Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Headbanger's Ball

I realize that the above photo probably looks a little strange, so I'll do my best to interpret.
This was taken at Allen's Landing in Houston, along the Buffalo Bayou.
When Chris Harrison and I left the hotel on the morning of our rowing expedition there, it had been raining for several hours. In addition to the unexpected downstream current, we also showed up to a gondola with six inches of water in her.

She had a bilge pump, but I'd instructed Chris to remove all the batteries from the boat when we put her on trailer in Irving. This gondola has an auxiliary motor - which I had no plans to make use of, so to remove the extra weight (and remove all doubt as well), we got rid of the batteries. In the "didn't quite think it through" department, on that rainy morning there was no power source for the bilge pump. We'd brought a shop-vac and an adaptor to power it from one of the vehicles, but I think it required too much amperage.

non-operational shop-vac
no power to the bilge pump
gondola full of water.
What the heck do you do in such a situation?

Here's how we solved the problem.
I clipped the bilge pump wires from their sources and stripped the ends.
Chris threw me the female ends of two extension cords.
I stuffed the freshly stripped wires into the extension cords - one per cord, using the center hole on the bottom where the ground wire is.
Chris pulled his Toyota up to the edge of the wall and popped the hood.
Next, Chris touched the two ground prongs on the other ends of the extension cords to the positive and negative posts on his car battery.
And victory, we had "pumpage"!

Chris secured the two extension cords and I turned up the Metallica on the car stereo (hey, might as well rock out a bit while we wait for the pump to do it's job).

So that's when Chris started to get into the music.
He started head-banging to the beat.
more and more vigorous was his head-banging display.
In fact he shook his head so hard, that he almost fell backwards off the wall and into the boat.

I missed the leaning back "whoa! I think I'm gonna fall" shot, but caught this next one where he came forward off the wall and steadied himself on one of the giant iron posts.

After a brief moment, (which I'm sure included some thanks to the Man Upstairs) Chris looked over at me:
taking photos and laughing my butt off.

Knowing he'd been caught on camera, Chris made this gesture. Click on the image to gain a true appreciation of the look on his face.

If Chris ever records an album, I think this should be the cover shot.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hazy Day in San Marco

photos by Sean Antonioli
Sean Antonioli sent me this shot. He took it while living in Venice.
If you can't see the Campanile from Piazza San Marco, take a look at the close-up below.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pupparin Regata

I took this shot in 2005 on the Grand Canal in Venice.

The Regata Storica has many races, and I got photos of them all, but this one has been on my computer desktop for a long time - waiting for me to post it up.

Aside from reminding me of one of my favorite days in Venice, I think I like this image because of the way the sun glistens on the water. More than anything, this photo continues to push me towards planning another trip to Venice.

Yeah! Like I need any help in that department.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Gondola activity in Germany

Our friend and Bavarian gondolier Ingo Stahl, has once again sent some great photos from Germany.

Ingo operates his gondola in Wörthsee - in the lakes region of Bavaria in southern Germany. For winter, he brought his gondola up to Bamberg, where another gondolier, Jürgen Riegel runs his own gondola operation.
I'm told that
Jürgen has set up a sort of mini-squero there in Bamberg, with three gondolas being worked on through the cold months.

Soon Ingo will bring his gondola out to Nürnberg where each year, they have a "Venetian market". A number of gondoliers row their gondolas there on the little river Pegnitz in what's kown as the "Medieval Center". After that, Ingo and his gondola will return home to Wörthsee for what promises to be a great season.

