Wednesday, September 30, 2009

IMAGES OF THE 2007 HUDSON RIVER EXPEDITION - The “clamp-on forcola”

A forcola is a sort of rowing-post, or oarlock used in Venetian rowing. It allows the rower to transfer his or her energy and direct the boat forward, backward or through a number of possible maneuvers. With an oar (“remo” as it is called by Venetians) that may be as long as 14 feet in some cases, the energy transfer can be fierce, with a great amount of leverage being put on this hand-carved piece of hardwood.
The standard forcola, whether it is tall or short, big or small, has a long rectangular section that fits into a hole in the deck of the boat. This hole is known as a “buso” and generally continues to the second level of stringers (longitudinal frames within the skeleton of the boat). On some boats, especially gondolas, the buso may have a decorative plate framing the hole – many are done in brass but some other metals have been chosen over the years (a stainless steel buso plate can be seen on Davide Scarpa’s gondola highlighted here on the Gondola Blog on
November 6th. Look in the lower right hand corner of the first photo).
The rectangular section which fits into the buso is called a “gamba” (a word that translates to “leg”). The gamba is foundational. I’ve always viewed it as a necessity. In preparing for the expedition down the Hudson, I figured I would cut a few extra busos , give them some reinforcement, and paint it all black. Honestly, if anyone but Vittorio Orio had offered up the idea of a “clamp-on forcola” I would have rejected it.

I was skeptical about it, I didn’t think it would work, but it did - and quite well.
The whole thing can be raised by placing additional blocks cut from a length of 2x6 or 2x8.
Of course, wedges are always present when there’s a forcola involved.
They also used a small rectangle of rubber matting to prevent slippage.
These were brought by the Venetians. I don’t know how rare they are, but as soon as I could, I contacted Franco Furlanetto in Venice and had him make me a set.

They sit on top of my bookcase at home, ready and waiting for the next excuse I can come up with to put four guys on a gondola.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Regata Storica through the lens of Nereo Zane - 4 "March of the 'Desonas"

Rowing clubs love Regata Storica.
Not only are they fans of the races, they often know some of the competitors.

But they also love Venice's historic regata because it gives them an opportunity to roll out their best and shiniest boats.

Not all of the rowing clubs in Venice have these extremely custom craft, but some of the more established clubs have a "desona".

Yes, I must admit, I'm coining a term here. The term "desona" is a word I derived from the latter half of the boat designation.

This one is a "diesona" - which is rowable by up to ten crew members.

Here's The GSVVM's 14-man "Mestrina" - she's a "quattordesona"

And here's the longest of them all - the Querini club's "diisdotona", which can accommodate 18 rowers.

As they make their way down the Grand Canal, they are an incredible sight to see.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Boston for sale

photos by Mark J. Hunt Photography

I just spoke with Megan in Boston, who informed me that Gondola di Venezia is officially for sale.
Here's the official sale release:
Recreational, water-based tour company available for purchase in Boston, MA. Located at the Esplanade in Boston’s beautiful Beacon Hill, this unique small-business features two authentic Venetian gondolas, and offers private, romantic, luxury cruises. The park in which the Gondola Tours operates, “The Storrow Embankment,” (Commonly referred to as “The Esplanade”) was designed and built at the turn of the 20th century by Arthur Shurtcliff with explicit instruction to make “As Venetian as possible.” As such, the Gondola Tours’ presence in the park is highly supported both by the DCR and the community. This must be an owner-operated business, and the buyer would ideally have a passion for wooden boats and Venetian culture (and romance!). Dozens of return-clients and countless rave reviews over the course of the company’s nine-year lifetime has greatly enhanced and contributed to our excellent reputation, yet this business still boasts a large potential for growth.

Gondola di Venezia has been an awesome gondola operation for almost a decade now. I've rowed in a lot of places, and was honored to be involved in the launch of the business. To this day, Boston remains at the top of my list of favorites; not just because of the location, but because of the people involved in the servizio - many of whom are still involved today.

