Monday, March 31, 2008

Restaurant in ????

A while ago, Nereo Zane stumped me with these images. He sent them in an e-mail entitled “Central Park? Boston? Las Vegas?”

It turned out to be a restaurant and banquet facility in Monastier called “Ristorante dei Contorni".

He’d taken them in late December of 2004 while visiting the place; it’s just a bit north from Venice in Treviso.

They have two gondolas, which float comfortably on their own little lake, some interesting structures that incorporate striped poles, and a very dramatic bridge. I imagine the bridge must be difficult to climb for brides in wedding dresses, but I'm guessing it's got a great view.

Good job Nereo - you really got me with this one.

Check out Ristorante dei Contorni’s website at:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hats and moustaches

Boy, what a surprise it was last night when I pulled up to the Villa Nova docks to pick up my passengers...and they all came out wearing gondoliers hats and moustaches. These were of the party supply store variety, of course, but they sure made a spectacle for all of the dining room guests to laugh and carry on about.
Six passengers in a Venetian gondola requires a gondolier to work a bit harder in balancing and such, but when they come on board hooting and hollering, wearing hats and moustaches...well, that's different. Let's just say that next year at this time, I probably won't remember my other cruises from last night, but the memories of this one will still be fresh.

This group was a blast to have on the boat, and I wouldn't trade the experience if I could.
I would, however, prefer to not wear one of those moustaches - they had prongs that clipped inside your nose! Ughhh!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pray for Chris

Chris in Albany, New York right before the start of the expedition.

My friends, I write you today with news of concern.

My dear friend Chris Harrison has been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma – a type of cancer which centers around the lymph glands.

There are many positive factors to consider here:

-Hodgkins is one of the most treatable, “beatable” cancers out there

-They caught it early

-Chris is young and strong; he goes into this with good health

-Perhaps the most positive factor is the “ok, let’s do this” approach, so typical of Chris.

Chris has been blessed with many friends, and as this ordeal has begun, he has come to realize just how strong those friendships are. I recently got word from Nereo Zane that Vittorio Orio, Enzo Liszka, and Bepi Suste send their well-wishes and are praying for Chris and his recovery. This was the third time I’d received such a message since the diagnosis– the Venetian half of the Hudson River Expedition team really enjoyed getting to know Chris back in October as we rowed down the river. John Kerschbaum and I have also kept track of Chris and are keeping him in our prayers.

I understand that many of you don’t know Chris personally, and while this isn’t a religious blog, I would like to ask for your prayers.

And even though I place Chris at the very top of my “people who are certain of where they’ll go when they die” list, I’d like to have him stick around.

He's an awesome guy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shots from the day - March 27th, 2008

As usual, It was a perfect afternoon/evening on the water. There was a slight breeze as the sun began to set. My couple was tucked into the seat of the Phoenix, and the young lady had no idea that her gentleman was about to ask her the “big question”.

Like so many times before, I shared the water with Giuseppe and his famous Crystal Swan.

Giuseppe approaches.

Giuseppe turns, showing a perfect profile of his beloved Crystal Swan.

Giuseppe departs.

A shot from the bow in a back canal.

Some of my favorite palm trees. Hey, don't laugh! Palm trees deserve recognition too!

My couple for the evening.
Oh, and by the way, she said "yes".

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Matt's second day of Voga-training

Well, Matt proved to be one of the best I've seen in a long time at picking up the strokes and using them in the right measure. Today was another perfectly beautiful So. Cal. day. We ventured into the canals this time. Matt had the opportunity to fight with the wind a bit in close quarters, and towards the end, even showed some understanding of sotomorso", which is not easy for new students.

Yeah, that's me "sucking in my gut" right before the photo was taken.

A good stroke doesn't always need to involve the whole "paddle surface".

WHOA! Look out!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Chicago's second World's Fair

A curious gondola is depicted on this postcard from the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. I've posted images from the first Chicago World's Fair in the past, and in the future will put up some more images from that, most photographed of fairs and expos. Today, however, I have an image from the second World's Fair, an event that was themed "A Century of Progress", and ran from 1933 to 34.

It was an interesting fair that happened during a fast-moving and somewhat uneasy time. Fast moving because the first introduction of streamlined trains took place there - a very appropriate example of the way things were beginning to speed up. Uneasy because we had just recovered from the First World War and things were once again developing in Germany, government and military things. In fact theGraf Zeppelin, a symbol of Nazi power and prowess, made it's big North American debut at the "Century of Progress" Fair.

