Sunday, August 31, 2008

Long Lense Sniping on a Sunday afternoon - Alamitos Bay and Naples Canals

Today I found myself in Long Beach with my camera.
The weather was darn near perfect.
I decided to see if I could get a few decent shots of the gondola operation there in Alamitos Bay.

A sandolo waits at dock for her passengers.

A double-rower or "two oared American gondola" as they are called at the operation there, navigates between brightly colored kayaks.

Another two-oared gondola crosses Alamitos Bay.

A varnished pupparin glides through a Naples Neighborhood.

This is one of only two pupparini in the Americas.
The other one is in Sunset Gondola's fleet.

A traditionally rowed, locally-built gondola cruises by.

A similar gondola makes an appearance, this one without a ferro. These boats were built at the legendary Hill's Marine (now closed) by Jim Oberst, often with the assistance of gondoliers.

One more double-rower loaded with six passengers, moves on sparkling water.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Little Italy Festival - Clinton, Indiana

It's happening right now in a small town in western Indiana:
a festival that began in 1966 by townsfolk looking to celebrate their heritage and breathe some life into the town's economy.

It all started about a hundred years ago when a bunch of Italian immigrants were moving west in search of coal mining jobs.

They settled in a little town about fifteen miles north of Terre Haute and stayed, destined to influence the town from that point on.

If you visit Clinton, you'll find that it's a lot like other typical small towns in the Midwest, except of course for the Italian flags, wine gardens and bocce courts. Bocce is reportedly part of the high school PE program.

If you open the phone book, you'll see names like Abriani, Pastore, and Zanandrea along with the classic names like Jones, Anderson and Smith.
And while these proud Italian families may have been removed from Italy for generations, they still stay in touch with their roots.

Interestingly, unlike most Italian immigrants, who haled from towns in the south of Italy, the folks who settled in Clinton were natives of northern Italy.

The first day of festivities features the largest Italian themed parade in the Midwest, which includes a Venice-built gondola carrying dignitaries of the event.
The festival lasts four days, and takes place over Labor Day weekend.
Some of the other events of the festival include a spaghetti eating contest, grape stomping, and bocce tournaments.

The most amazing thing about Clinton's Little Italy festival is it's draw:

The town population hovers around 5000,

The Festival draws 75,000 visitors each year.

Buona fortuna Clinton.
Buona fortuna!

the official website of the festival is:

to learn more about the town, see:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Long Lense Sniping on a Friday afternoon - Newport Beach

After stalking Tim in Huntington Harbor, I suited up for an evening of cruises in my own harbor.
here are some of the shots I took.

Gondolier Matt Schenk heads out of the lagoon on the recently relaunched Serena Lee gondola.

A gondolier from my friendly competitor's company, The Gondola Company of Newport, rows in the canals of Newport.

Senior gondolier at The Gondola Company of Newport, Mark Schooling, rows on a perfect Summer evening.
Mark is one of the best rowers I've seen in Newport.

Long Lense Sniping on a Friday afternoon - Sunset Gondola

After photographing the boats in Alamitos Bay, I dropped by Sunset Gondola in Huntington Harbor to visit my friend Tim Reinard.
He was gone, and so was one of his gondolas.

I jumped in my car and started searching for him.
Right around Captain Jack's, I spotted a gondola.

I threw my car into park, grabbed my camera and took a few good candid shots before letting him know I was there.

It's not hard to take good photos when you're shooting a well-kept Venetian gondola.

Tim and Tyson have some of the most beautiful boats taking passengers in this country today.
They operate in an exceptional venue - Huntington Harbor is a beautiful place that's perfect for passenger cruises.
Am I jealous? maybe a little bit.
But I'm thrilled to see such a great operation in the hands of guys like Tim and Tyson.

Long Lense Sniping on a Friday afternoon - Alamitos Bay

I've seen the gondolas docked in Alamitos Bay many times, but never noticed the canvas until today.
When they're all lined up, the different colors really catch the eye.

I think almost every gondola operation in America has at least one red-white-and-green cover.

