Friday, January 30, 2009

STEREOVIEW - St. louis 1904

It's been a while now since I posted a stereoview.

This one comes from the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Misourri.
The 1904 World's Fair celebrated 100 years since the Louisiana Purchase.
This was the second World's Fair hosted by St. Louis, the first one took place in 1884.

As with several other American expos, the folks in St. Louis brought in gondolas.
I haven't been able to determine exactly how many there were, but here in the stereoview image, we see seven or eight of them - some with two rowers. I don't see any seated passengers, and with the grouping, and the way the guys are standing, I'm guessing this was staged or posed.
Of course back then, photography wasn't what it is today, and they probably had to hold very still for the shot.

The impressive dome-structure on the left is the two hundred foot tall Festival Hall.
On the right you can see the restaurant Pavillion.
Festival Hall and the Restaurant Pavillion are connected by the Colonnade of States, and the gondolas are afloat in the grand Basin.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, just about every architectural thing you see in this stereoview image was built out of a "temporary material" that consisted mostly of plaster of Paris with hemp fibers mixed in.
None of the buildings in the photo still exist.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tirza's Mascareta Floats Again

I just received word from Tirza Mol in Amsterdam that her Mascareta is now happily back in the water. She and Hans hauled the boat out in early August for maintenance.

Perhaps you remember this shot from my post back then:
I'm still loving that shirt Hans!
Tirza's shop is 23 km from Amsterdam, and because that part of the country is riddled with canals, she can get there rowing. In fact she said "it is a wonderful trip".
Tirza goofing around while rowing. A full shot of the boat with Hans at the helm. Hans sure looks happy to be rowing again.

Tirza's website is:

Messin' with the Long Exposures

As is often the case, I arrived for a pickup at the Villa Nova restaurant, ready and eager to row in the wind that was whistling through the harbor.

My passengers called and said that they were running about 20 minutes late, so I grabbed my camera, set up the tripod, and played around with the long exposure feature for a while.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Anything for the Shot - Wedding Gondola in the Yard

My Wedding Gondola is out of the water for painting and repair.
We've done a number of things to make sure she's seaworthy for many more years.
Now it's time to paint.
Steve Elkins and I were at the yard today, preparing the boat for paint, and I saw this huge ladder.
The truth is that Steve was doing the prep and I was messing around with the ladder.

It was probably about 25 feet tall, but when I got near the top it felt more like it was 50 feet tall.
But, as Steve put it:
"A good photographer will do anything for the shot".

I'm not sure whether I'm a good photographer, but I climbed that ladder anyway.

Steve is one of my most senior gondoliers, and can sometimes get into a zen-like state when working on gondolas. In the next few days, he and I will roll-and-tip a few fresh coats of black on that Venetian beauty. But in the last two months, Steve has hand-sanded almost every square inch of her in preparation.
Most of our boats get machine-sanded, but this one deserves special care.

Go Steve!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gondola Restoration on the Thames

photo by Elle Sandes

This photo was recently taken in Richmond, England, near London.

The gondola is in the process of restoration, hopefully being prepared to take passengers there in the spring.

In the past, the gondola was owned by a cafe on a lake in a small park in London.
The folks restoring the boat are working on getting a new ferro for her.
They opted to carve their own forcola rather than buy one from a remer in Venice - certainly a cost-saving move, in a year or two they'll know if it was worth it.
As for me, I'd sooner fabricate the whole boat than go with a non-Venetian forcola.

I checked with Nick Birch who operates his own gondola in Stratford, England. Nick tells me that the lake this gondola was on previously was in Battersea Park.

I've heard from a number of people that she was in derelict condition before the current owners got ahold of her, and that they've done a good job with her so far.

I love to see restorations like this.
My compliments to the new owners on their efforts.
I encourage them to see things through.
Maybe when I finally get out to London, I'll try out that forcola myself.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Photo from 1900

This photo resides on my wall across from my desk.
It dates back to about 1900, and the photo process looks ancient.

I think of it not as a photo as much as an image from a dream.
the way the piece has aged gives the sky a blotchy look - almost like it's full of big stars in the daytime.

The gondolier wears all white, leading me to believe the photo was taken in summertime.
Why is there a child sitting so close to the poppa?
And the tail of the boat almost seems more traghetto than gondola.

Whatever the answers may be, my favorite thing about this image is the position of the gondolier - the way he's leaning into the stroke.
He looks like he might take off into the heavens at any minute.

Then again, he looks like he could be rowing in heaven.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shots Around the Dock - Alamitos Bay

I was in Long Beach today to buy a bike. I had some time so I dropped by the Gondola Getaway. I had a great conversation with John Synco, met gondolier Ian McCabe, and did my best to capture some good images in the fading light of the early evening.

Forcola with due morsi.

Ian handles the remo.

bringing the boat around before the cruise.

Sandolo with seagull.

Puparino with seagull.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bob Easton's Sampierota

Well, she's not actually his Sampierota, but he sent the photos, and she's a beauty.
Bob also related a funny story about the boat.
He was in a residential area of the Dorsoduro, along the Rio de le Romite, not far from Ponte delle Turchette.
"One day when passing by, a delivery topa was squeezing its way along the rio, being very careful about the boats moored on both sides. The owner of this Sampierota rushed out of his house and "had words" with the operator of the delivery topa. The owner retreated after insuring his boat was left unharmed."

