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created 19/07/19

The Boats of the Albufera, Communidad de Valencia, Spain

Click on pictures for enlarged images. All images by the author, if not otherwise noted.

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Boats in the Albufera

The Albufera south of Valencia.
The reflective areas around the lagoon are
flooded rice fields, criss-crossed by canals.
Canal in the Albufera (Postcard by Jean
Laurent y Minier, 1816‒86, Biblioteca
Cross sections through a barca (top) and a
barquet (bottom). Redrawn after

The Albufera as landscape and cultural space

Most people think, when thinking of Spanish food, first of all of a dish called 'paella'. Paella, like many other stews, has its origins in a rural region with limited resources and means. Stylised as a 'paella', the dish was not until the mid-1940s, at a time of economic difficulties following the end of the Spanish Civil War in one of the country's most important rice-growing areas, the Albufera, south of Valencia (Fig. 2).
The Albufera is the remnant of the delta of the river Turia, which was much larger during the last ice age. Today, the Turia flows in an artificial bed and enters the Mediterranean south of Valencia, while the Albufera mainly consists of a lagoon further south. Sediments of the Turia and coastal erosion further north have created this lagoon, which was initially salty, but has been freshwater now for several centuries. Locks today connect it to the Mediterranean and regulate the water level. A dune belt protects the wetland from the storm surges of the Mediterranean. Landscape-wise the Albufera reminds of e.g. the Camargue, even if its dimensions are significantly smaller.
As in similar lagoons and delta areas, think of the already mentioned Camargue, the Crau, the Danube Delta, or the Lagoon of Venice, specific cultural characteristics have developed in this landscape between land and water. This includes boats. Of course, with the variety of boat types of the lagoon of Venice, which once was an economic and political world power, the other areas can not compete. In addition, the settlements in the Venetian lagoon were not only interlinked with each other, but also with places along the Adriatic coast. The Albufera, however, was largely isolated despite the proximity to Valencia, the hinterland sparsely populated. It was also one of the areas where the Muslim population remained after the final 'Reconquista' in 1238 by the Aragonese King Jaime I, while otherwise Catalan settlers came to re-Christianise the territory of the new Kingdom of Valencia. The Muslim population (Moriscos or Mudejar) from North Africa was not expelled from Spain until the early 17th century, when the coast was exposed to increasing attacks by pirates from the Barbaresque States and the local population was suspected of supporting them. For the economic development of the province of Valencia, the exodus had massive consequences, since it now lacked the peasants and farm workers. It was only in the 19th century that the province slowly recovered.

The boat types

Common to all Albufera boats is that they are of relatively simple construction, flat-bottom types. However, flat-bottom can mean both, floor planks with hard chines, as well as a light keel with a flat bottom and sharply rounded chine. They differ significantly from the heavily-built Catalan types with rising bottoms of the coastal fishermen. The flat bottom is adapted to the shallow lagoon waters and canals between the rice fields and reed zones. Some types are meant only for push-rowing (with the rems, which is also used for rowing over the stern with a single oar) and punting (with the perxa/percha, which has a fork at the lower end), but the majority can set a lateen sail and many are motorised today. Another mode of moving is to pull oneself in the boat along the vegetation of the lagoon. Due to the geographical conditions that impede a road construction, the boats have retained to the present day a certain economic function.
A classification by types is not very easy, since most of today's inventory has been rebuilt several times and also motorised at some stage. Few historical records seem to have survived, and systematic studies based on archival and field research have so far been only tentatively undertaken and not by authors with experience in boatbuilding history. Maybe the boats are just too unspectacular, apart from the lateen rigging. This is actually somewhat surprising, as the boats are downright emblematic for the Albufera and are depicted in every guide about Valencia. In addition, there are several preservation societies, which also regularly organise regattas. A publication from the environment of these associations (ROSALENY I ROMERO & ROSALENY I ROMERO, 2014) is relatively detailed concerning the boats and their use as recreational vehicles, but largely omits their historical development, perhaps for want of information.
A certain problem of access is that recent publications tend not to be written in Castellano (’Spanish’), but in Valenciano. Although the Province of Valencia does not have separatist tendencies, the present provincial government is nevertheless strongly promoting the use of Valenciano in all public areas, so that e.g. museum publications must first appear in this language. Valenciano is close to Catalan and Provençal. ROSALENY I ROMERO & ROSALENY I ROMERO (2014) contains a Valenciano-Castellano maritime dictionary, but the explanations are given in Valenciano only, which does not make access easier. To some extent, the use of terminology in the Albufera seems to be also quite idiosyncratic, since relevant maritime dictionaries, such as e.g. PAASCH et al. (1908) or LORENZO et al. (1865), sometimes offer other explanations for the respective Castellano terms. Helpful in the decryption was also the work of VENCE (1897) on lateen-rigged vessels of the western Mediterranean. The Provençal terminology is not dissimilar to the Valenciano or Catalan one. In the following, the terms are first given in Valenciano and then in Castellano, if they are different from the former.
Since on this basis a systematic presentation of boat types, their origin and history, use and design is difficult, this essay will have to confine itself to classifying the boats observed in the field on the basis of the sparse literature.
The boats were and are used for fishing, hunting, transporting goods and people, and when working the paddy fields, their shape and size being adapted to their purpose (MVE, 2007). Today, they are also used as recreational boats.
Their dimensions are traditionally measured in palmo (the Valencian span of 22.7 cm) and the carrying capacity in sacco de arroz (rice bags of 70-75 kg) or càrrec/carga, i.e. ’rice loads’ of eight to nine sacks. There is no fixed length / width ratio, even small boats may be wider than larger ones to increase the stability of the former or to facilitate passage of the latter through narrow channels (ROSALENY I ROMERO et al., 2007).
Two large groups can be distinguished on the basis of their method of construction. These are first of all the barquets and barquetots, which are flat-bottomed boats with hard chines, but no keel. The other group are the barches, which are built on a keel, have a flat bottom and a sharply rounded chine. All boats are usually half covered. Within both groups very different sizes can occur, just as the size of the individual types can vary considerably, which is due to the specific wishes of the client for whom they were built. This makes a systematic classification difficult.