Ingo Stahl's website is:

Jürgen Riegel's website is:

and you can visit the site for the Venetian Market at:

Some day I hope to get out there and see it all for myself - it sounds fantastic.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A shot from the day - Newport Beach

Gondolier "Gio" and I were approaching each other from both sides of the Newport Blvd. Bridge. I took a whole bunch of shots, and in all honesty, this is one of the only ones that came out. But I like it - it captures many elements of our world here in Newport: the sunset, the bridges, the boat traffic, and of course - the 5mph "no wake" signs which nobody pays much attention to.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A shot from the day - Lake Las Vegas

Mark Wheeler and I spent today working on various maintenance projects out at my Lake Las Vegas location. It was a gorgeous day and we got a lot done. I took this photo of our gondolier Matt Kepple, out on a dinner cruise, just before sunset.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

STEREOVIEW - Chicago 1893 "knickers"

Some believe that the first gondolas in America arrived in 1893 for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago . These were canopied and well dressed gondolas, often with two gondoliers per boat. According to photographs, the gondoliers would row in suits or more traditional attire, which at the time meant knickers and garments you might see in the Regata Storica on some of the parade boats. The 1893 Expo in Chicago was the first in a series of expos and world’s fairs to feature gondolas and their gondoliers from Venice, Italy. Many of the later expos hired gondoliers who were already stateside, but some of the folks who ran the earlier expos, brought the gondoliers and their boats over from Venice. It's pretty safe to assume that the gondolas in these images were shipped out specifically for the function.
Take a good look at the costumes on the guys rowing this gondola. The knickers, the hats, and the coats are right out of a Shakespeare play. Perhaps the Merchant of Venice.

In the upper left-hand corner of the image, you can see the famous Illinois Building - one of the multitude of world's fair buildings that no longer exist, but were captured forever in some of the earliest photographs we have.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My family and I checked out of our Houston hotel, picked up the gondola-on-trailer at the Boy Scout Headquarters, and made our way north towards Irving. Like before, the drive was enjoyable and the scenery, beautiful.

We all have our favorite Sonic drinks, and because we don't have very many Sonic locations near Newport Beach, we stopped into several on the way up the highway. Yes, that does mean that we also took many potty-breaks, but that should be expected with a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old.
I was happy to be living out the "family truckster dream".

Just before sunset, we arrived back at Lake Carolyn, launched the gondola, and Chris rowed her back to the docks - with just enough time to prepare her for his 9pm cruise.

Tonight I'll sleep well, with nothing to worry about but my flight.

Houston Expedition - the Boy Scout Convention

The day after the Houston Expedition, I didn't care about the rain. I didn't care about the wind. Lightning and ship traffic, and navigational hazards were the least of my worries. I was on my way, with Elisa and our two daughters, to the Boy Scout Convention of the Sam Houston Area Council - the largest council in the BSA.
When we arrived, my girls and I gave the gondola a good waxing and gave the boat a general clean-up.
Then came the crowds.
I've done a lot of things with gondolas, but this was the first time I trailered one into a convention hall and allowed hundreds of kids to climb all over it. I had expected to shake hands with a lot of scouts and parents, but for some reason, I hadn't anticipated the Cubs. The gondola had an automatic draw, everyone wanted to see what that huge black boat was all about. For the Cub Scouts, and other young kids at the convention, seeing other kids on the boat was all it took to inspire them to climb aboard too. In retrospect, I think having Cub Scouts climb all over the gondola, was a good "durability test", and the gondola stood up to the test very well.

The folks from the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau had their ultra-professional convention display gear set up next to the bow of the gondola, and the whole booth looked great. The Irving CVB staff had a steady stream of convention-goers to meet and greet.
All-in-all, the event was a great success.

After seven hours of hand-shaking, photo taking, and making sure nobody got hurt, we were all quite ready to call it a day. We brought the truck in and hooked the trailer up, and in a short time were on our way.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Houston Expedition - A More Complete Review

photo by Elisa Mohr

When Chris and I left the hotel at around 7:30am, it was raining. Large pond-like puddles in the parking lot attested to the fact that the rain had been coming down for several hours.
I was worried.
During all my research and planning of this expedition, I heard the same statement from just about everyone I spoke with: "the bayou doesn't really move much unless there's a lot of rain".
You see, while the Buffalo Bayou doesn't receive much in "regular runoff" (by that I mean streams which flow into rivers), the bayou does get a lot of runoff from the rain. When Chris and I arrived at the gondola, the water level had risen about two feet, and debris was floating past us at about three and a half knots. Thankfully, the rain had stopped, but Chris and I agreed that rowing in the rain wasn't nearly as bad as wind or lightning. We had no lightning, but there was wind...blowing down the bayou.
Translation: we were in for a fast ride down and a hard fight back up.

