Monday, December 31, 2007

Florida gondolas in the 1920's

This is a magazine advertisement from the 1920's. I'm thinking of having it framed.

Gondolas were present in many parts of the country during the 20's. Dozens could be found in California and Florida.

Most of the gondolas in the US at that time were authentic Venice-built craft, but there were some exceptions. These were two good looking boats, but based on the bow shape and the cambered gondolier's deck, I believe they were replicas.

No forcole are visible so one can conclude that the boats are either poled (after all, you can't see a blade at the end of either of those remi), the gondoliers are paddling, or they are using their remi as rudders to steer motorized gondolas.

The boats are interesting but I must say that I am most intrigued by the gondoliers; they don't look like Venetians. They're wearing knickers with no shoes and they appear to be of African descent. Since this operation was in Miami, I can't help but wonder if these guys were originally from a Caribbean island. So many cool gondola operations have come and gone over the last 200 years here in the United States, and unfortunately we don't know everything there is to know about most of them. In cases like this one, we can only guess about things based on photos like the one above.

In my experience researching gondolas of the past, I've found the best source of info to be post cards. We can learn so much from post cards. Often they are just a single image with one or two lines of text, but they are a view into the past. I've been collecting post card images of gondolas for a while now and while looking through them, I found two more images of the same two barefoot gondoliers and their boats.

The Flamingo was built in 1920 and closed in 1950. Overlooking Biscayne Bay rather than the oceanfront; the hotel was home to speed boat regattas and other spectacles. I'll be in Miami in March, You know I won't be able to resist a little research there.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The controversial "new seat design"

While running around Venice in 2006, I noticed something new on a few gondolas. It wasn't so obvious as a gondola painted another color, but it was definitely different. It was a new seat design which, like just about any new innovation in the gondola world, has raised quite a few eyebrows. You can imagine the scene: old guys and traditionalists scoffing at the idea, while the younger guys and more progressive types think it's the greatest thing since sliced focaccia.

I managed to photograph two of them and they were very different from each other.

The first one I saw was at the traghetto San Toma.

As you can see from the photo above, the whole thing resembles one of those contoured park benches with thin strips of wood. The one at San Toma appeared to be made of plastic and was very well built. If I'd never seen a gondola before, I would've assumed that it was standard equipment. I'm guessing that it's not quite as comfortable as the traditional cushioned seats, but the owner of this gondola probably enjoys only having to wipe down plastic between cruises. Whenever I look at the photo, I think about how this seat looks like it was factory-made. It looks way too polished in it's construction.

The second one I ran into was in Bacino Orseolo. It looked like someone had put it together in their workshop. It looked as if it might have been built from wood and the fasteners were all visible. The seat looked a little bit older and upon further inspection, it seems like maybe it was designed to have an upholstered cover that drapes over.

In the above photo, you can see the difference between the traditional gondola seats and this new approach.

Take a good look my friends - it may be the future of gondola seating. I don't expect the private gondola owners to give up their upholstered seats, with all the fringes and such, but like it or not, in ten years, all the traghetto boats might come standard with a black plastic park bench.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gondola and Goose

This image was sent to me by Eric and Sean from The Gondola Company in Coronado, California (see The photo was taken in Boston, Massachusetts at an area known as The Esplanade along the shore of the Charles River. The gondola is part of Gondola di Venezia (, which was started by Joe and Camille Gibbons. Joe hired me and the guys from Coronado to help launch the business back in 2001. We went out there at separate times, covering all areas of consulting. The place is beautiful, and rowing a gondola on the Charles River will remain among my favorite memories for a very long time. Thom Price provided the gondolas and they were fantastic - the boat in the photo was built by Thom in Squero Bonaldo; she's one of only three wedding gondolas afloat in North America.

As for the goose, well, I realize that there are people in this country who aren't all that crazy about Canada Geese - I guess all that honking and pooping tends to get on people's nerves. Southern California doesn't have Canada Geese so I've developed an affinity for them.

I love this image. I'm convinced that it's one of those pictures that tells a story but I have yet to figure out what the story is.

Canada Goose goes to Boston and falls in love with Italian gondola? It's an international love story.

Or how about:

Migratory goose flies south the Massachusetts but sees a gondola and thinks he's gone waaaay too far?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Warm wood interior

When you look at the interior of most gondolas, you’ll notice a common theme: black. Some brass trim is present here and there, seat cushions are usually black but other colors can be seen such as red, and blue. The most common accent color is the floorboard paint. Gondola floorboards, or “pagioi” are usually painted in a theme color with the edges scalloped in black to tie into the boat’s interior. The theme color on many gondolas is red, although blue is commonly seen as well (see the other gondola in the photo). Some rare exceptions do exist; they are often done in a unique hue and can really catch the eye of a gondola fanatic. I’ll cover some of those eye catchers in another post. In this post I want to spotlight a gondola that doesn’t have an accent color – it has something much more impressive: varnished wood.