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Stern-post old (left) and modern form with propeller well (right).
Redrawn after
 Barquet. The mast and the lateen-yard have only a symbolic meaning on
this land-based ‘wreck’ and do not correspond to the real appearance
Barquet pescador

Building Techniques

All boats are basically built on frames. The wood of the locally occurring carob tree, the olive and the white mulberry were traditionally used for the keel, the frames and other structural woodwork, while the planking consisted of pine. In more recent years, for reason of easier procurement, mainly imported oak and pine are used (LLUESMA ESPANYA, 2007a, p. 39-40). Figure 4 shows the cross section of both groups respectively. The barquets rely on the floor and side planks to achieve the necessary longitudinal rigidity, while the barches have a keel (quilla), wales (cinta) and a strong rubbing strake (defensa/bordón). The frames do not go through in both types, but are subdivided into offset floor-timbers (medil/varenga) and uprights (estemenera and barregut or peuet) (see Fig. 7). Common to all are a strong curved beams (barrot or bau/bao), probably to create more space under the covered parts and also to better drain the water, when fishing or working in the rice fields. Interestingly, almost every plank of the outer skin has its own name (see Fig. 4). The planks run into rabbets (gressa/alefriz) in the keel and the stem/stern posts. The decks are about 15 cm below the upper edge of the planking, so that they are quasi enclosed by a low bulwark, which has a number of scuppers (bocal) accordingly. The uncovered space is framed by a strong coaming (palomar/cosia = the side parts, tàlem/talamete = front or aft parts).
None of the boats has a flooded well for transporting life fish, but pierced pottery (anguilera for young eels) and small, boat-shaped fish boxes are used to bring the catch alive to the markets.
There seems to be little reliable historical information about the evolution of these boats. The most important documented change over the past 50 years or so is the installation of engines. The boats with pointed ends are less suitable for the use of outboard engines, as there is too little buoyancy in the stern to carry an engine and as the slender shape makes the operation with a tiller awkward. Therefore, almost exclusively inboard engines are used. For this purpose, the originally straight stern of the barche was provided with a screw well (Fig. 5) and the keel under the screw extended beyond the stern-post to protect screw and rudder (Fig. 13). In flat-bottomed barquets, the straight stern-post is pierced and the screw sits behind the post (Fig. 12).  A screw-well is cut out from the rudder blade accordingly. A wooden fin under the floor serves as a screw protection (Fig. 10). The engine occupies the space of the aft cockpit, where the skipper used to sit (Fig. 11). The rudder now has to be operated via a rudder horn and a linkage or by control ropes (guardins/guardines). It is not known, if the rope steering system existed before, but it could well be a legacy of the Islamic period, since this type of steering is common for boats of the Arab world.
LLUESMA ESPANYA (2007a) describes the construction process used by the artisanal boat builders (calafates). Interestingly, calafate primarily refers to a boatbuilder and not only to a caulker as one should think. The boats are built on malls (plantilla) following an oral agreement with the future owner. Today, the wood is sourced from local timber merchants. The boatbuilder owns only hand-tools and much of the work done outdoors. The parts are preshaped in a local joinery, which usually has a band-saw and other power-tools. The construction begins with the laying down the keel, into which then the stem- and stern-post are inserted with dovetails. The garbord plank (paraia/paradura) and the first floor planks (sobreparaia/sobreparadura) are attached, whereupon the floor timbers and then the frames can be added. The planking then proceeds in the usual way. When the hull planking and the decking are finished, the seams are caulked and whereupon the boat for several days is sunk ballasted with stones, so that the wood swells and it becomes tight.
After drying, the boats were previously painted with tar. However, the climate of the Albufera with its hot and dry summers, is a major problem for wooden boats. The boats must be kept constantly moist to stay tight. This poses problems with today’s occasional use. The majority of the boats have therefore been covered with glass-fibre fleece and epoxy resin in recent years, so that one can only guess the wooden structure underneath. Since when the boats receive the colorful rendering is not known.
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Barquet granoters-d’arrapar used for
water-fowling (Biblioteca Valenciana, JH18-142)

