Saturday, May 31, 2008

Baghdad's Little Venice

Here's a curious piece from the blogosphere.

"Baghdad's Little Venice."

It looks like a park with some miniature canals. But, hey, it's "Baghdad's Little Venice".

Seems like everybody's got one these days. I'm thinking I'll dig a moat around my house, toss a garden hose in there, throw a half-sized sandolo in the water, and teach my kids to row it. Awesome! I'll have my own Little Venice!

I can build the sandolo in my garage, and I think the side yards are just wide enough for canals.

But now where am I gonna keep my trash cans?! AAARGH!!!

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Holy Remo" Part 2 - Querini

Here's a closer look at John Synco's photo of the "Holy Remo".
Looking at the photo, you may have noticed that the remi both have light-blue and white stripes. When I saw them, I had a feeling the photo was taken at Società Canottieri Francesco Querini - a rowing club in Castello, a fact that John Synco confirmed when I met him at Sunset Gondola.

Francesco Querini was a maritime hero from Venice, who, among other things, died on the ice during an expedition to the North Pole.
The Querini rowing club is known for many things, but their claim to fame is an 18-man boat known as a "disdotona". I'm told she's 24 meters long!

Here's a shot I took in 2005

There are many similar boats, but none as long and with so many rowers.

I had the opportunity to row on a 14-man, 22 meter "Quatordesona" version in the 2005 Regata Storica. There are only a few of these high capacity, extra-long boats, and each one is the pride of it's rowing club. Some can be broken down into sections - more manageable in shipping.

In July of 2004, the Querini club brought their disdotona to Henley, England to participate in a regata there.
A number of Venetian boats are kept and rowed there by a club known as City Barge, so it was a good fit...and a great excuse for at least 18 Italians to drink some Guiness.

When something so large as a disdotona travels across a continent, it's a big deal. The folks at Querini had a huge banner on display that John Synco got a picture of.

photo by John Synco

Now THAT'S gondola advertising!

To visit the website of
Società Canottieri Francesco Querini, go to:

To see photos and read about Querini's visit to City Barge, go to:

Gilberto Penzo on the Veniceblog

Norman over at Veniceblog has been posting up cool stuff for quite a while. I check in from time to time - he's got a great collection of posts that capture Venice in clever and insightful ways. Here's a post on Gilberto Penzo's shop, which went up in March, but I just came across it this week.

Check out the Veniceblog. He's got some great links to webcams in Venice.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Diesel Gondola

photos by Pierre MeunierMy first encounter with this unique gondola was in 2000.
I was visiting Mike Novack in Moonachie, New Jersey, and while showing me his one-hundred-year-old gondola, he mentioned another gondola in the area.
He said, "there's another gondola just up the road at a restaurant. I don't know if you want to see it - it's not from Venice".
My response was something along the lines of "Are you kidding me? if they call it a gondola, I want to see it".
I love Venetian boats, and comparing them often involves identifying subtleties. Conversely, when examining non-Venetian gondolas, the differences are usually extreme. You never know what strange or brilliant approaches you might see - in the design, construction, appointments or propulsion.

We drove up to see the gondola, which was operating out of a waterfront restaurant.
I was impressed with how big and solid the boat was. She reminded me of some of the gondolas we've seen here in Southern California that have electric golf-cart motors, but much bigger and stouter.
After just the first glance, I knew she wasn't a rowing boat. The size, and obvious weight of the vessel precluded that option
...and then there was the helm station.

The passenger area was enclosed with a hard-top and had the feel of a small luxury cabin-cruiser.

The ferro was obviously custom made for the boat, and while quite different from the standard Venetian blade, had an artful and pleasing look.

Next, I lifted a hatch in the back, expecting to see an electric motor.
Instead, I saw a full-blown Yanmar diesel engine - it blew my mind. I physically jumped back. Mike hadn't mentioned the powerplant and my reaction was almost akin to having discovered a wild animal in the compartment.

In 2005, Mike Novack bought the Diesel Gondola from her original owners.
While the boat was still in New Jersey, Mike took passenger cruises and featured her in parades.
Next, the boat was relocated to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where Mike has been operating out of Stork's Cafe for a while now. Mike's manager there, Pierre Meunier, fell in love with the unique gondola and the two quickly established a partnership on the boat.