Sampierota is a great example of the Venetian way of thinking. Most of us have seen them, either in person or in paintings and photos. They often have painted sails. Their shallow draft gives them the ability to sail in parts of the lagoon where other sailboats would run aground.
Like the Venetians, she adapts to her surroundings, and thrives because of it.
But there are other reasons this design has lived on while so many other types have become "extinct".
first of all there's size:
she is small enough for folks to own privately,
large enough to have friends aboard for an outing,
and in many cases big enough for light cargo carrying if necessary.

But I believe the
Sampierota's greatest strength is her versatility:
she can be rowed in traditional Venetian manner,
fitted out for sailing,
and has a stern which easily accepts an outboard motor.

When Bob first sent me these photos, I wasn't sure if she was a
Sampierota or a Topa - the two designs share many traits. I asked Nereo Zane and he indicated that the boat was a Sampierota. An e-mail from Gilberto Penzo confirmed the same answer.

When I'm in Venice this May, I might just try and find this boat to get a closer look. She looks immaculate.
I just wish I could have been there to see the owner "have words" with that delivery driver.

Thanks Bob, for the photos and great story.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pool Party Gondola in Del Mar

Sean Jamieson sent these photos from a private party they were hired for in Del Mar - a San Diego suburb.
Sean's operation, The Gondola Company is located in Coronado, California.

He writes:
"A couple had gotten engaged years ago in Venice on a gondola so the wife wanted to surprise her husband on his birthday with a gondola in their pool."
As you can imagine, the type of clientele who arrange for such things usually have pretty nice pools. But even the best pools don't often have launch-ramp facilities.
Here's how the launch went this time:
"Getting the gondola into the pool was quite an ordeal. I was assured I could unload the gondola and splash it strait, repeat...strait into the pool. But when we got there they wanted the three of us to carry it up 50 stairs. The alternative was down a path along a wall and a 90 degree turn between two light posts. We had to elevate the bow about 10 feet into the air to make the turn."

As you can tell from the photos, the gondola made it safely into the water, but it wasn't easy.

I have to give Sean a nod here - the boat looks pristine.

Sometimes, the client wants a gondola simply for decoration,
sometimes they plan on getting folks in the boat but it's not in the cards.
Such was the case in Del Mar:
"The event was meant so people could get on it and take pictures. But once we arrived, we determined that would not work so it was just a decoration. Some people took pictures in front of it with a gondolier but it was super cold that night (by California standards) so most guests stayed inside the house. The highlight was when the gondoliers did a silly happy dance on the boat."

Some of you may be curious about the origin of the gondola.
This is a 30' gondola built in 1998 at the now closed Hills Marine in Seal Beach, California.
She has plywood planking over Douglas Fir frames with fiberglass on the outside.
Hills Marine produced most of the boats for the Gondola Getaway in Alamitos Bay, and many more for operations in several other cities.

Founders of The Gondola Company Sean Jamieson and Eric Johnson took an active role in the construction of this particular boat.
Of all the boats I've seen come out of that yard, I think this is the cleanest and best maintained of the bunch.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Another View of Life on the Canal - Way Back When

I'm not even sure when this photo was taken.
Obviously it was after the advent of photography (duh!).
There are a number of things in the picture that could hint towards a date, but it's hard to say.

The flags all have the crest in the center of the white field, and while that hasn't been the official flag of Italy since 1947, you can still see them flying in Venice today.
The costumes on the gondoliers and some of the other people in the photo look like they could be from the 30's or 40's.

The gondolier farthest to the right has a unique collar, unlike any of the others. It looks like it might actually be part of a naval uniform.
What I find curious is the "rafting" - there are seven gondolas side-tied to each other.
It reminds me of how everyone rafts up to watch regatas today.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Half-Size Gondola

Several years ago this rare Venetian craft ended up on E-bay. I was intrigued, and investigated her.

By the photos, she looked just like a standard, Venice-built gondola, maybe a little fancy in the parecio, and the carvings on the deck were a bit more dramatic.
Otherwise all the details were there, but the auction description said that the gondola was about twenty feet long.
Then I looked again at the photos and noticed that while the boat resembled an eleven-meter gondola, the background seemed off.
There was no way a full-size gondola would fit in a garage, or a room with a ceiling of normal height.

Everything is half-sized on this boat - even the ferro is a miniature version of the standard design.

After some research, I learned that this was not an American attempt at making a gondola of "manageable size", it wasn't some boat-building student's final project,
no, this was a Venetian gondola.

The Tramontin family built a limited number of these half-sized gondolas in the early part of the 20th Century.
They were used mostly in parades - children would ride as passengers, and young boys would row in full costume.
I've seen a picture of it, and yes, it's the cutest thing ever.

look at all that half-sized stuff.

Rumor has it that the Tramontin squero built a half-dozen of these vessels.
I've heard that other half-sized gondolas may have been built in earlier centuries, but I haven't been able to confirm that.