This gondola is intriguing because it appears to be about three or four feet shorter than the norm and because the gondoliers seem to be propelling it with very thick poles. Because there are no forcolas visible it is possible that the gondoliers were using a punting method – pushing off the bottom like they do on some boats in England.

Some parts of the boat bear a convincing resemblance to a Venice-built gondola, while the overall length is a definite giveaway. Whoever built this gondola made the same decision that so many other non-venetian builders have made over the years: in order to shorten the boat - the area between the rear seat and the gondolier's deck has been removed from the design. As for the ferro, it is very convincing in the picture, it looks just like the real thing, and may very well be a genuine ferro from a Venetian foundry.

I think the most curious thing about this postcard image is that the gondoliers appear to be holding something other than Venetian remi (oars). Instead, it almost looks like these two guys are using 2x4's! Maybe they decided to push off the bottom and it was really deep, thereby requiring the use of something longer than a remo. Looking at the postcard, there's really no way to discern how deep they are reaching with those pieces of lumber. No forcolas can be seen on the boat.

Around ten years ago I heard a story about how there were a bunch of gondolas at the Chicago World's Fair that nobody wanted when the fair was over. According to the story (or should I call it an "urban legend"), since nobody wanted these gondolas, whoever was left to decide their fate...get ready for this...drilled holes in the bottom of each gondola and sunk them "somewhere near the end of Navy Pier".

I have no idea if the story is true, but every time I see an image of gondolas in Chicago, whether it was the first or the second World's Fair, I wonder if the boat in the picture is now sitting on the bottom of Lake Michigan "somewhere near the end of Navy Pier".

Monday, March 24, 2008

Matt learns to row

I spent some time out on the water today in Newport training Matt Schenk to row Venetian style.
It was a beautiful day, a bit windy, but clear and sunny.

Here's Matt learning dar-zo, also referred to as the "prybar stroke" by some.

We saw some more SUP surfers pretending to be gondoliers.

Matt was a natural, figuring out the right amount of one stroke or another to direct the gondola in almost any desired direction.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Surfers acting like gondoliers?

Happy easter my friends.

I spotted these two this afternoon on the canals in Newport.

I’ve seen this sport before, and of course the immediate reaction is to compare them to Venetian rowers. The truth is that it’s a trend popular with many surfers these days. It’s called Stand Up Paddle Surfing, or “SUP”. It’s been around since the early 60’s when guys in Hawaii in would paddle around on their longboards using outrigger paddles, but it made a big comeback recently as surfers like Laird Hamilton saw the benefits of a higher point of reference.

When Nereo Zane and his family were out from Italy in September, he and I met with some of my gondoliers who are also surf instructors. While we were surfing there was a guy out paddling one of these things.

The board is much more buoyant and the process of catching a wave is a little different, but they ride pretty much the same…or so I’m told.

I’ve never surfed on one or tried the standing up and paddling approach quite like that.

Obviously there’s no forcola, and it’s a board rather than a boat, but the folks who do it appear to enjoy the advantages of standing up and facing forward.

Another reason for the popularity of SUP is that you can do it just about anywhere, regardless of whether or not there are waves.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - white decks in Venice, California

By now my fascination with the gondolas of Venice, California is probably obvious. There aren't any there now, but in the dawn of the 20th century, the place must have been unreal. The fact that gondolas and their gondoliers were shipped from Italy by steamship to California is impressive - it must have been a long ride, especially back then.
Now consider the quantity:
thirty-six gondolas and their gondoliers.
Whether they were all on one ship or came on different ones, bringing over a fleet of that size was quite an endeavor.

Here we have a postcard image with two gondolas side-tied at the boathouse.
It's hard to tell, but there may be a third gondola in the background under a roof or awning; it looks like it's been pulled out of the water for maintenance.
Now take a look at the deck of the boat in the foreground - it has the structural elements typical of gondolas of the era, with their diagonal trim running from the rails up to the center spire.
And then there's the white; I don't know this for sure, but I'm pretty confident that these gondolas didn't come from Venezia with white paint between those diagonal trim pieces.
I've encountered several postcard images from Venice, California with white or tan decks.
Were the decks painted that way to keep them cool in the sun?
Was it done in the interest of having a clean look? After all, nothing shows dirt like a black boat.
Or was it "gondoliers gone wild" with Venetians taking pleasure in slapping paint in colors other than the black that Venetian law required?
It's hard to say.
What do you think?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I had a great conversation today with Tyson from Sunset Gondola. He and Tim just got back from Venice, and by all accounts, had more fun than anyone should be allowed to have.

