Monday, June 30, 2008

Scuola Navale Militare Francesco Morosini

The first time I saw these guys, I was riding the vaporetto and this mascareta went by with a bunch of young guys in it.

I thought it was a rowing club, but they seemed a bit young, more like school-aged boys. I also noticed that they weren't wearing any recognizable club jerseys.

I snapped a few photos and forgot about it.

Later on I took a better look at the digital images and knew that they were different from a rowing club. The lettering on the side of the boat said "
Scuola Navale Militare Francesco Morosini"

Born in 1961, the Scuola Navale Militare Francesco Morosini is part of the Italian Navy. The scuola began as a college, starting with a dedication to fostering an interest in life on the sea. In 1998 the institute became a military school.

The Scuola Navale Militare Francesco Morosini at the tip of Venice in the Isola di Sant’Elena

The scuola is named in honor of Francesco Morosini – who was Venice’s Doge from 1619 to 1694. His family was one of the powerful Venetian nobility, which produced three other Doges as well.

While watching the Regata Storica I saw those guys again, only this time they weren't wearing white t-shirts and gym shorts. They were looking sharp in their white pants and blue polo shirts.
Two boats from the scuola rowing past the church of Santa Maria della Salute.

After looking at all of the photos I have of these teams on their boats, I noticed that there's always a fifth guy sitting on the back - I'd guess that he's a higher ranking student who is there either to supervise or instruct.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Gondola in 1920

Once in a while I get cocky, thinking I know about all the gondolas in North America, and then I get knocked over by a photo like this one.

Long ago I had made up my mind that a gondola had never graced the waters of Oregon.
Boy, was I wrong.
And she wasn't just any gondola either.
By all appearances, she looks like a Venice-built boat which had been modified for maximum passenger loads.

This photo was taken in 1920 at Lake Grove Park in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Let's start at the bow.
I've seen a few gondolas in my time that weren't built in a Venetian squero, but looked like they were. I never say "never", but I'm pretty sure this gondola was a true Venetian.

The lines of the bow, or "prova" are awfully hard to mimic.

The deck isn't fully carved, so she's not a wedding gondola, but there are some interesting carvings along the perimeter, even if they are difficult to see in this photo.

Now let's take a look at the salon, or passenger area.
The first thing we notice, of course, is that it's jammed with "bathing beauties" who are dressed in swim suits that were typical of the 1920's. I count a total of nine passengers, seated in no fewer than five forward-facing seats, each with it's own heart-shaped backrest.

Those seats occupy not only the traditional passenger area, but also the area just ahead of the gondolier where trastolini boards are usually found.

I would guess that this gondola either came from San Francisco's Panama Pacific Expo, which took place in 1915, or she may have come from ports further south such as Venice or Naples, California.

Now let's take a look at the back of the boat.

First thing I notice, of course is "Tarzan the Ape Man" there.
I'm not sure if that swim suit was typical of the time, but the guy resembles one of those guys who played such characters in the old movies.

I don't think you'll see very many gondoliers out there in this uniform.

In this close-up you can get a better idea of how near the aft seat is to the gondolier.

His stance is partly correct, and he looks like he's got the boat moving (at least a little bit), but our Tarzan gondolier here has choked up on the remo. He's probably trying to impress all those "bathing beauties".

"Look at me, ladies - I can even row using only 85% of the oar!"

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Familiar Shape - from the East

This boat caught my eye today as I was walking through a museum in Southern California.

Sure, I knew it wasn't a gondola, but I did a double-take and went for my camera.

It turned out to be a "canoe" from Orchid Island, which is off the southeast coast of Taiwan.

The boat has some very familiar shapes, especially the bow.

After doing a little research, I found that these boats are traditional vessels, built and operated by the Yami - a tribe known for their practice of hunting flying fish.

Unlike gondolas, these canoes are built with a center keel and round bottom.
They are operated by rowers who tether their oars to small pedestals on either rail.

In some ways they remind me of boats I've seen pictures of in Malta (a small Mediterranean island), because of the bright colors and attention to detail.

It didn't take the museum staff long to shoo me out, saying something about "blah, blah, no pictures, blah, blah, don't photograph the exhibits, blah blah", you get the idea.
I'm sure they're paranoid that some bonehead will take pictures and then put 'em up on the internet or something.

It's amazing what people will do these days with their digital cameras.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Shots from the day - the Phoenix awaits her passengers

I shot these photos while waiting for my passengers tonight.
It doesn't take much to dress your gondola when it's a beautiful Venice-built beauty like the Phoenix.

