Thursday, August 30, 2007

So just how does an American gondolier train for something like this?

The "Mestrina" of Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta - Mestre

My father-in-law grew up in New York City, more specifically, an Italian section of The Bronx. He has told me many times about how the best pizza in the world comes from New York City, how there will never be another ball player like DiMaggio, and that The Bronx is the only city in America with a “The” before the name. I’ve also gotten a sense of how much New Yorkers loved baseball when he was growing up there. Oh, sure, they love baseball now, but when my father-in-law was a kid not only did they live for baseball, every day after school they played ‘stickball’ in the streets. With such dedication, is it any wonder that many of baseball’s greats from the 30’s to the 50’s played for New York teams?

Why have I spent a whole paragraph talking about my father-in-law and the enthusiasm New Yorkers have for our national pastime? Because Venetians look at rowing in the same way.

“Voga alla Veneta” is to Venetians what baseball is to New Yorkers. I’ve heard that if you grow up in Japan, you learn karate; grow up in Hawaii, you hula. Venetians row. Sure they have boats with motors and sails, but they row – it’s played a major role in their history, and it’s part of their culture. So how does an American gondolier keep up with Venetians? How can he train for such an event?

In 2005, I had the honor of rowing in the parade portion of Venice’s famous Regata Storica on board the “Mestrina”, the flagship of a rowing club I’d been a member of since 2000. The Mestrina is a 14-man rowing vessel called a "Quatordesona"– bigger than a gondola but with some of the same structural elements. It was a great honor to be aboard. I had a blast; it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I also learned much about the dynamics of group rowing.

The challenges are many:
First there’s the challenge of rowing in a group – understanding the protocols common to team rowing on a Venetian boat, and staying with the rhythm of the group. The protocols can be learned by joining and being active in a Venetian rowing club. The rhythm is often set by the rower in front and really, you need to get used to the idea that someone else is dictating your movement. This is the most difficult challenge most American gondoliers face because we are almost always the only one rowing the boat. It’s easy to settle into the idea that you can set your own pace and not worry about an even rhythm. Consequently, when non-venetians find themselves in a team-rowing scenario, they have a tough time keeping up at times.

Second, the challenge of rowing somewhere other than the “poppa” is worthy of preparing oneself for. The height of the “forcola” (oarlock), the length of the “remo” (oar), and the balance in general are all different when you step down from the area most gondoliers row from at the back of the boat known as the “poppa”. New muscles need to be developed and establishing a new “muscle memory” becomes top priority.

An additional area of concern is having good form. From fencing to football, all sports have proper ways to do things – quite often an expert can simply watch another athlete and determine their skill level and how they have been trained. On this gondola, we will all have a combination of well-seasoned Venetians and younger Americans. No doubt, there will be some “suggestions” made by the Venetians as to form. While it could prove to be embarrassing, my hope is that Chris, Jon and I will learn from the situation and come out of it as better rowers.

Overall, this is an incredible opportunity, not only to develop our rowing skills, but also to take part in a great adventure for a great cause.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Gondola

photo by Cindy Meadors

The gondola we are using for this rowing expedition is a very special one. She is well-traveled and uniquely equipped for the adventure ahead. She was built in Venice, Italy in Squero Bonaldo by Thom Price under the direction of Maestro Daniele Bonaldo. I visited Mr. Bonaldo’s squero in 2000 and saw the gondola under construction. The gondola was finished in 2001 and shipped to The United States. First she was in Austin, Texas, then Houston, and eventually my company, Gondola Adventures ™, Inc. acquired her and she became a favorite in the Irving, Texas location. Chris Harrison, who is a member of the Expedition Team, learned how to row on this beautiful gondola. Her unique accent color, which can be seen on the floor-boards, is the color of the Texas State Flower, the Texas Bluebonnet, and was expertly applied by Irving, Texas gondolier Fred Craven. Near the end of her time in Texas, she developed a leak which continued as she came to our Newport Beach location in California. After she had swamped herself one too many times, I hauled her out, had extensive work done to ensure that she would remain on top of the water, and christened her “the Phoenix” after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes.
She is a well-traveled gondola, and while she wasn’t named after the city of Phoenix in Arizona, she may one day grace a waterway there.

