Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Last week I was on vacation in Bowling Green, Kentucky with my family. We were planning on a nice day “outside”, but then we awoke to rain – a ridiculous amount of it. So what do you do in Central Kentucky when it’s raining cats and dogs? You go caving. At least that’s what the girl at the desk of our hotel suggested. We’d already seen the “Diamond Caverns” the day before, but there was another cave that I’d wanted to check out since I’d first learned about it a few days previous: the “Lost River Cave”. Caves are cool, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t the cave that drew me to this place. It was the boats. I’ve been in the boat business for almost 15 years. My wife and I have worked in almost all areas of boat tours, but we’ve never handled anything that literally goes underground. The Lost River Cave is a cave tour where you get to ride a boat in a river that flows underground. It’s a “young cave” so there aren’t huge stalactites hanging from the ceiling, but the place really is amazing. Our guide Ryan Stidham was terrific. I’ve spent a long time concentrating on what makes a good gondolier and this guy gave a great tour. Sure, he wasn’t rowing on the back of a boat built in Venice out of eight different kinds of wood, but he was great. He gave a funny, yet informative tour, knew all there was to know about the waterway, and handled the boat like a pro. I’m sure that if he ever wanted to, he could do well in the gondola business. The boats they use in the cave are aluminum, and powered by a trolling motor. Many gondolas in America are strictly rowed but there are several that run on trolling motors. The Lost River Cave operation pushes their boats around using Motor Guide equipment. The interesting modification they’ve made is that the trollers they use are reversed. My guess is that they put a higher priority on having the ability to reverse out of a situation. It’s a unique scenario: no crosswinds, no vaporetti or big yachts plowing through, just a boat, with a dozen people on it and a driver who gives an interesting tour. Oh, and yes, there were a few bats hanging from the ceiling, but nobody got pooped on.
Thanks to Rho Lansden and Annie Holt for providing the above image.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IMAGES OF THE EXPEDITION – towing the gondola

After we arrived in Manhattan and all the rowing was done, we needed to transport the gondola to a yard in Staten Island where she would be hauled out on her trailer and prepared for the Columbus Day Parade.

The distance, combined with the short amount of time we had, mandated that we tow the gondola to Staten Island. Our friends at FDNY were very helpful and did a great job with the transport. I must admit that I can be a “control freak” when it comes to handling one of my boats. Usually I insist on doing everything in a situation like this, but after talking with the fireboat crew, I realized I was among real pros. I let them do it, enjoyed watching them tie a towing harness and walked away, confident that they had it under control. My instincts about the guys on the fireboat were correct. They got the gondola to her destination safely and on schedule.

Someone had to ride in the gondola to make sure she didn’t “fish tail” back and forth, so Chris Harrison and one of the firemen had the honor, and Nereo got a great photo. Bow up, Chris’ hair flying, and as an added bonus, the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Monday, October 29, 2007

IMAGES OF THE EXPEDITION – Tugboats in Kingston

On Day 2 we landed in front of the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York.
I had expected to see some interesting vessels at the museum, but I had no idea there were so many neat boats along the shore as well. As we approached Kingston by water, we passed the famous light house and turned into a channel which is the mouth of Roundout Creek. Following that channel up about a mile to the museum, we saw many types of boats. The most noticeable, however, were the tugboats. There were at least 3 or 4 of them, and all big, work boats. It appeared that most of them were retired and either live-aboard boats or mothballed for some other reason.
As I researched the Hudson River in preparation for the 2007 expedition, I learned that the river has served as a shipping corridor for hundreds of years and, to this day, cargo is pushed and pulled up and down on this historic river. We were passed by numerous giant barges of cargo, fuel, or other commodities, all being moved by tugboats. So I suppose I should have expected to see some “old guard tugs” along the route.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Chris Harrison, our "Texas Gondolier" was easy to pick out, for obvious reasons.

A rare shot of Nereo Zane showing his Italian spirit.

Me with my beautiful daughters.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


The Hudson River Expedition would not have been the same without our photographer, Nereo Zane. He captured some images that will remain on my “favorites” list for a long time. His dedication to recording the expedition has provided us all with the ability to really look back and remember things as great as they were.
I first met Nereo Zane in September of 2000 in the city he’d grown up in, Venice, Italy.
I had originally contacted him in seven months earlier; I’d seen a photo of his posted on his website and I wrote to tell him how much I liked it.
Here’s the photo:

We traded e-mails quite a bit but once we met in Venice, we became fast friends. My family and his family spent a lot of time together and we looked forward to seeing them each time we returned. Nereo and I have covered Venice many times over, on foot and by boat. I don’t know which amazed me more – his ability to find his way through the maze that is Venice, or the speed at which he walks. The Zane family has lived on the mainland in Padova for a long time but Nereo still knows his old home town like the back of his hand. Not only does he know how to traverse Venice, he knows how to photograph it too. Each time I’ve “speed-walked” through the canal city with Nereo, we’ve taken photos, sometimes side-by-side. Sure enough, once I’ve arrived home and we’ve emailed photos to each other, well let’s just say that his look like Ansel Adams in color while mine resemble photos taken by a five-year-old.