I had five options:
1.) chicken out - no way!
2.) try to get clearance from the US Coast Guard to add an extra thirteen miles to our permit to travel through "Security Zone" waters and end at the Battleship Texas - not likely as they generally require advanced notice of several days.
3.) proceed as planned, but have the chase boat tow us back up if the going got tough - I could never look Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi in the eye again if I did that. And besides, that's not me.
4) end at Brady's Landing - at about eight miles, it seemed pretty pathetic to "ride the current" down and then cop out rather than fight.
5.) Tough it out!
It had to be option #5.
We would proceed as planned, and fight wind and current as best we could.

Philip Kropf - our chase boat captain arrived and launched his boat. We talked about the conditions and how we expected things to develop.
Some local Boy Scouts showed up and I talked and took photos with them.
Chris and I had planned on departing at 10am but finally shoved off at about 10:40 because we had to wait for a news crew.

As expected, the current carried us at speeds much higher than normally experienced on a gondola. The upper part of the Buffalo Bayou is a beautiful, lush area, with thick foliage growing out over the water in many places. Passing under the Highway 59 interchange was surreal. Unfortunately, with rain runoff, comes litter; there was an abundance of plastic bottles and Styrofoam cups making their way down the bayou too.
After a few encounters with photographers and news crews along the shore, we approached the top end of the shipping channel. Philip called the Coast Guard's version of "Air-traffic-Control", alerted them of our presence, and we cruised into the wide channel, with cargo ships moored on either side.
Rowing past the big tankers and cargo vessels was incredible. There were vessels from a number of different countries, many of which were being loaded or unloaded as we passed.

It took us a little over two hours to reach Brady's Landing, and we had taken it easy during a lot of the trip because news staff or photographers had called; asking us to slow down so they could get in place before we passed.
We celebrated at Brady's Landing, knowing that we'd covered half of the sixteen miles.
Our celebration was short-lived; once we turned back up the bayou, we were shaken back by a wind that was blowing steady at 20 knots and often gusting much faster. The shipping channel was a wind-tunnel, funneling the wind in our faces and forcing us to fight our way back up the channel. The two and a half miles of shipping channel, which had flown past us on the way down, taking about twenty-five minutes traveling "downstream", took us two and a half hours to cover on the way back up. These were some very challenging conditions; at one point Chris and I stopped rowing long enough to switch places (about 5 seconds) and were immediately shoved back down the channel at about 5 knots.

Over the years, I've told a lot of people that rowing a gondola is a lot like rolling a dumpster across a parking lot: it takes some exertion to get it moving, but after that, you can just keep pushing a little and the thing will continue to move.
This was like rolling that same dumpster - but in a parking lot in San Francisco!
Uphill, all the way.

After Philip alerted the Coast Guard that we were out of the shipping channel and back among the trees, things calmed down a bit, but it was still a fight with the wind at every other turn.
The sun, which had eluded us until about Brady's Landing, was now shining down on us, ensuring an eventual sweaty sunburn for both of us.
Fatigue was setting in. The two and a half hour wind-fight up the shipping channel had drained us, but we knew we had to press on. During water breaks, we would find ourselves washing back down-river again.
Our hope had been to arrive back at the starting point at Allen's Landing by 3pm. With a late start time, downstream winds, and a current brought on by rain runoff, we finally stepped off the gondola in Allen's Landing at around 5:50pm.
I would have been disappointed with our arrival time, but I was busy concentrating on getting the gondola out of the water, onto her trailer, and into the Reliant Arena for the Boy Scout Convention which was taking place the next day. Our tow truck operator did an exceptional job loading the gondola, we struggled a bit getting out of the landing area (backwards, through the mud, around a turn, and all the while pushing a trailer), and we were on the move.
We got to Reliant with time to spare and spent some of the last little bit of energy cleaning up the boat.
It was a great expedition, filled with adventure and challenge.
We had a fantastic time, and along the way we learned a lot about our capabilities - both physical and mental.