The guys at Sunset have one of the coolest boats in their fleet: a pupparin.

The pupparin (also referred to by some as a pupparino) is a type of sandolo.
The sandolo hull design is a simple and elegant design, consisting of three curved "sheets" of wood and a small transom piece. They are seaworthy, easy to maintain, and arguably easier to build than a gondola, which has numerous complex curves in her design.
The pupparin has been described as a gondola-sandolo hybrid because she has characteristics of both boats.
She is also described by some as a "transition boat" because young men are usually the ones racing her; guys who are typically on their way to becoming gondoliers.
There are numerous other opinions associated with this unique boat, but my commentary would be incomplete without mentioning the lines of the boat. The pupparin may be the most graceful of all boats in the sandolo family.

As far as I know, the pupparin at Sunset Gondola is one of only two in North America.
I took some shots of her last time I was on their docks.

This boat was built in 1982 by Roberto dei Rossi in Squero San Trovaso.
Notice the seating and surrounding parecio resemble those of a gondola. In addition, the floorboards, forcola and gondolier's deck have strong similarities too.

Here's a close-up of the unique ferro piece.

The pupparin is shorter in length and has less windage so she is more maneuverable and easier to row in windy conditions.

The pupparin is also one of the Venetian designs that are asymmetric. Looking down the center line, you can see her built-in curvature.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Gondola in Central Park, NYC

There are many things I love about Central Park in New York City, but right at the top of the list are the gondola...on the lake...with the Bethesda Fountain on shore. Naturally, when I saw this post card, I went nuts.
The Bethesda Fountain, which can be seen in the distance, has a statue known as the "Angel of the Waters". It was unveiled in 1873 as a tribute to the Croton Aqueduct, which opened in 1842, giving New Yorkers their first dependable supply of fresh water. The last time I rowed with Andres Garcia, the current gondolier on the lake there, he told me all about the fountain and I look for it in all the time in New York movies and TV shows.
By the way, Andres is one of the few gondoliers out there with whom I am truly jealous - he rows in one of the coolest places in the world.
Let's get back to the postcard. Based on the fountain, and the crowds surrounding it, the possibility exists that this image comes from the unveiling of the "Angel of the Waters". It most certainly depicts an event either in 1873 or thereafter.
The image here has been released in a number of forms, both black and white, and colorized. Based on the versions I've seen, my guess is that the color versions came about later, and that not all colors were accurate. I'd be surprised to find out that the gondolier was really wearing a green sweater.
The canopy on the gondola appears to be a traditional "felze di tela" or felze-of-cloth. This has been a fairly popular option with gondolas in the past; it's lightweight, provides relief from the sun, and fairly easy to break down and store.
I've heard from several sources, that Central Park has had at least one gondola since the very beginning. In addition, I've encountered believable evidence that New York may have had a gondola as early as the 1790's - making it the earliest presence of a gondola in North America.
I'm not sure if it's true, but I aim to find out.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Piazza from a distance

photo by Nereo Zane

I suppose it's no secret that Nereo Zane is one of my favorite photographers. Here, he has captured Piazza San Marco and her distinctive campanile from a unique angle. This photo was shot from the fondamenta in Castello - I believe he was next to the Giardini Pubblici.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy to be home

I had the unpopular task of waking my family this morning at the crack of 4:30am.
As you can imagine, they loved me for it.
I won't go through all the gruesome details of how we finally ended up in our seats on the plane. Just know that by that time we were ready to go back to bed, and found the rising sun to be quite annoying. I took the above photo as the jets were lining up for take-off and the sunbeams were coming down through the clouds.
During the flight I had the chance to reflect on all the great friends I'd made and experiences I'd shared with the various gondola people in the Sunshine State. My thanks go out to Pierre and Mike with the gondola operation at Stork's Cafe, Bob and Roberto at Island Queen Cruises in Miami, and all the good people in Naples - Lisa, Donna, Kevin and Patty.
Sadly, I think I could have spent another four or five days visiting additional gondola operators in Florida. The place is amazing, with all of it's canals and waterways.
As we took off from Ft. Lauderdale, I aimed my big lens out the window and caught the image below of the beach and Intracoastal Waterway as it makes it's way south towards Miami.
With all the different waterways, canals, lakes and lagoons, it's no surprise that there have been so many gondola operations and other types of boat charter services throughout the state.
I look forward to the next time I'm in Florida, but today I'm just happy to be home.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Farewell to Florida

Kevin, me and Patty in front of the Naples gondola.