The Phoenix is a genuine Venetian gondola, 36 feet long, asymmetric, and constructed from eight different types of wood. Venetian boatbuilders choose specific wood types for the various parts of the gondola – some parts of the vessel need flexibility while others require rigidity. About the only part of the boat not made from the best wood suited to the task is what we call the “bottom sheet”, which is often cut from Russian fir. Why choose a weak wood? Because the water borne ship worms in Venice are notorious – they can be relied on to eat away the “bottom sheet” in a dozen years. I’m told that it’s “business as usual” to replace the bottom of the gondola every ten years because 0f these wood-eating worms, which the Venetians refer to as “bissi” (a sort of snake) or my favorite: “water termites”.

In the past six years, the Phoenix has taken hundreds of passengers for relaxing cruises, witnessed innumerable marriage proposals, and enriched the lives of everyone who stepped aboard.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ground Zero area claims two more

On Saturday, August 18th, FDNY firefighters reported to a seven alarm fire , among the crew was Ladder Company 5, who lost men on 9-11.
The building is just south of Ground Zero, and was being “deconstructed” at the time. The building was so close to Ground Zero that it was damaged by debris from the Twin Towers when they came down.
Tragically, on August 18th, two more of the courageous men of FDNY lost their lives. Joseph Graffagnino, age 33, of Ladder Company 5, and Robert Beddia, age 53, of Engine Company 24 suffered from severe smoke inhalation and died of cardiac arrest as a result.
As the Mayor of NYC so aptly put it: "I'd like to remind everyone, these are the men and women who rush into danger when we run away. They make the ultimate sacrifice."

The members of our rowing expedition, both in the US and in Venice, mourn the loss of these two heroes. We row as a tribute to the fallen heroes of 9-11, most specifically FDNY. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, and friends.
Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia, we row for you along with those who were lost on 9-11.

We will not forget.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Italian Blog

As I write this, my Venetian counterpart, Nereo Zane is building an Italian version. We talked about running everything through one blog but determined that it would be better to have separate blogs for each language. Check out the blog at:
and make sure both blogs are on your “favorites list”.

Friday, August 17, 2007

History of the river

Henry Hudson
The river currently bears the name of Henry Hudson, the Englishman who explored it in 1609 while sailing for the Dutch East India Company. The river has been called many names over the last five hundred years.
According to Ian H. Giddy’s The Hudson River water Trail Guide, “the Algonquins who met Hudson’s party called the river Shatemuc, while the Mohican tribe called it Muhheakunnuk.”
“Hudson renamed it Great River of the Mountains. It is shown as the Grande Rivier, with great precipices, on a world map dated 1541 by the famous map-maker Mercator. Before the British gave the river its present name, it was known simply as the North River.”
Giddy further writes:
“Fully one-third of the American Revolution’s battles were fought along its shores. You might recall that Benedict Arnold’s treachery was his attempt to surrender West Point, the revolutionaries’ chief stronghold, to the British, who wished to control the river in order to cut the rebelling colonies in two.” (To learn more about the Hudson River and boating on its waters, contact
While most history points toward Henry Hudson as the first European to explore the area, the reality is that eighty-five years earlier, an Italian explorer named Giovanni da Verrazzano arrived to claim that title. He first landed in the area known today as Cape Fear, North Carolina, and made discoveries from Florida to Newfoundland. Among his many discoveries: the area known today as New York Harbor. In fact the
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island was named because historians believe his ship once anchored there. None of his writings indicate that he ventured far enough into New York Harbor to discover the river. While most of Giovanni da Verrazzano’s discoveries have long since been renamed, he is a tribute to the Italian spirit of adventure and discovery that endures to this day.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Six hour windows"

One of the unique aspects of this expedition is that we’ll be rowing down a “tidal river”. The Hudson is so low to the earth that it becomes flooded when the tide rises. This means that the river literally flows backwards at times, with the tidal influence being felt as far as Troy, which is upriver from where we will start. According to The Hudson River water Trail Guide by Ian H. Giddy, “The Mohican tribe called it Muhheakunnuk, which means the river that flows two ways”. Not surprisingly, some call the Hudson a “drowned river”. The tide cycle changes once every six hours. On our first day we’ll have “slack before ebb” at 8:15am – that means the tide will change then and begin to move in our direction. At that point we'll have six hours to row down river before things change and we find ourselves "walking down an up escalator". Our itinerary calls for about 25 miles of rowing per day. If we don't cover that much water in the first six hours...well let's just say that someone is going to be working the night shift.