The gondola in this photo is exceptional on so many levels.

First there’s the look; most gondolas have varnished wood, but it’s only in a few small places. One look at this gondola and you know that it’s special. It’s not “one among many gondolas owned by the cooperative”. Many private owners set their boats apart by using non-traditional colors, but this guy took it to a new level.

Second, there’s the maintenance; so few gondola owners are willing to commit to the upkeep of so much varnished wood. Whoever owns this boat needs to do twice, or three times the work to keep her passenger area looking good. Most guys can just slap another coat of paint on – never worrying about anything but good adhesion. That’s the beauty of paint – you can cover up yesterday’s sins with today’s paint. With varnish, you must take great pain to make sure everything looks good before you varnish – leave something undone, and it will remain on display for all to see until the next time you tool up to recoat. Mix it incorrectly or apply it in the wrong conditions and you may end up with a milky, translucent look, or what I like to call “raisin skin”. Of course there are ways to mess up even worse with varnish but usually you have to be either reckless or stupid to venture into such territory.

On top of all the above, the guy who maintains this beauty must sand each and every corner before varnishing. With a black interior, you can often get away with “skipping” some of the more hidden corners when sanding and painting; I’m not so sure this guy can get away with such corner-cutting. If you look closely, you’ll see parts of the varnish that reflected the flash from my camera. Great varnish, not so great photographer.

I also like the cavalli (brass horses), which are usually left with the brass finish. This boat appears to have nickel plated ones instead – a nice contrast against so much warm varnished wood.

If you’ve seen the Vogalonga or Regata Storica, you know that varnish is not unusual in Venice. In fact there are many all-varnished boats within the many clubs in the Veneto. It is rare to find so much varnish on a passenger gondola. It shows an enviable level of dedication.

The true test with this boat will be whether she is kept up. I speak from experience when I say: anyone with money can buy or commission a beautiful boat – it’s quite another thing to maintain one.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What to do when you're a gondolier in Venice and an ambulance boat approaches

So you’re a gondolier in Venice, you’ve got some nice, young tourist folks on board, you’re taking them for a peaceful, relaxing cruise on the Grand Canal when you hear it: the siren.

That siren, accompanied by the sound of a boat engine in full throttle, can mean only one thing – an ambulance boat is fast approaching.
So you row quickly to the side of the Grand Canal, acting like nothing is wrong but all the while, worrying that you might not get out of the way in time.
The ambulance boat approaches fast. You think to yourself “man, things were going just perfectly until this guy decided to come ripping through the scene”.

You give the guy a dirty look.
As the ambulance boat tears past you, you look at them, (those punk kids!) hoping that at least one of them will look your way so you can give them one of those insulting gestures – the ones only Italians can effectively give.
When the wake of the boat starts to rock your gondola, you tell your passengers about how you “know the guy driving the boat” and how he owes you a drink now. You then point out a building where Marco Polo supposedly lived, and you use a rowing technique your uncle taught you to keep the boat from rocking. You complain to yourself about the problems you must deal with, and then you remember that you’re a gondolier in Venice. And you forget about that stupid ambulance boat and smile – ‘cause life is good.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

PHOTOS FROM VENICE - sun-kissed ferro

This was taken a couple of years ago on the Giudecca. I was in the vicinity of Squero dei Rossi. there were a few gondolas stored on shore with their prows in the air, and I caught the sun's glint off the ferro of one. No photoshop here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Gondola Blog!

I hope this post finds you healthy, happy and surrounded by friends and family.

May all that is really important in life be yours this Christmas, and may you savor each and every moment of what is often a stressful time of year.

God bless you my friends, and thanks for reading.

-Greg Mohr

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in Venezia - procession in Mestre 3

What Christmas event would be complete without a manger scene? Along with a procession of boats being rowed by guys in Santa suits, the folks at GSVVM also provided a floating nativity scene.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas in Venezia - procession in Mestre 2

This is another great shot Nereo Zane took at the procession through Mestre. Here you see six guys from the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre, rowing a club caorlina, dressed in Santa suits. My friends, when it comes to Christmas related photos, it doesn't get much better than this. These guys went all-out: beards, matching suits, they even mounted two "bags of toys" on the bow. I love it!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Christmas card from Minnesota

I just opened my mail today and found a pleasant surprise: a Christmas card from John Kerschbaum of Gondolas on St. Croix in Minnesota. It's not the first year I've received one from John, but this one is different.

As many of you may know, John was part of the Hudson River Expedition which means he was captured on film many times by Nereo Zane. I am a big fan of Nereo's work, and I've mentioned in previous posts, that I have my favorites from the expedition. John just happened to choose my all time favorite photo: the one we've been calling "the Hawaii Five-O shot" - so named because it reminded some people of one of those outrigger canoes riding the surf. It's similar to the current header photo here on the Gondola Blog, but the bow is higher. John was one of the lucky ones rowing on the day of the big rolling swells that made for such great photos.