Tonight's cruise was a simple one-hour cruise with no dinner or appetizers, so I went with the two banchete. We do have a dinner-appropriate table for this gondola, but I only pull that out for serious dining cruises.

The gondola to the right is the Wedding Gondola; easily identified by her decks which have allegorical characters carved and painted in gloss over a flat dark-gray background.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gondolier Joey strikes a pose or two

Joey has been a gondolier with my Newport Beach operation longer than any other.
He's like a brother to me.
I even performed his wedding a few years back.

Joey has always been one to ham it up and have fun. Hanging around after cruises and laughing about crazy things we've done is always a fun pastime.
When he first started with us, Joey was known to tap dance on the back of his gondola.

Pull out a camera and you're sure to discover his hammy side.
Here are some shots I took a few days ago while Joey was driving the Cassandra Anne.

Way to pose Joey!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - The first gondola in Alamitos Bay

Is this an image of the "first gondola in Alamitos Bay"?
It could be.

We're not certain at this point just how many gondolas there were in Alamitos Bay's original fleet. We know that the community was modeled after Abbot Kinney's Venice, just a little ways up the coast.

It is believed that the gondoliers who initially inhabited the canals of Naples had followed John Scarpa's lead, jumping on their boats and rowing south in search of work in a new venue. Another possibility is that the gondolas in Alamitos Bay's first fleet had been brought over from Venice, but I think the more cost-saving choice of hiring locals from Venice, California was probably employed.

In previous posts we've covered some of the methods used in the early twentieth century to create postcard images. I believe that, like many others, this was based on a monochrome photo, with colors and details (like people's faces) added later by artists.
I don't know when the postcard was produced, but it's postmarked in 1919.

Looking at the bow of the gondola we notice that she carried a flag in the canon, had a smooth deck and a five-fingered ferro.

And of course my analysis would not be complete without pointing out that amazing hat!
I'm sure it was the height of fashion in 1919.

The gondolier appears to be wearing a hat of his own. It could be a dark captain's hat, Greek fisherman's hat or something similar. Many boaters wore them, including John Scarpa.

In case you're wondering, I do not believe that we're looking at John Scarpa and his gondola here. I'll dedicate a post to the subject in the future, including a side-by-side comparison.

In the mean time, take a good look at the face on the gondolier in the postcard picture.

I'm pretty sure that, like so many of us gondoliers today - that guy loves his job!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Venetian Statue - Vittorio Emanuele II

photo by Sean Antonioli In the Castello district, on the fondamenta just east of Piazza San Marco, between the Rio del Vin and Rio dei Greci canals, there is a most dramatic and impressive statue of Vittorio Emanuele II.

This statue was sculpted by the famous Italian sculptor in 1887.

Vittorio Emanuele II was the first king of a United Italy. His reign lasted from 1861 until his death in 1878. Prior to that he had been king of Piedmont, Sardinia and Savoy, beginning in 1849 and spanning until his coronation as king of all Italy.

This isn't the only statue in honor of Italy's first king.
There are several of them in other cities in Italy. One of the most well known dedications is the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome.

This shot, taken by Sean Antonioli, is a great silhouette image.

I'm guessing Sean got up pretty early to get this photo.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I'm not sure I should call this post a "history lesson" because not much is known about this postcard or the image on it.

I got this in an on-line auction about ten years ago.
I was pretty sure it was old based on the printing style and layout which was typical a hundred years ago or thereabouts.

The image appears to be a colorized monochrome photo.
The postcard indicates that the setting was on the "Canale S. Stin". which is in the San Polo distirict close to the famous Frari church. Most of the current-day references call it "Rio di S. Stin".

There is also a Campo San Stin in the same area.

Now let's take a closer look at the gondola and her gondolier.

The diagonal trim pieces on the bow and stern decks are characteristic of gondolas from long ago.

The stern deck on the port side doesn't appear to have a pontapie or pedana - the wedge used by the gondolier to push from sometimes.

The angle of the gondola doesn't give us much certainty about whether she's asymmetric.

If she was built in perfect symmetry, she may have been built earlier than 1850.

One very interesting feature of this gondola is how much of her hull is in the water.

It is said that the older the gondola, the more of her length is in the water. Based on that, this looks like a very old boat.

There is one other detail I should share:

Postcards didn't really arrive in Europe until 1870.

