook in just two hours…then I clean them but  “worse than that I couldn’’t”…but everybody says they are best they have ever eaten and for me it is a pleasure to cook them”.

Any recipe typical of Pirano?
“Well…cod is already a Pirano recipe..then they have polenta with radicchio and fried fish..but they are dishes from our seafood cuisine too.”

What makes an ax master a good ax master?
“Once again, as for all jobs, will and passion”.

Is it a job that young people like?
“This is a crucial issue.
In the last 30 years there has been no effort to revalue  small crafts nor there has been sensibility towards niche crafts. In the upper Adriatic there are only two or three young that make this job, not enough for the needs of that land.
With my other partner, Pitacco, a real Istrian too, we do 107 years of work in two; we could pass this skill to two young boys and we could prepare them to build masts.”

Mister Giraldi, thinking about the life you had in the shipyards over the years, would you suggest young people to follow your path, did you have a happy life with your boats?
“In my opinion it was a happy life; and I say it without hesitation to the boys who will have to eat a lot of dusk, despite they wear masks nowadays; then there is the smell of paint, you have to clean the surroundings, and always look around to understand what to do.
Your pay, at weekend, must be earned with some sacrifices”.

What makes this job “easy” for you?
“The love. When I was a boy I had two friends, with whom I shared my passion for cooking, we wanted to be cooks: one has become Kennedy’s cook and the other has opened a restaurant in New York.
I left Argentina before completing the fifteen years of work necessary to have granted  the right to get a pension and for this reason I had to work until the age of 65 to deserve retirement.
Well, in fact will and passion had said to me not to give up.
A man can only retire when he has nothing left to do.
Of course I don’t work ten hours a day any longer, I come to the squero when it is needed, because, basically, I like this job.
Actually my regret is that I no longer have the time to try the fabulous works that the evolution of construction in the last twenty years let do today”.

What has changed?
“For example the glues that weren’t there in the past. With the invention of the glue and the marine plywood, we had been able to lighten the building, instead of working with a single block, the planking is divided in five layers and they resist five times higher”.

One last question, can we know when you were born?

Rosanna Turcinovich Giuricin

Il Ricordo a Bergamo


Fausto Biloslavo il Giornale
Matteo Carnieletto il Giornale
Maria Elena Depetroni Anvgd Bg
Coordinamento : Viviana Facchinetti