Monday, May 31, 2010

The Best Pilgrimage Yet - Music

Group shot number three.

There are many facets to the gondolier's job.
He does many things other than pilot a boat.
And as many people expect, one of those things involves music.

The "singing gondolier" has become a bit of a stereotype, and as many gondoliers are performers at heart, it's not hard to see why we tend to break out in song now and then.
And for those gondoliers who aren't sure about singing, add a boat full of passengers who would love to tip for a song, and the convincing is done.

Now, put those gondoliers together for a social get-together, and the singing is bound to happen.

Here are a few video recordiings from the other night at Sunset Gondola.

Andrew McHardy seems to know his way around a song like a pro.

Here's a small snippet of something he was strumming before we took group photos.
I believe this was a song called "Rudolph the Red Nosed Wino".

Once on the water, we all gathered our boats under a bridge and took turns singing.
I shot some video, not for the picture but for the audio.

Some were serious arias, some fun-loving classics. At one point we all found ourselves in a rousing chorus of Santa Lucia.

After we had arrived at Captain Jack's, more singing could be heard.

Most gondoliers are familiar with "Vieni Sul Mar".

Here's a room full of gondoliers and friends belting it out.
At this stage of the game. it's important to note that quality was not as important as, well, being louder than the gondolier next to you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Out on the Water Tonight

I Rowed out of our docks tonight only to discover that the wind had shifted and was now coming from the south.
A storm of some sort is beating the heck out of Mexico and we are seeing evidence of it in the form of wind.

My passengers and I rowed by gondolier Michael Bixler, waving and shouting "Buona Sera".
Mike in turn waved as he passed by on the back of one of Newports only Venice-built gondolas.

It seems to me that life for a gondolier would be terribly boring without the shifting winds to keep us guessing.

I love this job.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Best Pilgrimage Yet - Marinera

photos by Erin Grisson, Dawn Reinard and Greg Mohr

Group shot number two.

Like our low-tech job, that has very few moving parts, the basic assembly of last night's event might not sound all that amazing at first...but take part and you'll understand why we all love it so much.

I love the internet, but I must say that six hours on Facebook with even the best of friends...can't hold a candle to the old fashioned get together we keep coming back for at Sunset Gondola.

This most recent edition of our "pilgrimage to Captain Jack's" saw some old traditions - food cooked right there and served hot, various tasty beverages offered by guests, a couple guys taking turns with guitars.
This time we introduced a new tradition as well.
As he has done such a great job in keeping the "pilgrimage" alive, Tim Reinard also brought us this new tradition:
it was the "presentation of the marinera".

As much as we all love spaghetti sauce, this marinera is quite different - it's part of a gondolier's traditional uniform.
Typically white, the marinera takes it's name from "mariner" and is easily recognized as a sailor's shirt, with it's wide square-back collar which hangs down across the shoulder blades.
Tim had been planning for some time, to present his gondolier Chris "Rotto Sorriso" with one of these shirts.
Tim told me the week prior to the event that "you don't just get a marinera around here".
His meaning was clear: most gondoliers get or are given stripes, but the marinera signifies a level of accomplishment.
The gondolier needs to earn his marinera.

So last night, surrounded by a group of gondoliers and friends, Tim presented Chris with a crisp white marinera, and then in keeping with tradition, a toast was raised with black rum, and everybody cheered for Chris.

Chris sports a crisp white marinera.
The toast.
Andrew goofs while Jeremy, Chris and I crack up.
Erin Came in clean white pants, but at some point they became "decorated" with red wine.

Eric Sjoberg and John Synco displaying "gondolier masculinity".
Dawn Reinard shot this one on a different setting.
The Christmas lights give the building a crown-like look.

Vogalonga 2010

photo by Nereo Zane

Last year we were there.
Tim, Megan, Andrew, Erin and I were all out in Venezia, some with families. We saw it first-hand: the worst rowing conditions in Vogalonga history. It seems that this year was different. This time, conditions were beautiful.

Nereo Zane, who perched himself atop the Tre Archi bridge after returning from an adventure in Prague, tells me things were nice on Sunday:
the Vogalonga was really great this year - sunny day with light wind - the ideal conditions to row for about three or four hours. We all missed you!!
I went to 3 archi and took about 200 photos.

A handful of those photos are available for viewing on Nereo's blog.
I especially like the shot of the guy sitting on the prow of the caorlina with his feet hanging over the rails.

A couple good photos can be seen on Emilia's blog, with a great shot of the GSVVM's 14-man Mestrina.

And if any of you are Facebook friends with René Seindal at Venice Kayak, he's got a terrific collection of views only a kayaker could provide.