Two caorline await another evening of cruises.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chris Harrison - Alive and Kicking, er, Rowing

Many of you who read this blog either know Chris Harrison or know of him.
He is my Senior Gondolier in Irving, Texas.
He is a dear friend and a great guy.
Chris has also done some expedition rowing, serving as one of the six rowers in the Hudson River Expedition of 2007 and rowing with me last April down the Buffalo Bayou and back up again in the Houston Gondola Expedition.
Going down the bayou was easy, heading back up- not so much. We had heavy rain the night before which turned a slow-moving bayou into a real-live river.
Rowing up that river was even more challenging when the wind, which we'd always expected to blow up-river, decided to switch on us.
We ended up rowing against both wind and current.

All this was difficult, but nothing compared to what Chris has gone through lately.
In March of this year, Chris was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma (cancer), and shortly after that he began chemotherapy treatment to defeat it.
Yesterday, Chris underwent his twelfth and final treatment.
It was a hard road, and at least one of the twelve landed him in the hospital.
But now it's over.
I spoke with Chris this evening and he sounded really positive.
He feels good and actually looks forward to the radiation that will follow.
You may have read my post from May 9th titled "Chris Harrison takes matters into his own hands". In that post, Chris shaved his mane (stopping first, of course, to briefly sport a Mohawk).
Well, his hair is back - it's only about an inch long, but it's hair!

this September 12th, Chris and I will take part in another one-day expedition, this time in Oklahoma City. A separate blog has been set up for the event:

Chris is doing well, and he is looking forward to the row.

Welcome back Chris.
Welcome back to the land of the living!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not Dropping the Boat

photo from Sunset Gondola launch on May 19th, 2008

Over the years, I've learned many things:
Some by experience (that means by making the mistakes myself),
and some by watching others make mistakes and saying to myself
"I would never do something that stupid", and trying to keep from doing it (because secretly, I know that it's exactly the kind of thing I would do).

In the gondola world, there are a few things you never want to be responsible for:
some of them involve boats sinking, catching fire,
slamming hard into things, and being dropped onto the ground.

Avoiding each of these catastrophes requires a separate discipline.
The discipline for today's post is that of not dropping the boat.

Yes, I know that it sounds like a simple matter, but you'd be surprised how many seemingly harmless decisions can result in disaster.

It's as easy as not checking the anchoring point on a hoisting strap, or assuming that the strap won't slide - when everybody knows that straps love to slide, especially when you've got a boat high in the air.

inadvertently dropping a gondola from fifteen feet or higher will yield a result somewhere between "Humpty Dumpty" and a giant grenade of flying shrapnel.

Ina Mierig sent me this hoisting photo from Hamburg, Germany.
I guarantee that someone was nervous when this shot was taken.

Some boat moving problems can be solved with jacks, blocks and jack-stands.
These are all wonderfull pieces of hardware that, when used properly,
can allow one or two people to do a big transfer job.
When used improperly, they can tip over and drop your boat.

If you're lucky, the boat will swing away from the stands and bounce onto soft grass.
But of course, there is no grass in a boatyard, just hard concrete and other boats on stands (think dominos), and the odds are good that at least one of your standing devices will end up impaling or crunching part of the boat (and more accurately, an underwater part).
If by some miracle, the boat does fall free of the stands,

you'll most certainly come away from it all with a few new leaky spots.

An unusual gondola sits on boat stands in a Southern California boatyard.

I should begin by saying that the forklift sits near the top of my "favorite inventions" list (just below duct tape and zip ties).
Most boatyards have a forklift, and anyone who is allowed to drive it, knows what they are doing.
If you own a gondola, you know that she's an unusual boat, so you may need to work with the driver to insure that they don't damage the boat doing something that works on other types of boats.

Forklifting done right.

The best piece of advice I can offer here is this -
Beware of overly eager forklift drivers who can't wait to help you with the forklift they just got last week!

Also be wary of forklift drivers who can't hear well
(I'll let you figure that one out).

Get a Grip
This week I've had to execute six separate gondola moves.
It's been a game of musical chairs with big, long boats.
I've used a number of the above mentioned methods, and I must say that my favorite method involves less hardware and more people.

It's been called the "Rugby Team Approach", the "Samoan Family Moving Method", and a number of other things.
You just get a bunch of guys together, promise them money, food, beer,
or whatever makes them happy, shout instructions, and try to keep things safe and fun.
(pro tip: don't give them the beer until after the lifting is done)

Having some thick hoisting straps can be helpful, but just make sure the guys on the ends of each strap are of equal strength.