The team celebrates after arriving at the Marlboro Yacht Club 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

In the above image you can see the chase boat in the corner on the left. Throughout the expedition, we wore many different shirts. There was our official jersey, with its red and white stripes (like Chris and I are wearing here), there were white polo shirts provided by Ristorante da Ivo (not shown in this photo), there were red T-shirts from Casino di Venezia (John wears one in this photo) and there were long-sleeved gray polo shirts from Ali Laguna (as seen on Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi).

In the days to come, I’ll post more of my favorite images captured by Nereo. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

“Free Gondola Ride”

I just finished reading “Free Gondola Ride” by Kathleen Ann Gonzalez…for the fourth time. I love the book. A few years ago I gave it to some gondolier friends as a Christmas gift. I don’t know if they have re-read it like I have, but I enjoy the escape and, at under 240 pages, it’s an easy one to carry around. In the world of gondolas, there are very few books that don’t concentrate solely on the boats.

“Free Gondola Ride” is written first-person by a woman who traveled to Venice with the goal of performing a series of “clinical” interviews with various gondoliers in order to write an expose on the men who row the romantic boats in Venice. While the plan didn’t quite work the way she’d hoped, Gonzalez quickly followed a new approach which not only yielded some great stories, but also many friendships, resulting in more depth and detail than she would have gathered under the original approach. The book offers a rare look into the lives and personalities of some of Venice’s most visible boatmen. Her experiences with the gondoliers vary, as do their personalities. This group of experiences, retold in an easy-to-follow format, is interesting for several different reasons; chances are if you like gondolas, you’ll enjoy experiencing Kathleen’s experiences with her.

To learn more about the book, visit

Monday, October 15, 2007

Is it a “first”?

Day 1 of the expedition. photo by Nereo Zane

Many of our team members have been asked whether this was the first gondola on the Hudson. Both friends and members of the press wanted to know if it was a “first”, if it’s “one for the record books”. While it would be great if this were the case, our friend Joe Deverell of Cross Lake, NY actually met us there in Albany, having rowed there through the lock system. While Joe can not only claim to have been there before us, he also completed an impressive expedition of his own. In our research though, we’ve discovered that there were gondolas on these historic waters as early as 1907. According to the book “Images of America Croton-on-Hudson” by the Croton-on-Hudson Historical Society: “The Nikko Inn and the Playhouse at Deep Hole, above the Croton River Gorge…”(pictured in the book)”…Clifford Harmon hoped to attract a colony of actors, writers, musicians and artists for his community. These two architectural treasures provided a suitable gathering place for them. The Nikko Inn was decorated as a Japanese teahouse, and it was managed by “Admiral” Moto. It attracted stars such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. On special occasions, local costumed gondoliers rowed celebrities up the Croton River in gondolas.”
I recently had a great conversation with Joyce Finnerty – Village Historian of Croton-on-Hudson. Joyce confirmed the presence of the gondolas and graciously allowed me to quote the book.

The presence of gondolas on the Croton River comes as no surprise to me. Gondolas have been in North America since the late 1700’s. Their earliest presences are traced to the New York area. While these gondolas were on the Croton River, it feeds into the Hudson and is quite small; it is highly probable that the gondolas mentioned in the “Images of America” book were initially rowed or towed up the river. We can say with near certainty that one or more of the “Nikko Inn gondolas” ventured on to the waters of the Hudson a time or two. Over the years I’ve researched gondolas outside of Venice and am continually surprised by two things: the number of gondolas that have operated in the US and the interesting places they’ve been found. The funny thing is that there’s always someone out there claiming to be the “first”.
The gondola is a timeless masterpiece of marine architecture. Anyone who has seen one in Venice in all of its glory has thought about how terrific it would be to bring one or two to their hometown. So while there are many gondola operations outside Venice that were inspired by other operations, there are just as many that began with the “original thought” inspired by the city of Venice herself, and so it has been for a very long time.
Here in Southern California, we experienced a “gondola renaissance” of sorts in the early 80’s, with several gondola operators claiming to be the first, when all the while there was a gondola floating in Newport Harbor that had been imported by the Curci family in the ‘60’s. The Curci’s knew they weren’t the first, but many of their passengers may not have been aware that another gondola, owned by Venetian John Scarpa, had come to Newport in 1907. Scarpa’s gondola was only one example; gondolas showed up in Venice, California in 1906 and the Naples area of Long Beach in 1910.
Similar histories can be told along the Easter Seaboard, Great Lakes and even the Mississippi Delta.
Transplanted Venetian gondolier John Scarpa on his gondola in Newport Beach, California, circa 1908.