While visiting Florida in March of this year, I met Pierre and saw the gondola again.
He had been hard at work, installing a boarding hatch on top of one side of the canopy.
Every inch of the boat had received, or would receive new paint and whatever TLC might be needed.

I made Pierre promise to send photos once she was done, and he kept his word; all of these photos were shot recently in Ft. Lauderdale.
Here's a shot of Captain Pierre and his first mate, ready to take a couple out for a cruise.

When Pierre sent these photos, he included the following text:

Ciao Gondola Greg!

Believe it or not the Diesel gondola is finally ready, and already did her first debut in a movie shoot, done by Bollywood at the Viscaya Castle in Miami.

What a trek and adventure it was for me. I took the boat on it's own power to Miami, a 9 hour ordeal (should have been 6 hours) but on our way there we hit the worst storm I have seen in years, and this just at the entrance of Biscayne Bay (my mate is still shaken).

Beside the storm, all went very well and the return was very nice, the boat is doing excellent on the water and is now ready to go to work. I am now working on the publicity and my website should be ready in a few weeks. As soon as it is in operation I will send you the link, and also I would like to put yours on my site too.

I was very pleased by your visit because I don't get to talk very often about gondolas with people as enthusiastic as you about this business.

I think what he really meant was that he didn't often run into people as ridiculously obsessed with gondolas as me.

Thanks for phrasing it as a compliment Pierre.
And thanks for the photos, the gondola looks great!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Full Moon in Venice

Sean Antonioli took this photo while living in Venice. It was probably one of those "wow, I'm glad I brought my camera" moments. I wonder how long he waited for the clouds to be just right.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The "Holy Remo"

John Synco mentioned this piece of rowing hardware in a comment a few days ago, and my interest was piqued.

He simply described it as an oar with a blade "riddled with holes".
I didn't know what kind of holes he was talking about, and hadn't seen the remo, but I offered the following possibilities:

1. It was left in the water and worms got to it. I'm not an expert on wood-worms, but it's a possibility.

2. Someone used it for target practice, or maybe he was rowing near an island he shouldn't have and took some "double-ot-buck". Ask the gondolier to show his backside, check for scars.

3. Holes were drilled deliberately to affect the blade's ability to push water because:
a. the gondolier wanted to practice-row while the gondola was tied to the dock.

b. the gondolier was rowing tandem with someone not as strong so they weakened their remo's efficiency.

c. for some add reason, the gondolier wanted to have to execute more strokes to accomplish the same goal - perhaps for training purposes

4. the owner of the remo pissed somebody off
...somebody who owns a drill.

5. a drinking game and a dare might have been involved.

6. It has to do with fraternity-like hazing within the traghetto.

7. It was once used on a traditional s'ciopon (the little sandolo with a big duck gun"), and the blade was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

8. The wood chosen by the remer who fabricated the oar had holes in it. The remer filled the holes, completed the piece, and either:
a. didn't tell the gondolier about the problem. Surprize!

b. told the gondolier to keep the remo varnished to protect the plugged holes, but the gondolier never got around to it, and now he rows with Swiss Cheese.

I asked John to please send me the photo.
I was dying of curiosity.

Here's the by John Synco

So with the above image now in the equation, I think we can rule out worms and shotguns. Drinking games, hazing, and angry people with drills are technically still possible. I doubt the remer who made the oar encountered pre-existing holes and tried to sell the piece, with or without filler.

So that leaves us with option #3 - "holes deliberately drilled either for practice-rowing at dock, or to lessen the remo's ability to push water."

I asked Nereo Zane to talk with some Venetians about it. He spoke with world renowned rowers Vittorio Orio, Enzo Liskza, and Bepi Suste.
After their conversation he wrote:
"Bepi and Vittorio told me today that the remi with holes are used for training when the boat is tied to the dock or in a sort of giant basin, so the correct answer is #3a. The answers #4, 7 and 8 made me laugh loudly!!!"
The "giant basin" mentioned above sounds like the indoor rowing tanks used by sit-down rowers in the English style. When the weather isn't conducive, they train on platforms indoors with their oars in "small swimming pools".

