Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Gondola Works Story

This post picks up where a previous post, from 2/25/09 left off.

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 bow of the Marco Polo - a 30' Gondola Works boat with storage cover on her canopy.

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.

The Emerald Princess at dock.

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.

A thirty-foot Gondola Works boat, sits in dry-storage.

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.

Joe Munday smiling and laughing.


Anonymous said...

Hello, two paragraphs are duplicated at the beginning of this post, they are found both under and over the second photo.

Unknown said...

I was just thinking of my 2 cruises in the Golden Swan Courtship Gondola & was wondering where she is & where Guisepi, the Gondola Guy is today. Is Joe Munday still cruising Newport Harbor?