While it would have been fun to be the first gondoliers on the Hudson, our team is proud instead to have installed a new chapter in an already great tradition.
This expedition was not designed to set a record, but rather to give recognition to our modern day heroes – the brave men who gave their lives on September 11th of 2001. While everyone else was running from the Twin Towers, they were running toward them.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


photo by Nereo Zane

All along the route of our expedition we met great people with giving spirits. At each place we stopped we were treated with warmth and hospitality. The team would like to extend a big “thank you” to all who received us with such grace.
September 11th changed us all in one way or another. Sure, many of the folks we ran into or were hosted by were probably already predisposed to such hospitality. But I feel that when the Twin Towers came down, Americans were reminded all-the-more that they needed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
I encountered two shining examples of this spirit and they punctuated our expedition; one at the beginning and the other at the end.
Ron Dawson of Dawson’s Body Shop was recommended to me by Dockmaster Ed Larvia of the Albany Yacht Club. Ed was a great help to us throughout our expedition and his choice of Dawson was perfect. Dawson came in with some very impressive equipment and picked up the gondola on her trailer with perfect balance on the first try (we’ve done this over a dozen times and I’ve seen many operators get it after three or four attempts). I approached Ron afterwards to pay for the work and he told me he didn’t want any money from me; after September 11th he’d spent four days in New York City helping with his trucks and equipment, working alongside FDNY and NYPD personnel. I could see in his face, the reverence towards all that had happened. Dawson’s Body Shop is hereby named as a “write in” sponsor. I’ll not soon forget what I learned that day.
After all was said and done and the only thing left to do was put the gondola back into the truck, we were in a towing yard much closer to Ground Zero. In fact as I was working with some of the Staten Island Towing Service guys, one of them blew my mind with a statement I’m sure he makes quite often: “We still have a World Trade Center, it’s right here on Staten Island”. He was talking, of course, about the large amount of debris brought over and buried there on the island. This statement gave me chills and served to remind me of how very close and connected these guys were to it all. Upon seeing the gondola and understanding that the cause of the expedition was to honor the fallen heroes of 9-11, John Forster told my wife that there would be no charge. I am honored to list both Dawson’s Body Shop and Staten Island Towing Service as sponsors; my only regret is that we couldn’t have their names on the gondola.
I’ve learned a lot about people this month. And while we on the West Coast watched our televisions in horror as the World Trade Center fell, I have been constantly reminded of the bigger impact it had on those closer to it – some of whom, actually heard the towers fall. “Nolite oblivisci” – never forget.


Gondola safely in truck.

By nature, I am not really a “morning person”. It’s quite common for my wife and me to turn in at around 2am. This expedition was one big series of early mornings, especially as we rowed according to a tide schedule which happened to switch in the morning. So as I have been doing for the last two weeks, I awoke early on the 9th of October. We didn’t have a parade (that was yesterday) and there was no rowing to do (the gondola was on her trailer in Staten Island). I awoke early on the 9th to get “closure”, to “finish what I’d started”, to “carry the ball that last yard”, to (heck! Insert your own favorite analogy here). I did it to get the gondola into the truck so I could breathe a heaving sigh of relief. This was an overcast day and it looked like it might rain at any minute. Elisa and I arrived at the Staten Island Towing Service yard and waited for:
- The arrival of the gondola with Vincent Tummino,
- The arrival of John Forster from Staten Island Towing Service, who insisted on performing the transfer personally,
- And of course, the arrival of the big semi-truck to put the gondola in.
Vinny showed up first, accompanied by Vittorio, Bepi, Enzo and Enzo’s daughter Samantha who had joined us on Day 5. While removing the trailer from the hitch on the truck, I noticed something new on my trailer: little shamrock stickers all over both sides. In the FDNY world, a large percentage of the firefighters are either Irish or Italian. It seems that when the trailer was stored in a firehouse lot, the “Italian” gondola trailer was “marked” by Irish firefighters. I laughed out loud at the thought of it, and still snicker when I think about it two days later.
The gondola was lifted by two independent forklifts; a rolling flatbed from a Landol truck was backed under the gondola and trailer, and then the gondola was rolled into the Rudd’s Transportation trailer.
Sam, who was our driver and has transported other gondolas for me in the past, secured everything in the truck and headed out of town in the direction of California.
Then and only then, did it rain. God is good. It had threatened to rain on three of our rowing days, and then two days prior to the 8th the NYC forecast called for rain on our parade. Again, I laughed out loud as the rain fell on my windshield, on the city, on the Hudson, but not on my gondola, not on the expedition, and not on our parade.
Elisa and I arrived back in Manhattan in time to watch our two daughters ice skate in Rockefeller Center – a family tradition of sorts. Then we had “tea” at the very girly, pink and flowered room at American Girl Place on 5th Avenue. Later that night we saw a performance of “Stomp” and thoroughly enjoyed the loud, percussive performance. With not a care in the world (anymore), we just enjoyed the City.
Ice skating at Rockefeller Center.

Having tea at American Girl Place

Monday, October 8, 2007


As we left St. Patrick’s Cathedral and made our way over to 44th and 5th where our gondola was, it became apparent that this was no ordinary day in Manhattan. Sure, the streets were blocked off and there were lots of policemen around, but it was the people: some were in costumes for the parade, others were just spectators looking for a good spot to watch the imminent spectacle from, there were very few people walking around who looked “normal”. Nobody was walking to work in a suit or just wearing nondescript street clothes. There were lots of jerseys for the Italian soccer team that won the World Cup recently, there were tourist grade T-shirts from all over Italy, and even a few “kiss me, I’m Italian” buttons.