Nereo told me, with congratulations, that one of my guesses was correct, although I feel as though I was throwing spaghetti at the wall by producing eight possibilities. Nevertheless, I'm happy that I did guess it, rather than miss with eight attempts.

I do have first-hand experience with rowing while tied to the dock. And I'm here to tell you - it's not such a good idea (unless you're willing to drill holes in your remo!). About a week prior to the 2007 Hudson River Gondola Expedition I tried a little "static rowing" exercise of my own.
Because of my hectic schedule, I'd had some trouble finding anybody to row tandem with, and was desperate to get some practice in, rowing off the port side.
I went down to the docks late one night, and with the gondola tied to the dock so I could row up front, I put my favorite Metallica CD in the boombox and settled in for a good 45 minute workout.
In less than 20 minutes, my right wrist was in considerable pain and I realized I'd been putting too much stress on it by not simulating things correctly.
I suppose if I'd tied the gondola alongside a river that was moving quickly past the gondola, I could have lessened the stress of each stroke, but tied to the dock in still water created a tendenitis which I ended up having to monitor for a long time.

"Static rowing" is nothing new to me, I've trained countless students by beginning with the gondola tied to the dock, showing the strokes, and having them mimic the movements.
It's a lot easier for them to understand the strokes if they don't need to worry about crashing into things.
But "static rowing" for a workout is entirely different.
The natural tendency is to push as hard as possible, with muscles you might not have had when you were first learning.

I'm not quite ready to drill holes in a perfectly good remo yet, but if I ever need to "static row" again, I'll use John Synco's photo for a guide,
or piss somebody off...somebody who owns a drill!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Nolite Oblivisci - the book

For photographer Nereo Zane, the dream of publishing his own book became a reality this week.
Nereo was the official photographer of the 2007 Hudson River Gondola Expedition. He was always there to catch the action, often while bouncing around on a tiny chase-boat.
It's one thing to take pictures of a moving boat, but to shoot them from another moving boat brings it to a whole new level.
During the expedition, Nereo shot thousands of images, creating a visual diary of what happened on that adventure.

A package arrived on my doorstep last week - all the way from Padova, Italy.
I knew Nereo had been working on a book, and I knew that the package was likely to arrive soon, but I was still blown away by the final product.
Forty-two high-resolution photographs are accompanied by commentary in both Italian and English. Some of the images have been seen here on the gondolablog in low-res., but many more have never been posted or published anywhere before.
The commentaries offer unique insight into what the expedition was like: day-by-day, experience-by-experience.
At 7x7, the book is of sensible size - small enough to carry around, and big enough to place on a coffee table or the corner of a desk.
A limited number of copies are available for sale through Gondola Adventures, Inc. for the published price plus shipping from Italy (€3.00) and to you.
The published price of the book is €13.00, so the price in US dollars may vary based on the exchange rate.
As of this writing it comes out to roughly $20.47 according to The exact exchange rate will be determined at time of purchase.

If you are interested, you may reply to this post or e-mail me directly at:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two Great Gondolas from Two Great Builders

I stopped by Sunset Gondola today to pick up some things I'd left on the boat back on Monday, and couldn't resist taking a few photos.

The gondolas looked great when they came out of the container six days ago, but they look fantastic now that the guys have spent some time with them.

Tim smiles as only a gondolier who just got new boats can smile.
Gondoliers Chris, Tyson Davis and Tim Reinard prepare the two new gondolas for the evening's fleet-cruise.
Having these two gondolas next to each other offers a unique opportunity to compare the differences between two boats from two different gondola building yards - known as "squeri".
A "squero" takes it's name from the Venetian boatbuilder's tool known by the same name; it's a type of measuring tool or builder's square.
Each squero builds gondolas a little differently from the others, and to the untrained eye, they may all look fairly the same, but when you put them next to each other, their unique features become evident.

Imagine if all German automakers produced
their version of the classic Porsche 911.
Or if each Italian automaker issued a car similar to the Maserati Quattroporte, but each one building it the way they thought it should be built.
Now imagine that each Quattroporte, built by each automaker, was made-to-order based on the requests of the buyer.
Now you get an idea of the uniqueness of each and every gondola built in Venice.
These gondolas were built in Squero dei Rossi and Squero Tramontin.
Tim and Tyson have already noticed a difference in the thickness of the stern, or "poppa".
On launch day we all noticed that the height of the poppa was a little different between the two gondolas. No doubt, the gondoliers will discover other differences between the boats for years to come.