On Saturday, I had the assistance of about fifteen guys working on the TV commercial I took part in. They were eager to assist with such an interesting boat, and they were a lot of fun to work with.

Today I needed to move a gondola, and after considering several options,
I realized that I could either:
spend hours with equipment,
or hire a bunch of day-laborers and get it done in five minutes.

I drove one block over, picked up eight guys, told them what needed to be done and watched them do it in record time.
I paid them well, they were happy, and I got to go home to my wife and kids sooner.

I love the "Rugby Team Approach".

Three final thoughts I'd like to throw in:
1. before you try any kind of move, look at it from all angles.
And then look from all angles again, while doing it.

2. keep the boat as low as you can - this minimizes the fall if there is one.

3. with the exception of the "Rugby Team Approach", when moving or lifting a gondola, have an escape plan.
If that boat starts to fall your way, make sure you're not up against a wall, or have to scramble over a bunch of equipment that could have easily been moved before the "big event".

The only thing worse than dropping a dropping it on yourself!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trailering in Germany

Here's a photo I received from Ina Mierig in Germany.
It was snapped while she was trailering her gondola through Hamburg, Germany.
Notice that Ina chose to trailer the boat backwards.
I've seen this a lot, and done it myself a number of times.
Lastly, check out the lights and hazard triangles on that trailer.
Gadz! Germany must have some strict trailering laws.
Thanks for the shot, Ina.
I'll bet you got some great looks that day.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Whole Bunch of Webcams in Venice

Thanks go out to Maria Torffield for this link.
It’s a nice concise grouping of webcams in Venice.

Let me know if you see anything interesting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sochetto in Squero Canaletto

photo by Sean AntonioliThis is one of my favorite images from Sean.
He took it when he and Mathias Luhmann were working in Squero Canaletto.
That's Mathias back there - working on a sochetto.
The sochetto is a solid piece of Lime wood.
Sochetti are present in both ends of a gondola.

They have a number of purposes:
- they serve as mounting points for the deck planks,
- they add weight to the ends, giving the gondola better polar inertia (that means she's easier to spin around),
- they fortify the ends, adding to the gondola's "bludgeon-ability" (that means she serves better as a battering ram - hopefully not necessary).

If you look behind Mathias, you can see the gondola that the sochetto is intended for - it fits in that black cavity.

There's another gondola on the left hand side of the shot, and running from the camera to right ahead of Mathias, is a long plank of wood. This plank could be the nerva (a type of wood rub-rail) but my guess is that it's been custom-cut to fit into the side of that gondola on the left.
The plank is up on poles,
a torch is perched on a sawhorse,
and there are burn-marks on the underside of the plank.

Clearly someone has been bending wood with fire.

A hand-carved sochetto,
bending wood with fire...
Venetian boat-building is so cool.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

photos from Arzanà - Gondola da Fresco

photos by Nereo Zane

Here's a series of photos taken in August of 2006, by Nereo during his visit to the old Squero Casal, which now serves as a museum by the Associazione Arzanà.

Yes, she's a gondola, but a special variation known as a "Gondola da Fresco".
She is believed to be the last original one in existence.

I'm told most of them were privately owned, and lighter. From the photos, the boat looks like she was lower to the water than standard gondolas. These elegant gondolas took their name from their popularity among folks who liked to go out in the evenings, just as dining outside is considered "dining al fresco".

Here's a close-up of the passenger area.

A better shot of the display card on the rail.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Venice Webcam - Locanda Sturion

It takes a lot to constantly feed my addiction to gondolas and Venice. One of the ways I try to satisfy the cravings is by monitoring webcams. You never know what you might see.
I watched the entire 2003 Regata Storica on one once! Today's webcam is to the hotel Antica Locanda Sturion on the Grand Canal near the Rialto. There's an active vaporetto stop in the shot, and that part of the Canalazzo has some of the most impressive (and expensive) gondolas in Venice. Enjoy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

PHOTOS FROM VENICE - two gondolas at rest

photo by Maria Torffield

Maria took this shot on May 30th of this year.
She shot the photo around noon along the
rio della Frescada, where it meets the Grand Canal, next to Palazzo Balbi.