Boston residents should not worry, as the operation will remain there, and this is not a "piecemeal sale", but if you have any interest in taking over the servizio there on the Charles River, please contact Megan at:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Return of Joe Deverell

Most American gondola owners row their boats for hire. Some have several while others prefer just one gondola. But every now and then you come across someone like Joe.

Joe Deverell lives in upstate New York, where he has two Venice-built gondolas.

He doesn't really use his gondolas for passenger service - he just likes to row them.

And he sure can row.

When I was in Albany preparing to launch the expedition down the Hudson River, Joe had just finished an expedition of his own.

Today Joe will began another expedition, starting in Tonawanda and planning to end at Baldwinsville.

The trip will cover 150 miles on the Erie Canal.

A website containing more information can be viewed at:

I just spoke with Joe on the phone this morning.

He'd been rowing since 9am and according to a guy on a bicycle who paced him, he was moving at about four and a half miles per hour, and feeling good.

Go Joe!

White Floorboards

While crossing a bridge near Campo San Maurizio,
I noticed this gondolier rowing indietro (in reverse). I shot a few frames and then noticed his white floorboards.
Most gondolas have red or blue floorboards, but now and then some guy rows by something different.
Unique colors often indicate a privately-owned gondola, and the boat in question sure looks nice enough to be someone's pride and joy.
As much as I like the look of the white floor,
I don't envy the guy who has to keep it clean.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Regata Storica through the lens of Nereo Zane - 3

As the various boats go by during the parade portion of Regata Storica, some vessels are obviously club boats or dressed-up gondolas, and then there are the ones which were built specifically for this event.
Here are a few of those boats.

Each boat is meant to represent something unique. This boat has a "Far-Eastern" look, which is especially evident in the prow.

Every time I look through these images, my desire to be there next year increases.

Calatrava's Bridge - Photos and Thoughts

A new bridge in Venice has been the source of much talk and even some argument in and around the Veneto. Officially opened on September 11th, 2008, and introduced as the "Ponte della Costituzione" (Constitution Bridge), I'm told that most folks refer to it as the "Ponte di Calatrava" (bridge of Calatrava).

Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava,
the 94 meter span joins Piazzale Roma with the Santa Lucia railway station. Many claim it to be a worthy connection, but not everybody thinks the level of need justified the level of expense. Along with the government officials who greenlighted the bridge, the designers have also received criticism. Detractors claim they made little or no effort to accommodate handicapped or wheelchair-bound people.

To add to all of this, Calatrava's Bridge has a decidedly modern look.

Venetians are hardly ever guilty of not having an opinion, and I've seen that quality rub off on many of my friends who love gondolas and/or Venice.

Some think the new bridge is fantastic (it certainly solves some transit problems), others say it's a heck of a lot of money to spend just so some tourists don't have to take the vaporetto for one stop. Some critics say that it "doesn't match the city". A few people even despise it so much that they refuse to cross it.

During previous visits, I saw the bridge at various stages of construction, and in June I stepped foot on the new bridge for my first time.

I found that while it did indeed have a more progressive appearance, the builders had used materials that blended in better than I'd expected them to. The use of Istrian Stone was probably a wise choice as it is present in buildings throughout Venice.

If you do a search on the web, you'll see that Santiago Calatrava is responsible for numerous other structures - many of which are a lot more radical.

In fact in some ways I thought Calatrava's bridge design complimented its surroundings, as the glass sides allowed one to look through at the city behind it. From some angles, the city and sky could actually be seen in reflections on the glass.

I only saw the bridge in the daylight, but the photos I've seen at night show an entirely different bridge, with dramatic lighting and glass steps that were lit from beneath.

Buildings, boats, and the Grand Canal reflect in the glass of the Ponte della Costituzione.

The weight-bearing structure of the new bridge is a unique series of interconnected arches, creating a strong yet somewhat flexible span.

Two rowers pass under the bridge in their mascareta on a spring morning.

Approaching Venice's fourth bridge, your view consists of steps, arched handrails that float atop glass walls, and winged butresses at the entry area.

As with a lot of structures in Venice (both new and old), the Ponte della Costituzione has some scaffolding and masking material on the North-West side.