The support team

Here’s a look at some of the expedition’s great support staff:

NEREO ZANE -Photographer, translator, and planning liaison
Nereo was born and raised in Venice, Italy. He is the host of where a great amount of information on Venetian rowing can be found. Nereo is also currently building the Italian-language blog for this expedition. His business is computer based but his passion is photography. He is publishing a book of photos entitled "Leoni & Gondole" which focuses on the "Lion of St. Mark" and gondolas - both are considered symbols of Venice.
This expedition would not be happening if not for the efforts of Nereo. He has spent great time and effort coordinating between the two groups on either side of the Atlantic. His work in translation, coordinating, and his enthusiasm have been invaluable to this expedition.

MARTINA ZANE – Translator
Martina has served as an official translator for both Gondola Adventures™, Inc. and the Gondola Society of America. She is fluent in Italian, English and Spanish. Her language skills will be helpful in relaying information between team members and answering press inquiries.

ELISA MOHR – Travel agent, press liaison, driver
Elisa is a travel agent and handles the lodging arrangements for the team while travelling down the Hudson. Drawing from her successes in running Gondola Adventures™, Inc. (see she serves as the press liaison, writing the daily press releases during the trip and answering any questions that come from news sources. Overall, Elisa is our on-shore problem solver. One of her favorite phrases is, “There are no problems; only solutions.”
On a personal note, Elisa is my wife of 14 years, and ultimately capable of accomplishing anything she sets out to do. She is amazing. There is nobody I would rather have on-shore and watching over us than Elisa. She is a blessing in my life every day.

MIKE NOVACK - Gondola owner and operator - New Jersey and Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Mike serves as the Vice President to the Gondola Society of America. He has a remarkable enthusiasm for gondolas and the GSA. His regular duties include producing the GSA newsletter, and making sure various inquiries are relayed properly. Mike’s knowledge of the city and his contacts throughout the area make him our “go-to guy” in Manhattan. Mike’s website is

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The team

This expedition has some great rowers involved; here’s a quick look at who they are:

At the heart of it all, is Vittorio Orio; this man is amazing. He is a past preseident of the rowing club "Remiera Francescana". Vittorio has rowed all over Europe, sometimes with a partner or team, but just as often, all by himself. His accomplishments include rowing the first gondola across the English Channel, crossing the straits between Sicily and mainland Italy, and rowing many waterways in Italy and elswhere. Vittorio is legendary among gondoliers. He has a big heart and has done much for charity throughout his rowing career. While it is likely that others have rowed gondolas up and down rivers in the past, Vittorio is credited with the invention of "expedition rowing" in the Venetian style.
It's no secret that the rest of us will be quite honored and privileged to row with him.

ENZO LISZKA - Skilled expedition rower
He started rowing for a living very young and worked on a traghetto (canal crossing “ferry gondola”). After a few years Enzo began working in other fields but, like so many Venetians – he never stopped rowing. He is a member of the rowing club "Remiera Francescana" in Venice. When Vittorio was looking for a forward oarsman with whom to cross the English Channel in 2001, he chose his good friend Enzo Lizska. In 2004 Vittorio and Enzo rowed from Pula in Croatia, to Venice by way of Pirano, Slovenia.

BEPI SUSTE - well-known regatante
Born Giuseppe Rossi (Bepi Suste is his nickname). In Venice the regatta winners are awarded flags, or “bandiere” instead of trophies. Flags are given to the first four finishers. Bepi is known as a “bandierato” in Venice - someone who has won at least one flag, although in this case he has won many flags and has been the first to cross the line in most of the regattas except Regata Storica. Bepi is a member of the rowing club "Voga e para" from the city of Burano. He worked as a gondolier from youth to retirement and is well known among Venetians.