As we walked along 5th Avenue, the parade entrants were tucked up into each side street. There were marching bands, parade floats, Maserati’s with important people in them, and folks in all types of traditional dress representing people from Sicily to the Dolomites. As we reached our gondola, I noticed a “bagpipe band” full of some of the toughest looking guys I’ve ever seen in kilts. I don’t really know their story except to say that they played a mean bagpipe and looked like they could take on the Hells Angels if they wanted to.

The parade began to move and our gondola moved with it. Everyone ended up on the gondola and the gondoliers each held an oar vertically. As we pulled out of our side street and onto 5th Avenue, I was amazed that there were so many people who had come to see it all. For miles and miles we saw them, waving and cheering. John and I had fun yelling “Buon Giorno” to some of the more crowded spots and hearing them yell back. A few times we all sang “O Sole Mio” and received applause from the folks in the audience.

Some news crews were there and took turns interviewing each of the gondoliers. At one point a reporter asked me if I’d ever thought that I’d be in a parade down 5th Avenue in New York City. My answer was that I’d dreamed of it as a kid but thought that I’d need to become an astronaut to part of such an event. Luckily I was able to get there by simply rowing a boat.

The city of New York is just filled with Italians. People with backgrounds from different parts of Italy were making their statements by wearing different types of costumes and waving either the Italian flag or a flag from a specific region of Italy. I even saw one woman waving a Palermo soccer team scarf.

The parade was an amazing experience and I speak for all of us when I say that I’m sure we’d all like to do it again.

Tomorrow we’ll load the gondola into her truck and send her off to California. I’ve executed this type of load-in a dozen times or more, but still we need to take great care to do it right.


I had been to St. Patrick's Cathedral a few times in the past, but never had I been to a service there. St. Patrick's is huge, second only to the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Built between 1858 and 1878, construction of this neo-gothic cathedral was actually halted for a time due to the Civil War.

There are many ways to describe this place of worship, but above all, despite the many faiths represented in the Five Boroughs, St. Patrick's Cathedral is best known as "New York's Church".

This morning the place was at maximum capacity. Many of the people were in the dress uniform of their civil service position, and many more had dressed up for the occasion, complete with sashes and other regalia indicating their Italian heritage.

In his message this morning, the Archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan, included enlightening words about the numerous contributions to the world made by Italian-Americans. From Supreme Court Justices to architects to Antonio Meucci - the true inventor of the telephone - the list was long and distinguished.

I enjoyed the experience and will always be able to say that I've attended a mass at St. Patrick's.
Next on the agenda: parade!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The “Sandwich” Day

When I first started planning this expedition, I was fully aware of the magnitude of our 6-day row, and very quickly the Columbus Day Parade because almost equally as important. The 6-day row ended on the 6th, and the Parade is on the 8th, so today, Day 7, was the sandwich day in between the two. We expected to rest and were delighted to have been invited to a wreath-laying ceremony this morning at Columbus Circle. I’ve been by Columbus Circle many times and had never really stopped to take it all in until this morning. What an amazing place. Yes, it’s beautiful, like many other New York landmarks, but it’s the significance that really touched me.

Going back to our planning stage, the team had been invited to participate in this wreath-laying ceremony and we knew that there would be some important people there, but I don’t think any of us expected it to be so grand. For starters, it seemed as though everybody who’s anybody in FDNY and NYPD was there and in full uniform, brass buttons and all. There were a lot of other important people there whose jobs did not require them to wear a uniform. Most of them were in very nice suits. And then there was this group of ragtag guys who had just rowed a gondola down the river. We weren’t wearing shabby clothes, but we also didn’t have suits or brass buttons. All the same, we were treated with great respect and enjoyed meeting some of the most important and influential people in the fight to keep New York City safe and secure.

Yesterday, at Ground Zero, I began to hear words from speakers that reinforced a belief that I already held – a belief that a large percentage of the people who keep New York safe are of Italian descent. This morning it became clear that that was indeed the case. As if this congregation of important New York Italians was not impressive enough, the gondoliers and I were quite impressed to see a 40-man marching band from the Italian Police Division “Guarda di Finanzia” march in and play not only Italian songs, but the US and Italian National Anthems.

After the wreath-laying ceremony, I made my way back to our overpriced hotel and my wife Elisa and I got the rental car out of an overpriced underground parking garage and we made our way out of the city, driving all the way back up to Albany. When the boat arrived in Albany in late September, she had all of her seats and decorative pieces (anything removable on a gondola is referred to as “parecio”). In order to row the gondola, all of the parecio was removed and graciously stored for us at the Albany Yacht Club. During the week, Elisa’s cousin Joe Duffy picked up the parecio and brought it to his house and today, we made a special trip up to the Albany area where he lives. After loading it into the rental car, Elisa and I had a brief visit with her Aunt Maria and Uncle Joe and various family members who live in the area, and I was once again reminded that I am, indeed, 100% Italian by marriage. Homemade Clams Casino and Dunkin Donuts’ coffee were enjoyed by all.

Tomorrow is the big Parade day. We’ll attend a service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, dress the boat with all of her parrecio, don our gondoliers’ uniforms, and soak up the experience. Never did I suspect that I would one day be involved with a parade down 5th Avenue. I feel very blessed.