Opinions and discussions continue to fly around regarding Calatrava's new bridge:

whether it's aesthetics fit the city of Venice,
whether or not it was a worthy use of funds,
how necessary it was,
how long it will last,and how it will affect the city.

In matters such as this, I believe that only time will tell.
Maybe in ten years we'll be able to truly determine the answers to those and many other questions.

I will say this, my family and I found it very useful a few times when we needed to get from Piazzale Roma to Ferrovia.

But I must admit: I wonder if it was worth it for Venice to spend that much money.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Regata Storica through the lens of Nereo Zane - 2

Nereo took a number of photos of the parade portion of Regata Storica, and while it all might seem like a jumble of different types of boats, there are a few recognizable shapes.
Today's group of photos follows a "gondola theme".

The parade part of Venice's historic regata recreates a procession from five centuries ago.

The hull designs have changed a bit, of course, but they do a good job dressing up the boats (and people) according to the time period theme.

Some of the gondolas dressed up for the procession are actually racing gondolas.
The small vent along the bottom of the hull just aft of the popier reveals the boat's true identity.
The white gondola in the background also has a vent in the same place.

Why does a gondola da regata have such a vent at her stern? To release the air that builds up in the stern cavity, of course.
Think about it, the back third of the boat can be compared to a big hood-scoop, like you'd see on a race car.
I don't know how much of an advantage that vent affords the rowers, and whether it's more of a practical or psychological benefit.

These two gondolas have been draped in cloth, and to the untrained eye, they do look pretty faithful to the historic period.

Notice the standard racing-fleet colors?

I'm not sure I want to show my daughters this next one.
They will most certainly want me to add a pink gondola to my fleet.

For more information on racing gondolas, and Regata Storica, go to my post from June 14th of 2008 titled "The Red Racing Gondola".

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Long Lens Sniping - Sandolo on Blue Water

Spinning through Alamitos Bay this evening, I couldn't pass up the chance to snap a few shots.

I could be wrong, but that guy looks a bit like Sjoberg.

Looking sharp Eric!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Regata Storica through the lens of Nereo Zane - 1

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I missed the Regata Storica this year, and wasn't able to record it on RAI.

But the Gondola Blog's favorite photographer Nereo Zane was there and caught some great images.

Here are a few:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kansas City Expedition Part 4 – My "Missouri Boat Ride" comes to a Close

photo by Elisa Mohr

In the Movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, there’s a great scene in which a group of men has just boarded a ferry that crosses a river using a rope. The ferryman uses that rope to pull himself and the boat back and forth between the two shores. Clint Eastwood’s character, “Josey Wales” raises his rifle from the shore and is admonished by a traveling salesman, who says:
“Do you really think you can shoot all those men down before they shoot you? No, no, Mr. Josey Wales; there is such a thing in this country called justice!”
To which he replies:

“Well, Mr. Carpetbagger. We got somethin' in this territory called the Missouri boat ride.”
He then shoots the hauling rope, setting the ferry adrift down the river.

“The Outlaw Josey Wales” is one of my favorite movies, and I spent a lot of time on the river thinking about that scene, as I was enjoying a “Missouri boat ride” of my own, although nothing like the one in the movie.

Traveling down an American river is often like taking a trip to the past. Many of our rivers served as the sole cargo and transportation corridor of their region. Additionally, many North American territories were first explored by Europeans using the rivers running through them.

During my row, I also contemplated the many agricultural and industrial facilities that had at one time been in peak operation along the Missouri.
Then I thought back further, to the first exploration of the region.
In 1804 the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled up this river, landing at Kaw Point on June 26th. Many consider them to be the first to “discover the region”, but in truth, a Frenchman named Bourgmont was not only there first, he lived with the Missouri Indian tribe, married a woman of the tribe and had a family there.
Even so, in modern day studies, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark get most of the attention. It was their expedition, following the Louisiana Purchase, that blazed the trail for most of the Missouri River’s settlements.

The Kaw Point location, where we launched this gondola expedition from, was the headquarters of Kansas City’s 200 year anniversary celebration.

The good people at Wikipedia tell us that “Many of the noteworthy explorations of the west began somewhere along the Missouri”, further stating that “The river defined the American frontier in the 19th century, particularly downstream from Kansas City, where it takes a sharp eastern turn into the heart of the state of Missouri”.

