Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Little Long-Lens Sniping in Newport

I was having dinner with my family tonight at the Rusty Pelican, and I just happened to have my camera with me. The family wasn't as thrilled as I was, especially when I kept standing up and shooting gondolas. at one point I ran upstairs to the bar and caught this one:

That's Gio driving the Elisa Marie with a guy paddling one of those Stand Up Paddle surfboards in the Laird Hamilton style with a little one sitting on the board.

Shot through the smoked glass of the dining room, here's one of the gondoliers from my friendly competitors at the Gondola Company of Newport.

Joe Munday was out tonight too. He had no idea I was taking photos, but he was still smiling. I love that.

Later, after dinner, I tried some long exposures on the dock. I was lucky that there were some blue neon lights reflecting off the stainless steel ferros of my two Venetian gondolas. I was also lucky to get this shot, because the other ten or fifteen were terrible!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What's in YOUR Bag?

Get ready to add your two cents.
Here comes another forum post.

A lot of gondoliers won't step on a boat without a few necessary items.
For me, on the boat, as in life, I don't go anywhere without a flashlight, cell phone, and a knife (usually two -a standard size pocketknife and a small Swiss Army knife).
Lately, I don't leave the house without a camera and lenses too.

I have a small gym bag that goes with me any time I go out on a boat.
The items in that bag are a little more specific to the job.
We're not talking about "man purses" here.
This is a tool-kit, with the tools-of-the-trade in it.
As you might expect, I'll follow up on this post with what I keep in my bag.
tell me what's in your bag.

So here are the questions:
Do you carry a bag?
If so, what works?
If not, why not?

What items are indispensable to you?
On a gondola?
When you travel? (I just threw that one in)

Has an item in your pocket or bag ever "saved" a cruise?

So squeeze your brain, excrete your best advice, and hit me with a nicely opinionated spitball of wisdom.

And if it makes ya' happy, start it out with "Hey Greg, you're a jackass..."

I can take it.

Hit me.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Fourth Bridge and Santiago Calatrava

photos by Nereo Zane
Santiago Calatrava (the Spanish architect who designed Venice's fourth bridge), is quite an accomplished man.
I could compose a big list of the things he's built, but I'll let you google his name instead.
I think you'll be surprised at some of the things you find - many of his bridges are way more extreme than this one. Nevertheless, Calatrava's bridge in Venice is a rather impressive structure. He has incorporated Istrian stone into a fairly minimalist arch of steel and glass
(Istrian stone is a commonly used stone in Venice).

The total length of the bridge is 94 meters.
At the wides point, the bridge is over 9 meters across.
The sweeping arch silhouette is sure to catch people's eye.

The shore area on the train station side during early construction.

One of the unique factors involved with this construction has been the concern that too much weight might cause anchoring points on the shoreline to sink.

Calatrava has received criticism over his bridge's lack of handicap access, while others don't like the style - saying that it doesn't match Venice.

The real question is:

how long will Venice's fourth bridge survive?

After all, the stone Scalzi bridge is the second one in that location, having replaced the first version - which was iron.

A steel bridge was first built at Accademia, it was followed by a wooden one, which was then replaced with another wooden one.

As for the Rialto, well the first span there was a "boat bridge", then three consecutive wood bridges followed (each one being replaced after it collapsed or became unusable), and today's Rialto is a stone version.

Will Calatrava's bridge measure up? Only time will tell.

You can watch the bridge's progress by webcam at:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tirza makes the news again

Well, sort of.
An article came out today on the travel section titled "Explore canal-filled Amsterdam...".
I've wanted to get over there for a while now.

Tirza Mol and her boats fascinate me, as does any city known for it's canals.
I opened the page, and there she was!
check it out for yourself:

It's a stock photo, which gives no mention of Tirza or even the gondola.
But she knows, and we know, that it's her.
The article also mentions Utrecht - another Dutch city with a gondola operation.
I've got to get out there and row with those people!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

There's a New Bridge in Town

photos by Nereo Zane

For the longest time, Venice has had only three bridges.
It's been such a standard piece of information; an easy question to answer.
As reliable as "is the Pope Catholic?" Or "does a bear..." well, you get the idea.
Times change and things you thought would always stay the same change too.
Believe it or not, until the 19th century, the only span across the Grand Canal was the Rialto.
Both the Scalzi and Accademia bridges were added during the Austrian occupation in the 1800's.
Now, more than a century later, another bridge has popped up to allow folks to cross the Grand canal. The bridge is strategically located to link Piazzale Roma with the train station.
Here are a couple images to consider:

The bridge location in 2006 before construction of the arch. You can see the foundation ramping up on the right-hand side.