Merry Christmas John, your Christmas card ROCKS!

John Kerschbaum's website is:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas in Venezia - procession in Mestre 1

According to Nereo Zane, each year in December, the members of the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre organize a procession carrying the Baby Jesus. They celebrate the birth of Christ and the coming of Santa Clause. This photo was taken by Nereo in 2000 in Mestre and shows four GSVVM members in the typical uniform worn in parades. A small basket cradles a symbolic Baby Jesus on the bow. Looking at the guys in the photo, I would guess that it was cold that day, but I'll bet they had a blast. It seems like whatever Venetians do - they manage to make it fun.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Fold-Down Lama

photos by Greg Mohr

The highest part of a Venice-built gondola is usually the tail. There are exceptions, but most involve hull damage or extremely heavy gondoliers. Ask any gondolier who operates in a tide-influenced waterway, and they’ll tell you that just because the front end fits under a bridge, it doesn’t mean that the tail will too. I’ve come upon situations many times in Newport where I had to get as much of my weight out on the tail of the gondola as possible. Luckily, I’ve been eating a lot more than I should lately, so I have a little extra weight to throw around (if any of you need help in gaining some extra weight for this maneuver, I’ll be happy to offer my coaching services). There have been a few times when I actually had to lie on my back and push vertically against the underside of a bridge to make sure the tail of the gondola didn’t get damaged. Oh, the things we do in an effort to get our couples under a bridge to kiss. I could not possibly write about dealing with low bridges without giving a nod to gondolier Robert Dula, who rowed his gondola in City Park in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Robert exhibited a level of dedication seldom seen in the gondola world: he removed sections of the bow and stern in order to fit under the many bridges in City Park, and he had to lay down, or crouch while passing under each bridge. Bravo Roberto!

Now let’s talk about vocabulary for a moment. If you’re already a gondola expert, please forgive the following educational material.

Most folks know the terms “bow” and “stern”; the bow is the front and the stern is the back. I like to say to my passengers that “you bow to someone if they approach you from in front but you’re stern with them if the sneak up behind you”. Another word for the bow of a boat is the “prow”, the Italian equivalent is “prua” and the Venetian dialect version is “prova”. The big ornate metal blade that adorns the prow is the “ferro” (“fero” according to many Venetians), the piece is usually made of aluminum, with some of the more high-line ones made of stainless steel.

There is another piece of metal, way up at the other end of the boat. It is also referred to as a “ferro”, but usually with the addition of “da poppa” so everyone knows that it’s at the “poppa” end of the gondola. If you’re following along and not too bored by my writing thus far, you’ve probably guessed that the “poppa” is at the back end or “stern” of the gondola. The “poppa” is the raised platform that the gondolier stands on while rowing; I find it easy to remember because it comes from the same root as “poop deck”. Now I ask you, what guy can say “poop deck” without at least smiling or cracking up? My kids love it. The “poop deck” is that area at the back of the classic pirate ship where the captain steers using that huge, knobby steering wheel. For me, images of a parrot and a peg-leg always seem to follow.

One last piece of vocabulary: “lama”. In some cases, the “ferro da poppa” is referred to as a “lama” or “lama di poppa”– you can see such a reference in a number of Gilberto Penzo’s drawings. “Lama” translates to “blade” so it is the “stern blade”. In an effort to keep things simple, I often tend more towards the word “lama” rather than “ferro da poppa”.

As far as I know, there is no correlation between this part of the gondola and either a long-necked furry animal from South America, or an important Buddhist from Tibet.

So, getting down to the main focus of this post, when I was in Venice in 2005, I saw a very unique piece of “lama” hardware. I would guess that some of the bridges are a bit on the low side, or perhaps some gondola owners have had issues with the lower parts of the arches under some Venetian bridges. Whatever the reason, a new collapsible lama has been invented.

To the untrained eye, the tail-end of the gondola looks like all the others in and around Bacino Orseolo. That’s right folks, we’re back in the Bacino - the “Gondola Garage” as some call it. For those of us who spend a ridiculous amount of time and attention on crescent-shaped boats, the hardware is different and most of us would notice it, but mostly our eye would be drawn to the extra buckle hardware on the side.

What they’ve done is quite elegant in its simplicity; they’ve added a hinge to the back-strap portion of the “lama”, cut the wood of the tail to allow an easy swing-away movement, effectively shortening the height of the tail by 6 to 8 inches. The final touch involves the aforementioned buckle, which holds the whole shootin’ match in-place. I have yet to learn whether it’s a “breakaway” piece or if it can only swing down after someone has released the buckle.

