Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Launch Day in Alabama
To visit the website of La Bella Gondolas, go to:
Monday, March 30, 2009
"Paint it Black"
“PAINT IT BLACK”
The famous Golden Swan gets a new look.
By Greg Mohr
She has been many things to many people.
To some she was the first gondola on which they ever cruised.
To many couples she was the place where they became engaged. I’d be curious to know how many millions of dollars worth of diamonds she has transported . . . one at a time in the form of engagement rings.
Some gondoliers have fought over the privilege to be her pilot while others have tried to avoid cruising past her for fear that their passengers might become jealous of such a beautiful boat.
There are some who regard the Golden Swan as a window to an interesting chapter in the recent history of gondolas, as she is the descendant of the first electric powered gondola built 20 years ago.
My story is one of those that began with an engagement ring concealed in the bread basket on a dinner cruise on the Golden Swan. I surprised my wife (then girlfriend) with not only a gondola cruise but with an engagement – which she accepted. If she had not said yes to that fateful question I might not be so fond of gondolas today -- but she did, and from that point on I was hopelessly addicted to gondolas. Over the years I have ridden in or piloted hundreds of these beautiful craft but I’ve never forgotten the first gondola I ever rode in,
and proposed in.
The Golden Swan in white with Joe Munday at the helm.
At 25 feet in length she is noticeably smaller than her Venetian counterparts; in fact she is more like a sandolo in dimension but has all the creature comforts one would expect from a processional craft designed to spoil two people rotten for two hours on the shimmering waters of Newport Harbor. Her designer and builder, Joe Munday, crafted over a dozen gondolas of different styles and lengths, but this one he built for himself. Joe designated this design as his “Coupe Royale” and refers to the Golden Swan as a “Courtship Gondola”. A few years ago when he decided it was time to build himself one more gondola (currently under construction), Joe offered the Golden Swan for sale and my wife immediately purchased her knowing that the boat would make a great surprise present for me -- and she was right.Over the years I’ve experienced a slow but steady transformation going from the wildly progressive towards the staunchly traditional.
When we hauled the Golden Swan out for service and painting in the middle of January, I decided to do something I’d always wanted to do:
paint her black.
Joe applies the first brush stroke of black to the freshly prepped Golden Swan.
It’s not that I disliked her gleaming white paint; in fact, the Golden Swan was gorgeous in white -- but I knew she could look even better in black and I felt it was the right color for a gondola. Black on gondolas is as standard as red on fire trucks; sure there are some variations but nearly all gondolas used for taking passengers are painted black. An edict issued in the 16th Century by the Doge of Venice is responsible for this abundance of black crescent-shaped boats. It seems that as the gondolas of Venice in the 1500’s increasingly became status symbols of the wealth of their owners; prominent Venetian families would try to outdo each other by not only having as many gondolas as they could afford but also by having the most decorated gondolas. With this in mind it is no surprise that things in the gondola world became frightfully gaudy and the leaders of the city became concerned about the unnecessary expense being put forth by so many pillars of the community. Thus on the eighth of October, in the year 1562 the Doge declared that henceforth all gondolas were to be free of flashy colors and decoration -- and as a result the boats, because shipbuilding at the time incorporated the use of pitch and tar, all ended up being black. To this day the Doge’s orders are carried out;
all gondolas used for livery service are faithfully painted black.I talked to Joe Munday about the color change; he liked the idea and offered to help. Along with friend and gondolier Lars Berg the three of us set out to prep the boat for paint . . . and prep and prep and prep!
An extreme color change like this takes about three times the prep work and, of course, along the way we decided to replace about half of the items removed in the prep process. This wasn’t the first time I’d been involved with a “repaint that became a restoration”; boats seem to have this enchanting ability to convince their would-be painters to do just “one more repair”. The old “uh-oh, now look what I did -- I made a clean spot” was used jokingly several times, and in the end we were all under the Golden Swan’s spell.
Every visible surface and many under-deck ones as well were prepped, primed, and painted with multiple coats of gloss black paint. We chose to brush instead of spray -- partly out of practicality, but mostly because it’s a more enjoyable method where you picture Venetians doing the same thing centuries ago, and in the mean time you bond helplessly with the boat
...and paint your buddy’s shoe when he's not looking.