Barquet de càrrec,
later motorised
Marinised car-
engine and  -gearbox
Arrangement for the screw on a motorised barquet Barquetot in Silla awaiting repairs

Barquets and Barquetots

Barquet (4.6 to 5.0 m long, 97 to 125 cm wide, 20 to 25 cm deep, Figs. 6 and 7)
A type that is also found outside the Albufera in comparable areas, such as the Ebro Delta. It has symmetrical ends, which is useful when it can not be turned in narrow channels. The boats are half-decked with a raised coaming around the hatch. The deck is lowered a few centimetres below the top of the planking, so that the last strake forms a low bulwark. Accordingly, there are scuppers (bocal) provided for clearing the deacking. When sailing, a single steering oar (espadella/espadilla) is used (ROSALENY I ROMERO et al., 2007, p. 44-45).

Barquet pescador (4.1 to 5.0 m long, Fig. 8) Rosalyn i Romero et al. (2007, pp. 45-46) suggest that this is the most popular and widespread type, as it is suitable for all tasks. Whether that still applies to the present is doubtful, since I have seen only a few.

Barquet granoters-d’arrapar
(3.60 to 4.10 m long, Fig. 9)
The bow and stern are symmetrical and it is lightly built so that it can glide through the reeds and over weedy waters and can be moved forwards and backwards in narrow channels by means of punting, towing, or pulling on the vegetation. It can also be rowed and is used for hunting, as well as for catching frogs.

Barquet de càrrec (6.30 to 6.80 m long, Fig. 10) The nearly double-ended boat was developed for planting rice, maintaining the fields and the dams and channels in the rice fields. The carrying capacity is about one carrec/carga, i.e. around 650 kg. The boats have no mast-thwart to keep the hold free of obstructions. Therefore, they can only be moved by punting or towing (ROSALENY I ROMERO et al., 2007, p. 46).
Many of these boats today are equipped with marinised car-engines (Fig. 11), but this is not so easy to be provided for due to their shallow draft and flat bottom. The stern tube, therefore, exits the stem-post somewhat above the keel plank and the screw is behind the boat (Fig. 12). A fin is bolted onto the flat bottom, which serves to improve the course-keeping capability as well as a protection for the screw, which project by about half of its diameter below the bottom of the boat. For the screw, a space in the rudder is cut out.

Barquetot (7 to 11 m long, Fig. 13) These boats are the big brothers of the barquetots de càrrec. They vary in size, from a carrying capacity of three càrrec (= 24 rice sacks = 1.8 t) to seven càrrec (= 56 rice sacks = 4.2 t). They were mainly used to drain the canals in the paddy fields, as their forwardly inclined mast impeded this work less. The stem is slightly rounded, drops out at 45° and closes flush with the deck. Originally, the bow and stern were of the same shape, but at some point in time, a fixed rudder was introduced, which then required a straight stern-post. Barquetots are sailed, punted or towed (LLUESMA ESPANYA, 2007a, p. 38; ROSALENY I ROMERO et al., 2007, p. 46; CANDELA GUILLÉN & ORTÍ PIERA, 2007, p. 55).
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Motorised barca pescadora  Motorised barca pescadora with screw-well awaiting repairs to its planking above deck level  