Two tails from two different squeri.
This evening, the place was humming with activity, with gondoliers and passengers showing up and preparing for the fleet-cruise.
Tim, Tyson, Joanna, and the rest of the staff now enjoy the ability to take out more than twice as many passengers at a time.
I got to meet John Synco and his girlfriend Trish for the first time, along with a number of great folk, preparing to either be passengers or rowers.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

New Sandolo in Padova

photos by Nereo Zane

Here are a few photos taken by Nereo Zane of a Sandolo Buranello taken yesterday in front of the City Hall in Padova, where he lives.

This masterpiece was built by Antonio Amadi for a rowing club in Padova.
I don't now about you, but I'm drooling.

Friday, May 23, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - actual photo from Central Park 1904

I have a ridiculously large collection of gondola-related postcards.
Don't envy me or be impressed - it's really just a pathetic addiction.
But hey, I figure if I'm gonna collect something - it might as well be something small and inexpensive.
Oh, sure, I'd love to collect Ferraris, but I haven't the means, nor the parking spaces.
So it's postcards. Many of them are the typical colorized photos, or artist renderings that were so popular during the first part of the Twentieth Century.
Every now and then, I come across what the postcard experts call a "Real Photographic" or "RP".
This is one such card.
The problem with the other cards is that you can't really tell how "honest" the images are.
I've covered a number of issues in previous posts, related to colors. There's no absolute proof that they painted the gondolas red, green, and even white in Venice, California based on colorized images. Many of the colorized cards show the ferro blades in a gold color; I doubt that the gondolas depicted actually had brass or gold ferri, but it is possible that the gondoliers painted them gold.
I know what you're thinking: "it's a black and white photo, how are you going to see hull-colors?"
And if you're saying that, you make a good point. I think the main reason I like these monochromes is that they are true images. With all their black and white drawbacks, they still offer us a true snapshot and the feeling like we were there to see it for ourselves.

This postcard was sent to someone in Liecester, England.
It was sent in 1904 with a postmark on the back from New York.
there's another postmark on the front stamped right on top of a bush on the shore.

The written message on the front says:
"Perhaps some day I will take you out on this lake.
The stamp on the back is in the amount of two cents.
That was the postage for international postcards. Domestic postcards only cost one cent back then.
My how things have changed.
(yes, I think I've said that a few times before)

Here's a close-up of the gondola.
By the lines, she certainly seems to be a Venice-built gondola.
the dark spot above the center of the vessel looks like it might be a rock or small boat.
it looks like there were four passengers riding in the gondola, and whoever the gondolier was, he was moving fast enough to leave a noticeable wake.
The building in the background was the original boathouse, with it's Victorian architectural style. It's been replaced by the current boathouse.
In fact, we're looking at another one of those photos where none of the man-made items exists anymore.

to learn more about the current gondola operation on Cantral Park's lake, see:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Seated Sandolisti in Scottsdale

A big thanks to Tony Brinkley for sending me these photos from Scottsdale, Arizona.
The boats are American-built Sandoli.

The "Isabella at dock".

Sandoli come in many shapes and sizes, and are designed to perform numerous tasks.
To a certain degree, the word "sandolo" is to Venetian boats, what "sedan" is to cars - there are many types. When fitted out for passenger service, sandoli are painted black, and in many ways are operated like gondolas...except that most gondoliers don't sit in chairs.

Marcus rows the "Sandolina".

Tony Brinkley got his start rowing in the Venetian style at the Hyatt resort in Scottsdale.
Years later he took a position at The Venetian for a few years, and then served as our manager in Irving, Texas for Gondola Adventures, Inc.

Tony was one of my very favorite managers, and I often wish we could have him back. After working for us in Irving, Tony went back to Arizona to pursue his dream of teaching. Over the years we've stayed in-touch because Tony is that kind of guy; he's as great a friend as he is a gondola manager.
While he did end up teaching, Tony seems to have had a difficult time staying away from Venetian boats - as he ended up back at the sandolo operation at the Hyatt in Scottsdale.