Every single trim piece was replaced with a shiny piece and, as in the restoration of the Curci Gondola, most of the fasteners had to be “re-slotted” with either a small grinding tool or a hacksaw before being backed out with a screwdriver. New carpets, new operating hardware, and most noticeably, new cavalli were all part of this endeavor. “Cavalli” are the easily recognized brass “sea-horses” seen on gondolas in Venice. Some years ago these two new ones were purchased in Venice by a friend; since then they have adorned the fireplace in my home, all the while calling out to me, “Put us on a boat!” Small modifications were made to the pusioli (arm-pieces that sit on the decks on either side of the passengers) and now there are brass seahorses on the Golden Swan . . . yes, I know that sounds confusing but it looks great!
Black truly is beautiful.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Pupparin Construction at the GSVVM - Progress Continues
Many of the latest developments are small or subtle.
One noticeable change is the addition of a light blue paint in the places that will become dark under-deck areas.
This paint scheme lightens those spaces and gives them better visibility.
Most gondolas have white paint under the bow and behind the fodre boards. Sr. Marcuzzi appears to have chosen light blue for this boat.
Thin strips of hardwood - which will eventually become the edge known as the "chine" - have been installed.
The lumber that will be used to plank the hull sits
next to the boat, ready to become part of this magnificent puzzle. I noticed one other detail in Nereo's photos:
The shop floor has a lot more saw-dust and wood shavings than it did when we first started observing the project.
I can't wait to see the planking process.
I should also mention that Nereo Zane hosts his own blog with text in Italian. Some posts include the same images, while others are different.
It's definitely worth a visit.
Thanks for keeping us up to date, Nereo.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The "Old Ford" Felze
We've looked at a few traditional variations on the theme here on the blog, now here's a whole different approach.
As Ingo indicated in his e-mail, it reminds one of the convertible top on an old Ford car.
The gondola belongs to Jürgen Riegel, who operates it in Bamberg, Germany.
The above photo was taken in 2005 in Munich where there were three gondolas assembled for the Bundesgartenschau garden exhibition.
Ingo informed me that Spring has not really arrived yet in his corner of the world. In the last few days they've even had more snow. He hopes to see the weather change in time to operate by the end of April.
Thanks for the photo Ingo.
Jürgen: when you get a chance, we'd love to hear the details on that unique felze.
Jürgen's website is:
Ingo's website is:
Friday, March 27, 2009
Shots from the Evening
The flag of Venice flies proudly over the deck of the Phoenix, while gondolier Matt Schenk approaches on a canopied Curtis gondola.
Matt - happy to be back in town and on a boat.
The prows of two Curtis gondolas glow in the warm light of sunset.
Canoeing With Bella
This beat-up old orange Coleman canoe sits around a lot, but every now and then it comes in handy.
Today it was the perfect boat for creating a father-daughter memory
...and a terrific duck feeding platform.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The Gondola Works Story
The U.S. has seen many gondola building projects; one of them was known as the Gondola Works, and was centered in Santa Ana, California.
The gondolas built by Joe Munday and the Gondola Works had a few common traits that made them unique among gondolas.
The first being the methods and materials used.
All but two of the boats were built on a steel frame.
The steel used was the same type used in ornate gates and fences in many parts of the world.
Most folks refer to it as iron, but in the case of these boats, a "mild steel" was used.
Some of the builders on the project specialized in crafting gates and fences, in which mild steel is often the preferred choice, as it is relatively inexpensive and easy to manipulate both by hand or using machines.
This material held up well as long as it was kept isolated from the salt water environment (which it was floating in), but once the paint or other coating was compromised, it was just a matter of time before rust took over.
On top of the metal frame, marine plywood was fastened, and the whole thing was then covered with fiberglass cloth and resin.
Eventually, the metal frame would lose it's battle with rust, but the wood and fiberglass elements would often keep the boat seaworthy for many more years.
The word "seaworthy" of course, is a relative term; as nobody ever tried going out to sea on one of these boats once the rust had run it's course.
It's amazing (and a bit scary) how long a boat can last if she only stays in a calm harbor, avoids bouncing on big wakes, and never receives rough treatment.
At least one of these Gondola Works boats had every inch of it's steel frame sandblasted and then the whole interior of the hull was blown with a material similar to what is used in fishing boats and some truck-beds.
To my knowledge, that boat is still completely together.
