Wednesday, August 21, 2019

First Flight of the Four Man

Each year about this time, we start getting serious about Nationals.
And while several Newport gondoliers have already begun training in solo and tandem formats, today we had our first sighting of a four-oared team in training.  

This year it was the team known sometimes as the "GCON 4", 
because all four guys grew up rowing in the Gondola Company of Newport.
The team consists of Parker Harrison, Eddie  Rivera, Matt Raus, and Mike Ruffino. They've won gold the last two years, 

and silver the two years before that. 

Today, their first workout, was really a sort of wake-up call to their muscles.
This year the US Gondola Nationals will be held here in Newport.
The races and festivities will all center around the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club - much like they were during the 2015 Nationals.
The dates are October 26th and 27th.

You will likely see more about Nationals here in the weeks to come.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Simon at Sunset

I snapped this last night as Simon was heading out on a cruise, 
rowing the pupparin "Contessa".  Evan Perez can be seen in the background, rowing one of the American-built boats.
We're really starting to love our new location here in Newport.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A First in Newport

Tonight, for the very first time in Newport, a woman rowed passengers for hire as an official gondolier.  Gondolas have been here since the first decade of the 1900's - quite a lot of history - but our records show that this is the first time any servizio here has included a female gondolier rowing.  Some time ago we had a few ladies driving motorized gondolas, and several women have rowed here in the voga-alla-Veneta, but not for hire.
Not until tonight, when Joelle Dueck took out a group of five.
She's been training for some time now with Eddie Rivera, and judging by her performance on the water this evening, he did a superb job.

Joelle handled her passengers like she'd done it all before.
She rowed well against winds and tides, 
navigated tight canals, and even sang Santa Lucia.

 photo by Eddie Rivera

A huge congrats to Joelle.
History was made this evening, and I was honored to be there.

 Passing under the PCH bridge.

 Around Linda Island.

 Enjoying the glow.

And entering the channel to return home.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Nena and Romina - Leading All the Way

photo disclaimer:
I may or may not have shamelessly borrowed, swiped, or stolen all photos and video contained in this post.  

If, by chance, I swiped it from you or your social media page, I apologize.

Last year I met Elena "Nena" Almansi when she was visiting California with some of her cool friends.  We talked about rowing, racing, West Coast IPA's, and we all ate some tacos at Taco Mesa.

When I was in her neighborhood, we talked about rowing, I watched her actively racing, we shared some low quality beers on Sant'Erasmo, and then we ate some lagoon fish and polenta (among other great things) at the Trattoria La Rosa Dei Venti.

Since that great experience, 
watching the Regata in Sant'Erasmo from a chase boat 
(see The 2019 Regata di Sant'Erasmo - "If You Ain't Rubbin', You Ain't Racin'"),
I've become a long-distance sports fan of the regatas there in the Veneto.

They're not available on ESPN, and you can't watch them live, 
but they do eventually end up online.

The most recent regata took place along the inside shoreline of one of the barrier islands that help to form the Venetian lagoon. 
This island, known as Pellestrina, is south of Venice and stretches somewhat north-to-south for 11 kilometers (about 7.5 miles). 

Just after the start.

The women's race started near the southern tip of the island,
traveled north along the shoreline, 
turned at a buoy by a huge floating drydock by the Cantiere ACTV Ex "De Poli" (for those of you geeking out right now on Google Maps),
and continued south - finishing near the church that's called the Santuario della Madonna dell'Apparizione

Here's the full video of the race.
As you watch, you'll see some of the landmarks mentioned above.

To watch it full screen, follow this link:

In a standard Venetian regata there are nine boats, along with a reserve boat on site (I suppose it's there in case one of the nine entrants don't show up, or something truly scandalous prevents them from competing).

When those nine boats line up, side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by...oh, 

you know what I mean - they stretch wide across the water.
Eventually though, all the competitors end up in a fast-moving jumble,
which then leads to a long trail of boats with occasional attempts by some rowers to pass one or more of the boats in front of them.

The key, for anyone who read my post about the Sant'Erasmo race, 

is to get ahead and stay ahead.
And that's exactly what "Nena" Almansi and her rowing partner Romina Catanzaro did.  They had a great start (a turbo boost, really), 
which allowed them to get ahead.  
While some boats were jostling for position, 
and a few even got briefly tangled up, 
the women in the blue boat were ahead...and working to stay ahead.

