Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The "Little Horse"

That's what they call the small sawhorse used by remers in the shop.
This one may be taller than others, but it is still known by the name which means "little horse". I didn't take the time to measure it when I took the picture in Franco Furlanetto's shop. The unusual piece of wood mounted to the top of the main beam is for holding or cradling different parts of the remo so the craftsman can do his thing with the various tools he uses.

Fresh wood can be seen on the floor, each piece waits to become part of something amazing.
A small pattern-piece rests on top of the cavalletto - probably from part of a forcola plan.
Remers typically wear heavy protective leather aprons when they work, but sometimes a little extra guarding is needed. The black plastic piece towards the back of the horse is a good example - no doubt it has helped Franco avoid countless injuries.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

view from Canalazzo - Rio dell'Orso

Shot from the vaporetto, here's a photo of the small canal known as the Rio dell'Orso which dead-ends in the Campo Santo Stefano in San Marco. I was lucky to snap the shot just as the statue of Nicolo Tommaseo (a writer known for his involvement with the rebellion against Austrian forces) came into view.
On the left hand side of the photo is one of Venice's most photographed paline. Any time you see a photo taken from the Accademia Bridge toward Piazza San Marco, you'll see a few red and white striped poles. There are many different motifs in pole decoration, but this group of paline are likely responsible for the world's belief that all the poles in Venice are red and white.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Procession in Mestre

Each year the GSVVM hold a Christmas procession, creating great opportunities for photos.
As you might expect, Nereo Zane was there and caught some great images.
Take a look at his blog at:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gift Forum

Ok gondola fanatics, it's been a while since our last forum here.
I know you're all reading the blog. Now here's a chance to jump in and speak up.
The questions are appropriate for the day after Christmas.

1. What did you get for Christmas or Hanukkah that's gondola-related?

2. Have you heard of any other great gondola-related gifts?

3. What would you like to see under the tree (or parked outside) next year?

Have fun!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

A warm "Buon Natale" to you all dear friends.
Take stock in all that you've been blessed with.
rise to the challenges you face, and don't hesitate to seek assistance from friends.
Remember, they may need your help too.
God bless you all.
Merry Christmas from the Gondola Blog.
-Gondola Greg

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Acqua Alta in the News

As we get into the Inverno time of year, the waters in Venezia rise now and then.
Here's a piece at on the most recent "Acqua Alta".

Time to break out the rubber boots and practice walking the plank.

To read more about Venice's perennial high-water problem, check out these two previous Gondola Blog posts:

Also, René at Venice Kayak took some terrific photos of a record high Acqua Alta last year, which you can see on his blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Adventures of the Lead Boat - The Row

The conclusion of our adventure leading the boat parade on December 13th in Huntington Harbour.

photos by Dawn Reinard
The Huntington Harbour Boat Parade, like pretty much all other boat parades, has a sort of "mulling around" period before the start. Everyone converges on the starting area and waits for the signal to begin.

That night as the five of us (four rowers and one french horn player) waited, we surveyed the various boats and enjoyed the music - which pumped out of the massive sound systems that two or three of them had included to compliment their light displays. Now I know it's not very "Christmassy", but waiting there, and getting prepared to spend the next three hours rowing our butts off, tunes like "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Come On Feel The Noise" helped me get psyched up for the row which was about to commence.

Some jockeying had to be done before everyone knew what they needed to do in relation to all the other vessels participating, and then at the sound of the siren the controlled chaos began.

We rowed for a short time behind the Sherriff's Harbor Patrol boat, but as soon as we got the chance we passed them, much to the surprise of everyone in the boat who didn't know we would be leading the parade. Only one or two of the 15+ people on board the Harbor Patrol boat knew we would be passing them. Most didn't think we had the ability to keep up, much less pass. A skilled gondolier can get the boat moving at a decent speed, but with four on a stripped-down gondola, much greater speeds are easily attainable.

Of course getting the team together is one thing, working the bugs out so the boat moves straight in a forward direction is another.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
"No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing."
And while that piece of wisdom somewhat applies, a Venetian crew is made up of rowers who do more than just row in unison; each also has own ways to contribute from his place in the boat. The guy rowing poppa (on the back) is usually considered the "captain", and while he is generally the one in charge, often times, the other rowers have a sense of when they should row harder or ease-up a little to insure that the boat follows the right line. I was the captain that night, but the whole crew worked dilligently to contribute to our proper trajectory.
Tim, Chris, and Phil deserve a lot of credit, not only for their hard work in rowing, but for doing it intelligently.
A Venetian crew is not like a dogsled - they guys row, and think.
A guy named Doug Floyd has a better quote for our style of rowing:
"You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note.”
We spent some time tweaking our system until the group was more effective, and by the time we'd covered a kilometer everyone was on the same page.