The bridge as it stands today. Most of the project appears to be complete, but I'm told that people aren't yet allowed to walk across.

Venice's fourth span was designed by a Spanish architect, artist and engineer named Santiago Calatrava Valls.
I'll go into further detail about the bridge, and the man who's building it, in another post.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Shot from the Day

Today was one of our busiest since February.
We had all boats out on multiple cruises.

I was on the docks early, making sure everything was squared away...and washing some bird poop off the boats that didn't have covers, of course.

A message for John Synco:
I'll meet you on the dock with a twelve gauge and some shells. You bring the refreshments.

So after spending some quality time with a hose and a scrub-brush, I caught this "calm before the storm" shot.

The guy in the shot is Joe Munday ("aka Giuseppe Lunidi and founder of the Gondola Society of America), prepping his gondola for the evening.
Behind Joe are two Venice-built gondolas, to the right is a US-built rowing gondola, the two with varnished wood decks and the one in the foreground are motorized.

They look so much better without all that bird poop!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Controversy of Alexandra Hai

Recently I traded e-mails with a lady in France who has an interest in becoming a gondolier.

I tried to answer her questions about the requirements to do so, although they vary widely depending on where you want to operate gondolas and a number of other factors.

On the subject of female gondoliers, I gave her the websites of both Ina Mierig in Hamburg, Germany (

and Tirza Mol in Amsterdam (
Then I told her a little bit about Alexandra Hai.

I must admit that over the years I have been fascinated by her story, but hesitant to tell it.
I don't like to weigh-in on things unless I have all the facts, and having never spoken with Alexandra, I felt it might be unfair to tell a story based on rumors.

It's been about a year now, since her story hit almost every newspaper in the western world, and I feel more comfortable conveying what the news-sources (who have spoken with her) have deemed to be the facts.

Alexandra is a controversial and polarizing figure on the gondola scene.
She's even got her own brief page on Wikipedia.

She's been bold enough to move her life to Venice, Italy, even though she's from Germany, and was living in San Francisco prior to Venice. She's been skilled enough to learn the craft of rowing and brave enough to take the test. Up to that point, I believe she had friends who were gondoliers, and was viewed simply as a novelty by some other gondoliers, and tolerated (as much as you might expect in a Venetian traghetto),

but after that first test,

everything changed.

Alexandra failed the test and it became a real-life "he said, she said".

Alexandra claimed that the judges had chosen a course which was more difficult than usual - they denied it.

She cited previous gondoliers who's test venues had been easier or who had been allowed more grace - the judges questioned her claims.

She cried discrimination - they denied that too.

And then, after seemingly exhausting all other options, Alexandra sued.

As a result, she was allowed to take the test again, with a similar result and even more angry accusations and deflections to follow.

A third go-round, with the same result proved to everyone that things could get even more whipped-up.

Reports exist of a fourth test being administered and failed, but I'm not sure whether it's true.

Through it all, things got pretty heated, and Alexandra found herself at odds with hundreds of gondoliers. Opinions ranged from strong encouragement to alleged threats of violence.

After rowing in Venice for over ten years, in apprentice, traghetto, and other capacities, and after trying numerous times to be recognized as a gondolier by the governing body, Alexandra did something very clever:
she revived an ancient vocation known as "gondoliere de la casa" ( I may have the spelling wrong on that),
which essentially means house gondolier.

With a renewed spirit, and a new title, Alexandra rowed her own gondola in private service for guests of three hotels in Venice.

As expected, she was pulled over and cited by a police patrol boat for breaking the law, it went to court, and the court sided with Alexandra.
There are some who believe the ruling will be overturned, but for the past year, Venice has had at least one lady gondolier taking paying passengers through the picturesque canals.

Here are links to the hotels she rows for:

Locanda Art Deco
Hotel Albergo San Samuele
Hotel Locanda Salieri

I have tried to stay neutral on this one.

I understand the points on both sides of the "argument"; sympathizing with some moves and questioning others - once again, on both sides.