Of course before Lewis and Clark, before Bourgmont, and before the Spanish, French and American governments bargained and fought over the area, Native American inhabitants called the river their home, travelling her waters in dugout canoes.

While I didn’t see any cows that day, I could hear the cries of eagles in the trees, and Great Blue Herons would fly off now and then – having been startled by the gondola as it went by.
One time I passed by a creek that fed into the river, startling a heron. The sudden movement of the heron in turn, scared a bunch of really big things that were just beneath the surface. From where I stood, they looked like giant eels or something equally terrifying writhing around in the shallow muddy water of the creek. Realizing that they would probably move into the river toward me, I decided to row my butt off at that point.

I had a large jumping spider climb up the oar and walk over one of my hands. I snapped a picture just before he jumped into the boat.

As I became acquainted with the river’s currents, I also learned a thing or two about “wing dikes”.

These long rock piles stick out into the river like the jetties of a breakwater. As a river flows, sediment builds up on the inside of a turn, forcing the river to develop more pronounced turns, following a serpentine pattern, and eventually cutting through to leave a series of “oxbow” lakes behind. In an effort to minimize this progression, wing dikes have been placed on the insides of turns. Most of the wing dikes I encountered were quite visible, but now and then I’d detect one just under the surface – made evident by the behavior of the water ahead. Kayakers I spoke with before the row warned me to be careful not to let the current pin my gondola against one of the submerged wing dikes.

Here’s my sixth “Report from the River”:

As I mentioned in the video, after spending almost an entire day on the river without seeing another vessel, some guy in a little red and white ski-boat came zipping by with his dog. He came over to “make sure I was ok”, and got a free bag of popcorn out of the deal.

By this time, Elisa had arrived at the launch ramp in Sibley and we were trading phone calls and talking about the haul-out; using an earpiece, I was able to talk with her while rowing. The ramp at Sibley was on the inside of a bend, right before a big power-plant.

I had spent the first few miles figuring out how to navigate the river, and the rest of it riding the outside of each bend. Now, as I neared Sibley, I passed two final wing dikes and moved towards the inside of the last bend in order to reach the ramp.

Everything was going well, I had the ramp in my sights, and then suddenly I noticed the tell-tale signs of another submerged wing dike just ahead.
I rowed feverishly, trying to get around the end of the dike as the river pushed my gondola closer and closer.
If things were stressful on the boat, they were even more so for Elisa, who was getting a play-by-play description over the phone of what was happening, but couldn’t see how close I was to the submerged rocks ahead.
Focused on keeping my cool, I rowed as hard as I could, eventually clearing the end of the wing dike by just a few feet.

By the time I reached Sibley I had rowed thirty miles. The current wasn’t that strong at the ramp, but I sensed it would be a challenge getting the boat into position and onto her trailer. Several times that day, I’d rowed against the current without having to work too hard, but this time I had to not just row in place, but also make headway back upstream.
Our driver had already backed the trailer into the water, and was ready for my approach.

I traversed over from the center of the river to the ramp and looked for a calm spot just along shore, or better yet, a backflow. To my surprise, there was more current moving past the ramp than I’d expected. The next thing I knew, I was rowing as hard as I could in my weakened state, struggling to get in line with the trailer and advance upstream.
The trailer was too far into the water.
I shouted to the driver that I needed him to pull forward. He didn’t hear me the first few times, so I spent extra time rowing in place against the current.
The driver pulled the truck forward, exposing the vertical side-poles and I rowed hard against the blowing current, desperate to make a landing.
As I was propelling the boat forward between the side-poles, the driver climbed out onto the trailer bunks and caught my ferro blade, holding tight.
I took a few deep breaths and relaxed, knowing that the rowing portion was finally over.

Looking back on that last five minutes of the row, I realize that the task was simple, in fact I’ve done it dozens of times, but after a full day of rowing, it was all I could do to close the gap and complete the task.