This was an unusual set of challenges for a four-man gondola:
-we had to move as fast or faster than the column of boats behind us.
-we did have some good lights, but we were still a low-slung boat in the dark, running amongst dozens of big, cumbersome vessels, many of which were draped with an enormous amount of lights. Visibility was always a concern.
-we were navigating on a course which involved several turns and at least a dozen abrupt U-turns.
Our visibility issues were often easy to address just by staying well-ahead of the procession. A few times we had to resort to some fast rowing and bold maneuvers to solve a problem.

U-turns were no problem, downright fun actually. We raised our oars for a salute once while the boat was in a spin - the spectators on the bridge had no idea what we were doing and cheered once the "saluting turn" was complete.
We found the spectre of taking corner-turns more challenging as the gondola would try to keep spinning or drifting beyond the turn.

All in all it was an awesome experience, one which I count myself lucky to have been a part of.

Here are two video clips I shot from the back of the gondola:

I gave my camera to Tim's wife Dawn, and she did her best to shoot in the strange combination of movement and low lighting. She did a great job capturing the following sequence of images as we approached the dock and departed. Later on, with the long lens, Dawn captured this image from across the bay. It may look familiar - I liked it so much that as I write this, it's the banner photo for the Gondola Blog.

Great shot Dawn!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Red Rainbow at Sunset

Rowing tonight in Newport.
Over my left shoulder is a "red rainbow"; it appeared for just a moment and I handed my camera to the couple for a shot.
The colors were much more vivid in real life and the rainbow was truly red - or at least mostly red as it was illuminated by the sunset sky.

This was the first time in my life that I'd seen such a rainbow,
I was perplexed but after some hunting, I found a little info on the phenomenon.
Here's a piece on the Atmospheric Optics website which explains how and why red rainbows occur.
Because they happen only at sunset and sunrise, they don't last long.
The sunrise ones may change into regular rainbows, the sunset ones just disappear.
Sure enough, a minute later and it was gone.

I learned a long time ago that I've got a long way to go before I can ever say that I've seen everything.

Just the Photo - Megan at Tre Archi

Shot last spring during a row on one of the GSVVM boats.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Newport Beach Boat Parade, Night 5

After five nights, the 2009 boat parade in Newport Beach is over.
I've been on the water for this event for sixteen years now, and I believe our weather this year was the best so far.
At the end of the parade tonight, there was a professional fireworks display shot from one of the piers over the ocean, but visible from the harbor.
After it was all over, I headed over to Linda Isle to get one more look at that amazing house, and saw one of the parade boats docked in front. It seemed like the perfect ending photo for the series of Newport Boat Parade posts.

Just the Photo - Salute and Campanile

Shot from a cruise ship, these are two of Venice's most recognized and revered landmarks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Newport Beach Boat Parade, Night 4 Photos

I left the video camera in the bag tonight. Sure, there was plenty to see, but it was all pretty much the same excitement as before. The one great exception being that tonight the guy on the sailboat with the Christmas tree compared us gondoliers to cab drivers on New Year's Eve - once again demanding that our passengers tip us well.

Tonight I was rowing my beloved Phoenix, and because visibility is such a priority, I broke out something special:
The "push lights".
You've seen them before - they're cheap dome lights that take four AA batteries, but when lined up along the rails, they give great visibility.

Push-lights dockside.

Push-lights from overhead.

I continued my pursuit of the perfect silhouette shot of a gondolier. I got a decent one of this random rower early on in the parade.

Steve Elkins was piloting the Isabella Celeste tonight, so I was able to get a good shot of her, with the red rope-lights.

Later on I gave my camera to gondolier Justin Deckert, who shot this one of me as one of the brighter boats went by.
photo by Justin Deckert
The night was more crowded and busy than the previous nights (Saturday night of boat parade usually is), and I had my hands full with six passengers and two other gondolas in my flotilla to stay together with, but everything went well and the passengers loved it.
Gondolier in Southern California = nice work if you can get it!