I saw a couple other gondolas with the same “aftermarket modification” and was most impressed by how clean the cut was as it severed the brass or stainless steel rub-rail trim. With the exception of the buckle and hinge, many of them were quite well disguised.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


When I found out about gondolas in Australia, I set out to find them all. Names like Sydney, Melbourne, and even Brisbane were familiar to me, but one name caught my attention: “Noosa”. I’d never heard a name like that before. I knew nothing about the place or anything up along the coast of Queensland, except that the Great Barrier Reef was offshore from it.
In researching Noosa, I learned that the name was an old Aboriginal word for “Shadow” or “Shady Place”. I found the place to be as unique as the name. This “shady place” is full of people who are determined to keep things as stress free as possible. Lack of high-rises, little traffic, clean air, and clean river help to keep folks relaxed. There are also no traffic lights or parking meters – there’s a conscious effort to keep many “big city things” out of Noosa. Almost 35% of Noosa’s 875 square kilometers is park, preserve, or protected in some way. A somewhat controversial “population cap” strategy, which once caused quite a stir, has been accepted by most now and helps keep the place from feeling crowded. The low-stress, low-crowds, keep-it-natural approach has attracted many people who choose to vacation there. In a 2002 travel supplement, the New York Times did a two page spread on Noosa, a place they said “appreciates nature and the good life”.
Gracing the waters of this idyllic place with a funny name is a beautiful gondola. She takes her passengers through the canals and along the Noosa River.

Richard Wilschke (aka “Ricardo”) and his wife Tanya own and operate Gondolas of Noosa. He proposed to her on the gondola, giving them both a very clear understanding of just how perfect everything needs to be for certain cruisers. They both refer to getting “lost in time” while cruising on the gondola.
The gondola that takes passengers cruising through Noosa is a 7.2 meter long Fiberglass gondola built by the folks at Peninsular Boats. She accommodates up to six passengers under a canopy that’s supported by masterfully varnished wood posts. Like most of the Peninsular gondolas, the Noosa gondola is propelled by a concealed outboard motor, and steered by a skilled gondolier. The motor gives the gondolier the ability to go up-river and show more of the area’s beauty to his passengers.
Richard has succeeded in making a cruise on his gondola “one of the things to do” in Noosa. Gondolas of Noosa offers cruises ranging from a half-hour standard to fully catered charters. All cruises are BYO with a bucket, ice and glasses ready and waiting on the boat. A number of wedding services are available as well. The one that caught my eye was something they call a “sandbar ceremony”; a very unique idea which I’m sure is both beautiful and memorable.

To learn more about Gondolas of Noosa, go to and be sure to look through the gallery, they’ve got some great photos.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

December Homeschool Tour

photos by Alison White

Today, after sleeping in and recovering from the Parade of Lights, a bunch of us went back to the docks and gave tours to a homeschooling group. We do this once or twice every few months and it’s a lot of fun. I spend about 20 minutes teaching about Venice and gondolas, we use some props like a forcola and a remo, and throw in a few phrases in Italian. The parents in attendance have as much fun as the kids. For the groups with younger kids, I end by reading “Guido’s Gondola” by Renee Riva; a children’s book that’s perfect for the situation.

Reading "Guido's Gondola" to the students.

After the lecture and story I’ll take questions and then it’s time to cruise.

Our office manager Alison White sends the passengers to their respective boats and everyone climbs aboard. Once the gondolas are all cruising in a group, the passengers ask questions, the gondoliers take turns singing and as you might expect, more wisecracking between gondoliers is the norm. The singing is always popular with the passengers and these group cruises offer the guys the opportunity to hear each other and in many cases, compete a bit for the passengers’ applause.

The gondolas depart from the lagoon. Gondolier Danny pushes away from the dock while Steve O. is on his way with a boatload of kids.

Gondolier Tim White drives his gondola with passengers out of the slip.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Boat Parade is over

Well, the 2007 Parade of Lights is officially over.

It was a great parade, full of lots of noise, energy, and well decorated boats. Most of the larger vessels (the ones with lights hangin’ all over the place) are sporting one or two extra generators. As those big yachts pass by, you can hear the portable generators buzzing on the stern.

There are many boats we see every year; many of them we look forward to seeing, Then there are the new ones – each year a few really cool new spectacles cruise across the water with hundreds of lights and lots of pride.

I was out on the water again, in my gondolier’s shoes and a parka from when I lived in Alaska. My passengers had a great view of things, we shouted greetings to other boats, and received even more back.

I cruised alongside with Joey and Danny – some of the other gondoliers in our company. We sang some songs, tossed around a few jokes and wise-cracks, and had a great time.

We had sore feet and messy boats to clean by the end of the evening, but it was a good night and a great parade week.

Now we sleep, and in the morning, make another list – a list of things that will make next year’s parade week even better than this year’s was.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


photo by Nereo Zane

On the Hudson River Expedition, we all did many things to keep things on-track. My wife and I shared the duty of driving the van. Imagine a vehicle full of chatty gondoliers, some of whom are Italian. Loud conversations, in two languages, with lots of hand gestures and boisterous laughter. Sometimes it was hard to concentrate on the road ahead.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Boat Parade

Tonight’s cruise was about as eventful as they come. It’s Christmas in Newport and that means Parade of Lights. This is a huge event, involving hundreds of vessels that range from little electric Duffys to gigantic motor yachts – all decorated within an inch of their lives.