I spent some time yesterday training Patty at the gondola operation in Naples, went through some last-minute things with Kevin, and was finished, for the time being in Naples.
Today we drove back across the peninsula by way of the Everglades, and tomorrow we'll board a jet for California.
I've had a wonderful time out here, and over the years Florida has become a very special place in my heart.
Special, but hot and sticky.
I told my wife todaythat we couldn't set up residence here unless I had a pair of "hermetically sealed, air conditioned underwear".
So tomorrow it's back to California and perect humidity.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Naples Gondola in Texas

Before the gondola in Naples was launched in her new home, she was in Texas, at my operation in the city of Irving. Before traveling to Naples, she received new paint, seats, and varnished wood trim. Her electrical system - both propulsion and accessories, were completely replaced, even the wiring was replaced with new material. A new forcola now sits in a new stainless steel buso, and I put a brand new custon-fabricated ferro on the bow.
The boat looked so good as we were preparing to load her into the container, that I had gondoliers there who were reluctant to help with the loading.

The gondola on-trailer after a last-minute seatrial.

The gondola ready to be loaded onto a flatbed tow truck.

A view over the bow.

The gondola on the flatbed, ready to be loaded into her container for transport to Naples, Florida.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Training in Naples, Florida

This morning we made our way from Miami, across the peninsula that is the state of Florida, and arrived in Naples. What a beautiful place. I've spent a fair amount of time on the west coast of Florida, and this has quickly become one of my favorte spots.
We made our way to The Village, an upscale shopping and dining location to train and visit with some folks I sold a gondola to recently.

My trainee today was a local captain named Kevin, who took to it handily; his boating and canoe skills giving him a bit of a boost in the training process.

The remo and forcola are Venice-built. I'm not sure of the remo, but I suspect it was carved by Paolo Brandolisio. The forcola is brand new, and came from Franco Furlanetto. The gondola is not Venice-built, but rather, a 32' fiberglass version, asymmetric, with an optional motor mounted in the front. My goal, however, is to train gondoliers to do everything without the motor, because then they do not depend on it. Furthermore, I know that most gondoliers who operate boats like this, end up rowing without the motor almost all the time.

The gondola has a rather pronounced asymmetry. Her designer, Jack Fesenmeyer was a big fan of the off-center design of Venetian boats, and worked it into his molds, which we now own and use to produce these gondolas.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The gondola at Bayside in Miami

this boat is no longer operating out of the Bayside Marketplace,

so treat this post as a time capsule.

I spent a few hours today at the Bayside Marketplace, looking at a very rare vessel.
This gondola was built around 1998 in Northern California by Don Curtis. Don built three of my gondolas. He's taken his woodworking expertise into the custom home field, but when he was building boats, he built some beauties. This vessel is all mahogany and maple, with a unique prow in the front and a torpedo stern.
I had the pleasure of driving her around the marina and out into an adjoining waterway, she drives and steers with dual trolling motors, making her ridculously maneuverable, jut like the three we have back in Newport.
I had a long conversation with the man who maintains her - one of the few people who understands what I go through maintaining some of my gondolas. I also met the gondolier, Captain Roberto - quite possibly the world's only Cuban gondolier.
Here's a close-up of the supple seating inside. The whole system is controlled using these three tillers.
In classic Curtis form, the gondola has an arching canopy like those on horse-drawn carriages so long ago.
The canopy from inside.
Here's something you don't see on many gondolas - a fan to keep passengers cool.

Many thanks to the folks at Island Queen Cruises at Bayside for their hospitality.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rowing in Ft. Lauderdale

I arrived today at Stork's Cafe in Ft. Lauderdale, hoping to row.

It had been almost two weeks since I'd been rowing and I needed a workout.