A Big Night

Tonight is one of the busiest nights of the year for gondola operators (that is, if they operate south of a certain latitude).
This is just a quick post to wish you all buona fortuna.
Row hard and stay merry!
-Gondola Greg

Friday, December 18, 2009

Newport Beach Boat Parade, Night 3 - the Sailboat Captain "Gets It"

Floating alongside the parade with bright rope-lights, I receive a fair amount of feedback from the boats that have microphones or bullhorns. The last two nights I got great props from the guy on the saiboat (the one with a Christmas tree theme), but tonight he went all-out. And I got pretty good tips because of it!
Here are clips from the two times he passed us:

He got a little more convincing the second time he saw us.

I have a feeling that guy was once a gondolier.

Merry Christmas, "sailboat guy".

Thanks for the tips!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Newport Beach Boat Parade 2009 - Night Two

Tonight we headed out on a motorized gondola with red rope-lighting along the rails. On a night like tonight, visibility is key.
The Isabella Celeste with her red rope-lights.

Everywhere we went, people saw and talked about the gondola. Additionally, several of the parade vessels greeted us over their loudspeakers. As you watch the video clips, you'll hear a few of the addresses we received.

Another priority during the boat parade is mobility - and this gondola, the "Isabella Celeste" has a dual pod of powerful electric motors - capable of following the parade throughout the sizable piece of water that is Newport Harbor. I wish I could follow every parade with a four-man team, but that's not always an option.

Coming in with a big spotlight and loud sound system, this boat got everybody's attention:

This one was my favorite this year:

Some follks have bigger boats than others. This guy was probably the smallest entry in the parade this year, but his lighting display was impressive:

...and then some go for the niche, making their parade entry different from the others - take for instance the "DISCO XMAS" boat:

The lights, train themed decor and inflatable character made for a great parade boat. Adding a loud sound system and a group of dancers on the bow set this one apart. But then they went for bonus points by incorporating a hot-air-balloon burner into the smokestack of the train engine.

My favorite sailboat entry wasn't the only boat to address the gondola, but his delivery was priceless.

Take a listen.

We see new things each night of the parade, and tonight was no exception. I grabbed photos of a penguin-themed boat:

And then there was the house on Linda Isle. These folks went all-out.

Merry Christmas from Newport Beach.

Tim and Dawn Celebrate their First Decade

Tim and Dawn Reinard of Sunset Gondola are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary today.
Congratulations are in order.
Heck, here in Newport ten years is practically a record!
But seriously, congrats dear friends, congrats.

Image taken from a previous post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First Night of Boat Parade in Newport Beach

Tonight was the kickoff of Newport's 101st annual lighted boat parade. I was out on the water with a few other gondoliers, making sure our passengers had "the best seats in the house".

Here are a few photos and video clips I shot from the back of my gondola. Now that's multitasking!

Two classic exampes of what we see each year about this time.

The sailboat version.

The prow of one of my boats can be seen in silhouette beneath the "Big Santa Boat".

There were a lot of great entries this year, but I think this one was my favorite.

Adventures of the Lead Boat - Big Band and the Strap-Cam

Our adventure on Sunday night wouldn't have been complete without the Strap-Cam.

Here's some footage from our favorite waterproof video camera, set to some World War II era big band music.

The first 90 seconds is rowing, then Tim and I swapped between prua and poppa. From then on you'll notice that it got dark fast as the edits were from footage that wasn't that far apart. You'll also see how the whole thing tended to be a "hurry up and wait" affair before the start of the parade.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Las Olas Gondola

photo by Pierre Meunier
Pierre in Ft. Lauderdale has just launched a great new website for his operation there. It's a fun site with great sound and animation, good information but not so much that it overwhelms you.
Check it out for yourself:

To read more about the one-of-a-kind boat Pierre operates, take a look at the Gondola Blog post from May 29th, 2008 entitled "Diesel Gondola".
Another good photo of the boat is in my post from April 11th, 2009.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Adventures of the Lead Boat - Gettin' Ready

photos by Dawn and Samantha Reinard
As our "launch time" approached, everyone got more psyched for the row.
I mounted the clamp-on forcole in the "lai" and "sestina" positions, and loaded my snacks and such on the boat.
Tim came down with provisions (cups and wine), made sure the lights were working and the huge flag wasn't going to fall off halfway through the parade. Phil got himself situated and Andrew (our on-board horn player) warmed up his instrument.

I noticed that we were missing one guy, Chris - who came rowing in with passengers as things were just about ready.

Tim walks down with wood for forcola mounting.