I'm hoping We'll see more from Nereo soon too.

And to all of you who were fortunate enough to be rowing a boat this year in the "Long Row", we salute you.

In alto i remi!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sunset and Wind

As the months progress, we're seeing more activity and beautiful sunsets. Tonight, before the full moon could shine, the sun set with a blast of golden light.
I had a professional photographer on my gondola, so between the two of us there was a lot of shutter-clicking going on.

Gondolier Steve Elkins cruised by on one of our motorized gondolas.

Giuseppe glided by on his Crystal Swan, with a tip of the hat and a big grin.

As the sun went down, the winds picked up and I found myself in physical fitness mode, working hard at times to keep the boat where I wanted her to go. The workout was good and the challenge was a welcome one.

The Best Pilgrimage Yet - Dinner

Sometimes the best memories are created using simple ingredients.

Take for instance, an event which takes place two or three times each year at Sunset Gondola:
Get a bunch of friends together, friends who share a common interest, add music, good food, a little wine, and stir for two hours.
When the time is right, throw everybody on a bunch of Venetian boats and head out into the bay.
Add some stars, a rich blue sky, a nearly full moon and a cool breeze or two and keep stirring.
Park the boats under a bridge and let a few people sing songs, then coninue to a waterfront restaurant.
Once inside, add a warm low-lit room, more food and libations, and great stories and song.

Simple recipe, but what a memory.

It's no wonder, time after time, Southern California gondoliers and friends keep showing up for the Sunset Gondola event that I like to call "the pilgrimage to Captain Jack's".

This isn't a huge event, in fact often these gatherings top out at twenty or so, but the smaller the group, the more personal it becomes.

Last night we probably didn't see more than twenty participants, but in my opinon it was the best one yet.
There's more to write about, but last night's festivities proved worthy enough for more than just one post.

If you were there, you'll recognize the goings-on in each photo.
If you weren't - you missed out.

These shots are all from the dinner phase of the event.
I took most of these photos, but I passed my camera around and some of these were taken by Erin Grissom and Dawn Reinard.

As usual, the festivities began around the office of Sunset Gondola.

Tim and I accidentally showed up wearing matching GSVVM pullovers.

Andrew and Erin working the camp-stove.

Greg Garite strums and sings.
Trish, Dawn and Allison enjoying red wine and conversation.

Andrew annonces the arrival of "Basso".

Greg and Clare.

Dinner is served!

Eric and Jenny.
Tim approves the food, with a wink and a smile.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mascareta Regata in Prague

If you haven't checked into Nereo Zane's blog lately, there are more photos up for viewing.
New images of a regata can be seen, along with fireworks and some shots of a processione notturna.
When the GSVVM was planning this adventure, I was invited but unfortunately couldn't get out of previous committments. I knew then that I'd be jealous now.
I just didn't know I'd be this jealous.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rainy Day in Oakland

In early April I had the good fortune to visit Lake Merritt in Oakland, California.

My plans of rowing and visiting with gondoliers were changed by the downpour of rain, but I managed to take a few post-worthy photos.

The originals are much more dreary, the images you see here have been lightened up a bit.

A very clever and artfully painted doorway on the dock.

The gondolas float under canvas and a hard roof. A few lifeboats share the dock as well - these are the type used for recreational rowing.

Here's a better look at the roofed dock.

To read my text-only post from the visit there on April 4th, go to the post A Rainy Day Around the Bay.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Uwe Celebrates

photo by Stine Kunze Thanks to Ingo Stahl, Bavarian gondolier from Wörthsee, we've seen a couple of photos already of Uwe Kunze of Kiel and his gondola in Venice.
Here's a shot which shows that victorious moment many gondola owners experience after acquiring a gondola.

Along with the photo, Ingo writes:

So I send you another foto from Uwe, shot by Tine. I love it, because it says it all.
Purchase was successful and now strain and doubts the day before, stress have fallen off.
The great happiness: "Yeh, She is mine!"

Seated next to Uwe is Ingo, and I'm guessing the legs on the back of the boat belong to Jürgen Riegel of Bamberg.
Thanks Ingo for these photos. I have yet to meet Uwe, but I feel like I already know him.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Connor and the Couple" in Texas

photo by Matthew Schenk
One in a series of photos taken recently in Irving, Texas - at the Gondola Adventures, Inc. location.
The gondolier, Connor, seems to have captured "gondolier attitude" quite well.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flotilla at Sunset

Two of our gondolas were out tonight on a group-cruise.
Eight passengers in two boats.
We call it a "flotilla".
The two gondolas here are motorized vessels - there are only three of these in existence (the third one can be seen in the shadow of the bridge in the background).
These were custom-made in '96 and '97.