Maria was born in Germany, and lives in New York City, but she visits Venice whenever she can.

Some things to note as you look at the image:
Standard approach to upholstery on the right, unique tapestry material used on the left.

"Simier" decorates the top of the seat of the gondola on the right.

both have their forcole out of the buso, the one on the right is on the deck.

Floorboards are red on both gondolas; the one on the right has traditional black scallop edging, the one on the left has it in yellow.

Why are there two remi on the gondola to the left?
is he trying out a new one?
Worried his old one might break?
Found one floating around somewhere?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lone Sandolo on a Quiet Canal

photo by Sean AntonioliJust the shot.
No fancy description necessary.
Enjoy the image, and all that it instills within you.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Local Gondola Traditions – christening by spray

Back in 1996, when my wife and I commissioned our first gondola to be built, we thought about nearly every aspect of the gondola:
how we would run it, where we would dock it, who would be allowed to drive it, you name it – we planned it, including the traditional christening.

On launch day, the 25’ Curtis-built mahogany beauty with a highly varnished maple prow was extracted ever-so-carefully from the truck she’d arrived in, and placed on jack-stands. It was a grand event; a few news crews were on hand and we took a bunch of photos of our own.

In a short time we had strapped and hoisted the “Elisa Marie” (named after my wife), and were ready for the official christening.
The crowd gathered around, Elisa and I, (dressed in our best) stepped up near the front of the gondola, and readied ourselves with a few well-rehearsed words and a sacrificial bottle of champagne.

As the cameras were rolling, I delivered the speech I’d prepared and my wife tightened her grip on that bottle of champagne and took a good swing at the boat.


Everybody looked and tried not to laugh.


A few people couldn’t help but laugh.


This time everybody laughed.
It wasn’t working.
I thought maybe Elisa just needed to swing a little harder.
I took the bottle of champagne in my hands and swung it hard at the front end of the gondola.


Everybody laughed again, but this time they were laughing at me!
I swung harder.


I realized we were systematically damaging the perfect finish of our new gondola.

A few more swings and I couldn’t bear to add another ding to the small collection we’d been accumulating on the varnished maple prow.

I unwrapped the top, asked my wife to join me in holding the bottle, and we popped the cork.

As you can imagine, after all that whacking, the champagne was quite well-shaken and ready to spray.

As the champagne was sprayed onto the boat – a tradition was born.

Since then, we have christened more than twenty of our gondolas in the same shake-and-spray manner.

I’ll tell you my friends, it’s a lot easier to wash champagne off the boat instead of repairing and repainting.

After the boat was launched, we were caught up in carrying out all of those plans we’d made, and we didn’t think much about the christening until we saw it on the news that night.

To tell you the truth, we were pretty sure that what we had provided the news was worthless, and we were surprised to hear that there would be anything mentioned or shown.

We hadn’t ever considered that our news item might fall under “sports” but that’s where it ended up…in the “bloopers” department!

The local sportscaster and his editing crew, spliced it all together so the clip, which lasted about 20 seconds, was a fast-cut repeat of Elisa and I trying to break that dang bottle. It was hilarious. All of our friends called us and said “hey, we saw you guys on the news”.

Then something else happened: the blooper, our blooper, ended up on his “best of” reel, which meant that every month or two for the next few years, our friends would call again and say “hey we saw you on the news again trying to whack that boat”.

I must say that beating the heck out of the bow of that gondola proved to be some of the best advertisement we ever had.

Since that day, we have always christened our gondolas by spraying champagne on them rather than breaking a bottle, and now you know why.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Recent Activity in Squero San Trovaso

photos by Bob Easton

Mr. Easton has the good fortune of visiting Venice about twice a year.
He gives a great narrative for this sequence of images.
I've highlighted his quotes in white.

"The pictures were taken just a couple of weeks ago, July 28 to be precise. It was pretty hot, above 90 degrees at 10:30 am.
My interest, while watching from across the rio was how few power tools, or devices with mechanical advantage, they use."

"As we see the first photo, one of the guys has moved two blocks and a board into position, ready to turn the boat."
"A few seconds help from others and it's done."
"The middle picture of the group shows that two boats had been turned, and it looks like the squero has some visitors."
"Somewhere along the way, one of the guys was scrubbing the bottom of one of the boats with what looked like an abrasive pad.
No motors, no rotary power, just muscle."