Now, about the sitting:
They haven't always rowed sitting down at the Hyatt. The seated rowing is a fairly recent phenomenon. I'm not clear on exactly when the official launch took place, but I'm told the sandolo operation has been at the Hyatt in Scottsdale since the late 80's or early 90's.

As far as I can tell, this folding-chair approach began within the last year or two.
It's a bit of a mystery as to how it all got started, but eventually platforms were installed to provide level floorspace to support the chairs. The drawback of the new platforms, of course, is that they make standing and rowing difficult.
I'm not ready to criticize this unique seated-rowing technique though - after all, they are rowing in the Arizona desert where it can get extremely hot.

I welcome your comments on this post.
It would be great to solve the mystery of why they are seated and when it all began.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ingo the Traveling German Gondolier

There are few gondoliers I can honestly say that I’m jealous of:

Andres Garcia – the gondolier in Central Park is one of them – what a cool place to row.

Joe Gibbons of Boston and Angelino in Oakland have been on the list a time or two as well.

Robert Dula has jumped back and forth between the “envy” and the “do not envy” lists depending on whether there’s a hurricane in town.

Of course, this week we all have reason to envy Tim and Tyson at Sunset Gondola.

But now I have a new gondolier to add to the list:

German gondolier Ingo Stahl.Ingo has been mentioned on the gondolablog a number of times in the past, and each time I hear from him, he’s somewhere else, doing something else with his gondola.

Heck! With all his moving around, he reminds me of Karl Rhunke of Florida; who in the 80’s and 90’s traveled all over the state, dropping his gondola in the water wherever and whenever he wanted to.

Ingo makes his home in Wörthsee, a beautiful lake in Bavaria.

This winter he brought his gondola up to Bamberg, where he kept his gondola in a shop owned by gondola operator Jürgen Riegel. They worked on their gondolas through the cold months, and then rowed around a bit (you’ve gotta row around a bit, it’s just part of what we do as gondola fanatics).

After Bamberg, Ingo brought his gondola to Nürnberg for an annual Venetian Market festival. I believe other German gondoliers brought their gondolas there too.

Then he was off to Venice for Vogalonga with friends. They weren’t able to get a boat of their own, but Ingo ended up being interviewed by a Bavarian TV station.

Next, Ingo and Jürgen will go to Bad Bueckenburg, near Hannover, for an exhibition.

Then it’s off to Castel Ippenburg near Osnabrueck for a similar expo.

After all that, Ingo says he’ll begin a film shoot!

On top of all this, the guy lives where the best beer in the world comes from.

Holy smokes!

That’s it Ingo! I’ve decided that I’m gonna learn German, fly out there, and take your job!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two New Sunset Gondolas - Container

Our friends at Sunset Gondola took delivery of two beautiful gondolas today. About two months ago they ventured out to Venice to "make some deals, and buy some boats". They were wise to contact Roberto at Squero dei Rossi, and tell him they were coming. The folks at Squero dei Rossi gave Tim and Tyson the kind of hospitality and professionalism that they are known for. With the help of Roberto, Tim and Tyson were successful and managed to secure a dei Rossi gondola, and a Tramontin gondola. Today was the big day - the day to "splash them". After much anticipation, Tyson clipped the seal on the latch of the container. Tim did the honors of opening the doors. He mentioned something about the smell in the container, and I couldn't resist - I jumped up and smelled it for myself. It smelled a lot like a squero (that's a good thing, by the way). The gondolas were expertly "nested", one on top of the other, but offset just the right amount. The blue tarp that covered the opening gave everything a mystical glow. We were truly lucky to have Sean Antonioli on hand for the occasion. He came out this week to be in a friend's wedding - perfect timing as he was invaluable - from hoisting to baling. In the above shot, Sean discussed some of the hoisting details with shipyard staff...talking with his hands like a good Italian.

During the unloading process, I met Andrew McHardy and Eric Sjoberg - two of the most experienced gondoliers in Southern California.