Thanks be to God for this awesome journey.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Houston Expedition - the Day in Photos

photos by Elisa Mohr

The Houston Expedition was a success!
Enjoyable at times, and a hard-fought battle at other times.
I'll write a more in-depth report in the days to come, but for now - I'm spent.
Here are some photos that Elisa took along the way with a few captions.

Departing Allen's Landing.

Rowing along one of the more green and lush areas of the Buffalo Bayou.

Making our way along the Ship Channel.

Approaching Brady's Island.

Leaving Brady's Island - bound for "more wind than should be allowed on any piece of water".

Arriving back at Allen's Landing.

A little after-rowing siesta.

Hoisting the gondola back out.

Mission accomplished!

Houston Expedition - Today's the Day!

Last night Chris and I had a good long conversation with the Man Upstairs. We understand that if He gives us rain and strong winds, that we'll be depending on Him more than usual. And if we should get struck by lightning...well then we'll be headed Upstairs ourselves.

We awoke this morning to rain. It was in the forecast, but still a bit discouraging. For the last two days, the forecast has called for all of the above-mentioned weather elements. Last night it called for rain all through the day. As I write this at 7:30am, the forecast shows the rain subsiding at around noon.

We've just had a protein-heavy breakfast and are out the door.

Pray for good weather, my friends.
Chris is feeling well, and we both got a good night's sleep.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Houston Gondola Expedition cause - Boy Scouts of America

Our expedition down the Hudson River in October of '07 was done in tribute to the "Fallen Heroes of 9/11". I can think of very few causes as worthy as the FDNY, NYPD and other real-life heroes who gave all on that fateful day.

While contemplating expeditions in other geographic areas, I had considered some possible causes, but never the Boy Scouts. The folks at Tucker and Associates contacted me with the idea of the Houston Expedition, as well as other locations in and around Texas. When I found out that we would be rowing to honor the Boy Scouts of America, I practically jumped in the air.

You see, scouting has played a major role in my family for generations. My grandfather was the Scoutmaster of my dad's troop, and my dad was the Scoutmaster of the troop that my brother, my cousin and I, and many of our friends grew up in. I am an Eagle Scout. I'd love to take full credit for it, but it was my father who really got behind me and pushed for the last five yards or so. I was carrying the ball, but he, and many others were pushing me into the end-zone. I saved three lives before the age of 18 because of the first-aid training I'd learned in scouts (sure, two of those rescues were performed on scouts, during scout trips, but that's another story). Scouting taught me to plan, prepare, and most of all, to "go for it". If anything I've done in my life is labeled a success - I feel that it's only fair to point towards God, my parents, and scouting.

So it is with great honor that we row with the scout logo on our gondola. Scouting has made a difference in the lives of so many young men. Whenever I get the chance, I encourage parents of "energetic boys" to get them in a troop. It certainly helped this "energetic boy". God only knows the trouble I might have gotten into had it not been for Troop 658 at the Rolling Hills Covenant Church in Rolling Hills Estates, California.

Houston Expedition Update - She's in the Water!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Houston Expedition Update - Arrival in Houston

After a long drive through some beautiful country, we arrived safely in Houston with gondola in-tow. The drive from Dallas to Houston is probably about the same distance as L.A. to Las Vegas, but much easier on the driver. There's always something interesting to look at, and because it's a north-south drive, the sun isn't blazing in your face like it is half the time I've crossed the desert to or from Vegas.

No matter where I go with a gondola in-tow, it's always fun to see the reactions of people in other cars and at rest stops.