Making sure the "sestina" forcola is solid.
photo by Samantha Reinard

The flag of La Serenissima, flying proudly from the stern, was both eye-catching and radar-catching. There was some concern about having enough visibility once it got dark. Nobody ran into us though, I think it was our rowing ability, but it could have also been due to the large radar signature our huge flag was creating.

Here's a nice video clip of the flag, with Chris coming in to dock.

Some press staff were there to interview and take some photos, we all hit the bathroom one last time, and stuffed a little more food in our mouths.

Raising our remi for the press photo.

Here are a couple clips taken right before departure.

Tim brought out some red sashes he'd set aside for the occasion.
We tied them on and shoved off.
Three hours of solid team-rowing were ahead and we were ready. Here's a clip taken upon departure, with the docks in the background.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Adventures of the Lead Boat - A Very Successful Night

photo by Dawn Reinard

Tonight's row was amazing. We had a great crew of guys rowing, and beautiful weather for such an adventure.
I must admit that after hearing about last night's ordeal, I felt shortchanged rowing in such clear and perfect conditions.
My week leading up to this night had been geared toward being in top shape for the row, and I'm thankful for it, because as we approached the starting point, Tim offered me the position of poppa - an honor to row, and not for the novice rower.

It's a big responsibility to row poppa on a four-man gondola, especially in a field of over 60 boats in the dark. It was pretty much "controlled chaos" out there, and if not for the excellent management of the Grand Marshall and his staff, I'm certain there would have been some big-time crashes. Through it all Tim was a very patient boat owner.

Later on Tim summed it up best by saying "it's a bit like giving your friend the keys to your Ferrari and climbing in the passenger seat". Tim was a very gracious "Ferrari owner". He didn't do too much "backseat driving" and was exceptional rowing in the "prua" position up front.

Our evening went as expected: we kept in front of the parade and took advantage of our ability to shoot ahead whenever necessary. A gondola with four oarsmen can travel fast. Docks and bridges were typically crowded with spectators, who were just looking for reasons to cheer. We did our best to give them something to cheer about. On more than one occasion we raised our oars in the "Alzo i remi" salute, once while spinning the boat in front of a bridge.

Tim deserves a lot of credit here, not only for wrangling the lead spot in the parade, but for planning things so well that it was fun for all involved. All we had to do was show up and row. And row we did!

Adam Ho serenaded everyone with his french horn; his ride tonight was much less harrowing when compared to last night in the rain and punishing winds.

Rowing such an event is a lot of fun, but a lot of work as well. We weren't able to go at our own pace - we had a column of sixty-plus boats plowing towards us, with a Sherriff Department boat on point (and sometimes right on our tail). No, we were more than inspired to keep a certain pace. It was a great test of speed, endurance, boat handling and group-dynamics.

In the days to come I'll provide you with photos and video of our three hour row, but I'm done for now.

I've had my red wine, spent time in the jacuzzi, and it's time for bed. I suspect I'll sleep well tonight.

Adventures of the "Lead Boat" - the First Night

photo by Phil Arroyo
As I mentioned in a previous post, last night was the first night of boat parade in Huntington Harbour. The weather hasn't really been, shall we say "welcoming" lately, but that didn't stand in the way of the four gondoliers who were lucky enough to lead the parade. It was the 46th anniversary of the parade and the first time in the parade's history that a gondola has taken the lead position. In fact I believe it's the first time a gondola has taken any position in the procession of this great parade.

Tim Reinard, Chris "Rotto Sorriso", Phil Arroyo and Jesse Kuntz rowed Sunset Gondola's first boat, "Michela" (built by Roberto dei Rossi) in a four-man configuration, leading the column of 60 plus boats through the entire route. I talked with Tim on the phone not long before they were scheduled to leave the dock - the rain was falling, but they were raring to go (Tim in rain gear, the three other guys had plastic bags under their stripes). The whole adventure lasted three hours and proved to be a great workout for the four guys.

Riding as a passenger, french horn player Adam Ho kept his balance while saluting revelers both on land and aboard other boats. The last quarter-mile turned out to be a real fight, with a fierce headwind whistling right down the channel and rain pelting the four guys and their passenger in the face.

Tonight I get to climb aboard and row with them. I've done a lot of rowing in different places, but after the practice run we did on November 29th, and after hearing about the adventure they had last night, I'm looking forward to this as much as I look forward to an expedition.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rainy Conditions in Alamitos Bay - Short Video

I happened to be in the Long Beach area this evening and went to check out the conditions in Alamitos Bay.