The boat, while unique and very rare, can't really be used for passenger service (except for kids, and we don't get many requests like that).
These were intended to be fully functioning scale models, but too small for normal use.
A skilled gondolier, who's not very big, could probably row the boat, and two passengers might be able to sit facing each other, but those are a lot of what-if's.

I wanted the boat, but it wouldn't pencil out - storage alone would cost more than I could justify.

The brass plate indicates that the gondola was built when Nedis was in charge of the Tramontin squero.

Via e-mail, Gilberto Penzo urged me to buy the half-sized gondola, but with a new baby and a bunch of other boats to maintain, I had to let her go. At the time of auction, the boat was in the US - I can only guess how she ended up here.

I'm not sure where this half-size gondola is now,
but with any luck she will end up in a museum where we can all see her.

Shots From The Day - January 19th

I spent a few hours today on the gondola with gondolier Matthew Schenk. He's been with us for a while now, but there were a few advanced techniques I wanted to teach him, and it was a good excuse to get out on the boat and have some fun. We spent some time on close-quarters maneuvering and rowing backwards.

Here are some shots from the session: Matt, openly laughing at his instructor. That guy's so big that he almost eclipses the sun! I stepped up to to the poppa to give instruction with little indietro (rowing backwards). Dar-zo mezza barca (the prybar on the side of the boat stroke). As you can see, the weather was just awful in Newport today. I've got to find a better place to live. Matt, taking a phone call on the boat.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shots From The Day - January 18th

We had some beautiful views of the sunset from the gondola tonight.
I'm convinced that the best way to appreciate a sunset is from a gondola.
Maybe I'm biased. Ya think?

Something really fast flew overhead earlier and left a con-trail which developed into a long, skinny cloud.

A gondolier from one of my friendly competitors here in Newport, heading up the canal.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - A View of Life on the Canal - Way Back When

This may very well be my favorite postcard of them all.
It's the only one I keep framed and on display at home.

The image is a classic example of the monochrome photo that's been colorized. This was a popular process that gave us a multitude of great postcards before the full-color-process was developed.

The centerpiece is supposed to be the Rialto Bridge, but that's not why I keep studying the image (I probably look at this card two or three times a day). It's all the boating activity that makes the card special.

I often wonder what the two guys are talking about in the mascareta. The guy in front has turned to his left to look back at the popier, who is leaning forward as if he's listening intently.

The guy in the foreground is standing in the only motorized boat in the shot. He's probably the captain, but he isn't currently steering (he's on the wrong side of the console for that).
Our captain seems to have a pipe in his mouth and is the only one in the shot who knows he's being photographed.

To the right, we see two vaporetto platforms and a gondola disappearing between them into an area that is still a mooring place for our favorite boats. The gondolier seems to be leaning forward as if he's wondering "who the heck is in my spot?"

Then there are some other boats in the background - gondolas and other types.

I like this postcard because it's a snapshot of life on the Grand Canal long ago. I'm not sure when it was taken, but it sure wasn't as crowded then as it is today.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Follow Up on Cassandra's First Rowing Lesson

Taking my daughter Cassandra for her first rowing lesson was an experience I'll never forget.

From the minute we got in the car to drive up the coast, things were perfect.
She had almost as fun as I did that day.

We've talked a few times since then and both can't wait to get out on the boat again.
Cassandra's enthusiasm warms my heart and her ability to learn makes me proud.

Here are a few more photos from the day:
Approaching Tyson and Zack on a Dei Rossi gondola.

Tyson shot this as we approached the gondola.

Cassandra rowing into the sunset.

Yeah, I think she had fun.

A Gondolier In His Element

One of the things I really enjoy watching is an expert who is totally "in his element".
A perfect example is the gondolier bringing the boat into dock - his dock. By the time I get to see it, he's done it hundreds of times.

When Cassandra and I were rowing the sandolo at Sunset Gondola, we witnessed such a docking.
Tyson came in and "stuck the landing" like it was nothing. I've seen both he and Tim dock there before and it's always the same - like second nature.

Now, the docking at Sunset Gondola isn't profoundly difficult, it was the way Tyson came in at just the right speed, spun the boat with perfect control, and just pushed the gondola into dock.

Tyson and Tim will probably read this and think "what's the big deal?", because they do it every day. But watching it happen, Cassandra and I appreciated how "in his element" the gondolier was.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cassandra's First Rowing Lesson

For a long time now, I've been planning on teaching my daughter Cassandra how to row.
It's something I've hoped to do since she was two.

Well, today was the day.
We drove up to Sunset Gondola and took Tim and Tyson up on their offer to use their sandolo.
The boat is a perfect training platform for Venetian rowing.

My daughter's eleven-years-old now, about four and a half feet tall, and growing into a young lady.
I had a sense that she was ready, and wow, was she!
Cassandra did so well, I moved her from prua to poppa for a while.

Father and daughter on the dock with remi.

We met up with Tyson while he was training a gondolier.
I gave him my camera and he shot these three photos:

And here's my Sweet Pea trying out the back of the boat. Next lesson I'll show her how not to go in circles.

I'll follow up with more pictures and comments tomorrow.