As for lady gondoliers here in the United States, I have no problem with it, and have had female gondoliers in two of my three locations.
Our first lady gondoliers were here in Newport Beach, California, where we have had at least a half-dozen by now.
Our Lake Las Vegas location is currently managed by a woman and at times, is staffed by more women than men...and I have been quite happy with them all. The only reason we haven't had any lady gondoliers in Irving, Texas, is because none have yet to apply...until just today. The resume crossed my desk just this afternoon (an impressive one, I might add) and I fully intend to give this female applicant a good interview process and will hire her if she has what it takes.
I expect she will.

I've heard of several lady gondoliers rowing in Naples, California.
It's no secret that the boats at The Venetian are heavily staffed at times by "gondolieras".
And then there's Gondola di Venezia in Boston, under the ownership of Megan Sliger - whom I've heard great things about from many people. She owns, manages, and rows there.

As for Alexandra, I understand she is still rowing in Venice, and "living the dream", these days preferring the private gondolier approach over the original position she so coveted in the past.

I'm not looking for rumors here, but if you know more about the story, or believe that I've missed a detail - please let me know, either by commenting to this post, or e-mailing me (

I've made attempts to contact Alexandra by e-mail and have received no reply thus far. Although, I know the internet isn't always as important to folks in Italy.

Below are some of the news articles available online. Keep in mind that they are all at least a year old.,2933,273758,00.html's-history.html

This one is from an inflight magazine, and was published in December of '07:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

News piece from Huntsville, Alabama

I stumbled upon this little youtube piece today.

It dates back a bit, but it does show gondolier Robert Dula in his element.

As usual, after watching the clip, I want to get out to Huntsville and see it for myself.

Looking good Roberto!

To learn more about the gondola operation in Huntsville, go to:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To Cover or Not to Cover - Fresh photos from Venice

photos by Nereo ZaneMy parents are in Venice right now.
Yesterday they met up with Nereo Zane, who toured around with them a bit.

They met with Gilberto Penzo,
explored Franco Furlanetto's shop,
visited a custom chocolatier (at my mother's insistence), and spent quite a lot of time at the Accadenia Museum.

While traveling around, they had occasion to cross the Grand Canal a few times via traghetto.

Nereo took these photos while crossing at the San Toma traghetto.

Clearly, these are some of the gondolas that are covered to prevent damage from UV rays.
Notice that it's not just a one-piece cover.
There are at least five separate "covers" involved, and while they are blue - they are not all made from the same material.

A canvas triangle is draped across the poppa, with the remo strategically placed to encourage drainage rather than puddling.

Two separate canvas covers, which appear to be custom-made, protect the cavalli (brass horses) and the pusioli (wood arm-pieces) that they are mounted on.

The upholstered seat cushions and such are all stowed neatly on the bench-like divan, and at least one waterproof tarp is draped across from port to starboard. This cover is unique in that it is often made of a material that is quite rubbery. I don't think I've encountered anything like it here in the US.

Lastly, of course, is the bow cover - another triangle shaped piece of canvas.
It's quite common for gondoliers to simply pull this piece to one side during cruises, leaving it attached at the front.

After their day exploring Venice, Nereo and my folks had dinner at Ristorante da Ivo - one of the sponsors of our expedition down the Hudson River in October of '07.
Many thanks to owner Giovanni for his hospitality and grace.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another Flickr image

Here's a link to another great image on Flickr:

The shot was taken in Minnesota of John Kerschbaum.
I'm not quite sure what the artist did to the image beyond that, but it sure looks cool.

Monday, July 21, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - The "Twelve Passenger Gondola"

It's occurred to me that it's been way too long since I built a good old-fashioned Postcard History Lesson.
Contrary to popular belief, I haven't run out of them (sorry to those of you who hoped I had).
If you're a regular reader of the gondolablog, you're familiar with my postcard pontifications.
And if you're a regular reader, you either trust my interpretations, or are here today for something to laugh about.
Either way, I'm just thankful you're here.

Today's card-du-jour is one of my all-time favorites:
The "twelve passenger gondola" cruise in Venice, California.

I have many postcards in my collection, but this is one is exceptional.
I've waited a long time to post it because it's one of the best images that ever came out of Venice, California.
It offers an incredible glimpse into the way things were in Abbott Kinney's "Venice of the West" during the early days of the 20th Century.

As I've indicated in the past, I don't know precisely why the gondoliers took out so many people, but we have too many images not to assume that they did max out their passenger loads.
This gondolier had twelve passengers on his boat.
It can be done, but you need to be up for a challenge.

At this point I must include those famous words:
"Kids, do not try this at home!"
If done incorrectly, a gondolier can roll his boat over, and while the gondola will not sink (because wood floats), some of the passengers might not enjoy the spontaneous baptism which will inevitably follow.