Barca pescadora (7.0 to 7.5 m long, 1.7 to 1.9 m wide, 33 bis 36 cm deep, Fig. 14-16) This is the most popular type today and is used for fishing, hunting and also as a dinghy. The bow and stern have fine lines, with the bow fuller than the stern, as required by the lateen rigging. The side height is low to facilitate work with nets and other fishing gear. Although it is light in construction and not really a cargo boat, it can carry up to 25 bags of rice, i.e. just under 1.9 t.
The transversal structure of the hull consists of frames, floor-timbers and deck-beams, including the thwart for the mast. The longitudinal structure is composed of the keel, stringers and rubbing-strakes, which form a light, but stable hull together with the planking. The mast has a strong mast thwart. The stem is spoon-shaped, while the stern is straight and vertical. The stem-head is designed as a ‘moor’s head’ (caperò/caperol) with a flat turban disc: a reminiscence of the Arab boats in this area. There is an encircling, slightly recessed narrow deck, but no gunwale. The large deck hatch is surrounded by a high coaming. The planking above the deck is pierced by scuppers. Below the scuppers a wale (cinta) runs around the boat. The rudder does not protrude below the hull and runs above the water in an S-curve into the head (Rosalyn i Romero et al., 2007, pp. 46-48)

Many boats have now been motorised with appropriately converte car engines including their gearbox. For this purpose, the space separated from the hold by a narrow deck (senó/talamete), which was actually meant for the skipper, is now used as an engine compartment and provided with a roof-shaped lid. A screw well is recessed into the stern (Fig. 5 and 15). Since the skipper is now relatively far forward, the boat is no longer controlled by a tiller, but with two steering ropes (guardins/guardines), which are attached to a rudder yoke (arjau/archau) (Fig. 16).

(25 to 32 palmo long, i.e. 5.7 to 7.3 m)
She is the little sister of the barca pescadora. She is intended for one person and is used with various fishing gear (
ROSALENY I ROMERO et al., 2007, p. 46).


A mixed type with the shape of a barca de carregar, but half-decked, like a barquetot. It is used in agriculture. It has a load capacity of 40 to 50 sacks of rice, i.e up to 3.75 t. Only a few were built in Catarroja in the 1950s (Lluesma Espany, 2007, p. 38;
ROSALENY I ROMERO et al., 2007, p. 46).

Barque de cárrega (can be more than 14 m long, Fig. 17 and 18)
It is similar to the barque pescadora, but is significantly larger and heavier. It can have a carrying capacity of 45 to 90 sacks of rice, i.e up to 6.5 tons. A barque de càrrega of e.g. 12 m length can load 4 to 5 cbm of sand.

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 Rope steering with guardins/guardines attached to a yoke (arjau/archau)  Two barques de cárrega of different size   Barque de cárrega  El rabatjol shortly after its completion
(Antonio Raga Mayo)


Most boats, with the exception of very small barquets, can be equipped with a mast and a sail. The masts have no stays and are held by a mast-spur and the heavy bastard/thwart (banc d'arborar) (Fig. 5), but can be trimmed laterally by wedges (tascons). The halliard (trossa del dogal/burda volante) of the lateen-yard serves as backstay. It is belayed on the respective windward side of the boat on a cleat (serreta/berlinga) with a slip-knot (volta de serreta). The masts often have a considerable forward rake.
The sail (Fig. 20) is today generally referred to as vela llatina/latina and is in fact triangular. On old photographs, however, the occasional trapezoidal, i.e. quadrangular, settee sail can be seen from time to time. This Arabian sail is probably the original form, while the triangular lateen sail is easier to handle in today’s sailing practice, as it does not need a separate brace because the tack is attached to the lower end of the yard.

The mast has a rectangular spur (metxa) and a rectangular cross-section up to the height of the thwart/bastard. Above it is round and has a thickening (galcer) at the top to accomodate the sheave for the halliard. The mast-top is pointed and is crowned by a ball (bola) (Fig. 21). The mast is fixed in the thwart by wedges. For larger boats, the thwart contains a kind of mast-chair with a metal lock, so that the mast can be lowered without having to lift it out of the thwart.
The lateen-yard (entena, Fig. 20) is usually composed of two parts (top pena and bottom car) lashed together at several places with seizings (enginya). The parts of unequal length have an elongated-semicircular cross-section and are placed onto each other with the flat side, so that the total cross-section is higher than wide. The length of the pena is 4/5 of the total length, that of the car 3/5 and that of the overlap 2/5. There are also one-piece yards, especially for smaller boats, which then have a fishing (pimelga/gimelga) lashed on in the middle as reinforcement to make the stiffer. The yard can be considerably longer than the boat (see Fig. 18). Thumb cleats (tasconet) at the ends hold the flemish eyes (manilla) of the sail, which is attached with robands (metafiò) along the yard (Fig. 22).
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Lateen-sail and -yard; denomination in Valenciano. Redrawn after ROSALENY ROMERO & ROSALENY ROMERO (2011)   Rigging of a retored barca pescadora  Thumb cleats on the lateen-yard  Halliard of the lateen-yard
Traditional way of attaching the halliard pendant Modern, pragmatic version of attaching the halliard to the lateen-yard on a small boat