There were some position changes, especially after the buoy turn as the team in the orange boat worked their way forward, but Nena and Romina held the lead position all the way to the finish line.

A fast finish.

That blue boat has a different name in the Veneto: 
"celeste" - as in heavenly.
It refers to the color of the sky.

As you can see from the results, 
the first boat to finish was the #4 celeste.
Because all boats other than the reserve have numbers as well as colors, 
we can see that the second place finisher was the #7 arancio (orange), 
followed by #2 canarin (yellow), and #6 verde (green). 
As in most women's regatas these days, there are many competitors in the field who are sponsored and/or associated with Row Venice.
I have been so impressed with the impact they've had on the sport.

In Venetian regatas the top four finishers receive pennant-shaped flags that are handmade by Anna Campagnari - a well-decorated rower in her own right, who also has great artistic talents.

The top finishers receive red flags - which are called "bandiere".
Red is first place,
White is second,
Green is third
and blue is fourth.

On Sunday, August 4th, Elena Almansi and Romina Catanzaro proudly held red bandiere.  And as it happens, Anna Campagnari is Elena's mother - so the two racers weren't the only proud ones that day.

Romina and Elena with their red bandiere.

And so I conclude by saying that I am also proud...proud and honored to know these great Venetians.  A big congrats to Romina, Nena, and the parents and families of them both.  
Also congrats to all of the competitors in such a great sport - you are blessed to row in a place as amazing as the Venetian lagoon.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Orange Sunset over Black Swan

Drew sent me this today with the words:
Check out what someone sent me this morning.

I thought it was awesome and told him I wanted to post it.
When I asked who to give photo credit to, he said that it was:
Just some random guy on a boat who airdropped it to me 

as we went by him.
Technology amazes me sometimes.

Drew has operated Tahoe Amore for several years now up on Lake Tahoe.

This shot was taken on Lake San Marcos, 
where Drew recently launched Black Swan Gondola in the northern part of San Diego County.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Lesson with Row Venice

Anybody who knows me, knows that I'm a huge fan of Row Venice.
Call it a company, an organization, a cultural installation.
I call it the very best way to see Venice, 
while learning something that is truly Venetian.

Founded by Australian expat Jane Caporal, 
Row Venice is described on their website ( ) as:
"...a non-profit organization of passionate women and expert vogatrici, Venetian by birth and by choice.  We are dedicated to the preservation of the traditional Venetian cultura acquea and at its center, the voga alla veneta, the Venetian style of rowing: standing up, facing forward, native to Venice and made iconic by the gondoliers."

Over the years I've had the pleasure of meeting some of the Row Venice staff, who not only give lessons on the Row Venice boats, but also compete in the various regatas in the lagoon while wearing Row Venice gear.

Elena Almansi has become a great friend, and I was fortunate to ride in her friend's chase boat during the Regata di Sant'Erasmo 
("The 2019 Regata di Sant'Erasmo - "If You Ain't Rubbin', You Ain't Racin'").

Until my recent visit to Venice, 
I had yet to meet the founder herself - Jane Caporal.  
We communicated via text a few times and, despite the threat of rain 
(which had been making annoyingly regular visits that week), 
Jane agreed to give my daughter Isabella a lesson on one of their batelas. 

Standing on the Ponte della Sacca bridge, I spotted Jane approaching, 
 we had a brief conversation as she was about to slip beneath the bridge.
 A cheerful smile despite the threat of rain.

 Emerging from under the Ponte della Sacca.
 Lining up to moor at the Fondamenta Gasparo Contarini.

...and making contact.  
Jane tied the boat up and began with some basic terminology.
She showed my daughter how rowing the front station was done and then got her to try it while the batela was still moored to the fondamenta.

 Once Isabella had an idea of how it was done, Jane loosened the lines and we were off.  My daughter rowed up front, Jane captained from the back, and I snapped some photos and did my best to keep my mouth shut and let the expert teacher do her thing.

And an expert, she is.
It was remarkable to watch how seamlessly things worked.