Tomorrow we'll do our best to get the gondola in the water using a tow truck, some duct tape, zip ties, bungee cords, a can of Crisco and harsh language, if necessary.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lettering is on the boat

Chris Harrison, Alex Hastings and I showed up at the docks bright and early to get the sponsor decals on the gondola. It was a lot of work doing it with the boat still in the water, but it sure looks good. Next, Chris and I rowed around for a news crew and got a good workout in the process - it was quite windy.
Nothing gives a gondolier a workout like fighting the wind.
We got the cameraman on the gondola for a while. I haven't seen the footage yet, but I've heard that he got some great video.

At the end of the day we loaded the gondola onto her trailer and we'll take off for Houston tomorrow.
Wish me luck - it's a lnog trailer and an even longer drive.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Houston Gondola Expedition - general information


The gondola scouting expedition is designed to raise awareness of The Boy Scouts of America (BSA)—Sam Houston Area Council (SHAC), and the Scout Fair. The expedition is hosted by Irving, Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau. BSA is based in Irving and Gondola Adventures, Inc. operates gondolas along the Irving Mandalay canals in Las Colinas. The expedition coincides with the SHAC Scout Fair, “Race to Scouting,” on April 19 at Reliant Arena. On April 18, a Gondola Adventures Inc. team will row a gondola along the Buffalo Bayou in support of SHAC. The purpose of the gondola row is to raise awareness of SHAC and the Scout Fair, and to acknowledge Irving, Texas as the headquarters for Boy Scouts of America.


The expedition team will depart from Allen’s Landing at 10:00 am on Friday, April 18. Boy Scouts from SHAC will be there to send the team off.

The gondola will travel down the famous Buffalo Bayou – travelling from the Downtown Houston area, passing through some beautiful areas representing the bayou as it was hundreds of years ago, through an industrial district and into the security zone of Houston’s cargo ship area. The gondoliers will make their turnaround loop at Brady’s Island (viewable from Brady’s Landing restaurant), and then head back up the bayou, travelling all the way back up to Allen’s Landing. The route will cover about 16 miles. The gondoliers expect to contend with winds and currents as well as having to accommodate cargo ships and other vessels which may block the way periodically. The gondola is scheduled to arrive at Allen’s Landing at 3pm where SHAC officials will be waiting to greet them.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Regata shot

Nereo Zane took this shot back in November of '04 during the Regata de San Martin.

Six members of the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta Mestre (GSVVM) found themselves in a nice fight with both wind and water while competing on board this green caorlina.

I honestly don't know if they won or what place they finished in, but the photo Nereo captured speaks volumes about their competitive spirit and dedication to the sport.

Go to http://www.vogavenetamestre.it to visit the website of the GSVVM.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Here's an interesting combination of approaches to the production of a postcard image. Like many other postcards we've analyzed here on the gondolablog, the creators of this one took a monochrome photo and then added some colors. I think they did a pretty good job of capturing the water and sky. But then, as if four beautiful gondolas weren't enough, someone thought it wise to fill the air with four airplanes and two blimps! I could be wrong, but it sure looks like the aircraft were all drawn or "stamped" in after the fact.

This postcard commemorates the Sesqui-Centennial which took place in 1926 in Philadelphia, PA. This was a world's fair type of exposition which ran for six months, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was much smaller in comparison to some of the more well-known expos in Chicago, St. Louis and other American cities. The Sesqui-Centennial was expected to attract 50 million visitors, but ended up with an overall attendance of only 10 million. Much of the blame was placed on rain, which fell on more than half of the days the grounds were open.

Very little is known about the gondolas at the Sesqui-Centennial. By looking at the postcard, one might assume that they were Venice-built. They certainly seemed to have the lines. There are four in the picture - one is obscured a bit by another on the right hand side.
Gondolas have been featured in expos and world's fairs consistently, but they did something rare in this shot - they loaded the boats with passengers. four or six passengers weren't enough, the trastolini and trasto de meso appear to have been removed to accommodate additional passengers, and at least one gondola appears to be carrying a dozen passengers. I haven't seen this practice many times, the most memorable images coming from Venice, California in the very early 1900's.

have no idea where the gondolas were prior to the expo in Philadelphia, but my guess is that they came from another expo. The folks in charge of the Sesqui-Centennial made newspaper headlines on several occasions for being cheap and having a budget that was cut, cut, and then cut again.