So, for hypothetical discussion purposes only, here's how I think one might attempt to recreate the image from this remarkable postcard:

First, you need to convert the forward trastolini (steps at the front of the salon area) into a seat for two.

Next, you remove the trastolini and trasto bagagli in front of you, and modify it to seat four (kind of like a double rumble seat).

You can throw an extra passenger on the deck right in front of you and step back to row.

Lastly, you've got to have good balance, because that much passenger weight will most certainly cause the boat to wallow back and forth.
One person leans over to look at a jellyfish, and it's "game over".

Here's a close-up of the "rumble seat" area and the extra passenger on the gondolier's deck.

As an interesting aside, this gondola not only had a five-fingered ferro, it appeared to either be painted gold, or made from a metal that had a yellow color to it.
My guess - paint.

Now, if one of you actually attempts this stunt:
If it works - send me a photo.
If it doesn't work - definitely send me a photo, and don't sue me, only a bonehead would try such a thing.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Coffin Loading at the Soccer Stadium

Every once in a while, you see an unusual combination of things, and if you're lucky, you happen to have a camera with you.

This photo is a good example.

It's probably never going to win an award, and it's not a whiz-bang-"oh, my-gosh" image, but I would have kicked myself if I'd missed it.

There are several things that make the image unique:
1. the water taxi that has been modified to serve as a hearse
2. the presence of a priest in traditional dress
3. the coffin and men who appear to be there to move it
4. the communist graffiti - not surprising to see such things in Italy, especially next to a soccer stadium
5. the red racing gondola in the foreground (a different one from my post of June 14th, '08)

It was also shot in an area of Venice that doesn't see as much tourist foot-traffic.

I shot this in 2006 while waiting for a vaporetto at the east-most end of Venice, looking in the direction of the Lido. I was on the opposite side of the Canale di Sant' Elena from the Campo Sportivo (soccer field). The people in the shot are on the Fondamenta Sant' Elena.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

To Cover or Not to Cover – the Follow-up

Well, I asked the question, and I got some great answers.

I was impressed by how well thought-out the answers were.

John Synco, congrats for being the first to respond…and from Portland, no less!

Your comment cracked me up. Yes, the elements can “party hard” on a boat. You seem to be quite adept at describing pretend situations.

Maximus, your quote “We all know that the Earth will take everything back eventually, and really we're just trying to find the quickest easiest way to slow that process down” was awesome – profound and almost philosophical.

Sean, thanks for calling me a jack-ass – it keeps me humble. HA HA HA!

Bepi, you are absolutely right about heat and moisture, and your comment about guys in Orseolo propping up their floorboards intrigued me.

Each one of you who bothered to comment, brought wisdom and insight into a seemingly boring and simple question.

As promised, I’m going to give you my take on things now. I must admit though, that you guys are a hard act to follow, so I may shamelessly quote you in a few places.

I think that the location and operating season can have an impact on how and whether a gondola is covered.

Bepi pointed out an interesting contrast between the gondoliers in Piazza San Marco – who never completely remove their covers vs. gondoliers in Bacino Orseolo, who’s boats spend most of their time in the shade – they tend more towards covering only the seats overnight. I’m guessing they cover the seats to keep rain and dew off the upholstery.

Moisture, heat, dust, and UV rays from the sun are all good reasons to keep a boat covered.

As for the “not to cover” option - Convenience, quick departures, and not having to spend the money on canvas are some of the benefits mentioned in the comments. One thing nobody touched on though was how an uncovered boat, especially one as beautiful as a gondola, can catch the eyes of folks passing by.

Some gondola operations are “on display”, and count on the visibility of their boats as part of their marketing.

In my Newport Beach location, we have hundreds of yacht charter guests each weekend, who wait to board one of the many charter vessels. Most of the time, this happens on weekends and evenings – when my boats are taking passengers and the whole operation is "on display". With any luck, they'll see the gondolas, notice my brochures in the holder, grab one and call to book a cruise later. But sometimes the yacht guests are there when things are quiet, or the gondolas I have booked that night are away on cruises. If the gondolas in my docks are draped in canvas, not everyone will notice them and I stand to lose business.

So this brings me to the question about whether or not it’s worth letting the elements “party hard” on my gondolas.