My wife managed to snap this photo of us 
as we cruised by the house we'd rented for the week.
 photo by Elisa Mohr

If the boat looks familiar, it should.
Mark Schooling at Gondola Paradiso has one in Oxnard, California.
He liked the boat design so much that he had one built at the Northwestern School of Wooden Boat Building in Washington state.

A "Batela coa de gambero" (translation: shrimp-tailed boat) is a very traditional type of Venetian boat that has become quite rare since motorized boats entered the landscape. Because they're not as long as gondolas, and a bit wider too - they are easier to handle and more stable.

I've rowed Mark's boat in Oxnard several times and can attest the the fact the she's stable and well-suited to taking passengers.  

She's also a joy to row.
I can understand why Mark chose the design,

and it makes perfect sense that Row Venice chose batelas for their lessons.
Row Venice currently has four of these beautiful wooden boats in their fleet.

We cruised through the canals of northern of the Cannaregio district.
I realized that the last time my daughter and I were in Venice together was ten years ago, and she took her very first voga-alla-veneta strokes on a GSVVM club boat.

My goodness how she's grown.

Unfortunately I haven't really fulfilled my fatherly duties as a voga trainer to my family, but it left Jane an open canvas to do her work.

The next step was getting the student up on the back of the boat, 
rowing on her own.

Jane tied the boat up once again, but this time leaving the starboard side exposed, and had Isabella row a-poppa with the boat tethered.
 More instruction was given,

...and we were off again.

Jane gave a few key pointers, 
and her student started to get the hang of it.

As a dedicated fan of Venice, I cringe when I see hordes of tourists pour out of their cruise ships, follow the lady with the umbrella, and descend upon Piazza San Marco in droves.
To me it's not how such a great city should be experienced, 

and yet for many that's their only memory of Venezia.

Row Venice offers the exact opposite.
You travel on foot to a quiet neighborhood that's off the beaten path,
learn to row a boat,
and see Venice from an entirely different (and totally Venetian) angle.
You don't leave with cheap souvenirs made in China.
Instead you bring something much more valuable and enduring:
a great memory of a remarkable experience (and a few great photos too).

Later on, when you see news coming out of Venice about a women's regata, maybe one of the top finishers will be your instructor.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

On a Blue Theme

Walking around Venice last month, 
I paused on a bridge and saw this gondola go by.  
I could never get bored of watching these magnificent boats plying the waters of their city.

And no two are identical.
Each gondolier personalizes his boat.

In this case I noticed that not only had the gondolier chosen blue floorboards for his boat, but he did the scallops (those curved side accents) in a darker blue rather than the traditional black. 

Aahh, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.
First, let's start with a nice wide-angle of the gondola:

Yeah, that's nice.

And of course our gondolier does that put-the-foot-against-the-wall thing so subtly.
In this case he uses the opposite foot.
The couple takes it all in, and as they approach, we begin to see just how nice this gondola is.  Fully carved decks, an impressive scimier (the crest decoration that rests atop the seat back), and several other details you might hope to see in a gondola.
Preparing for a tight turn, the gondolier uses his left foot this time, 
and deftly pushes off the wall behind him.

I swear, everything on this gondola is carved.
Such a beauty!

As they emerged from the bridge I was standing on, 
I noticed that the gentleman had his phone out...

So I snapped a shot...wondering if I might just be able to zoom in on the photo later.
Not bad, but I could have gotten the focus a little better.

They passed under the bridge I was standing on, 
and the gondolier stepped forward to row sotomorso style.

It was at that point I noticed the blue scallops on his floorboards.
I also spent some time drooling over the portela, 

the carvings, and pretty much everything else.

And just as smoothly as they had arrived, our gondolier, his blue-themed boat, and happy passengers glided off to see more of La Serenissima.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The "Lazy Drop"

Here in Newport, as in many other US gondola locations, 
we offer a message-in-a-bottle option, where the client can propose, 
or deliver a birthday or anniversary message.

It's printed, rolled, and placed in a corked bottle before the cruise, 

and somewhere along the route, the gondolier places it in the water and doubles back to have the intended recipient retrieve it.

As you might image, we all have our preferred methods 
of placing the bottle in the water.

Here we see Hunter's "Lazy Drop" method.
It's stealthy, creates no splashing sound, 
and as you can see - it makes for a great photo.