Monday, May 30, 2011

A Day at the Races - the Caorlina Regata

photos by Tamás Fehér
A while ago Tamás was in Venice to watch a regata off the tip of La Giudecca.  I posted some photos he took of the women's race in my post "A Day at the Races - the Women's Regata".
Now here are some great images of the caorlinas squaring off.
I was originally going to break this collection up, and post them in two or three posts, but they just seem to flow better all in a row.
 For a rower in the voga-alla-Veneta style,
forcola mounting is a very serious thing.

 The race begins.

 Spectators watch as the boats go by.

Another image from this series can be seen in my post "Lone Photographer" from April 19th.

 While the boats make a turn in the distance,
race committee officials deal with a big yellow marker bouy closer to shore.

As the first caorlina crosses the finish line,
the men on board raise their remi in the customary salute.

Another raised-oar salute, this one not as effective as the last (I think these guys were pretty tired).

 More boats approach the finish line,
jockeying for position and doing their best to finish well.

 Other Venetian boats may be more streamlined,
but the shear power of a six-man caorlina plowing
through the water is an impressive thing to see.

 Rowers take a moment to recoup after the race.

Boats come in to shore for the post-race festivities.

A good example of tirare-acqua can be seen here.

 Parking is a premium.

And after everyone has arrived, the award ceremony begins.

Many thanks to Tamás for sharing his images with us.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Photos by Chris Clarke

While rowing at the Battaglia Terme club in the Colli Euganei,
Chris Clarke came upon an interesting boat.
She was introduced as a "caorlina" by members of the club.
But as he spent more time on the water, and saw other caorline,
Chris noticed that this caorlina was a little bigger than the others he saw.  Yes, I know this is starting to sound like the narrative from the movie "Elf" with Will Ferrell.

I found the boarding ladder on the bow intriguing.

My first thought was that she was something else,
turns out Chris thought the same:

The big boat had me mystified for a while - I thought she couldn't possibly be a Caorlina because of the size (11.5m x 2.5m).  I leafed through lots of books and proudly concluded that she must be a 'Batelon' but was later assured by club members that she is just a huge Caorlina.  Actually, if you Google 'Caorlina Giorgia' you will find several articles about her restoration in which the redoubtable Gilberto Penzo had a hand. 

Some of you may feel the need to disagree with me, but it's true - I am the biggest fan of Gilberto Penzo.
Looking at the restoration page on his website, you can read about the revival of this big boat.

 The boat reminds me a bit of the big peata out of Brenta, and I' guessing that rowers in small boats have a similar experience when she plows by.
 Racing caorline don't have tail rudders, but this one's got a rudder that could make a schooner captain jealous.

In the first image I saw of this boat, she was in the shadows of this photo, which Chris took of three mascarete at dock - begging to be rowed.

 In our correspondences, Chris and I began calling this boat a "supercaorlina".
The term seems appropriate.

Whether or not the folks at the club there use the term "supercaorlilna", they certainly seem to have one.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Da Ivo Window Sequence 2 - Sandolo

photos by Isabella Mohr

Perched at the rail, in the window of Ristorante Da Ivo, my daughter Isabella was shooting photos.

Not long ago I would have told her to only shoot a few, but with an enormous digital memory card (and the strap around her neck to prevent electronic baptism), I told Bella she could take as many photos as she wanted.

She caught some nice images of a gondola passing by, which can be seen in a recent post "Da Ivo Window Sequence 1 - Gondola". 
Next, she caught sight of a gentleman rowing by on his own small boat.
Quite likely this was his boat, a privately owned sandolo.
Sure, there are club boats out there like this.
And some are in such pristine condition,
but the guy didn't look like he'd just checked the boat out of a club.
He looked like he was out on his own boat, like he did this every afternoon.
The clothes also didn't look right for a rowing club outing.

As he passed by the window, he heard the tell-tale sound of a DSLR camera snapping away and looked up.  By the expression on his face in this shot,
he was probably annoyed - thinking it was just another tourist.
"Who the heck is taking my picture?"