The sail is controlled with three ropes. There is, of course, the sheet (escota), which is usually a simple rope, but can be a single or double tackle (aparell) on larger boats. The sail tack is controlled by a simple tackle (davant), the block of it lashed to the stem-post. A second rope serves as a kind of brace (orsapop). These two ropes determine the position of the sail’s tack. They both run back into the ‘cockpit’ and are belayed there with slip-knots (volta mossegata). By the way, the lateen-yard will not be brought to the other side, when the boat goes about, meaning that the sail is possibly pressed against the mast. Some boats also have vangs (osta/braza) to balance the lateen-yard.
Following the trend of the times, the sails are usually not made of cotton (cotó/algodon) anymore, but of synthetic fibers. They have a bolt-rope on all sides, several reefbands (faixa de ris with boitafió, i.e. gaskets) and also a single brail (senal), which is attached to in a grommet on the leach (senelara) (Fig. 20) and leads up to the yard.

The Boats Today

Fishing and rice cultivation are important sources of income for the inhabitants of the Albufera besides tourism. The boats continue to play a role as means of production, perhaps more in fishing than in rice cultivation, where more modern farming methods have been introduced. The fishing mainly supplies the local restaurants and the markets in Valencia. In the Mercat Central in the old town of Valencia, for example, there are two stalls where live young eels are sold to the amazement of the tourists.
In addition, associations were founded in and around the Albufera for the preservation of the boats (e.g. Associació de Vela Llatina Silla - https://www.velallatinasilla.org/). The members support each other when working on the boats and provide moorings. From spring to autumn, regattas or boat parades take place at least once a month. There are also still sea processions on certain religious holidays.
Several of the large barques de càrrega, the cargo barges for which there is no other need anymore, have been prepared for excursions and tours on the lagoon with tourists. They often have an awning, but no sail-carrying mast anymore.
Barque de cárrega fitted out as excursion boat.
The hatch covers will be removed for operation


BOIRA MAIQUES, J.V. [Ed.] (2000): Mestres d’aixa, calafats i mariners, del modelisme naval a la fusteria de ribera a les costes valencianes.- 207 p., Valencia (Escola d’Arts i Officis de Valencia).

CANDELA GUILLÉN, J.M., ORTÍ PIERA, R. (2007): Usos tradicionales de la barca en la Albufera de Valencia.- In: Museu Valencià d’Etnologia [Ed.] La vela latina – barcas en la Albufera: 50-57, Valencia (Museu Valencià d’Etnologia).

LLUESMA ESPANYA, J.A. (2007a): La construcción de barques a l’Albufera de València.- In: Museu Valencià d’Etnologia [Ed.] La vela latina – barcas en la Albufera: 38-41, Valencia (Museu Valencià d’Etnologia).

LLUESMA ESPANYA, J.A. (2007b): Tipologies de les embarcacions de l’Albufera de València.- In: Museu Valencià d’Etnologia [Ed.] La vela latina – barcas en la Albufera: 42-49 Valencia (Museu Valencià d’Etnologia).

LORENZO, J. DE, MURGA, G. DE, FERREIRO, M. (1865): Diccionario Marítimo Español, que además de us voces de navegación y maniobra en los buques de vela, contiene las equivalencias en Francés, Inglés y Italiano, y las mas usadas buques de vapor, formado con presencia de los majores datos publicados hasta el día.- 576 p., Madrid (Establecimiento Tipográfico De T. Fortanet).

MVE MUSEU VALENCIÀ D’ETNOLOGIA [Ed.] (2007): La vela latina – barcas en la Albufera.- 111 p., Valéncia (Museu Valencià d’Etnologia).

PAASCH, H., CHALLAMEL, P., MATTHIESEN, F.E., BUDDE, A., MONTOJO, P., ROMAIRONE, G. (19084): From Keel to Truck – Marine-Wörterbuch Englisch-Französisch-Deutsch-Spanisch-Italienisch.- 1110 p., 109 pl., Hamburg (Eckhardt und Messtorff).

ROSALENY ROMERO, P., ROSALENY ROMERO, J.J. (2011): Vela llatina a l’Albufera. Fer-se a la vela.- 248 p., Pairporta/Valencia (Denes Editorial).

VENCE, J. (1897): Construction & manœuvre des bateaux & embarcations à voilure latine.- 139 p., Paris (Augustin Challamel Editeur, reprint Editios Omega, Nice).

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