My wedding gondola, which is over fifty years old, isn’t worth the risk. As beautiful as she is, the reasons to keep a boat covered really come in to play with her. For years I’ve covered her with the red, white and green cover. Canvas likes to shrink though, and recently the cover has shrunk down too much – it’s time to make a modification.

here's an old shot of my full cover - with red, white and green panels. It zips into three sections and even has a Velcro flap for the forcola! Now if I can just shrink my boat by about two feet, I'm sure the cover will fit like it did when this photo was taken.

With some of my non-venetian boats, like the ones with varnished decks, we often leave them “on display”, choosing to give them some refresher coats of varnish once or twice a year. For years they were covered whenever they weren't booked for cruises, but we noticed a jump in our walk-by bookings and inquiries when they weren't under canvas.

Because those boats have a big canopy, they are more difficult to cover and uncover without stepping on the varnished deck. I am always careful when stepping on the decks, but I don’t know about all the other gondoliers. As you know, it only takes one guy, stepping in the wrong place, to leave a nasty scratch. In the coming months, I’ll be covering one of those boats to see what differences present themselves.

Another area that is worthy of mention is that fully-covered boats are often not as inviting to the hooligans of the world. Sure, I've had a few scattered experiences where someone actually crawled into one of my boats to take advantage of the cover (to hide, make-out, or just to find a place to sleep), but in general, a boat with the visual appeal of a gondola, is less likely to get "messed with" if she's got a full cover.

I was hoping that we'd hear from a few people in seasonal operations. It seems to me that if I were running gondolas for part of the year, and had the opportunity to focus on maintenance for a few months - I might be able to justify the "on display" time, knowing that I'd have time to repaint later.

Sean, you and E.J. ran seasonally in New York for a while. Any thoughts on the subject?

Bepi mentioned moisture as a problem. We are truly spoiled here in Southern California - with temperatures and humidity levels almost always within the optimum range, both for humans and for gondolas.

(if you're reading this from out of state - don't move here! There are way too many people here. Our traffic and cost of living will quickly convince you to go least I hope so)

Getting back to moisture, I'd venture to guess that some folks in parts of the South could learn a lesson from the gondoliers in Bacino Orseolo, and prop their floorboards up to keep things dry. Anyone from a "moist port" want to weigh in here?

Now let's talk about laziness. We'd all like to think that our fellow gondoliers will do their best every night, to cover the gondolas we own and/or operate.
We'd all like to think those gondoliers were capable of doing so without ripping the canvas.
And of course, it would be nice to think that the covers always got put on the right way, with the front part actually on the ferro and so on.
Mr. Synco, how am I doing so far in creating a "pretend situation"?
With energetic guys, mostly in their twenties, guys who get paid to row, you'd think taking a few minutes to put some canvas on the boat wouldn't be too much to ask. Oh, but at the end of a long night, it's easy for a lot of guys to assume that another gondolier will probably be using the boat later on, or rationalize that since he'll be the first one on the dock in the morning - he can cover the gondola then.
Yeah, like that'll happen.

There's one more factor that deserves mention, and it is one of the most damaging, unsightly, and irritating things to have on your boat. It can immediately spoil your client's perception of the gondola, and your operation.
It shall I say...the stuff that comes out of the back end of a seagull.
Yes, poop, my friends.
I'm sure you've got all sorts of other words for it, but since I'm trying to keep the gondolablog at least PG rated, I'll try to stick with "poop".
Of course, poop of any type is bad - that's why it is expelled.
All bad stuff.
Seagulls, pelicans, ducks, herons - they all eject corrosive badness.
But seagull poop is among the worst.
It is so corrosive, there should be warning labels duct taped to the rear end of each and every seagull.
If UN weapons inspectors came upon containers of it, they'd have a difficult time deciding whether it was chemical, biological, or nuclear.
Either way - definitely WMD material.

Seagull poop bothers me on so many levels:
1. It's usually white, and on a black boat it really stands out.

2. It's highly corrosive - there's stomach acid in there for Pete's sake!

3. It can land on the boat at any time, and according to Murphy's Law, will land on a freshly washed boat.

4. it makes no difference to me that it's a bird and not a person - when I see it on my boat, I can't help but think:

5. Those of you reading this who are psychology majors have probably already determined that I've been pooped on a few times! - Makes you wanna carry a shotgun on the boat!

alright, end of poop rant.

Ok now, here comes the summary.
First, I must reiterate my statement that "the location and operating season can have an impact on how and whether a gondola is covered".