I speak for the other American team members when I say we truly look forward to rowing with Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi. I am certain that we will learn much from the experience and build great friendships along the way


JON KERSCHBAUM - Gondola owner and operator - Gondola Romantica in Minnesota
He went to Venice in 2000, bought a gondola, received expert training in Venetian rowing, and by 2001 Jon Kerschbaum had launched his own gondola operation on the St. Croix River in Stillwater near Minneapolis/St. Paul. By 2006 he had 2 gondolas and an additional operation on the Centennial Lakes in Edina, Minnesota. See to learn more about Jon’s operation.
I consider Jon one of the top five guys in North America in the areas of gondola operation, maintenance, and overall boat handling. he is one of the only outside gondoliers I have allowed to row in my Newport Beach operation during the crunch-week of Valentine's Day.

CHRIS HARRISON – Senior Gondolier - Gondola Adventures, Inc. in Irving, Texas
His passion for Venetian rowing is only eclipsed by his singing ability. Chris Harrison is a classicaly trained opera singer, who has performed in many US cities and is just as comfortable in front of two gondola passengers as he is on stage singing for thousands. His rowing abilities seem to come naturally, and at 6 feet, five inches tall, he doesn't need to try very hard to get the gondola moving. Chris is based in Texas but has also rowed at the Newport Beach operation of Gondola Adventures, and has served as a rowing trainer for company training and outside consulting. I once witnessed Chris rowing out of an evening fog in Newport Harbor, singing in profoundly deep baritone/bass tones. It was as surreal as it was draconian. His passengers loved it, mine were jealous.

I felt weird writing about myself so I asked my wife to write this one.
In addition to being a wonderful husband and father, Greg is also the fearless leader of Gondola Adventures™, Inc. ( with locations in California, Texas, and Nevada. He has been a gondola fanatic since 1993 when he proposed to me on a gondola in Newport Beach, CA. He is a member of the "Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre" (GSVVM) and the President of the Gondola Society of America. He has consulted for gondola operations throughout the US and Canada. In 2005, he had the unique opportunity to row with the GSVVM in the 14-man quatordesona “Mestrina” in the Regata Storica. He is thrilled to be participating in the Hudson River / FDNY Tribute Row and has been working diligently with his good friend Nereo Zane and Vittorio Orio to make this expedition a reality. I am thrilled to do anything I can to assist him with this dream.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The "Gondola Blog" gets launched!

Welcome and Benvenuti to the official launch of the "Gondola Blog".
This blog was created to chronicle a rowing expedition by gondola from Albany to Manhattan along the Hudson River in New York. The expedition will take place during the first week of October, 2007, ending with the gondola and her gondoliers participating in the Columbus Day Parade along 5th Avenue. The purpose of the row is to pay tribute to FDNY and the fallen heroes of September 11th.

Here is the press release issued by Gondola Adventures, Inc.


Contact: Anne Marie Diorio
Office: 949-646-2067 x802

International Group of Gondoliers Rowing the Hudson River from Albany to Ground Zero to Pay Tribute to FDNY and the Fallen Heroes of 9-11

Newport Beach, CA August 23, 2007 – Gondola Adventures™, Inc., in conjunction with the Gondola Society of America, the International Columbia Association, FDNY, and Vittorio Orio, a Venetian gondolier who has undertaken many noteworthy rowing expeditions on behalf of charity (the English Channel, the Straits of Messina, and many rivers in Europe), is undertaking a rowing event to pay tribute to FDNY and the fallen heroes of 9-11. The event will take place in late September and early October 2007, culminating in the Columbus Day Parade down 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

A team of three Italians and three Americans has been assembled. The Americans are gondola operators from California (Newport Beach), Minnesota (Minneapolis), and Texas (Irving). In addition, a complement staff will include a gondola operator with operations in New Jersey and Florida and one with an operation in Virginia Beach. The Venice-built gondola is resident to the California operation and will be transported to New York for the event.

The route will begin on the Hudson in Albany, NY and end a week later at Ground Zero. The gondola will stop daily along the way, visiting with volunteer fire departments. Upon passing under the George Washington Bridge on October 6th, the FDNY fireboat will welcome the expedition with a grand water display. The international team has then been invited to participate in the Columbus Day Parade on October 8th, with the gondola in tow as a float / display in the parade.

In attendance will be the President of the Gondola Society of America, Greg Mohr, the foremost gondola authority in the United States.