One more thought along the sandwich theme: my mother- and father-in-way have come along with us, lending great support especially in the area of providing excellent babysitting skills for our two daughters. This morning, my father-in-law went to pick up sandwiches for lunch in mid-town Manhattan. He placed his order and then someone asked him if he’d seen the prices yet. He was rather surprised when he looked up to see that a sandwich on Park Avenue can go for as much as $15. He promptly canceled his order and went around the corner where he found them for $4 instead.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


All photos by Nereo Zane

This morning began a little earlier than usual for the team as we awoke at about 5:30am in order to drive to the train station, catch a commuter train, walk to the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and get the gondola ready. Pat Slaven of the club met us there with coffee and great homemade banana bread, and the gondoliers were amazed at some of the boats she showed us. When the Venetian team members learned that Pat had won some big club races – one time beating the men as well – they all felt the need to congratulate her with handshakes and the obligatory kiss on each cheek.

Conditions were foggier than we’d seen all week. I also noticed an increase in humidity; just walking from the train station to the club left us feeling a bit sticky.

We left the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club at 7:45am, rowing against the current; it was Bepi, Enzo, me and Vittorio (any time I mention the people in the gondola, it is always from bow to stern). Pat Slaven followed along for a few hundred yards and then we were on our own until the Yonkers Fire Boat joined us as an escort. This was not our only escort of the day. We were flanked by fire boats from three cities, NYPD craft and a Coast Guard vessel.

Today’s row was essentially a straight shot from Yonkers all the way down to Ground Zero. This 18 mile trip was broken into three segments – mostly in order to keep things simple and make it easy to keep track of while rowing. The first segment was a six mile row to the George Washington Bridge (the GW, as the locals call it), the second and third were a twelve mile run with the halfway point being in a place I could identify from the gondola.

As we rowed into the fog on our first segment, I decided to remove my glasses because they kept fogging up. This resulted in a world that was a touch more mystical and everything seemed to be in soft focus. This was just another step for me in a long process of letting go. On the chase boat or in land, I’ve been the one in charge and have felt a responsibility for the group. In addition, I’ve spent over fourteen years on the back of a gondola as the guy in charge. To find myself rowing without any other responsibilities was difficult at first but soon became a welcome relief. Vittorio is the captain of the boat. He stands on the raised deck in the back, gives the orders and makes the decisions. The man knows how to read the water and there are few, if any, who are as skilled in this area as Vittorio Orio. With all of these things in mind, I’ve worked hard to let go at times and revel in the fact that all I have to do is shut-up and row.

This first segment had me worried though because we appeared to be way behind schedule. It was confusing to see so much water and shore pass by and still not see the bridge. We were on a schedule and it required passing under the GW Bridge at 9am, It was five minutes to nine and still no bridge. I put my glasses on again – nothing. Vittorio, who has a higher vantage point, said maybe we’d reach it in a half and hour. I began to worry because we were scheduled to meet the FDNY fire boat at nine. I resigned myself to the fact that all I could do to influence the situation was row harder – shut-up and row. At three minutes to nine I noticed something that looked like a narrow building right on shore. As I looked at it more closely, I realized that it was one of the two big stanchions of the GW. The bridge had been there all along but the fog was so thick and the bridge so tall that we couldn’t see it until we were passing right under it…at 9am.

The “John D. McKean”, an enormous red and white fireboat from the FDNY met us just a stone’s throw from the GW Bridge. This boat is incredible. I don’t know the size but it’s huge, and reportedly was built in the 50’s. In thick fog the fire-boat filled the air with a grand water display unlike any I’d seen. We rowed and smiled, when the display was over, we all raised the oars when Vittorio said “alzo I remi!” This raising of the oars is common among Venetians and we would end up doing it about fifteen or twenty times throughout the day.

As many people had predicted, once we passed the GW, we faced some big, rolling waves from large vessels. at least two dozen times we went through the process of facing the oncoming rollers and keeping the oar blades in the water for stability.

At around 10:30am the fog began to lift and we enjoyed the sun. The current had now turned in our favor and we were moving fast! Other boats came alongside to join in the escort. The big FDNY boat gave another display. The pace today was fast. At certain times it felt like the sprint I'd predicted. At one point we encountered a Polynesian paddling boat known as an outrigger canoe. Bepi decided to instigate a race and in no time we were blasting along with the outrigger alongside and eventually passing us. They had six people though and hadn’t just paddled from Albany. We visited with them for a minute and then moved on. Our progress was good and we ended up having to wait a few minutes to arrive on-schedule.

We arrived in the North Cove Marina at about 11:45am and were well received by firemen, dignitaries, and locals who had come out to see what the commotion was. Arriving after such a long trip was cause for great celebration and everyone was as happy as they could be.

Vincent Tummino gave a terrific presentation, we were each presented with a placque from the city of New York, and took hundreds of photos (or so it seemed).

After Ground Zero, Chris and John climbed on the gondola and I got a free ride in a fireboat along with Nereo , our photographer and Martina, our translator. We headed back up-river to the Circle Line Tours dock where we were welcomed by the owner of Circle Line and the rowing part of our journey had come to a successful end.