I thought about weaving a nice two-paragraph summation, but I think the following format makes more sense:

Got sun beating down on your decks? - cover the gondola.

Got your boat in a moist environment in the shade? - don't cover, and prop up your floorboards (thanks Tim).

Expecting the cover to keep water out? - keep dreamin', and buy a shopvac (good call Sean).

Got lots of potential clients walking by the boat? - put it "on display" when you need to - and paint it now and then.

Got hooligans? - cover, and chain a guard dog to the nearest cleat (one pit-bull, ten chihuahuas, it doesn't matter, you just need a deterrent, and tell those dogs no peeing on the boat!).

Lazy gondoliers? - show them that the front part goes on the front, and the back on the back.

Got torn canvas? - you probably need some new ones. Heck! These things only last about eight years. Don't be cheap! Spend the money.

Got bird poop? - cover, get the hose, and buy a Remington.

I had a great idea for a wordy closing, but I believe I've written enough in this post.
Instead, I can find no statement more appropriate than the one Maximus gave us:
"We all know that the Earth will take everything back eventually, and really we're just trying to find the quickest easiest way to slow that process down".


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gondola Traffic

Here's a shot I took in 2006 in or near the San Marco district.
Notice how the gondoliers all hang to the left.
No, they didn't learn to drive in Canada, it's a standard procedure to let other boats and gondolas pass on the right, so the gondolier can row under the passing boat!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Indy Gondolas

photos by Mike AyuloThese photos were taken about a week ago in Indianapolis.
The lines of a gondola are so easy to identify.
Indianapolis has had her own gondola servizio for a few years now.

It appears that gondola storage in Indy is similar to what we've seen in other locations (like Boston), where the boats are moored away from the shore - probably both for visibility and to make it difficult for hooligans to try heisting the gondola.

Several years ago, the city of Indianapolis brought this area through a revitalization process like that of Providence, RI and Denver's Cherry Creek.
I received calls from six separate parties, hoping to win the rights to run gondolas there. I talked to a number of people and gave some advice, but was never hired by any of them.
More and more, I see cities in the US and abroad, who are looking to add life to urban areas, turning their attention to gondolas or tour-boat operations.
As I understand it, things in Indy got pretty dramatic towards the end of that process.
Sometimes that happens.
I'm glad I didn't get caught up in it.

Looking down the waterway, I can see why some folks might want to fight for it.

When Mike shot these photos, there was only one gondola in the water. The operation there has had two gondolas in the past. I don't know where the other one is at this writing.
They have a handy way of advertising the business while the boat is dormant.
Taking a look at the cover reminds me of our post a while back about covers.
Don't worry my friends, I haven't forgotten, and am currently composing a follow-up post.

I'm wondering if by now, some of you have noticed subtle differences in the gondola you're looking at. She's not Venice-built, but in many ways, awfully close.
The two gondolas in Indianapolis were built here in the US - one in Seattle, the other in San Diego, by an owner/operator named Doug Bothwell. He built and ran the first one in Seattle, then relocated to San Diego, where he built the second one.
The boats ran out of the Lowes dock in Coronado, then in Mission Bay, before they were sold to the folks in Indiana.

If you have any photos of these boats, feel free to send them to me and I'll post them up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spring Training in Minnesota

John Kerschbaum of Gondola Romantica recently sent these photos taken on the St. Croix River near Minneapolis/St. Paul. In a seasonal gondola operation, once the boats are in the water, most everybody wants to get back out there and practice up. Here's Amy Ebertz - her corporate job prevents her from rowing as much as she'd like to, but she loves to row...

...and duck!

Sleeping beauty here is Sara Mitchell. Like many gondoliers, Sara is not a morning person. Man, I can identify with that!

And here's Don Chering - the guy who took the above photos. John Kerschbaum says "Don is the first person that I taught to row. After not rowing for a few years he called and said that he missed rowing and wanted to come out and train with us. "

Looking good Don!