Two New Sunset Gondolas - Hoisting and dipping

After things in the container were gone through, and the gondolas were prepared, Tim, Tyson, and Sean helped the shipyard staff strap and hoist the gondolas out and into the water.
Here's gondola #1, high in the air. Gondola #1 touches down after two months out of the water. Gondola #2, in a partial solar eclipse. Gondola #2 at the very moment of immersion.

Two New Sunset Gondolas - Dockside Preparations

After the gondolas had been placed in the waters of Long Beach, we pulled out all of the removable parts, known as parecio, to monitor any leaks that might present themselves.
Parecio, strewn across the dock.

Sean Antonioli and Tim's dad, Howard Reinard, teamed up to make sure the forcola on gondola #2 was secure and ready for rowing.

Tyson took great care to make sure the forcola on gondola #1 was in tight.

Two New Sunset Gondolas - Making History and Getting Wet

photos by Joanna Herrera

So, among other things, history was made today.
For the first time since the early 1900's, Venice-built gondolas graced the waters of Alamitos Bay. This is no slight to the current company operating there, they have two Venice-built boats of their own (a sandolo and a pupparino), and there are a lot of great guys rowing there,
but the last photographic evidence of Venetian gondolas in Naples was around 1910.
Tim Reinard (poppa) and Kelly Armstrong (prova) rowing a Venetian gondola through Alamitos Bay.
Kelly Armstrong rows prova.
Tim Reinard gives his best "you want a piece of me?" look.
Two gondolas docking in Naples.
Me, laughing hysterically. I don't even remember what it was that Tyson said, but it must have been funny, 'cause I almost got a hernia from laughing.
Tyson, Sean and me, rowing towards the breakwater.

The perfect rowing adventure continued through Alamitos Bay.
Once, while outside the breakwater, we took about fifty gallons of seawater over the rail, and found ourselves in one of those true "sink or swim" situations.
As Sean and I went nuts with the buckets, and Tyson traded back and forth between baling with the sessola and keeping the boat steady with the remo, we learned a thing or two about the discipline of "keeping more water on the outside of the hull, than on the inside".

Waves were rolling in, we did our best to stabilize the gondola, baling while balancing, we pressed-on and brought her back on top of the surface. As the wind was about to put us on the rocks, we began rowing again - first out to sea about fifty yards, and then turning in to enter the breakwater of Huntington Harbor. The experience at sea was exhilarating. It tested our resolve, and steeled our determination. Sure, I would have rather kept my socks dry, but the satisfaction of "fixing the problem with buckets and oars" was worth it.
It was a true adventure - the type you talk about for years.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


As I've indicated in previous posts, Venice, California had many gondolas in it's heyday; as many as three dozen by some accounts.
We have two kinds of visual reference materials to determine what the gondolas looked like:
monochrome (black and white) photographs,
and postcard images.
In many cases, postcard images of the time were simply colorized or re-touched monochrome images. Rarely were they considered to be important in preserving history - they were often designed solely with aesthetics in mind. In some cases these postcard images were put together by artists, and sometimes they made mistakes or didn't render the gondolas perfectly.

So with the above factors in mind, we can't make statements with absolute certainty, but it seems that at least a few of the gondolas in Venice, California in the early part of the twentieth century, were painted colors other than black.

My post from February 25th goes into more detail regarding the colors these gondolas were painted.
Red seems to have been a popular color; either that or there was one red gondola which was featured in many postcards.
My post from April 2nd of 2008 shows a gondola with red hull-sides and tan decks.
It's entirely possible that the gondola in the above close-up was the same gondola as the one featured in the post from April 2nd.
Of course, it's also possible that the artists who colorized many of the postcards chose to deviate from the norm, although it seems unlikely with so many images with red or green gondolas, the one from my March 4th post with a white gondola, and the fact that gondolas come standard in black.
I believe we have strong evindence that the gondoliers or staff went out of their way to use other colors.

This next postcard shows a red gondola with what appears to be a brown deck.
The gondolier had good reason to roll up his sleeves with nine passengers.
After closer inspection, I think every one of the passengers was wearing some kind of a hat. My, how things have changed.

This last postcard strikes me as an example of an inaccurate rendering. The gondola is red, and has a crescent shape, but it sure seems to have been "drawn in" after the fact - like the boss said "hey, that looks great, but can you put a gondola in there? Make it a red one."

Take a look for yourself.