The gondola was then towed to Staten Island, placed on her trailer, and will be dressed and ready by Monday morning for the Columbus Day Parade.

Tomorrow we will participate in a wreath laying and I look forward to posting about it after the fact.

Friday, October 5, 2007


After some stretching exercises and a short photo session taken from the dock, the gondola departed from the Peekskill Yacht Club at 8:45am with Bepi, Enzo, Chris and Vittorio rowing. The weather was forecasted to resemble the previous day, but we were almost fogged in as we started down-river. Extra care was taken to avoid the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. We weren’t afraid of being irradiated; we just didn’t want to lose an hour by being flagged down and questioned by security personnel.

Yesterday was hot; 85 Fahrenheit was the figure I heard from many people. When I was in the gondola, the Venetians were saying that it felt like “un giorno d’estate” (a summer day). I was watching to see if some of the orange leaves on the trees would turn back to green. Today had the heavy overcast feeling I had expected when we were speculating weeks ago about the weather in October.

John and I, as always, had great conversations in the chase boat about camping and canoeing and everything controversial (as we passed a nuclear power plant). Once again, he awoke this morning in the gondola, having slept better than any other place on the route. Entering Haverstraw Bay in the fog is really something to see. It’s such a wide piece of water that in foggy conditions you can’t see the other side. We made our crossing from the east shore at Montrose Point, traversing the bay partway and then following the shipping channel alongside. We travelled end to end in order to create a more noticeable radar signature as we flanked the shipping channel.

John replaced Chris at 10:20am; the gondola had gone 6 miles. Shortly after the shift change, with Chris, Nereo, and I on the chase boat, the engine sputtered and died. I went through the same steps that Bepi had on a previous day and got it running, but then it died again. We repeated these steps 3 or 4 times to no avail. It was quite exciting as we were right alongside a shipping channel, and with the fog we were half expecting a giant barge to come plowing through. I got a hold of Captain Walter Garschagen with Sea Tow out of Coldspring, New York; we had spoken the day before because he’d seen the gondola on the river and was curious to know what we were doing. The Sea Tow boat was on her way and arrived at 11:17am. As is common in such situations, the engine finally started running two minutes earlier at 11:15am. Our photographer Nereo Zane showed us that he also knows a thing or two about spark plugs, and he had resolved the situation by tightening the gap between the points on the plugs.

Captain Walter of Sea Tow flanked us in the chase boat as we made sure the engine was going to continue to run strong and not leave us in the shipping channel again. Thank God he was there, because while he didn’t tow us in, he led us through the thick fog to the Westerly Marina in Ossining where we bought new spark plugs and had a great conversation with the owners. We left Ossining at 12:45pm; I talked with John Kershbaum at that point and they had reached the Tappan Zee Bridge (17 miles into the row) and were taking a 10 minute break near the east shore to eat some fruit and drink some water. While I wasn’t there to see it and Nereo wasn’t there to photograph it, the report from the gondola was that conditions were perfect and thus far it was the best day of rowing yet. I had planned on rowing today but clearly it wasn’t meant to be; the gondola was on schedule to reach Yonkers before we did.

The gondola arrived at the Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club at 2:15pm. The chase boat was at least an hour behind it.

I try to add photos to each of the posts, but unfortunately today our staff photographer was fixing an engine. Rest assured you will see many images from tomorrow, both here and quite likely on the news. Tomorrow is a whole different kind of day for us. Up until now, each day has had a distance goal and a recommended time frame based solely on the tide schedule. The only penalty to arriving late was rowing against the current. Tomorrow I will join the Venetians in what is likely to be an 18-mile sprint to the finish line.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


All photos by Nereo Zane

With a forecast similar to yesterday’s, we were all a bit surprised to see a bright sunny morning, but I didn’t hear anyone complain.
Chris and John have been camping at some of our docking locations. Last night John, our Minnesota gondolier and a former Boundary Waters canoe guide (BWCA) slept in the gondola. He enjoyed being rocked to sleep and said it was the best sleep he’d had so far on the trip.

Early morning dock activities included an enthusiastic rowing lesson from Bepi with Enzo and Vittorio interjecting. It was loud, boisterous, productive and fun for all. Chris noticed a difference in his stroke as soon as they left the dock.

The gondola in front of the Marlboro Yacht Club.

Departing the Marlboro Yacht Club at 8:15am, Bepi, Enzo, Chris, and Vittorio began the day’s journey and we all made sure to express our thanks to the members of the yacht club.

The gondola had a good strong start, covering 5 miles by 9:20am.
By 9:15 the wind was light but steady, creating a very light chop – unpleasant for water skiing but fine for rowing. As we came up along-side the gondola to catch a photo with a freight train in the background, Bepi caught my attention, pointed to Chris and gave me a “thumbs up” indicating that he was rowing well – a big compliment considering the source.

By 9:50am, the gondola made it to the Newburgh-Beacon Bridges at 6.4 miles. John switched with Chris who received congratulations for his rowing as Bepi and Enzo joked that Chris had “taken my spot” on the gondola.
We were able to get both gondola and chase boat next to Pollepel Island for a great photo with the castle behind it.