Gondola Romantica's website is:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

How to Paint a Black Boat in the Nevada Desert in Summertime

This was originally printed in the August of 2006 edition of the Gondola Society of America newsletter. With summer upon us, I thought this piece was fitting.
Recently, I had the occasion to do something that was clearly difficult, and quite possibly, stupid.
I painted a gondola in the Nevada desert in July.
Yes, I could have chosen a better time to do it, but my schedule would only allow me to attempt this great feat during the hottest part of the year.
(insert your favorite “Murphy’s Law wisecrack here)
The gondola in question had been needing new paint for a very long time.
I had revived a ten-year-old gelcoat with some professional-level buffing.
Not by me – by a professional named Jose who has asked me to keep his last name confidential because he would like to remain living in this country and continue buffing out boats. He may…or may not be a US citizen, but man, that guy can buff. But I digress. After ten years (three of them in the desert), the gelcoat needed to be covered in new paint.
I suppose the most sensible approach to an article entitled “How to paint a black boat in the Nevada desert in Summertime”, would be to simply say “don’t do it you idiot, why would you even think of such a thing?”
Or the more practical approaches of “drag it into an air conditioned building, heck! Drag it to California and then paint it”.
No my friends, I am neither sensible nor practical. I had my mind wrapped around this challenge and I was going to accomplish it.
My wife thought I was crazy – she makes that assumption quite often, and is usually right.
Armed with all the tools and materials, I drove from hot Orange County, California through remarkably hot Barstow , stopped in ridiculously hot Baker, California  (home of the worlds tallest thermometer), and reached our final destination in Lake Las Vegas. As you might guess, it’s usually hot there too in summer, but this summer, we’d seen St. Louis evacuated, people dying in other parts of the country.
Yes, you guessed it – it was hot there too.
With daytime temperatures routinely reaching 117 fahrenheit, I decided that early mornings would be the best time. Actually, I had originally thought that night time would be cooler, but then there was the whole “sorry, can’t paint a black boat in the dark” argument. I thought about using lights but decided that I didn’t want every bug in a 20 mile radius joining me, and my paint.
As I stepped out into the morning air, I was delighted to learn that at 6:30AM, it was only 105 degrees. Joy!
I have a wonderful manager who oversees the operation in Lake Las Vegas. His name is Wayne and he’s a very patient person. I know this because he works for me.
Wayne and I began by sanding the gondola with a random orbital disk sander and wiping it all down with acetone.
Once every surface was prepped and ready, we covered the boat in blankets, as the sun was already heating the decks up to the point where it hurt to touch them.
Next, we mixed the paint. If anything can be given credit for the success of this endeavor, it is that we refrigerated the paint and thinner overnight.
This is an old method I learned from a boat builder who had won lots of awards and knew all sorts of clever tricks. While our gondola decks were cooling down under their blankets, we were mixing. When you refrigerate paint,
it thickens up, thus requiring more thinner to achieve the right consistency. As the paint warms up, it thins out, allowing the extra amount of thinner to keep it brushable. In normal conditions, the painter has more time to brush,
in these desert conditions, it was just enough time to roll and tip.

At about 7:30AM our paint was mixed and ready, we pulled off a blanket and painted the deck before it could heat up. Removed another blanket, painted more deck, and on down the line. The hull side facing away from the sun was our next stop. Then we dragged the gondola, which was on a trailer, until she was facing the other direction, let the unpainted hull side cool down and painted it too. When we finished at 8:30AM, the first part of the deck we had painted just an hour ago was already curing and could be touched without leaving a fingerprint.

Maybe it was the heat, the fumes, or the fact that I only got four hours of sleep the night before, but I went back to bed until about noon.
The next day, Wayne and I managed to get a second coat on using the same process.
We felt really good about the results, although we’ll know for sure if we were successful in about five months. If the paint still sticks and looks good then, I’ll celebrate.
Am I happy with the results? Yes.
Would I do it again? Mmm, maybe not.
My wife still thinks I’m crazy – and as I said before,
she’s usually right.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Curci Ferro in Monochrome

photo by Rick Rosen
Several years ago I was asked to oversee part of the restoration of the Curci Gondola.

The Curci family, one of Newport's well-known families, has had their beautiful wedding gondola in Newport Harbor since the early 60's.

Maurice Walsh supervised the restoration, and took care of all wood work.
I just got to handle the metal, but it was a great honor, and I'm here to tell you - there's a truck-load of brass on that boat.

It was a challenge, but I learned so much in the process.

The Curci Gondola has a classic aluminum ferro, which had been in the salt air for decades.
I took it to an expert in the area, and got it back in the condition you see above.
It didn't look like a brand new ferro, but then a brand new one would probably look out of place.

On the day I put the ferro back on the gondola, I brought Rick Rosen, a photographer friend of mine along just in case there might be something worth taking a picture of.

Rick is amazing. He studied, and taught under Ansel Adams. He pioneered wedding photojournalism in southern California. Some of the best images I've seen have been Rick's.