Approaching the trailer at the ramp in Sibley.
The 700 foot power plant stack and the Sibley railroad bridge can be seen in the distance.
photo by Elisa Mohr

The driver grabs the ferro as I take a deep breath.
photo by Elisa Mohr

Sibley is a small Midwest town.
I can only imagine that the bulk of its residents work at the power plant, which supplies electricity to the region.

Elisa recruited a few of the more colorful characters she’d run into at the ramp, and once the boat was out of the water and on the trailer, they took a break from their end-of-the-work-week drinking and helped me unload the popcorn and supplies from the gondola.

We sent them off with a few big bags of popcorn, warning them not to eat it all at once, and they showed us photos of the various monster-sized catfish they’d caught in the river.
Funny thing: those catfish in the photos looked a lot like the “giant eels” I’d seen earlier.

photo by Elisa Mohr

The next morning Elisa and I brought the rest of the popcorn to the front desk of our hotel, and later that day, a scoutmaster picked them up. I suspect the hotel kept one or two bags for themselves.

Here’s my final video report from the day:

video by Elisa Mohr

Thanks for reading along, my friends.
-Gondola Greg

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Gondola at Ponte delle Guglie

Every time I travel down the Cannaregio I see a gondola tied up at the base of this bridge.
With so much foot traffic going through there, it's a nice location.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Scenes from Piazzale Roma - "Punks on the Bridge"

Hanging out at Piazzale Roma one morning, I noticed this group crossing over the new bridge.
Of course I hesitate to use the word "Punks" to describe this group.

When I was in High School (yeah, back when dinosaurs roamed the campus) punks looked a certain way, Heavy Metal was an entirely separate scene (in fact they often fought), and grunge...well that hadn't even been invented yet.

Nowadays I understand that the word "punk" has gone from a single defining term, to a suffix or prefix for unnumerable splinter-groups. There's pop-punk, post-punk, skate-punk, surf punk, christian-punk, hardcore-punk, ska-punk, punk-jazz, cow-punk, punk-blues.

It would appear that one can no longer just be punk!

Back in my day (and yes, I considered myself a "Punk"), it was Black Flag, Dead Kennedy's, the Circle Jerks, and a handful of other bands who were on the scene. Listenning to the Sex Pistols was the punk equivalent of getting back to the oldies.

There were no Neo-Nazi anarchists, animal rights activists, third-party political organizers or militant lacto-ovo Vegans looking to co-opt the music for their own agendas. It was just "Punk" - a shortening of the original name "Punk Rock".

But I digress.

I wonder if there's "gondola punk" out there somewhere. I'd listen to THAT!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kansas City Expedition Part 3 – “Halfway There and Gone"

As the day went on, I got used to being alone on the river.
I never stopped looking over my shoulder – that reflex will never go away.
I’m certain that the one time I choose not to look back, there will be a burly tug dragging an enormous cargo barge right down on my stern.
I’m a big believer in Murphy’s Law.

Sometimes I think I’m actually related to Murphy.
But I digress.

The Missouri River is wild, fairly untouched, and in a sort of rustic and historic way “pristine” – at least the section I was on matched that description. Sure, there were a few signs of civilization: freight trains passed by along shore, buildings could be seen now and then, and once I saw an old armchair sitting on shore, having been washed downstream long ago. But the sea of trash that we encountered in other waterways wasn’t there.
I’m not a big “recycle or die” person, I do recycle, but it’s mostly because I don’t like to throw away something that I can get money for. That said, it is disturbing to be rowing along a beautiful waterway and run into a bunch of empty plastic bottles and cans. I saw none of that on the Missouri.

Here’s the fourth “Report from the River” video clip:

Even though I’d just left the Kansas City metro area, this really was the middle of nowhere, and I loved it. Sections of the river actually resembled places I’d seen in Alaska. Throw in a few bears and some salmon and I’d feel like I was on the Yukon in summertime.

As I mentioned in the video, there were no cows to be found. Maybe it’s cliché to expect such a thing, and maybe there are more cows in Wisconsin, but I figured I’d see at least a few by this point.

Throughout the expedition I was in communication with my wife Elisa.
I’d drawn up a strategy for the row, with potential haul-out points every five to ten miles.

As I rowed, Elisa would drive ahead and scout each location, making sure the ramp was available.