Maybe I sound like a broken record, but I'm probably just writing what you're already thinking: I wonder what became of those gondolas. We have a few gondolas in this country that are said to be over one-hundred years old.


Here are some photos of the shirts Chris and I will wear on the Houston Expedition.
Big thanks to Corki's Embroidery for putting up with all my rush-jobs and periodic spazzing out.

The back.

The front.

The obligatory Gondola Society of America logo on the sleeve.

And for all you super-sleuths out there, and anyone who's ever had the misfortune of visiting my house: yes, that's my back yard, and yes, it's messy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A shot from the bow

Houston Expedition update - April 11th

The Houston Expedition is fast-approaching.
Chris Harrison and I will row down the Buffalo Bayou on April 18th - a week from today.
I spent the better part of the day trying to get permission from the US Coast Guard to pass through a two-mile section of restricted water known as a "security zone". The Coast Guard was great about listening to my crazy plan, and in the end they did give us approval.
I brought the materials needed to Corki's Embroidery and we should have our shirts by tomorrow.
I also had the pleasure of picking up the vinyl lettering and decals for the gondola. Ray Saporito of Impact Graphics did an awesome job. I wasn't surprised though - he did the vinyl for the Hudson River Expedition last year.
Arranging parking and an overnight security guard to keep hooligans from messing with the boat overnight were also on my menu today. I have no idea whether Houston has hooligans, but one can never be too careful.

I really need to give credit to gondolier Matt Schenk for doing a great design for our striped shirts. As with past shirts, we'll have striped ones with a large white back-patch with the design heat-transferred on.
(photo of shirt to come)

I chose the unique green striped shirts for this because I felt they matched our Boy Scouts of America theme.
The gondola will have "BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA" on the sides of the hull, and "Be Prepared" more towards the stern. The BSA logo will be on the trasto da prua and the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau decal will ride prominently on either side of the hull towards the bow.

One last thing to share - and this is so cool - I spent a fair amount of time talking with Philip Kropf – a past Commodore of the TMCA (Texas Mariners Cruising Assoc. see www.tmca.nu) out of Kemah in the Galveston area.

The TMCA does an annual multi-boat cruise up from Clear Lake to Allen’s Landing.

Philip has been super helpful in advising me on Coast Guard issues, and he’s gotten so excited about what we’re doing that he’s offered to join us on his inflatable as a chase-boat.

The Coast Guard has approved his inflatable and knows him from his annual event.

Philip can assist us by monitoring the VHF radio traffic (much harder to do while rowing), and by taking some on-the-water photos.

In the days to come, look for more information as well as updates on the Houston Expedition.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gondolas in England

I received a dispatch the other day from my friend Nick Birch, who lives in Shakespeare country.
Nick operates one of England's three floating gondolas out of a boathouse in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Now, I'm a novice at reading these English names, but as I understand it, "Stratford" is the town, which is "upon Avon", meaning the town sits on the edge of the Avon River. One of my favorite boatbuilders anywhere is Peter Freebody who is at Hurley-on-Thames; he lives in Hurley which is on the Thames River. each year I look forward to seeing Peter's Christmas card, which always features something miraculous, which is made of wood, and floating (see www.boatbuilder.co.uk).

While England is known more for her punts and launches, there are some dedicated fans of Venetian rowing there.
Several years ago I heard about these folks, along with rumors of various Venetian boats being rowed up and down the rivers of England.

Nick's gondola, the Rosanna runs out of the boathouse at Avon Boating Limited. As with many operations in seasonal areas, Nick is on the verge of launching the Rosanna for spring (that is if he hasn't already launched her by the time I post this).

Nick writes:

A colleague of mine last year bought one of the only other two working gondole in England that was owned by a restaurant next to a canal in Birmingham. The third gondola belonged to a cafe by a lake in a small park in London. That one was in a very sad state, but has recently been bought by another venetian rowing fan and is being restored by a boatbuilder on the Thames.