Some of the buildings of Squero San Trovaso are recognizable in this next shot.
"A short while later the fellow in the black shirt, the one with glasses, came rowing down the rio with another boat needing service."
"They organized the rollers, collected spare hands, and had it up on the hard in less than 2 minutes."
If there were a magazine for gondoliers, I think this next shot would look good on the cover.

Mission accomplished!
They may not look like gondoliers in their shorts and bare chests, but most of these guys probably row these beautiful boats every day in the canals of Venice.

Our photographer wraps it up by pointing out:
"Up in one of the "down east" boat shops in Maine, they would still be running the winch line down the railway and firing up the winch engine."

Thanks to Bob Easton for this great sequence of photos.
They make it seem as if we're sitting across the rio, watching it all unfold, and wishing we could be one of those guys dragging the gondola up onto the flat.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Prepare yourselves, my friends.

Prepare to be jealous.

Our friend Nick Birch, who operates his gondola on the Avon River in Stratford, England (that's Shakespeare country), has just sent me a link to a "little job" he did in Paris.

His colleague, Richard Winkler, a Frenchman who keeps a gondola on the Seine was asked to do a job for a French dating agency on the river, but they wanted two gondolas, so Nick brought his over from the UK.

Nick tells me that the whole thing was "great fun" but they had to do it early (8am to 9:30am) because the tourist boats start operating at 10am and the river authorities didn't want them on the water at the same time.

About the boats, Nick remarked:
Just as well, as they put out huge wakes which are reflected off the stone quays and produce horrible confused water - just like the Bacino di San Marco!"

As for the route, Nick said:
We rowed from close to the Bastille, downstream past Ilse St Louis and Ile de la Cite, with a stop next to the Louvre to drop off one group of passengers, and to pick up another. We then continued down to the quayside near to Place de la Concorde, where they had erected a mock palazzo-style cafe, serving coffee, pastries and gelati."

Richard Winkler keeps a gondola and a sandolo at Sevres, on the western edge of Paris. He rows in the Vogalonga every year, and he met Nick Birch there.

Are you ready for the link?

Here it is:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Photos from Utrecht

I received some more great photos from Arjen Heida in the city of Utrecht.
I must admit that the canal scenes, with so many bridges (some tunnel-like) have me captivated.

photo by Martin van Lokven

Because Utrecht is an ancient city, passengers on Arjen's gondola get to see some amazing pieces of history, and travel down canals that are centuries old.

photo by Martin van Lokven

Arjen tells me that his boat is one of five authentic gondolas in Holland.
Not all of them are currently afloat.

He's seen some interesting things since he opened for business on 07/07/07:
A streaker, a proposal that incorporated signs hung from each bridge (each with a different clue), and a perfect "yes" record as far as on-board proposals go.
The proposal with signs actually ended up being featured in a marriage magazine.

photo by Marlies de Wit

Arjen's website is:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

YouTube clips - at least one of these things is probably worth watching

There are tons of clips on YouTube that are interesting only to the people who made them.
I found a few that are interesting only to fanatics like us.
Let me know which ones were your favorite, or if you know of one that should be posted here.
In alto i remi!

Le Donne della Voga - Remiera Cannaregio Venezia

Not sure about the music on this one, but some great images.

And now for something completely different.
Ever heard of Zhouzhuang?

Gondola passes by with singer and accordionist.
I love the way the camera captures the boat as she passes.

Caorlina passes by vaporetto and then a traghetto is seen at end of clip.

Monday, August 11, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Bathing Girls of Venice, California

How do I begin a post like this?
I don't even know where to start.
I could remark on how bathing suits have changed.
I could express my thanks for having been born later.
Perhaps some mention of the fact that the two seated girls look like they literally went out of their way to look ridiculous. Then again, I've seen a lot of people these day who could easily fit that same description. (insert your favorite rant here - suggestions include baggy pants, overt display of underwear, goth, or just about anything on a "fashion runway")

On second thought, I think I'll just jump right into the analysis of boat and operator.
Hmmm. She's got the wrong stance, wrong grip, wrong posture.
She's not an operator.
Yes, clearly this "gondolier" was not chosen for the photo based on her rowing prowess.