Just as we've seen with several other variations on the gondola theme, these vessels are uniquely suited to the waters of Newport.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tonight's Proposal

Tonight we had conditions in Newport that bordered on perfection.
Winds were calm,
the sunset was brilliant,
and my couple was having the time of their life.

I had a guy tonight who I knew was going to propose - my paperwork said so. I've seen hundreds of these over the years, but tonight's was memorable because the gentleman was noticeably nervous. I watched him shift around three or four times, preparing to pop the question, only to wait for a better moment.
But I've got to hand it to him though, when he did finally propose - it was perfect.
And she said "yes" of course.

I love this job.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just the Photo - "Golden Water in Omaha"

Gondolier Steve Anderson pilots his gondola in Omaha, Nebraska.
To read more about this operation, see my post from May 15th.
To visit their website, go to:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nereo Goes to Prague - Photos are Plentiful

At this writing, Nereo Zane's blog has six posts on the adventure in Prague with the GSVVM.
It looks like they brought a lot of boats!
Take a look for yourself:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Three Shots from the Poppa

While there are so many things I love about gondolas, the simple act of rowing a cruise is still one of my "top 3" after so many years. I set out tonight with a goal of giving my passengers the very best experience possible, concentrating on doing every little thing as perfectly as I could.

When you get right down to it, many of us here are, first-and-foremost, gondoliers.
Tonight's cruise was really great.
Was it perfect? Well that's for my passengers to decide, but they seemed to enjoy themselves quite alot - almost as much as I did.

Here are a few photos from the evening:
Heading out.

Flag on the bow.

Winds calm at twilight.

Monday, May 17, 2010

German Gondoliers at the Capitello

photo by Uwe Kunze
On May 8th I posted about the Festa del Capiteo, with a link to Nereo Zane's blog for photos and details.
Then on the 11th, Ingo Stahl sent me a great photo of Uwe Kunze of Germany, with Ingo and Jürgen Riegel of Bamberg on board.
Now Ingo provides us a photo of Jürgen rowing the same boat by the capiteo.
Ingo writes:
Coming back from our tour to Venezia with the new gondola last october 09 we had a stop to capitello to show our deference to La Nicopeia.
The photo was taken by Uwe, that's Ingo in the main seat, and Uwe's daughter Stine is in the lower right hand corner.

I've rowed past that capiteo many times, but the next time I do so, I think I'll spend a little more time there.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Boston - Spring Launch of "Maria"

Joe Gibbons of Boston sent this to me just today. He writes:
Hi Greg,
The attached photo was taken moments before "Maria" left our "Tube Squero". I think she looks better today than she did at her Vardo in 2001.

"Maria" is indeed a beautiful gondola, and one which I've had the honor of rowing a few times in Boston. She has a fully carved deck - making her a wedding gondola, brass trim on her rails, and a stainless steel ferro. In short, this is a boat well worthy of good maintenance.

As for launching, our friends in Boston have quite an adventure when it's time to put a boat in the water:
We actually tow the gondolas on skids down a very busy road next to the river for about one half a mile. Cars scream by at 50 to 60 miles per hour often slamming brakes to get a closer look at the gondola. Needless to say, this is nerve wracking!
Someday I will get up the nerve to pause for a photo or two, but this year it was just total focus.

Photos? yes, I'd love a photo. For bonus points Joe, get me some video - preferrably of a guy in a black BMW on his cell phone (you know, the guy who thinks it's "all about him"), slamming his brakes on and getting rear-ended by a truck.
But I digress.

Joe wrapped his message up with:
She was launched about 6:00 PM last night and as expected she did take on some water. Steve pumped her out this morning and as I write this email he is out having a blast rowing on the river.
"Firenza", our older gondola is now in the tube and needless to say I will be covered with paint and dust once again as we prepare for her launching in a couple weeks.
Ciao for now
Joe Gibbons

Thanks for the report Joe.
It's a labor of love, but well worth the effort.

Serving the Ship

An old mariner once shared with me, a curious piece of vernacular about a crew’s relationship with their vessel.
He said “nowadays, people say that they ‘serve on a ship’. But in ancient times no one served on a ship – they served the ship.”
This was presented not as small talk, but as a kernel of wisdom.
I respected the man greatly and so listened intently, trying to extract the wisdom of it.
Boats have names, and are often identified as feminine, but these days most folks regard vessels as things.
In past generations though, they were held in much higher regard.
A boat was not a what, but a who.
She had been built by hand, with care and concern not only for those who would sail her, but for the legacy she would carry. You see those who built the ship hoped that if they built her well, and fate was on her side, that the ship would outlive them.