The guys rowing past Bannerman's Castle.

From Bannerman’s south, the winds were calm and the sky was clear but for a few small clouds. It got hot today; the sun was out early and we found ourselves spraying a lot of sunscreen, actually wishing at one point, for a breeze to cool us down.

At 11:30am in the shadow of Storm King Mountain, I switched places with John.
Passing west point, we heard a bugle call and then bells – a chorus of bells accompanied us for the next 10 minutes. I was surprised to learn that Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi were fans of West Point. We stopped for a minute so they could have some photos of themselves with West Point in the background.

About a half-mile from the Bear Mountain Bridge, we took a break at 12:45pm to eat tomatoes and apples and waited until 1:15pm.
We passed under the bridge and arrived at the Peekskill Yacht club at 2pm – a half hour before our scheduled arrival time.

On the dock at the Peekskill Yacht Club.

The Peekskill Yacht Club was quite hospitable and welcoming. We had a great time getting to know some of them and at one point everyone ended up singing “O Sole Mio” at high volume.
It was a great day filled with some of the most beautiful country I’ve seen from a river. Scott Keller from the Hudson Valley Greenway had told me that this was some of the most beautiful scenery along the route and he was right.

Tomorrow we will be in the widest part of the river and an area where high winds can spell disaster.
Please pray that the winds will be as still as they were today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


All photos by Nereo Zane

Getting an early morning start

The forecast for today: overcast at first, a little wind activity, and possible light drizzle for a short period in late morning. We did get some drops on the windshield while driving to the gondola but after that I think we had a total of 1 minute’s worth of drizzle.

Bepi, Enzo, John and Vittorio left Kingston at approximately 8:30am, making their way down the roundout to the famous lighthouse and, as usual, got a good start – making the 5 mile mark by 9:40am. They would have been there sooner if they hadn’t spotted a large recently-dead carp fish floating in the water. This fish was easily 2 feet long and they couldn’t pass up the chance to pick it up and pretend they’d caught it for the camera.

No, they did not catch that fish by whacking it with a matter what they tell you.

As we move down-river, we are seeing more pleasure boats, all curious to see the gondola, many wanting to know more. The Hudson River has commercial traffic as well; it’s not uncommon to see a huge barge pushing up-river. We encountered a small cruise ship yesterday; I’m sure we’ll see more as the days go by.

Many of the people I spoke with when I was planning this expedition said that we probably wouldn’t see much in the way of fall colors. It has been mostly green, but each day there’s a little more yellow, orange and red in the trees. This is such beautiful country. We are now in Bald Eagle territory; we don’t always see them, but whenever we’re rowing near shore, we can hear their distinctive calls.

At mile 7 the sun came out and the wind picked up just a bit. The light reflecting on the water was something to see. Conditions up until now had been great, but my biggest concern was with the river 4 miles ahead. From the Crum Elbow to our destination at Marlboro, the river can become a “wind tunnel” for about 9 miles.

At 10:45, the gondola reached 10 miles. At 11:55am they stopped under the abandoned railroad bridge at Poughkeepsie after rowing 16 miles and Chris took over for John. They passed the Pirate Canoe Club (19 miles from Kingston) at 12:30pm. The wind was building, the water becoming choppy, and the skies darkened. It was looking like rain for a while but then the sun broke through and we drew a sigh of relief.

Rowing in the sun, a few miles from Marlboro.

I took a short day today, rowing the last few miles with Bepi, Enzo and Vittorio. It is incredible rowing with these guys. You can’t get off the boat without having learned something new and every stroke seems to be better than the last. Having Vittorio right behind me up on the poppa deck makes for some excellent instruction, not to mention a little pressure-to-perform.
Everyone on the team knows that Chris Harrison can sing; he is excellent and some of them regard him as “Pavarotti numero due”. Today he did something new: he sang to us from the chase boat for the last mile. As we rowed, we heard a full version of “Non Piu Andrai Farfallone Amorso” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Vittorio liked it so much that he stopped the gondola, fished out his video camera, and demanded more. Chris responded by singing “Notte Giorno Faticar” from Don Giovanni.

We arrived at the Marlboro Yacht Club at 1:30pm, a full 45 minutes ahead of our scheduled time of 2:15. Everyone was in a great mood. The sun was shining, the wind was minimal and the folks at the Marlboro Yacht Club treated us with such hospitality that we had a hard time leaving for dinner.

The team in front of the Marlboro Yacht Club.

I know many of our friends have been praying for good weather, and especially for light winds. We got what you asked for today. This day was a big one with many factors combining to potentially become a “perfect storm”. First of all, the gondoliers were a little fatigued from the 50 miles they’d already rowed. Second, we were travelling through a section of river which heads directly south while the winds have been prevailing from the south. As I mentioned on day 1, when the wind and tide oppose each other, we get waves. So not only does a headwind hamper the gondola’s progress, it also tosses her around, making rowing difficult. The third factor was the fact that winds often tend to build in the afternoon and we were scheduled to be in the “wind tunnel” just when it starts to really blow. Yesterday I quietly predicted an arrival time of about 3pm at the Marlboro Yacht Club. I’m so happy to have been wrong!