Ok, so moving on to the gondola, I have three things to point out:
1. the boat sure looks like a Venice-built craft.
The strangely faceted deck looks authentic, even if it's beige!

2. so the next point is that,as I just mentioned, the deck is beige!
And, WHOA! The hull is red!
This is possibly the most compelling evidence we have that some of the gondolas in Venice, California were painted colors other than black. I'm researching the subject of non-black gondolas, and at some point in the future, I'll post it here.

and now for number three.

3. Did you notice it yet?
It should be fairly obvious to the trained eye.
If not, take another look at the two passengers.
More specifically, look at where they are seated.
yes, they're sitting a bit too close to the gondolier.
As I've mentioned in previous posts involving gondolas from this same time period in California, some creative things were done to expand passenger capacity.
The most obvious was how they transformed the area aft of the main seat, or "divan" into a seating area.
I usually call it the "rumble seat".

The postcard image comes from 1911. The Race Through the Clouds rollercoaster in the background tells us that it was taken in an area known as the "Lagoon".
For views of the "Lagoon", both today and eighty-five years ago, see my post from August 1st.

Last thought:
What the heck is with the socks?
I mean, I understand the need to cover certain parts of a woman's body back then, but the feet?
And have you ever tried to swim in socks?
truly a bad idea.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What's in YOUR Bag? - The Follow-Up

Alright my friends, the time has come to follow up on the “what’s in your bag” forum from July 30th, and to answer the question myself.
First, I need to point out that there’s fantasy, and then there’s reality.
I sat down and composed my list. Then I went and got my bag, to dig through it and see if I’d forgotten anything.
The sad truth was that many of the items on my list were not in the bag!
I have since remedied that situation, and my bag weighs a lot more than it did last week!
I guess not every item in the gondolier’s bag of tricks is necessary on every cruise.
Now, to address the comments from our beloved readers:
Sean gets the award for being the first to respond, for being a minimalist, and for mentioning one thing I never considered – a bottle of wine.
All of our cruises come with a bottle of champagne or sparkling cider. I’m guessing that in a BYO operation, having a bottle for the clueless guy who forgot to bring one, can do wonders for a gondolier’s tip.
Then there’s the issue of drinking while rowing.
I think in Newport, I’d get nabbed by the Harbor Patrol in a New York minute If I were caught drinking on the back of a passenger vessel.
I know that certain other gondola operations have, shall we say, “lax rules” on such things, and all I can say, to any of you lax rules gondoliers is…I envy you.
Cassandra was the next person to comment.
She’s not a gondolier…yet.
She’s actually my eleven-year-old daughter.
(everybody say “oooooohhh” like someone just opened a gift at a baby shower)
This year Cassandra will be learning to row.
It’ll be an awesome father-daughter experience, which you’ll probably read about here, whether you like it or not.
Bepi, paisano, you were right about some of the items, but you brought up one that I hadn’t thought of – baby wipes. You’re a dad, I shouldn’t be surprised. Those things have easily got a thousand-and-one uses. When we travel, my wife has always got them handy.
I’ve considered getting a small GPS, I probably will for the next expedition, and I’d probably need one in your harbor, but I know my canals well enough that I don’t need one in Newport.
There have been times when I wished I had a bull-horn, and as I think back, it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t.
Forcola lube is kept on each boat, but I have been known to fall back on my Chap Stick when someone swipes my Crisco.
John Synco, your post made me laugh out loud.
I want to hear about the fight that almost happened – tell me about it at Captain Jack’s.
A safety whistle is a good idea.
I carry a bosun’s whistle on my keychain, it’s great for calling the kids, but it’s also handy when there’s a drunken Duffy driver headed right at me.
The paint brush is another clever item.
Some boats need that more than others. Heck! Some boats need to be dipped in chemical stripper, hosed off with acetone, and then dipped in paint or varnish, repeatedly.
You probably know some boats like that.
I received an e-mailed response from Pierre Meunier in Miami, he wrote:
“Whats in my bag? well hummm let me think.
You know I’m French, so in my bag is a bottle of red and damn good cheese, then a knife (very handy with the cheese), a flashlight to find the food at night,
then a cell phone (if I ever run out of food I can order in) and on one of my knives I have a tiny corkscrew opener in case I forgot to ask the client if he had one.”
Pierre is a very funny guy.
If you find yourself in Miami, definitely look him up, if only for the cheese.
And now for my list:
Bag list
Messermeister corkscrew/bottle opener – at some point I thought I’d be a better gondolier if I got a really good corkscrew.
Later I realized that all I’d done was spend more money than I needed to on a stupid corkscrew.
Small bottle of water – lately, I try to always keep a small 8 ounce bottle in my bag. Most of the time I step on the boat with a larger bottle, and sometimes a Thermos of coffee too. But now and then I forget, and that little bottle can be a lifesaver, especially when you need to sing.
Laminated bird chart – it weighs nothing and can make a huge difference for that passenger who starts asking about the different shorebirds they see.
Protein bar – I don’t go anywhere without one of these. You never know when your one cruise is going to become three cruises with no time to eat in between.
Sunscreen – just a little for the beak.
Duct tape – small travel-size or the end of a regular roll – preferably black.
Zip ties – for years I’ve said “If it can be solved with zip ties, duct tape, a bungee cord or a little bit of cash – it’s not a real problem”.
Sharpie marker – a great “quick-hide” for scratches in black paint
Counter duster – this is a small hand-broom that makes cleaning up crumbs, rose petals, and other debris go a lot faster and easier.
Tissues – little mini Kleenex or Tempo tissues.
Small battery tester – no bigger than a Bic lighter. I hate throwing out good batteries.
Pitch-pipe – a long time ago, I went through a phase where the singing was my highest priority. I learned a lot of the stuff I sing today during that period. I bought a pitch-pipe which has stayed in my gondola bag since. I think I’ve used it a dozen times in the last eight years.
Towel – it’s a small one, often lines the bottom of the bag. Anybody see Hitchhiker’s Guide?
Mini Maglite – the AA size Mini Maglite fits perfectly in the canon (little brass rose vase piece on the bow), and when you twist off the lid, it becomes a great running light.