To a shipbuilder, each vessel was like a daughter.
Ancient mariners would step aboard a ship with reverence, knowing that the vessel they stood on could carry them across the sea, and more importantly – bring them back home again.
The ship was their lifeline, she was a floating oasis of safety in a harsh and shifting abyss.
Not surprisingly, seafarers developed strong beliefs about their vessels.
Some may have given way to superstition (who among us isn’t the slightest bit superstitious about Something now and then?), but in many cases, at the heart of a superstitious maritime compulsion, you’ll find some maintenance or preservation ritual that helps keep the vessel afloat.
The captain of a great schooner once told me, that “a wooden boat is the closest thing to a living thing that man can build”.
Sure, the world is now full of assembly line built boats, popped out of moulds and given numbers instead of names, but to those of us who have had the good fortune to get acquainted with a wooden vessel - a boat is deserving of so much more.
The old mariner told me once again: “back in the old days, you didn’t serve on a ship. You served the ship”.
“You put your life in her hands each and every time you went out into the big blue beneath her sails and between her rails.”
“The wind and the waves could be gentle, or they might have a whim to treat you otherwise, but the ship was your sanctuary.”
“If treated right, she would deliver you from the call of the deep and bring you home safely.”
It’s a kind of give and take – a psychoanalyst might use the word “symbiosis”.
We take care of the ship, and she takes care of us.
Within all maritime cultures of merit, there is always a strong emphasis on stewardship.
We take care of the ship, not only because it’s our job, or because at the moment we are floating on her, but because she, like us, has a soul and will live on from here.
Many wooden boat owners care for their vessels in the same way one might treat a horse – knowing that while the horse may be theirs at the moment, one day the horse will be in another stable.
They don’t own the horse, but rather are entrusted… with the horse’s safety and care.
In the case of the horse, it is noble to care for the animal, keeping in mind it’s future well being.
I would submit that it is equally so for a boat.
So as you look at your gondolas, I encourage you all to consider that they are not just things. Each gondola is, in the words of that schooner captain “the closest thing to a living thing that man can build”.
Serve her well and she will, if she finds you worthy, return the favor.

- Gondola Greg

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Gondola in Nebraska

There are over thirty gondola operations in the US today.
Each one has something that makes it uniquely different from all others. It may be the boat, or the location, or the way they operate the boat.

In the case of Heartland Gondolas, it's all of the above.

The operation in Omaha, Nebraska was started by Steve Anderson. He did some research and in 2002 built his own gondola, based on the unique waterway he had in mind - a lake in the center of Omaha's Heartland of America Park.
It's not the first time a gondola has been built outside Venezia especially for a specific waterway, but like all other instances - the boat is unique and one-of-a-kind.
Here are a few particulars:
Like her venetian counterparts, the boat is 36 feet long.
At her widest point she's five feet in the beam.
She's built from plywood with fiberglass on the exterior.
In these photos she's painted white, but I've also seen her in black.
I like the varnished railing.
You may have noticed the absence of a forcola. The boat is rowed in a manner similar to the stand-up-paddle method, and when the wind kicks up, the gondolier can rely on a 45 pound thrust trolling motor for assistance.
The gondola in Omaha is indeed unique, the folks at the state tourism board certainly thought so - they decided to feature her in some of their advertising.
To learn more about Hearland Gondolas, check out their website:
They also have a big caorlina, but that's a subject for another post.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Strange Gondola Parts in Prague

On my way to turn in for the night, I checked Nereo Zane's blog and found fresh photos from Prague.
Upon closer examination, it appears that some parts of a gondola have been made from alternate materials.
I'll let you all take a look and decide for yourself what's going on over there.

Just the Photo - "Traghetto in Monochrome"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stretching Exercises with John - Segment Two

As I mentioned in my post on May 7th, Each year John Kerschbaum joins us here in Newport, to row the many cruises that revolve around Valentine's Day - the busiest day of the year for many Southern California gondola operations.

Several years ago, while on the Hudson River Expedition, I noticed John doing an unusual bit of stretching. I asked him about it and the next thing I knew, I was contorting my body into the same positions, discovering the benefits in my sore muscles.

In this segment, John takes the exercises to the ground, covering lower back and neck movements.

Here's an intro:

John mentioned a handout, which I am in the process of getting. In the interim, here are a few exercises for the lower back.

Pelvic rolls - try not to do this one with strangers watching. It doesn't look like much but it's great for the lower back.