Supporting the rumors of other Venetian boats in England, Nick also writes:
Over the last two years we have built two beautiful large mascarete for colleagues. Currently in our workshops for renovation we have a mascareta and a gondolino belonging to friends.

The photo above shows two of the three English gondolas. The one in the foreground is Nick's gondola, the Rosanna. I believe the other is the gondola from Birmingham.

The boats look absolutely beautiful, I especially like the remi with light blue stripes, and the angel cavalli on Nick's gondola.
Take a look at the registration numbers mounted on the side of the pusiol on the gondola in the background.

Of course I can't help but gaze at the bridge - and fantasize about rowing that waterway one day.

To learn more about Nick's gondola and
Avon Boating Limited, visit:

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

the Oldest Gondola in the World

Experts say she was built in the 1870’s or earlier,
which would make her the world’s oldest existing gondola. 
In 1890 she was bought in Venice by American landscape artist Thomas Moran and shipped to his home in East Hampton on Long Island, NY. 
The gondola was also, at one time owned by the Browning family. 
She was donated in 1950 to the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. With the help of gondola and Venetian boat expert Gilberto Penzo [see www.veniceboats.com], she was transported back to Venice in 1998 where she was restored by the Tramontin family. 
Today the oldest gondola in the world is displayed prominently at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News for all to see.

A close-up of the hand-carved relief on the aft deck.
I had wanted to see this famous Gondola for almost a decade but never found myself in the vicinity of Newport News until May of 2007 when I was consulting for Moondance Gondolas in Virginia Beach.
Just my luck, when I called the museum, I was told that the gondola was part of a display which was under restoration and the gondola wouldn’t be available for viewing until the following week.
Since we were scheduled to fly home before the exhibit would open, I contacted the woman who was in charge of the exhibit, told her who I was, and hoped she would either be impressed with my status as “president of the Gondola Society of America” (oooh, ahhh), or take pity on me because I wanted so bad to see the gondola. 
Neither of those things happened. 
I was told that the exhibit was closed and if I went to an area near the exhibit, I might be able to catch a glimpse of the gondola, if it wasn’t behind something at the time.

The ferro shows many similarities to modern versions,
but there are a few differences
- see if you can pick them out.

The lantern on the bow has that classic look. 
As for the photo - well, I thought the angle would be unique and artsy...in retrospect, it just looks crooked.

The scimier is one of my favorite pieces on this boat.
Determined not to be discouraged, I threw my family in the rental car and drove from Virginia Beach up to Newport News (a beautiful drive, by the way), found the museum, and made my way to the area where the exhibit was being assembled. The Maritime Museum is an amazing place, and if you have any interest in boats, it’s worth spending a day there just to be amazed by the various vessels and displays showing how seafaring was accomplished in various times and places throughout the world.

Once I arrived at the exhibit, I was greeted by a very gracious security officer who allowed me to pass under the ropes and step right up to the gondola. I took pictures for about 15 minutes, although I could have easily spent an hour and a half with that boat. I would have liked to climb into the gondola and get a closer look at things under the decks, but I knew that would be too much, given the circumstances. Nevertheless I was very happy to have the chance to see her and place a hand, gently, on the oldest gondola in the world.

To learn more about the Maritime Museum and the oldest gondola in the world, visit: www.mariner.org

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

48 hours in Texas

Elisa and I kissed our children good-bye for two days and flew out to Dallas on Saturday.
We arrived just in time to get settled and then I was on my way to Lake Carolyn, where our Texas operaton is located. Chris Harrison helped me get my gondola set up and I was off: rowing to pick up my clients at the Omni Mandalay Hotel.

Rowing into the sunset.

A view of some of the bridges from the stern.

The sun was setting, the breeze was light, and the temperature was just right.
The cruise went perfectly, and my couple enjoyed the experience almost as much as I did.

One of my favorite spots on Lake Carolyn, where the canal opens up to the lake.