Our first three haul-out points were included in the plan to anticipate emergencies – you know, “help! The boat’s sinking”, or “wow, I didn’t expect to be rowing against 30 knot winds”. The first haul-out point worthy of serious consideration was at the 15 mile mark, just under the 291 bridge near Courtney and La Benite.

Elisa arrived at the ramp, called to see how I was doing, and waited for my arrival, snapping a few photos as I came in.

Passing under the 291.

Heading towards the ramp,

...and fighting a little current to get there.

I came in and beached the gondola, stepping off to talk and take a break for a few minutes.
Then, in short order, I climbed back on to continue down-river.

Navigating around all those bags of popcorn was a daunting task at times.

Here’s my fifth “Report from the River” video clip:

Johnny Cash used to sing:
“How high’s the water, Mama?
Five feet high and risin’…”

As I rowed past bridges with notches painted up their stanchions, I was reminded of how high the water could get at times.
Bridge clearance is important on a river, and while barges weren’t plowing up and down the Missouri that day, I could tell that they had in the past.
Somewhere along the way I came upon this awesome bridge.
I have no idea if it still works, but in the past I’m sure that engineers in greasy overalls and choo-choo hats raised and lowered a section of the tracks to allow ship traffic to pass through.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tirza's Gondola in Belgium

Tirza from Amsterdam sent this to me the other day.

She writes:
"In Belgium we were rowing at a classical music festival, it was wonderful, lit by candles later on when the night fell."

I believe that's Hans on the poppa of the gondola, and if you look in the lower right corner of the image, you can see the rail of Tirza's sandolo.

Nice work if you can get it.

Thanks Tirza, I'm officially jealous.

Nereo Zane's September 11th Video - Part 1

As staff photographer and Italian Coordinator for the 2007 Hudson River Expedition,
Nereo Zane was there to see it all unfold and captured some amazing images in the process.

In this, his first video installment, he highlights the purpose of the expedition and introduces the participants.
Some of the images in this segment are from the actual tragedy that took place on September 11th.
As heartwrenching as it is to see them again - it helps drive home the reasons and motivation behind the expedition.

The clip itself is at

Nereo's blog can also get you there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kansas City Expedition Part 2 – “You Never Know It 'Til You Row It”

Heading down the river, I was pleased to be rowing in weather that was near-perfect.

photo by Elisa Mohr

Here’s my second “Report from the River” clip:

With all the time and energy I’d put towards researching the river, I found that, like so many other areas in life, you can’t just read about something, you’ve got to go there and do it, to jump in and swim around (although I never actually swam that day).

Learning the ways of a river is very exciting, especially when you realize that the wrong decision may result in disaster.
I found that the river narrows near many of the bridges, creating a bottleneck.

While the current moves somewhat lazily through the country in most sections, these tight spots beneath bridges have a different personality altogether.
extra attention was necessary when approaching a bridge because in that section, everything would speed up.
Once I tried to take a picture of a bridge stanchion and had to scrap the plan and row like heck to avoid running into it.

Another bridge stanchion had a great mass of driftwood pinned against the upriver side. This time I managed to snap a few photos:

Upriver from the bridge stanchion. Notice the painted height gauge - yes, the river gets way up there sometimes.

Driftwood pinned against the stanchion.

Those aren't just branches, there are full-sized logs in there.

Enough to build a sizable bonfire, or maybe even a small cabin!

While the overall current wasn’t that strong when I was there, everywhere around me I saw the affects of a rip-roaring current that must occur during the rainy season.

Here’s the third “Report from the River” clip, taken about 12 miles into the row:

From the look of things, you’d expect to see cargo barges plowing up and down the river, going to and from all those facilities, but I didn’t see a single one.
As I passed by most of the loading and docking platforms, I could see decades worth of rust, damaged and bent pieces (always bent in the down-river direction), and sometimes the mud nests of swallows tucked up into corners.

I had expected to see boat traffic and people along the river bank, but up til this point I was all alone. Once I left the Kansas City metro area, I saw nobody for 15 miles.

photo by Elisa Mohr

The solitude was unexpected, but quite therapeutic.