My theory: This postcard may be as much as 130 years old, but I would guess it was produced in the 1920's, and the photograph was either taken much earlier, or it was a photo of a much older gondola. Anything earlier than the 20's and Europe was in WWI, anything later and the Second World War would have been happening.

Now, just for kicks, take a close look at the sandolo which was moored along the side of the canal.

You don't often see sandoli in postcards.

The little boat looks like she's just waiting for someone to jump in and row her away.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Acqua Alta

photos by Sean Antonioli
Sean took these a few years ago in Venice during the famous "acqua alta". Now and then, when the conditions of rain, wind, and tide are just right, the water in Venice rises above the Piazza and all of her pedestrian tributaries. Most of the locals either walk on the planks set up by the Commune di Venezia, or step into rubber boots. I would guess that the folks "barefooting it" across Piazza San Marco in this next photo were tourists. Most Venetians aren't too keen on getting their feet wet in such a way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Due Mascarete

On a September morning, a few years back, I was invited to go for a row by some friends in the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre - a club I've been lucky to be a member of since 2000.
I was in Venice, and had been out on the water with my rowing coach, Arturo Moruccio.
When we returned to the club, some guys asked us if we wanted to row through Murano on Saturday in a six-man caorlina.

It sounded fun and relaxing. I'd just been through another of Arturo's "combat rowing" exercises, and Sunday was Regata Storica (14 men looking to out-row not only each other, but other boats in the process).
Of course, I said "yes".

Looking forward to a leisurely row, I showed up at the club Saturday morning, to find out that there were eight of us instead of six.


instead of six guys out for an even-paced row on one boat, we would have two boats - each with four guys trying to be the boat in front.

It was gonna be a race.

After preparing the boats, we set out on the waters of the lagoon.
At some point, a few of the guys decided that they would rather do some shopping at the fish market in Venice instead of rowing to Murano and back.

I wasn't in a position to buy any fish, but I had fun watching them, and seeing how the whole thing played out for locals.
As I expected, it was a bit of a race.
Many of the guys on the boats were old enough to be my dad, but, like the Venetians on the expedition down the Hudson, they rowed fast, hard, and steady.
It was a challenge just to keep up.

I knew I was being "sized-up" for the Regata Storica, which would be the next day.

I gave it my all, and, as usual, stepped off the boat with an education and some great experiences. Cleaning up the boats and putting them away, I was thankful for what had happened - knowing that it had prepared me to row and keep up on the 14-man quattordesona the next day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The "Bizarro Day"

Every once in a while we get our winds out of a completely different direction.
I'm not talking about Santa Ana winds, we're used to those.
I'm talking about the weird winds, the "Bizarro Winds" that come out of the south and make a gondolier realize how much he's been taking wind directions for granted.

If you were rowing tonight in Southern California, you know that we had some of those winds, along with some fast moving clouds that made the canals in Newport look like it was caught in time-lapse.


In 1904, St. Louis, Missouri hosted it's second world's fair.
The first one, known as the St. Louis Exposition, took place in 1884.

This expo was often called the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, but it's official name was the Louisiana Purchase Exposition - in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the famous American land acquisition.

The actual centennial anniversary took place in 1903, but hey, who's counting!

While researching expos and world's fairs, I've come to realize that these things were a much bigger deal back then.
One reason might be that if you wanted to see the world, you'd have to spend years on a steamship, various trains, and possibly even riding on the back of a yak!
But if you wanted to see it all in a short time - you could - at the World's Fair.
Chances were good that eventually there would be one that was close enough to visit without having to shell out too much to get there.

Of course, some of these were huge.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, which was the largest to date, was so big and complex that folks would spend weeks exploring it.

In the case of many expos, dozens of buildings were erected on the grounds using "temporary building materials". Often, these types of structures would begin to decompose before an event was finished.

Several of the buildings and edifices of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition were made from something called "staff" - a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fibers. (yes, yes, insert your favorite Cheech and Chong joke here).
In fact, I touched on the same issue in my post from Feb. 2nd of 2008 about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, when I said that:
"just about everything in the longer exists."
The same holds true for this image.

I have to wonder if they built some of the bridges out of plaster and hemp!

Our postcard today is, in my opinion, a good example of an artist rendering.

I would be willing to bet that the person who created this image, was standing on a bluff with an easel and a paintbrush.

The lagoon of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition was surrounded by many buildings. The one in the background of this view was the "Palace of Education".

The lagoon had many different types of boats, and of course, they had gondolas. It seems that almost all expos and similar events had gondolas. I would imagine they were brought in because of their international flair, but became a staple because so many folks wanted to ride in them.