In my pockets
Typical pocketknife w/ 3” blade and pocket clip.
Victorinox Swiss Army Knife – I like the smaller ones that have a little red flashlight and ball-point pen built in. Also, a cap lifter (that would be a bottle opener) is essential when you need to open someone’s Martinelli’s…or your own frosty beverage of choice at the end of the evening.
Business cards
Micro-light on my keychain – this is a true life-saver. It’s the size of a nickel and weighs about as much. It’s a pinch-light with a super bright diode. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a drunken Duffy driver heading my way, completely oblivious of my running lights, and by pointing the Micro-light at him and flashing it, I’ve gotten his attention and avoided a nightmare.
Chap Stick – gotta have it. Good for lubing a forcola in a pinch.
And yes, Bepi, I do carry a camera – in a separate bag. After a certain “adventure”, I like to keep my lenses in ziplock bags. ;o)
Other things I’ve seen and heard of
Translation guide – in some areas, the passengers are from other countries, and communicating with them requires additional study, or text.
Big Mac meal from McDonalds – obviously this one works better on a canopied gondola with a motor. It’s very hard to row while eating a Big Mac.
Change of underwear (insert you favorite wise crack here)
Night vision scope – Yep, I once saw a gondolier carry a night vision scope with him on his gondola. I’m not quite sure if he was paranoid of black helicopters, or just hoping to see something “interesting” on the shore. He had way too much time on his hands.
Personal wine glass – this has to be one of my favorite “optional items”. For reasons of liability, I’ll keep the identity of this guy under wraps, but I will say that he’s one of the most skilled and established gondoliers outside Venice. He operates on a lake where there are no other boats or authorities to worry about. He also has many passengers that bring their own wine on cruises. Because so many passengers offer him a taste of their vino, he often carries his own wine glass on the back of the boat. As I mentioned earlier, drinking while rowing would probably get the “Exxon Valdez treatment” in Newport. But every time someone comes aboard my boat with a really impressive vintage, and offers me some, I think of this guy…and how I should’ve brought an extra glass!
I grew up in the Boy Scouts, and the motto “Be Prepared” has served me well over the years, but the best way to end this post has got to be with a quote from John Kerschbaum in Minnesota:
“Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”.