You can read more about the Curci ferro and the associated restoration in my post from Jan. 21st of 2008.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rowing Lessons

Without getting all misty here, It's occurred to me that gondoliers often carry with them a great respect for those who trained them to row. The other night at Captain Jack's, I talked with a number of gondoliers, and a few of them recounted to me what their experiences were like learning the art. There was a constant thread of reverence towards the trainers and senior gondoliers they learned from.

I will always have good memories of the training experiences in my past.
Angelino Sandri, Mark O'brien, and the late Arturo Moruccio have helped me learn the craft of Venetian rowing. And while I'm not the best rower in the world, I have them to thank for the skills I do have. In many ways, I see Venetian rowing as similar to a martial art, in that it can be a lifelong pursuit. Once we know enough to teach it properly, we should do our part to pass it on.

The other night at the Sunset Gondola event, I heard positive things about Andrew McHardy, Eric Sjoberg, Tyson Davis, Tim Reinard, and others who had passed on the skills and wisdom.

The photo above is in honor of those who have trained us. It was one of many I took a few years back in Venice. I was actually trying to get a good shot of the canal when this gondola passed through.
At first I was disappointed that it wasn't the "typical" gondola shot - with passengers and a gondolier in stripes. Since then I've realized the uniqueness of the image and the story it conveys.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Garage Sale Boat

photo by Nereo ZaneHere's another fresh photo from Nereo, and like the last one - "Roof Garden", it made me look closer and laugh.

The shot was taken along the same canal as Squero San Trovaso. In fact, if you look at the top of the photo, you'll see the roof garden from a few posts ago.

I would guess that the owner of this moto-topo has a sort of garage sale or swap-meet approach to merchandise. I see a gondolier's hat in there, and a bunch of things you might find at my Grandma's place. But hey, somewhere in the hold of that topo, you might just find something you can't live without. Maybe that guy's got a five-fingered ferro, or some unique cavalli he's been using as doorstops. Maybe he's got some masks in there, oh yeah, we all need more of those!

Regardless of what the guy in the boat is selling, It's a great shot.
Thanks for the photo, Nereo.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sunset Gondola hosts a Row

Tonight I had an absolute blast.
Tim and Tyson at Sunset Gondola invited me to participate in a group row, a sort of "pilgrimage to Captain Jack's" if you will.
When I arrived at the Sunset Gondola office, there were about 25 or 30 gondoliers and their friends.

Here's a group shot of some of the gondoliers.

Now here's another shot, but this time with me in it. That's me in the ridiculously big pants.

After everyone had visited with each other and some folks were getting antsy, we all boarded Sunset Gondola's five boats and we rowed out into a beautiful evening, complete with glassy water and no wind.

Tim and Dawn Reinard boarding one of the gondolas.

Eric Sjoberg was on the gondola next to me as we boarded the boats.

After a bit of rowing, the boats grouped together and everyone sang "Santa Lucia" in just about the lowest key possible.

Andrew McHardy was on one of the gondolas with his guitar, and everyone was having a great time. For many of us, this was a great opportunity to joke and laugh with other gondoliers and friends. Most gondoliers love having paying passengers on their boats, but once in a while it's fun to blow off some steam and "play" a bit.

Along the way, we all stopped under a big bridge and people took turns singing songs.
A girl in my boat sang one of the most incredible pieces I think I've ever heard.

Gathering the boats under the bridge.
photo by Dawn Reinard

Once we all arrived at Captain Jack's - a local restaurant and bar, everyone started talking. Great stories were told (along with a few lies, I'm sure), I made some new friends, had a great conversation with John Synco and it was a great time.
I can't say enough about the folks who were there.
Of course It's easy to identify with people who do the same job as you - folks who share the same passion. But beyond that, these are great people.
I've heard that you can evaluate someone based on whether you'd be willing to share a lifeboat with them.
I'd gladly share a lifeboat with everyone in the group...especially if they wanted to do some of the rowing!

I had to take off early, but I heard that everyone got back the the dock at Sunset Gondola without too much bumping and grinding.

I understand that there will likely be another one of these "pilgrimages" in the coming months.
I'd sure like to be there for it.

Big thanks to Tim and Tyson, Joanna and Dawn, for the invitation and hospitality.
My apologies to anyone who didn't get credited for being in a picture.

If you were there, write in, post a comment.
Say "Hey Greg, you're a jack-ass. I was there and my name is _____".

Tell me what your favorite part was.