Then he realized that the person holding the camera was a cute little
eight-year-old girl with big brown Italian eyes. 
Smiles prevailed from then on.
My guess is that he's rowed the same route for some time because he managed to duck under the Ponte dei Fuseri without looking.
Ducking and smiling.

Next, he gave Isabella a big thumbs-up from under the bridge.
Notice the small mounting-piece for an outboard motor?
I'll bet he never uses it.

The sandolo was gorgeous; a real varnished beauty.
I'm guessing there are many reading this post, thinking about how they'd like to pick one up next time they're in the Veneto.
And just like that, he was gone - rowing off into the maze of canals,
which I'm sure he knows like the back of his hand.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Earning His Stripes

The other night, gondolier-in-training David Kraina took his first passenger cruise.  I wanted to be there to capture the moment with my camera,
but the tyranny that is the 405 freeway (a slow-moving parking lot),
held me hostage.  David rowed his first cruise in a black shirt, did a great job, and was presented with his first striped shirt tonight shortly before taking to the water once again.
Tonight he faced off with some wind and came out victorious.
Form wasn't always perfect, but he got the boat to do what he wanted,
and cleared the 38th Street bridge at a suspect tide level. 
More importantly, David's passengers loved him, loved the cruise,
and will probably be back soon.

The kid earned his stripes tonight.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shot from the Day - Approaching the 38th Street Bridge

Rowing my beloved Wedding Gondola this evening,
I approached the 38th Street bridge. 
The tide was just low enough. 
The passengers on my cruise were great - adventurous and willing to move to the forward steps known as "trastolini" in order to bring the ferro down just enough so it would clear the bridge. 
Once the ferro was in safe territory, I had them return to their seat.
Next, I had to perform some amateur contortions and row like a weirdo to get the tail to pass under without scraping. 
I was ready to drop into full bench-press mode,
but we cleared with about an inch to spare.

During my next cruise, I shot the above photo,
as I rounded the corner and headed towards the bridge. 
For decades gondoliers in Newport have used the tide measurements on the Newpot Boulevard bridge to determin if they'll clear this smaller bridge in the canals.  Tonight I pulled an i-Phone out of my back pocket and read the ShralpTide app on my screen to learn that the tide was on its way out. 
I still inched up to the bridge cautiously - gadget or no gadget, I still need to see things with my own two eyes to be sure.
We cleared the 38th Street bridge without incident. 
I sang a little Nat King Cole, made sure my couple kissed,
and life was great - punctuated by yet another "perfect moment".

To read more about the 338th Street bridge - click on

For an overview of the gondola route in Newport, check out

And to read an account of a semi-embarrasing episode of mine, check out "Getting to Know the Boat".

Monday, May 23, 2011

Narrow View

With a statue of Daniele Manin in the background, and the Ponte San Paternian on the right, I shot this sequence of a gondolier passing through a narrow gap between bridge and building.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mascaretas in the Mist

photos by Chris Clarke

Not long ago I got an e-mail and some photos from a gentleman from the UK named Chris Clarke.
One of the photos (the one below) really caught my eye.
It's one of those pictures you wish you were in.

Chris is originally from Brighton, although his UK home is now Walton on Thames.  But he will be living in the San Diego area for the next nine months, manning a post with the same company that sent him to Italy.

Chris writes:
From 2004 to 2007 I was working in Italy
(near Rovigo, VE) and being a keen rower of traditional Thames Skiffs I thought I would give 'Voga alla Veneta' a try.  
I was fortunate to find a small enthusiastic club of enthusiasts at Battaglia Terme in the Colli Euganei and despite my basically non-existant Italian was welcomed with open arms into the 'Circolo Remiero El Bisato'.  
They ran a course for those wishing to start out and I was soon zooming around in a Mascareta.  
I managed a few informal races and had some great days out pushing an oar in Caorlina - there were some memorable trips on the Lagoon and also down the river Brenta from Padova.  