So I walked out onto the pier with my best raincoat on, shot this short piece of video, and headed back to my car. The raincoat worked like a charm, but by the time I got back to my car, my pants and shoes were soaked. No, it was definitely not a good night for cruising.

I think it's time I got a longer raincoat!

Getting Sentimental on a Rainy Day

The rain came down again last night, blessing my gondolas with a free washdown.
Free but for the cost of time and effort to pump out the water from some of my bilges.
Most have bilge pumps, but no matter how good your systems are, you still need to actually show up from time to time.

The first mate of one of the yachts we share docks with told me that "94% of boat sinkings occur in the slip". The statistic came from an insurance group. I'm not sure of the accuracy, but it doesn't surprise me.
There's nothing like showing up to find your boat missing, and then realizing that she's not gone...just "hiding" under the water.

As I've mentioned previously here, I'm a big proponent of a certain discipline:
"keeping more water on the outside of the boat than there is on the inside of the boat".

Each time I find myself hunched over a boat, I'm reminded of something I heard from another yacht crewman, this time it was the captain, who said "these days we say that we serve on the ship, but in centuries past, captains and their crews simply said that they served the ship".

Serving the ship.

It goes back to a time when vessels had much more of a personal entity, and mariners (who have always been a superstitions lot) fully recognized that their livelihoods and very survival depended on the mass of wood they were floating on. Serving the ship was top priority. Many believed that if the ship didn't like them, or felt like they weren't taking good enough care of her, she would not return the favor out in the midst of a storm on the high seas.

These days we look at things from a more scientific angle, but even the most cynical boater views his or her vessel with reverence and healthy respect.

And so it is with reverence that I fire up the shop-vac today.
I serve my little ships, caring for them as if they were horses or other living things.
Maybe I'm just a sentimental sod, but I love my boats and fully understand the mindset of so many captains throughout history.

Whether it's just good practice to take care of the equipment, or if there's something deeper going on - so far I've taken good care of my boats, and they've taken good care of me and my passengers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Produce Boat

Most landmarks are static, unmoving, they can't just "up and leave". A single and mobile boat doesn't often get mentioned in official travel guides.
And while this isn't one of Venice's greatest icons, it has been recorded by several travel publications, and thousands of tourists over the years, as something worth seeing.

The produce boat, which sits moored along the Fondamenta Gerardini is a throwback to time when most Venetians didn't need to go to a store to buy their fruits and vegetables.
Each time I've visited Venice I've seen a boat here with a guy selling a "veritable cornucopia" of produce. Sorry, I just couldn't pass up the chance to use those words in a post.

Most of the photos I've seen on the internet, taken by a wide range of photographers (from tourists to pros), have shown the same boat, while others seem to be the same boat, but with a slightly different paint scheme and the same name. My guess is that it either IS the same boat, or there's more than one produce boat in the rotation.

The boat in question is easy to find:
simply traverse from Campo Santa Margherita to the smaller Campo San Barnaba and you will invariably run into it. Chances are that you'll cross the Ponte dei Pugni, which the boat is moored right next to.
Standing on the famous "bridge of fists", I shot a few photos and the vendor on board noticed me.
Maybe he was having a bad day,
maybe I reminded him of someone he didn't like,
maybe I was the 467th person that morning to take his picture,
or maybe it was the spirit of the Ponte dei Pugni,
whatever the reason, he decided that he didn't like me very much.
Here's a photo taken at the moment he made up his mind. Uh-huh. That's genuine irritation.

It wasn't outright hostility, he just had a thing about me taking pictures of him...or maybe it was his vegetables.
I tried to sort of play-it-cool from that point on, but the jig was up.
The produce boat guy hated me.
I decided to get one more photo and scram before he dragged me up on that bridge for some good old fashioned pugilism followed by an official "flying baptism".
And he looked like he was more than motivated to do it.
Here's a close-up:
Yep, that's not a friendly look there.
I think I heard him muttering something about my relatives and some "dead dogs". I'll have to find out what that means.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Puttin' on the Parecio

I stripped down the boats for the rains a few days ago, so when I showed up today for my cruise, I had to do a bit more preparation.
Naked gondolas.

Parecio on the wall.

In a short time the Phoenix was dressed and ready to go.
Phoenix on the right, dressed and waiting.

Complete with boarding carpet.

Under way, we enjoyed colorful sunset skies and calm conditions.
Photo from the poppa.

Christmas lights have been popping up around the harbor, a nice treat this time of year.
I love my job. You won't get this view from a cubicle.
After the cruise, I removed the parecio again, because more rain was on the way.