Tomorrow we row 24.5 miles to the Peekskill Yacht Club in, you guessed it, Peekskill. Keep praying for good wind conditions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


All photos by Nereo Zane
departing Athens, NY
We got an early start today from Athens, arriving at the gondola in time to push off at 8:30am as the tide was nearing the end of its reverse cycle. Bepi, Enzo, John and Vittorio took off fast, rowing against the current until it slacked and then turned downstream. While prepping the chase boat, I had the chance to talk with some of the locals and answer questions.
By 9:10am the gondola passed under the Rip Van Winkle Bridge having traveled 4 miles in 40 minutes.

Nearing the 4 mile mark

Not everybody was in striped shirts today. Many of the guys opted for more comfortable or functional clothing. Everyone had fun joking with Bepi who tied a long strip of cloth around his head like an Indian. Geronimo, Indio and Comanche were among the nicknames thrown around.

At the 7 mile mark, the wind came up a bit. By 10:30am, the gondola had reached the 10 mile mark and the wind was getting stronger. I switched places with John at the 11 mile mark. No sooner had we begun rowing than the chase boat sputtered and died. The boats came together and we each took our turn trying to fix it in our own way. We dropped anchor in a shallow because the wind was pushing us back up-river. I began a series of phone calls which ended with Sea Tow on the phone. While I was giving them our location, I heard the engine come to life – Bepi had removed the spark plugs, cleaned them with a Swiss Army Knife and some sandpaper, plugged them in and brought the motor back to life. We were on our way again.

While rowing along the east shore, we passed two women who were asking about the gondola. I asked them where we were and they said “Tivoli” – about 17 miles into our 25 mile row. It was 12:20pm. The wind began sending us rollers and decent-sized chop. About a mile later the wind eased up a bit and the water calmed down to light chop.

Chris and I changed places and he remained on the gondola until they made land at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston at about 2:10pm.

The team after arriving in Kingston

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is a straight shot down a section of river that heads directly south. I’m told that when the wind is out of the south (as it has been so far) this section becomes a wind tunnel.

Wish us luck and pray for calm conditions.

Monday, October 1, 2007


all photos in this post by Nereo Zane
Our first day was many things: amazing, challenging, educational, and as expected – it was filled with events and experiences that will influence not only the next five days, but future expeditions.
Chris and I were fortunate enough to be on the morning news, in studio at the Fox affiliate in Albany. It was a fun interview, Chris sang, I talked about the route, and they showed some “B-roll” of the team shot yesterday during a warm-up row.

We got back to the Albany Yacht Club in time to receive a very late shipment of oars and greet Scott Keller of the Hudson Valley Greenway who had paddled over on his kayak with a friend.
Our priest Father LeFever was perfect for this event: warm, genuine, and most of all, he’s the chaplain for the police department in Albany. Many thanks to Jodi, a police officer, for arranging things. We are doing this for police and firemen so we couldn’t have had a better priest to do the job. He blessed the boat, the gondoliers, the oars, and was very encouraging.
Camera crews from the various TV stations came by, one at a time, and when we got off the dock, it was about 9:30am.
For the first 10 miles it was Vittorio, Enzo, Chris and Bepi rowing at a strong pace. Nereo, John and I followed in the chase boat and had a hard time catching up after having been delayed at the dock. I was amazed at how far they had gone.

When John climbed into the gondola and Chris joined us in the chase boat, he looked at me with big eyes and exclaimed “those guys are machines!”
John rowed for the next 2 or three hours and I did the last segment. We all felt good about our shifts rowing with the Venetians, received some good instruction and can’t wait to get back on the boat tomorrow.

The first 10 miles were with light wind and a good down-river current. The guys made good time and the water was smooth. After passing under the Castleton-on-Hudson Bridge, conditions changed: the wind began to blow up-river and as it clashed with the water, which was flowing in the opposite direction, waves began to appear. At first it was a light chop, but a few more miles down the river and the guys were getting quite a ride. The bow of the gondola was well out of the water at times and our gondoliers proved that they had a good sense of balance.
At around 2pm the tide turned on us. Scott Keller had warned me that it would, and I assumed that we’d need to dock the gondola and come back after the tide turned again. I had not factored one thing into the equation: Venetians. They just kept rowing. An hour later I replaced John and the four of us rowed against the current with no problems. Vittorio reads the water with an expert eye and brought us through several areas where the water wasn’t as actively flowing. Where there was current we just powered through it. It was challenging a few times but having to keep up with the pace is easier when you have some of the best rowers in the world watching you.

We made land at Athens at 5pm. We were later in arrival than I’d like but we completed our first segment and discovered that we could row against the current, at least this far up the river, for some time without problems.
Earlier in the day, I brought the chase boat in to the fuel dock at Coeymans Landing and promtly broke the starter (I have a knack for things like that). Jim Costello at the repair center there had it fixed in a short time and was very good to us. Thanks Jim!

Today’s total mileage was 26.6, tomorrow we have another 25 mile row to Kingston. Please pray for good weather.