Another thing that differentiated these gondolas from many others was that they were painted white.
The Black Swan was kept black, but all the others were originally painted white. I know of one that returned to Newport in the late 90's in a dark green with gold trim (looked better than you might think), and one which spent a few years in Oxnard that ended up painted black.
I bought Joe Munday's Golden Swan II from him a number of years ago, painted her black, and operated her in Newport until late 2008.
In 2001 I painted her black, at some point I may revive an old article on that experience.
When I last checked, none of the Gondola Works boats were actively taking passengers. Now and then one will pop up, sometimes operating here in Newport, and sometimes in a new, unexpected waterway.
Many of these unusual gondolas have since been decommissioned.
Some have been scrapped, or mounted on the roof of an Italian restaurant.
A few are still in dry storage, with the owner unwilling to demolish them in hopes that one day they'll grace the water once again, as the centerpiece for someone's romantic escape or perfect proposal.
Joe Munday has his own boat today, one that was built by another company. The new gondola is similar in some ways to his Gondola Works boats, but there's no metal frame, and the shape is a lot less geometric. He can still be seen out on the waters of Newport, doing what he loves most.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Spring is in the Air
If you operate gondolas in a place like California, Nevada, Texas or Florida, then you're spoiled like me, and only need to think about dressing for warmer weather in the coming months.
If you're in a city further north, however, then you've been busy.
I've spoken with several friends in what I call "northern ports", who have been plowing through their launch-lists and gearing up for what will hopefully be a good season.
Gondolas in Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts are being readied for launch (some may have kissed the water by the time you read this.
Across the ocean in England, Holland, and several cities in Germany, gondola owners are also making preparations for the approaching season.
If you're busy prepping for a spring launch, then this post is dedicated to you - the "northern port" gondola owners and gondoliers.
I wish you good painting weather,
hope your hulls don't leak too much,
and pray that your calendar will be chock-full of premium bookings - enough to help you get through the next winter.
Have a great launch...and send me photos to post here!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Mural in Venice
There are many murals in California's Venice, but this one caught my eye because of the historical nature.
Contrasts abound for the person willing to look closely at the scene.
Monday, March 23, 2009
POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Omaha in 1898
It's my suspicion that these were gondolas that had been featured in Chicago five years earlier at the World's Columbia Exposition.
Omaha's expo was known as the "Trans Mississippi International Exposition". Running from June through November, this was an expo with something to prove. The U.S. had seen some financial hard times in 1893, and the organizers of this event hoped to show the world that things were looking up, and in so doing, improve the local economy. I'm not sure if the world got the message, but by bringing in more than two and a half million visitors, they probably succeeded at boosting the area economy.
Some of the gondolas in Omaha were painted other colors, while the rest remained their original black.
Most of the images I've seen of the gondolas there had prominent American flags posted on their bows.
Half the gondolas were open, the others had cloth canopy covers - the felze di tela type.
Many of the felzes were done in the striped cloth you see in the above image.
Thus far, I haven't been able to determine how many gondolas were there, but my research continues...
Windy at "Sunset"
I know this for a fact,
and I'm not sure why I decided to eat my sandwich in the wind.
We had a great meeting at Sunset Gondola, to plan our trip to the Vogalonga, many questions were answered, and a few new ones raised as well.
I enjoyed meeting with the team members, and look forward to the adventure.
Of course a visit to Sunset is an opportunity to take a few photos.
Here are some of the more decent ones I took.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Stand Up Paddling at Grandma's House
Today the family descended upon my grandmother's house to celebrate her 106th birthday.
Yes, I'm hoping to have inherited her longevity.
My brother and I chased each other around again on the long-boards while my daughter chased us both around with her camera.
It's not really that similar to gondola rowing, but it sure is fun.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Austin Expedition - Parade Photos
In early February, Chris Harrison and I rowed in Austin, Texas to benefit the Boy Scouts of America.
On the morning of the following day, The gondola was part of the Boy Scout's "Report to State" parade. We had a bunch of Cub Scouts and their parents in and on the gondola.
I stood on the poppa while my daughter Cassandra went crazy with my camera.
She's really beginning to get the hang of taking pictures - here are a few of the photos taken that morning.
Boy Scout leaders and parade personnel coordinating things as dawn approaches. The Texas state capitol can be seen in the distance.