I met gondola operator Pierre Meunier, he showed me around, and then we dug through a storage closet to find an oar.

Stork's Cafe is immaculate; the place is a local favorite, and for good reason. Located on Las Olas Blvd, Stork's is next to a tiny canal called the Himmarshee Canal, and passersby all stop on the bridge and look down at the gondola. It's a great location, especially when you consider that Las Olas has been described as the Rodeo Drive of the area.

As we were digging through the storage area for an oar, I got to know Pierre. For starters, he's a very patient guy: here's some crazy gondolier who just shows up from California and says "hey, I'd like to take your boat out", and then, even though the gondola is usually propelled with an electric motor, the visiting gondolier insists on rowing, and then talks his host into doing a full inventory of the storage closet in search of an oar. Through it all, Pierre was patient and personable.

We found an oar, way in the back, and then went about the business of extracting it. As I talked with Pierre, I learned that he is originally from Nice, France, but has been here in the US for twenty-eight years. He is a licensed captain with a 100 ton ticket, and has operated several types of boats in the waters here, including charter boats, water taxis and even amphibious "duck" boats. He's a funny guy with lots of great stories to share.

Once we removed the oar from storage, I realized it was a lifeboat oar, but was still determined to row. So we uncovered the gondola which was at dock there.
A number of gondolas tie up in front of Stork's:
there's Mike Novack's "Sr. Contendo" which is almost 100 years old now,
there's the "diesel gondola" (another story for another post),
there's the Stork's private gondola (a beautiful boat from the dei Rossi squero),
and then there's the gondola I was on today.

Today's gondola is very special to me because for many years it belonged to my friend Norm Warsinske in Seattle, Washington where he kept it in various places. I first stepped on the boat about ten years ago while visiting him on Lake Washington. A few years ago, Norm sold the gondola to someone in Miami, who then sold the boat to Mike Novack. If you're just joining us here, folks, Mike is a gondola operator in New Jersey, who recently took over operations in front of Stork's Cafe as well. Mike is also the Vice President of the Gondola Society of America, and one of the biggest gondola fanatics I know.

Mike and Pierre took over after the original operator, Angelino Sandri had moved on. Angelino is one of the best gondoliers I know, so I was really looking forward to rowing at Stork's, and experiencing firsthand, the area I'd heard so much about.

I was not disappointed.

The waterways were pristine, looking in any direction I saw beautiful views, complete with lush greenery, banyan trees, palms of many kinds, and gorgeous homes.
After uncovering the gondola, I noticed that a well had been installed with a trolling motor reaching down through and into the water. As Pierre and I set out from Stork's, we went down the Himmarshee Canal, a slow and easy piece of water, and then jumped into the fast-moving New River. The New River is a busy through-way for yachts and vessels of all types that travel to and from shipyards, many of them being towed. Also present on this river were tour boats and water taxis. As if boat traffic weren't enough, the New River has a strong current, which was moving at about five knots today. As we headed down the New River and turned into the Tarpon River, we watched two large vessels, a luxury yacht and a high speed motorized catamaran, trying to navigate one of the tight turns as they powered upriver. Heading up the Tarpon River, the current was moving against me at about one knot, and the water was as smooth as glass. Pierre told me about how the river had been used so many decades ago in a number of Tarzan films starring Johnny Weissmuller - one of the most popular actors to portray the ape man of the jungle.

I rowed up past the 9th Street bridge and turned around where most of the passenger gondola cruises do. Going back down with the current was easy and relaxing on the Tarpon, which gave me time to prepare for the New River.

photo by Pierre Meunier

This gondola is solid, with all the charm you would expect from a Venice-built boat, but she's got some extra weight due to the well, motor, and the seven batteries on board. Rowing it all up the river was a great challenge, and turned out to be just the workout I'd been looking for. Once we re-entered the Himmarshee Canal, it was calm again and I took a moment to wave to a huge riverboat which was giving a tour on the New River. At that point, Pierre told me that he'd been waiting the whole time for me to ask him to turn on the motor. It was a great row and I look forward to doing it again the next time I'm in town.

If you have the chance to visit Ft. Lauderdale, be sure to stop by Stork's Cafe and arrange to meet with Pierre; he's a gondola fanatic, great guy, and the kind of guy I like to see in the gondola business.

To learn more about Stork's Cafe, go to