Looking more closely at these gondolas, you can't help but wonder a few things:

- First, you notice the bright colors.
I don't know if they were really painted such bright colors or if the artist thought adding a little color would brighten things up a bit. There's also a slight possibility that someone bought a group of racing gondolas in Venice - they do come in a rainbow of colors. I'd need to find out when they started painting racing gondolas nine different colors.

- The second thing I noticed was the design - they look a bit short to be Venetian and the ferro on each boat lacks the "fingers' so commonly associated with gondola ferros.

It's possible that the artist decided not to include that detail, but they also may have been U.S.-built gondolas that had much simpler ferros.

- For me, the biggest question that comes to mind with these gondolas, is what kind of propulsion was used?

take a closer look at the following image, and you may notice two things:

1. the gondolier doesn't appear to be rowing, in fact he looks like he's standing right behind the canopy.

2. I could be mistaken here, but that gondola sure looks like she's leaving a big wake behind her!

It makes me wonder if these gondolas had engines.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 was the sight of many introductions.

It is said that the ice cream cone, peanut butter, cotton candy and iced tea were popularized there.
Bold claims have also been made, crediting this expo of first introducing hot dogs and hamburgers.
I'm not sure I believe them.

But I have it on good authority that one of my favorite products, Dr. Pepper, was first introduced in St. Louis in 1904 at the expo.

Watch for a stereoview from this expo in a future post.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Photos from Saverio Pastor's workshop

photos by John Synco

John Synco visited Saverio Pastor's workshop a few years back and sent me some of his photos.

Apparently, John originally shot these on real film and then shot these on digital - giving them an amazingly warm quality that I have dubbed the "70's National Geographic" style.

Here, you can see a traditional forcola da poppa for a mascareta, with it's two morsos. The proprietary pattern is still on the piece, allowing the remer to follow his design, and produce pieces that are similar, and consistently up to his standards in form and function.

Saverio Pastor is a "remer" - that's a person who makes their living carving the oars and forcolas for gondolas and other traditional Venetian boats.
Saverio "get's physical" with a forcola using a draw-knife.

Saverio got his start as an apprentice under the famous Giuseppe Carli. Some call him "the last of the finest" while others (most of whom are American) have referred to him as "the Babe Ruth of remers".
Carli took on Saverio in 1975, taught him the trade, and then in 1980, Saverio set up shop for himself, quickly supplanted in Carli's shop by Paolo Brandolisio.

A wall of forcolas in Saverio's workshop.

Saverio Pastor's shop is currently in Dorsoduro although for many years he operated in Castello, having founded a group called "Spazio Legno" near the Arsenale with a number of other craftsmen who made their living working with wood.

The forcola da poppa for gondola (in the vise) is dwarfed by an unusual three-morso forcola similar to those on the sterns of caorlinas.

I dropped in on Saverio in 2006 and was well-received. Saverio is truly one of the most well-known and highly respected people right now in the world of gondolas and Venetian rowing.
A visit to his shop is typically educational and quite memorable.

Like his contemporaries, Paolo Brandolisio and Franco Furlanetto, I will have plenty more to say about Maestro Saverio in future posts.

In the Mean time, you can visit his site and learn more about forcolas at:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Aerial Photo - Alamitos Bay and Huntington Harbor

I took this the other day on a flight from John Wayne Airport to Seattle.
Every now and then I've got a window seat when the conditions and the angle are just right.
It also helps to have a big honkin' lense and a computer to help sharpen things.

This shot gives the viewer a clear idea of how close the breakwaters of Alamitos Bay and Huntington Harbor are.

You can see some of the oil drilling islands that local gondoliers have been known to circumnavigate a few times, either while training, or perhaps on a dare.

I find the design difference between the breakwaters interesting.

This space between the harbors was the setting for a little adventure I had with Tyson Davis of Sunset Gondola and Sean Antonioli. You can read more about it in the May 19th post of 2008 entitled "Two New Sunset Gondolas - Making History and Getting Wet".

Near the tip of the Breakwater of Huntington Harbor (the one shaped like a V) is where we managed to get fully bailed out and rowing again.

I enjoyed snapping this picture for many reasons - one of them was that this time I got to see the place...while wearing dry shoes and socks.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Red Racing Gondola

In Venice's Regata Storica, there are many races.

The most popular one is the gondolino race.

The six-man caorlinas and women's mascareta races are well known, even outside the Veneto, but one of the favorites among Venetians, is a race between rowing clubs.