Tonight I had one of my very favorite types of passengers: repeat clients who brought friends. In this case it was a couple I’d rowed in September, she had surprised him for his birthday and they were all dressed up. Tonight they brought their son and daughter and everyone was dressed for a sleigh-ride. The gondola was adorned with 50 feet of blue rope-light and I’d laid out cocoa, cider, hot water and mugs. The parade was already in full swing, flowing past our docks like a river of lights. After bundling my passengers in blankets, and untying the dock-lines, I rowed the wedding gondola out of the marina and into the harbor. To have repeat cruisers on board is always a bonus, but tonight I had passengers who hadn’t seen the boat parade before - It’s always fun to live vicariously through your passengers.

If you’ve never piloted a gondola through the Newport Parade of Lights, let me try to paint a picture: to begin with, there’s a fast-moving column of boats that moves swiftly through the harbor, each boat trying to keep up with the pace without running into the transom of the one ahead of it. Each parade boat is full of people waving from the rails and hanging out the windows yelling “Merry Christmas!” at the top of their lungs. Many of the boats have music playing or there’s someone hollering over the P.A. trying to greet everyone who comes into view. I think it’s safe to say that everyone IN the parade is having a ball. The homes and businesses that line the water are bristling with parties that can be seen and heard from porches and balconies. Most of the boats that are in their slips have revelers enjoying the view and toasting with cocktails. And between the parade and the docks, scooting along with the activity, are the spectator boats. Tonight we were among the spectator boats and I must say that there are very few ways to see the boat parade that can compare to seeing it from a gondola, especially one without a canopy. The most important thing to keep in mind while driving a gondola in the parade is that each and every boat has the potential to run into or over you. I’ve been doing this since ’93 and the only time I ever had a boat-to-boat altercation was during the Christmas Boat parade. Captaining a black boat, in the dark, when everyone else is driving their boat from behind hundreds of lights and many have enjoyed a plurality of cocktails, means that the burden is on you to “keep from getting hit”. Considering that you’re on a black boat in the dark, it can be extra challenging at time.

I found a great little nook to duck into, where the parade went by but there wasn’t so much traffic to contend with. My passengers were taking photos, waving to passing boats, and having an overall terrific experience, seeing the parade for the first time. After the last boat in the parade had passed, things quieted down quite a bit. We went into the canals and enjoyed the serenity there. I sang a few songs, we told some jokes, and then I rowed the gondola back into dock.

Everyone had a great time, and tonight, as is often the case for me, I wonder if they had as much fun as I had.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Several years ago I discovered the website of a gondola operation in Sydney, Australia. It was very early in the world of the internet. As the months and years passed, I found more gondola websites “Down Under”. I enjoyed exchanging e-mails with many of them and have become good friends with one operator in particular: Roger Carlson of Adelaide. This post, which focuses on Roger’s operation, is the first in a series of posts, each highlighting a different gondola service in Australia.

Like many large countries, Australia is partitioned into states. Most of us have heard of New South Wales – where Sydney is located. Adelaide is the capital and most populated city of South Australia – another state. Roger is able to operate year-round on the River Torrens because Adelaide enjoys a Mediterranean climate; this same climate is the reason that 60% of Australia’s wine is grown there. Further north from Adelaide, you’ll find more of the typical Aussie agriculture such as wheat, sheep and cattle. Because Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, they have summer when we have winter; this puts gondola operators there in the enviable position of having both Christmas and Valentine’s Day during the best weather months of the year.

Adelaide Gondola will celebrate 14 years of operation this month. It was originally set up by a full-time chiropractor, who imported two Tramontin-built gondolas from Venice. Roger Carlson, a local canoe instructor, rowed for the company and then bought the business 11 years ago. He still runs a canoe business as well, complete with guides and instructors – a great field of possible gondoliers.

Roger still has the two Tramontin gondolas – the only Venice-built gondolas currently taking passengers on the continent. For a while he also owned and operated the very unique “Martin Krause gondola” (to be highlighted in a future post).

Adelaide is the fifth largest in Australia, so there’s no shortage of potential passengers. Adelaide Gondola has a unique sponsorship arrangement with one of the wine makers in South Australia – a nice opportunity when you operate so close to a wine region.