Columns of vehicles and parade participants line up as start-time draws near.
A view from the poppa.
We were fortunate to be at the very front of the vehicle portion of the procession. The wind was blowing hard and there was a lot of noise from the crowd. In the above shot, I'm trying to communicate with my wife via cell phone as she puts the truck in gear. The guy in the orange vest is the Scoutmaster who's in charge of the whole parade - he's shouting that it's time to move...while the wind is trying to steal his hat.
A press photographer grabs a shot of the boat full of Cubs and parents.
Young Cub Scouts enjoying the ride.
Texas flags fly as the gondola creeps toward the state capitol.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
While Sean Antonioli was living in Venice, he took a lot of great photos.
I've posted many of them here, and most of them feature gondolas or other boats.
Today's image is of something else which is "very Venetian".
It's the Sottoportego.
defined by some guidebooks as "a place where the street goes through a building", these curious passageways allow pedestrians to continue walking, despite the fact that a building is standing in their way.
There's a nice expose on these "under passages" at this website:
The sottoportego is many things:
- it's a clever solution to what may be an otherwise bad architectural decision,
- it's a good example of the Venetian ability to adapt,
- it can serve as a great landmark because sottoportegos are unusual, and aren't located on every corner,
- it's living proof that Venice isn't located in earthquake country,
- and it's a great place to stand and stare, looking at how all the buildings come together in that one spot. Many of the buildings in Venice are hundreds of years old, and building methods and styles can often be seen in contrast if one bothers to stop and look.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
View from the Pescheria
Here's a great shot taken ten days ago from a spot near Venice's well-known fish market - the "Pescheria".
Nereo shot this recently while taking a break during a row with GSVVM club members.
In the background you can see the famous "Ca' d'Oro.
This one ought to be in a guidebook or on a postcard.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The "Irish Touch"
I'm not sure why, but for some reason a large number of American gondoliers are of Irish heritage.
Boston, Coronado, Newport Beach and Alamitos Bay are a few of the U.S. operations owned and/or launched by folks who can trace their lineage back to the Emerald Isle.
Driving by a local Irish Pub today, I noticed the crowd of people, all dressed in green, and remembered something amusing from the Hudson River Expedition.
The following was originally posted on October 11th, of 2007. It was after the expedition was complete, and we were loading the gondola into the moving van.
"While removing the trailer from the hitch on the truck, I noticed something new on my trailer: little shamrock stickers all over both sides. In the FDNY world, a large percentage of the firefighters are either Irish or Italian. It seems that when the trailer was stored in a firehouse lot, the “Italian” gondola trailer was “marked” by Irish firefighters. I laughed out loud at the thought of it, and still snicker when I think about it two days later."
The Irish firefighters gave our trailer the "Irish Touch".
Almost a year and a half has passed, and I still crack up thinking about those shamrock stickers.
Pupparin Construction at the GSVVM - The Boat, she is flipped!
This past Sunday, Nereo stopped by the workshop at the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre, and noticed that something was different - the pupparin Maestro Marcuzzi has been working on has reached the stage where she's ready to be rolled over.
Looking at the prua, we see that the foredeck is in place, and Sr. Marcuzzi has added a "skidplate" of sorts to the leading portion of the bottom.
An interesting collection of wood pieces sits in a cradle against one wall.
Some parts will soon become part of the boat, while others may have served as temporary ribs or stabilizing arms for the first part of the construction process.
Looking at the stern section, you have to wonder how much work went into sculpting the characteristic transom-piece.
Big thanks to Nereo for continually feeding the fires of curiosity in all of us.
Bravo Luigino Marcuzzi - we are all living vicariously through you.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Images of the day - Newport
The sky was clear, temperatures were in the low 60's, and there was a nice light wind blowing out of the Northwest.
Another idyllic evening in Southern California.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Winged Lion Mosaic in Livorno
I posted about a visit to Livorno back in May of last year. It has a "Venice district" that even has a few canals. To my knowledge, there are no gondolas there now.
The mosaic in the above photo was on a building in town, and I couldn't resist taking a picture of it.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Gondola Bumper Stickers
Among the many areas of a gondola that fascinate me, my eyes are always drawn to the spot just aft of the seat. It can often say a lot about the gondolier.
This gondolier seems to have found the perfect place for his bumper stickers.