Knee wobbles - the simple act of moving your knees back and forth can sometimes make a great difference too.

Finally, while you're lying on your back in the grass enjoying and relaxing, try this one for neck pain.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nereo Goes to Prague

Right about now Nereo Zane is on his way to Prague with many other members of the GSVVM. They're bringing their boats, their remi and forcole, their orange and blue uniforms, and their thirst for adventure.
I have no fancy photos or specific details to share with you right now, but if Nereo's laptop computer stays healthy - we'll all get to experience bits and pieces of the expedition vicariously.

Here's hoping for some great photos and text soon!

Just the Photo - Cavallo in Copenhagen

Plucked with permission from Simon Bognolo's website.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Uwe in Venice

photo by Stine Kunze I LOVE THIS PHOTO.
I can think of no better way to begin.
So many things about it deserve addressing.

First of all, the location, with the Ca' D'Oro vaporetto stop on one side and the Pescheria on the other, we know where it was taken. But it's the when that I think makes it so terrific - the sun is on it's way down, still painting the palazzi on the left side with it's golden hues, but most of the remainder of the shot is bathed in indirect light. The bright sky speaks of a clear fall day, which is further evidenced by the uniforms worn by the gondoliers aboard.

yes, the day, the city, and the lighting are great, but what I really love about this shot can be seen in the gondola.

They are gondoliers, but not just any gondoliers.
These are German gondoliers.
We have here, on one boat, the owners of three separate gondola operations in Germany.

Ingo Stahl sent me this gem recently, with the accompanying text:

Ciao, ciao Greg,
here I present you Uwe Kunze with a foto from Venezia 28.okt.09, the day he had purchased his gondola and we have had a very nice trip through the canali.

Uwe in pope, Jürgen Riegel and I. His pretty nice daughter Stine made the foto. Uwe e Tine sanno benissimo voga veneta. They have build their own mascareta by themself, he is Ingenier and she is studying shipbuilding.

With greetings from Wörthsee, Ingo

So back in October of last year, Uwe Kunze of Kiel went to Venice to buy the gondola we see in the photo. He and his daughter were joined by Jürgen Riegel of Bamberg, and Ingo Stahl from Wörthsee in Bavaria.

Here in the US, gondola operators routinely talk, and visit each other if they can. It's not uncommon for us to end up rowing together on the waters of the Veneto either. It's nice to see the same type of camaraderie among Uwe, Jürgen and Ingo.

Looks like they all went out and bought new long-sleeved striped shirts, Jürgen is wearing a black marinera (typically worn only during the colder months), and I think Ingo's got himself a new hat there too.

Nice boat.

I hope we'll see more of her here on the blog.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Long-Exposures of the Wedding Gondola

I rowed this afternoon on the Phoenix; she's a great boat, but it had been a while since I'd rowed my beloved Wedding Gondola. I spent some quality time with a shop-vac, a bucket, and a brush. Within a short time the Wedding Gondola was ready for her time in the spotlight.
I went home and had dinner with my family (a true gondolier ritual), and arrived in time to put on the finishing touches prior to cruise time.

Before my guests arrived, I set up the camera on tripod and snapped a few low-light long-exposures.

From the bow you can see part of the intricately carved deck, with allegorical characters adorning both sides.

Looking from the stern, you can see part of the carved decking surfaces, but the carpet always catches my eye. This deck-carpet (known as a tapeto), gives the unusually faceted gondolier's deck a surface following contour.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Video While Rowing

For a little change of pace, I brought my video camera out with me on one of my cruises tonight. The clips I shot were just quick glances with no narration, but they provide a decent look into the location and conditions we had this evening between 7 and 8pm. All video clips were shot with one hand while rowing, giving you a gondolier's-eye view.

This first clip was shot just off our docks, heading through the Turning Basin towards the canals. If you listen, you may hear Vivaldi playing on board:

Turning my gondola in the canals, while playing a little jazz on the boombox, I shot this clip shortly after the gentleman in the passenger seat proposed marriage to his lady (she said "yes", of course).

This last video clip was shot heading back into the Turning Basin after passing under the Newport Boulevard Bridge.

Conditions on the water tonight were a little more breezy than last night, but I was able to row with one hand and shoot video with the other.

I'm getting pretty good at this multi-tasking thing.
Next time maybe I'll try straight-razor shaving while I row, or grilling burgers on a hibachi on the stern while yodeling and rowing valesana.

Just Another Boring Photo

Last night's cruise was special. I had an awesome couple, who were willing to put up with my manic photography. Some inventive light sources were employed, and we came up with some richly colored long exposures. Here's one of my favorites.