Visit Adelaide Gondola’s website at:

and when you find yourself in South Australia, be sure to take a ride with Roger.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas in Venezia - Gondolas in the front, Palazzi in the back

On the night of December 5th, 2006, Nereo Zane took this shot from the Riva del Vin – a spot along the Grand Canal that’s just a stone’s throw from the Rialto Bridge. The buildings in the photo are the Palazzo Farsetti and the Palazzo Loredan. Both palazzo were built around the year 1200 and now contain the offices of the Mayor of Venice among other things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

PHOTOS FROM VENICE – The Gondoliers with Brown Shoes

These guys caught my eye and I just had to grab my camera.
Beyond their rather “unique” choice of footwear, this photo appears to tell a story. One guy stands and seems to be talking with confidence while the other sits and looks down, possibly at his shoes.

It’s as if the standing gondolier is scolding the sitting one.
What’s he saying? “I told you NOT to wear the brown shoes! Today was supposed to be MY day to wear brown shoes”.
Or perhaps “I’ve been wearing brown shoes on the job for less than a week and already you’ve gone out and bought some of your own? Geez man, you’ve got to stop copying me!”.
Or maybe he’s actually not talking to the other gondolier. Maybe he’s having a nice conversation with the young lady in the restaurant (you can just see her arms in the photo). Perhaps the seated gondolier is looking down in disbelief as the other gondolier tries to use idiotic pickup lines.
What actually took place that day in September of 2000, the world will never know. Two things are certain: 1. A conversation took place, and 2. The gondoliers were wearing brown shoes.
Look closely at the gondolas and you may notice something. Yes, that’s right, they’re the ones from my December 3rd post.

It seems I'm not the only one who likes this spot.
I was just browsing ebay and found this painting:

The only thing missing is two gondoliers with brown shoes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas in Venezia - Santa Maria della Salute

This photo, taken by Nereo Zane on December 5th, 2005, is a striking view of the church known as Santa Maria della Salute. Construction of this church began in 1631 and was completed in 1687. This famous hall of worship was built to give thanks for deliverance from a terrible plague which devastated Venice. The architect was a 32 year old Baldassare Longhena. Believe it or not, this was his first major commission. When Longhena died in 1682, construction was completed by Antonio Gaspari.

During the Festival of La Salute in November, gondoliers have traditionally brought their oars to be blessed on the steps of the basilica.

Shot from a vaporetto stop across the Grand Canal, this image truly captures Longhena’s dramatic two-domed design.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas in Venezia

Christmas decorations adorn the porticos of Piazza San Marco

If you’re like me, you can’t go a day without thinking of Venice. For a gondola fanatic, Venice is the center of the universe. It’s quite common for me to wonder what it would be like to be there – right now. The weather changes; and I wonder if it changed there, and to what extent. This week I’m putting up Christmas lights with my kids, all the while wondering what Christmas looks like in Venice. Nereo Zane has sent me a few photos he took last December, and it is my honor to share them with you. The first one has Christmas decorations in it. The other two just capture Venice, but wow, how Nereo can capture her.
Enjoy the photos, and think of me putting up lights with my daughters. If you’d like, you can say a little prayer that I don’t fall off the roof!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

PHOTOS FROM VENICE - Venetian TV antennae

I shot this in 2006 somewhere in the vicinity of San Marco. I've seen rooftops in Rome and Naples with three or four times as many in one place, but this one caught my eye as it was between buildings at the end of a canal and I liked the silhouette effect. It was a quick shot with a little snappy camera. Those Venetians sure love their TVs.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"Gondolier Lessons" by Hilton

Since the late 1800’s, Venetians have gazed across the wide, picturesque Giudecca Canal, and seen a huge building - one that seemed quite out of place in 1859 when Giovanni Stucky built it.
The building looked different because it had been designed by a guy from Hanover in Northern Germany and then there was the issue of its enormity.
It dwarfed everything in the neighborhood.
Known as “Mulino Stucky”, this well-known monolith was a flour mill, which fell into decline after Mr. Stucky was murdered in 1910 by one of his employees.
No, my friends, I’m not making this stuff up.
In 1954 the doors of the mill closed for good and it sat there doing nothing, once again giving folks something to talk about.
Then, some years back, Hilton bought the place and began turning it into a hotel.
A fire in ’03 gave the folks something more to talk about.
See photos of the fire here:

Here's a shot I took of the building under rennovation in 2005

Then in 2007 the Hilton Molino Stucky opened its doors as a luxury hotel. The Hiltons have done a good job with the old mill and by many reports, people find the building much more pleasing to look at today than they did 148 years ago.
Recently the old Stucky Mill has given the folks something else to talk about:
gondolier lessons.
Hotel guests can receive lessons in the physical and mental disciplines of being a gondolier.
A squero tour is part of the program.
Participants get to be “gondolier for a day” and even get to take their striped shirt home as a souvenir.
To learn more about the hotel version of this building, go to:

Friday, December 7, 2007


Here's a shot from Day 6. After we crossed under the George Washington Bridge, we were welcomed by fireboats from New York and New Jersey. The sun had just managed to burn off the morning fog and we were beginning to see the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The “John D. McKean”, a gigantic fireboat from FDNY provided a grand water display, which came within inches of soaking us a few times. This shot was taken as the sun and spray combined to make a rainbow seemingly right above the gondola. I have many favorite photos from the expedition, but this is definately in my top five.