After dropping my passengers off at the Omni, I jumped right into a four-gondola flotilla we had scheduled for the next three hours - also at the Omni. This was what we call a "rotating occupancy" cruise, which means that we provide gondolas and gondoliers for a set ammount of time and the clients (usually parties or convention groups) can take short cruises during that time frame.
This rotating occupancy client was a high school prom. Now before you get all kinds of negative images of "teenie boppers gone wild", let me tell you that the kids I had on my boat were great, some had a little attitude, but hey, it was prom. All-in-all, they were shining examples of what I hope the next generation of Americans will turn out to be.

In between cruises with high-schoolers, I had the opportunity to "play hookie" with some of the chaperones.

After three hours of rowing and singing, usually in 20 minute trips, all four of us: Chris, Tyson, Alex and I, rowed back to the dock together. It was fun having all the gondoliers, with no passengers to worry about, joking around and talking about rowing.
I hadn't rowed with Tyson since I trained him years ago. He's been working on it a lot, with some constructive phone conversations, and I was totally impressed with his rowing ability.
Alex, whom I had never met before, was trained by Chris. I can only say "bravo Chris", the kid can row!

From left to right: Greg, Tyson, Alex, and Chris.

My only regret of the night was that we weren't able to get a photo of the four gondolas out together. Black boats don't photograph well in the dark.

On Sunday morning, Elisa, Chris and I drove down to Houston to scout various locations for our up-coming expedition on the Buffalo Bayou. It will be a one-day event, more along the lines of an "exposition" rather than "expedition". The waterway is almost indescribable. It winds right through the down-town region of Houston, with historic bridges and buildings casting cool shadows over the water. At one point, Chris and I watched a freight train cross the bayou on an old rusty bridge. At the beginning point of our route is an old quay where lots of commercal shipping used to begin and end. Further down the historic waterway is a vibrant shipping channel, big enough to operate under the Texas flag.

Chris is looking well. You'd never know that he's fighting cancer right now. His health appears to be almost as strong as his mental outlook is.

Chris grins for the camera as we scout the Buffalo Bayou.

On the way back up to Dallas, we stopped at the Woodlands Mall, north of Houston and checked out their water taxi operation. Further up the road we caught a glimpse of a shopping center which had run gondolas for a short time before deciding that having them right alongside the noisy highway wasn't all that romantic.

On Monday morning I was back on Lake Carolyn, preparing the Rosa for the Houston expedition. The Rosa is one of our gondolas there on the lake. She will be the first non-Venice-built gondola to be used in an expedition. This is at the same time both exciting and worrying. Like rowing in a new waterway, it's exciting to be the first to use one of these American-built gondolas for such an event. But there are so many unknowns with the design. We've been rowing these gondolas with one oar for years. They are operating or have operated in at least a dozen cities since the first four were built by the late Jack Fesenmeyer. The boat is heavier, wider, and a few feet shorter than her Venetian counterparts, but she's a great boat - able to withstand the punishing wear and tear of passenger service. The Rosa will have something that none of her sister-ships have: a forward gondolier. That extra rowing station puts Chris and me into uncharted waters.

So Chris and I shoved off aboard the Rosa with her new forward forcola, nestled neatly in a stainless steel buso I'd had custom-made for the boat, and put her through a series of trials.
We wanted to make sure the rowing angle was right, things didn't break, and that we didn't find ourselves spinning out or going in circles. Of equal concern was how quickly we could get the boat going and keep her going.

A close-up of the forward forcola in her new buso.

Crazy American gondoliers rowing in the wind.

I'm happy to report that all of our questions were answered in positive ways. The buso held up well, the gondola moved through the water better than we'd hoped she would, and the forward forcola was a perfect height for Chris - who is six feet, five inches tall.
It was quite a windy day out on the lake, but we were able to move around without any difficulty.

From the Lake, Elisa and I went to the airport and flew back home, ever so thankful to be back home with our children.

As we took off from DFW,
our jet cast a shadow on the runway.