As I understand it, four-man teams from rowing clubs throughout the lagoon, compete during the rowing season for a spot in this regata.
Only nine boats are available, and each club gets their boat a few days before the regata.

These are racing gondolas.

They look like regular gondolas except they are stripped down (no parecio here), painted one of the nine racing colors, and have an unusual sort of cut-out at the stern.

The cut-out is actually a vent hole to allow air to flow through the boat and out the back - thereby creating less wind resistance. I don't know how much of a difference it makes, but it's a cool concept and I'm sure it works.

Racing gondolas also weigh a lot less than passenger gondolas and more marine composite (plywood) is used in their construction.

When the guys at a rowing club get their hands on the boat they will be racing in, certain things are done:

To begin with, they go over it with a fine-toothed comb and make sure everything is sound.

Next, they flip the thing over and expend much energy and time making sure the bottom is as smooth as it can be. Venetians can be obsessive about the hydrodynamics of their boats. In Albany, before we started down the Hudson, Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi beached my gondola and scrubbed, scraped and even used sandpaper and steel wool to make sure it would slip through the water with ease.

After the bottom has been tended to, the guys at the club set the forcolas the way they like 'em and take her out for a row to make sure everything is right.

The following photos are of the red racing gondola, propped up on the lawn of my rowing club in Mestre after a bunch of guys "obsessed over her".
Now that's a smooth bottom!
Notice the cut-outs on either side of the tail section in the above and below photos.
In 2005, while watching from the Mestrina, a 14-man boat from my club, I watched this race for the first time, and I have to say that it was my favorite of all the races.

My club is the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre.
Mestre is on the mainland, and the club is located near the base of the bridge to Venice.

I love the people there - they are fun-loving real people, who row because they enjoy it, because it's a part of who they are, and because they understand the value of spending quality time with friends.

They are the kind of people we need more of in this world.

I call it my club, but I'm really darn lucky just to be a member...a member who visits from time to time, pays his dues, and gets to row with some great guys - some of whom are true masters.
It seems like every time I step on one of the orange and blue club boats or the big varnished quattordesona, my brain switches to "record" in High Definition, and I come home with great learning and amazing memories.

One of the reasons the club race became my favorite, on this unforgettable summer day in September of '05, was because the red boat had "our guys" on it. Four guys from our club had secured a spot in the race and were determined to make a go of it.

Another reason I loved the club race was that everybody there (and there were thousands, watching from boats, balconies, and every place in between), was cheering for them.

Once it was explained to me, I understood that the guys in this race, were the "guys from the neighborhood" for many of the spectators.
I'm not certain, but I think the cheering was louder and more energetic for the club race than any of the others that day.

The biggest reason I liked this race, was the way they competed.
The club rowers rowed with more excitement and passion.
There was a lot more communication between team members and between boats, which included a fair share of yelling.
The other races were aggressive, but this one was downright scrappy, with gondolas slamming and grinding against each other as they rounded the marker in front of the Ca d'Oro.

It struck me as the gondola equivalent to rugby.

The GSVVM team rowing the red gondola past Santa Maria della Salute.

I don't know where our guys placed in the red gondola.
I know they didn't take first, and I know they weren't at the back of the pack.
But I do know that they gave their best...and they made us proud.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Aussie Gondola Business for Sale

One of the best gondola operations in Australia, and the only one with 100% Venice-built boats, is available for purchase.

Roger Carlson, who has owned the business in Adelaide for years, has decided to dedicate all of his time towards his thriving canoe business. He's in an enviable position, with two businesses, and not enough time to handle both due to success.
You can read more about Adelaide Gondola in my post from December 14th of 2007.
The website is:
At this point, Roger is interested in selling the operation as a "going concern", as opposed to just selling off the gondolas. He has two gondolas, a good trailer, all the necessary accessories, and a running business with a phone that rings with people wanting to cruise. I don't know what the asking price is, but if you're interested, send him an e-mail.

Serious inquiries can be sent via e-mail to Roger at:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sunset Gondola's "First Gondola"

These date back a bit, but here are a couple of photos of Sunset Gondola's "first gondola", which I took during a visit in winter.
Tyson doing a little furniture moving.

A study of poppa and careghin.

One of the reasons I like to visit other gondola operations, is to see how they do things. We all seem to have our own approaches to certain things.
As I've said before:
"When gondoliers get together and talk, it's almost always a fun and healthy exchange. Everyone comes away with great stories and new ideas"