Monday, December 3, 2007

PHOTOS FROM VENICE - engraved ferro

I shot this photo in 2000 while crossing over a small canal behind Piazza San Marco in one of the more maze-like areas I've explored in the city. The gondola in the back is a standard model but the one in front appears to have the deck carvings of a wedding gondola. The ferro is most likely aluminum because it has the three decorative pieces in front. The finish level on the ferro is what's confusing - while the color of the metal tends towards aluminum, you hardly ever see this level of shine on anything but stainless. I guess I'll just have to go back, find the boat, and ask the gondolier. The engraved initials ought to help.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Most gondola operations outside Venice use trailers to haul out their gondolas. Some use them to haul out for winter storage,
some use them for servicing their gondolas, and others use trailers for transportation between waterways or to tow a gondola in parades.

Mike Novack is probably the foremost authority on trailering gondolas in parades – he’s done it so many times that his gondola is practically a fixture in Columbus Day parades on the East Coast. 

Roger Carlson in Adelaide, Australia has told me many times about when he’s established “unofficial land-speed records” for trailering gondolas Down Under.

For the Hudson River Expedition, we used the gondola trailer as a shipping cradle when transporting her in a moving van.
Whatever your purpose, if you have a trailer, chances are you keep it somewhere safe so it will be there when you need it. For the longest time, I kept a trailer in a safe lot by a boat ramp in Henderson, Nevada.
It was behind two locked chains and within a gated community.
Unfortunately that wasn’t enough.
I had plans to go out and service a gondola using the trailer to do it,
but when one of my gondoliers out there went to check on it,
 the trailer was gone.

Nobody knew where it was, who had taken it, or when it went missing.
There were three or four other trailers being stored there – just my luck, mine was the one that was stolen. Eventually I found myself on the phone with the police department in Henderson and was told that there wasn’t much that could be done.
I could file a report but it would essentially be a waste of time.
My trailer was quite unremarkable in its description and could have been anywhere by the time I’d discovered it’s absence.
The police didn’t do much to brighten my day but they did mention something interesting about the theft:
“it was probably stolen as part of a wire theft operation” was what the officer told me. When I heard the term “wire theft” I thought they were talking about wire transfers, as in bank-to-bank. What the police officer was talking about was the theft of copper wire from construction sites. It’s apparently a big problem, and easier to accomplish…with my gondola trailer!
I know what you’re thinking: don’t trailers have VIN numbers? Sure they do, but on many trailers they’re about as easy to remove as the license plate. It’s quite easy to change the appearance of a standard galvanized trailer by simply removing the license plate and removing or replacing decals.
For my regular contribution to the “I’m a bonehead club”: the trailer wasn’t insured against theft. But then again, who would expect it to disappear from a location that’s behind two locked chains and within a gated community?
In my case the problem had only one solution: buy another trailer.
I had to reschedule my trip out until I had the new trailer.
I was pretty mad about having to shell out more money but it wasn’t a dire situation. Imagine if this were to happen on the East Coast during a hurricane warning, or in the Midwest right before the lake ices over.

For a gondola operator, having a trailer safe and ready to use can be of ultimate importance.
Here are some tips:
1. Keep the gondola in a gated area.
2. Use cable locks for each wheel. If you have a two-axel trailer, a longer cable lock can be threaded through both wheels and the frame on one side. I’ve had good experiences with the Python by Master Locks (see It’s not the cheapest lock on the market but it sure beats losing a trailer.
3. Lock the tongue, where the trailer attaches to the hitch. Trimax makes several good locks and locking mechanisms (see
4. Maintain the trailer. You don’t want to get halfway across town with gondola-on-trailer and get a flat tire or have one of your hubs go out.
At that point there are at least a dozen possible outcomes and I can’t think of one that’s good.
The truth is that unless you keep your trailer in a bank vault, if the crooks want it bad enough, they’ll figure out a way to take it. The object here is to make sure it’s not worth their time and trouble, so they’ll either move on to another target or decide that maybe a life of crime isn’t for them after all. HA!
I’ve heard some recommend that the best way to keep the trailer from being stolen is to remove the wheels, leave it up on blocks, and chain the frame to a fencepost or tree. I’m happy to live and operate in areas that aren’t that hardcore. The fact remains that we need to be prepared, and to take measures towards prevention of the loss.
Your boat trailers are easy picking for thieves. Lock ‘em up!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

IMAGES OF THE EXPEDITION - A View from the Chase Boat

A view from the chase boat on the morning of Day 2 as we left Athens.
Nereo bundled and wrapped the red canvas gondola cover; when we laid it across the bow it made a great wind-break.
You can see the morning dew that hadn't burned off from yet from the sunshine.
In a fit of compulsiveness, I had to flemish the line on deck. She's not a yacht but she served us well and deserved to be treated as such.

Why isn't there a gondola in view?
I'll tell you why: because on the morning of Day 2 - just like every morning - the three Venetians took off like greyhounds. Each morning it was a challenge to keep up with the gondola because whoever was rowing wanted to cover as many miles as possible in case the wind kicked up.

Friday, November 30, 2007


This was shot on the morning of Day 4 as we were leaving the yacht club in Marlboro.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Building the pontapie

In Venetian rowing there is often an inclined surface for the rower to push off of with the rear foot – especially in competitive or athletic rowing. In cases where an actual structure isn’t present, the rower can usually take advantage of the curvature of the boat to gain leverage. On the back of the gondola, as with several other Venetian boats, you’ll see a little wedge-shaped section of the deck. For the other rowers, the pontapie is as useful as it is portable. Often it is braced against one of the boat’s frames, or “ribs”.

When I was planning the Hudson River Expedition, I knew I would need to include a few new pieces of equipment. I’d used a pontapie on many occasions, and in several types of boats, but I’d never really examined one. They were always under the foot and out of my immediate view.

I got some basic dimensions from friends in Venice (Nereo and Vittorio) and set out to design my own pontapie. Early on I realized that all of the surfaces of these little wedges were small enough that they could be cut from pre-existing scrap. Imagine my excitement when I realized that all those pieces of plywood and lumber I’d been hanging on to in the hopes that I might need them some day, were actually going to be put to use. By nature, I’m somewhat of a pack-rat, it’s a constant process of asking myself “will I really ever need this?” In the workshop it’s the same scenario. So not only did I get the opportunity to build something out of wood, use saws, drills, sanders and other tools, and play loud music in the process, but I also got to do it all with scrap. Yowza!

I began the project by determining how many I wanted to build and what sizes they would be. I chose to build six individual pontapie and to make them of varying heights (for different floor-angles in the gondola), and sizes (for different foot sizes). In truth, I don’t know how authentic my design is, I just know that it worked. These little wedges took a beating, none came apart and nobody complained about them (at least not that I know of).

Getting down to business, I would start with the actual foot surface, cut it to size, and prop it up on one end to the desired degree of height. I clamped the piece to the workbench and used a belt sander with 36 grit paper to bring down the underside of the front edge so it would sit properly on the deck. Next I measured and cut the side pieces (the only triangles in the structure). The side pieces were mounted to the foot surface by a third and fourth piece – 2x3 pieces of pine or poplar (all other parts of the pontapied were plywood). The 2x3 sections allowed for near-perfect 90 degree angles and solid anchoring of plywood pieces using stainless screw fasteners. After the side pieces, 2x3 sections and foot surface were all securely fastened together to form a single unit, I measured and cut a rectangular piece to cover the back of the structure. To make the unit easier to pick up, I drilled a hole in the very center of the back piece with a 1” spade bit. Finally, the back piece was mounted with stainless screws to the ends of the 2x3 sections. In each place screws were used, pilot holes were drilled with a countersinking bit that had a tapered end. This was to make sure that no fastening hardware stood higher than the wood surface it was attached to.

With the pontapie structurally complete, I applied two treatments of Smith’s Penetrating Epoxy, and followed with two coats of Interlux Brightsides in every gondolier’s favorite color…black. By applying the first coat of paint about 12 hours after the last epoxy treatment, I ensured good adhesion because the epoxy product continues to cure well after that and as a result, will bond to whatever product is laid on top of it.

I allowed my new wedges to dry for another day. Then in the same Interlux paint, I mixed a sand-like compound called Intergrip (also made by Interlux) until I had the non-skid consistency I wanted. I then rolled black non-skid paint on the foot surface of each pontapie. After another day of drying, I took a stencil and a can of blue marine spray paint (blue to match the floor of the gondola), and gave the pontapie the finishing touch – the logo of the Gondola Society of America.

In using the pontapie, we found that they stayed in place the best when nestled into a corner between the hull and a frame. In cases where we needed to move everything forward, scrap wood, and a multitude of other things were used to block the pontapie forward the desired distance. I placed little rubber “feet” on the underside edges – the same type used to keep cabinets from “whacking” loudly when closed – these were effective for the first 10 minutes, after that they would fall off and end up stuck to other things. Nailing them in with brass nails only added another 10 minutes before they popped over the nail head and fell off. This has been a learning process, and I will try some other ideas next time.

I’ve attached some truly exciting photos I took of the pontapie doing what they do best…sitting on the ground. Not a lot of activity there. As you might expect, I never thought about taking photos of them while rowing – once again they were “under the foot and out of view”. As I mentioned earlier, six were built. You’ll see five in the photos because I gave the sixth one to John Kerschbaum after the expedition. This spring someone in Minnesota will probably use it to row on the St. Croix River.

Five pontapie from various angles