What you're looking at is not Chris Clarke rowing his first race. These photos were taken by Chris, of the first race he watched.
The misty race was my first live sighting of Voga alla Veneta.  I found the club on Google and wandered down to have a look.  At the boathouse I was met by a gentleman called Sergio - he didn't speak a word of English and at the time I spoke only about 2 of Italian.  We managed to communicate on some level with lots of smiling and hand waving and I understood that he wanted me to come back next week because there was some kind of race going on.  That is how I came to be standing on the bridge watching the boats emerge from the mist.
And emerge they did.
Like a vision, like something out of a movie.
These aren't photos of his first race, they are photos of the first time he saw this type of rowing, the start of something for Chris Clarke.
Three years later I returned to the UK with an Italian wife, a love of Venetian rowing and several stones heavier!  
I love the term "several stones heavier".  It's an English weight term, but it has everything to do with having married an Italian and having lived in the Veneto.  If I were to spend three years living in Italy, I'd need to row as much as burn off all the great food I'd be eating.
Many thanks to Chris for sharing story and photos with us here.
No matter where you go, Chris - I have a feeling you'll always have a love for Voga alla Veneta.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Parecio Against the Wall

photo by Tamás Fehér
The easily removable parts of a gondola are referred to as "parecio".

Floorboards, seat pieces, and several other things you see propped up against the wall here - they all have their own special names, but as a group they are parecio.

Somewhere in Venice, when this picture was taken, a gondola was being sanded, prepped, or painted near the tip of Giudecca.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Just the Photo - "Venetian Back Door"

Shot on the Rio Santa Maria Zobenigo in San Marco.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Red Remo under the Oyster Bridge

Standing on the Ponte de le Ostreghe in San Marco, looking toward the Canale Grande, I noticed this gondola heading my way.
I snapped the first photo as the gondolier ducked under what I believe is a private bridge.
To the left, behind the bridge, is the Sotoportego de le Ostreghe.

"Ostreghe" is a word common to this particular spot in Venezia. 
I'm told it means "oyster", and that in the past it was a place where fishermen (or more correctly "oystermen") would sell their catches.
Maybe it's an assumption, but I'll bet they serve oysters in the ristorante with the green awnings on the left.

The gondolier looks to his right at the large delivery boat parked in front of the ristorante.

As the gondola got closer, I noticed some details:
The trasto da prua was varnished wood,
the gondolier's remo was painted red (not sure why),
and almost everyone in the boat was wearing red (probably had nothing to do with the color of the remo, but I had to wonder a little bit).
Passing under the bridge, I observed the red floorboards (definitely a red theme here).  I also noticed the canvas.  Many gondoliers have blue canvas pieces they use to cover the bow and stern decks of their boats. 
Many don't remove the canvas when they are cruising.

While I haven't walked in their moccasins, I'll go on record as saying that I'm not a fan of this, and it seems to me that gondoliers ought to remove the canvas and stow it for paying passengers.

This gondolier has black canvas pieces, and while I still think stowing is the better choice, I prefer the black ones as they blend in a lot better than blue.

The gondola passed by an immaculate water taxi - with all the varnished wood you'd expect to see.

Next, the gondolier placed his left foot on the wall, a technique described in Gilberto Penzo's book “Forcole Remi e Voga alla Veneta". 
The man is described in my post "Gilberto Penzo", and his book is described in "Gondola Books for Christmas". 
If you don't own a copy of this book, you should.

As he continued on, the gondolier rowed his boat toward the historic La Fenice theatre.

Just another gondola cruise in Venice? 
Sure.  Maybe for the guy rowing the boat, who has the lucky job of doing it every day, But I'll bet the passengers will never forget it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Golden Skies and Windswept Waters

It just never gets old.
I woke this morning to hear the wind, beating the snot out of the windchimes on my balcony.
My first thought: "It's gonna be windy tonight on the water."
My next thought: "I can't wait!"

Pushing away from the dock in Newport, on a gusty evening in May,
I had the esteemed pleasure of playing a role in another perfect night for some couple celebrating their anniversary.

Life is good. Really good.
Sometimes I can't believe I get paid to do this.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Da Ivo Window Sequence 1 - gondola

photos by Isabella Mohr

Give your camera to your 8 year old daughter and you might be surprised what happens next.
Sure, she could break it, drop it in the water, or take a bunch of blurred or nonsensical photos, but there's always the chance that she might give it back to you with something good.

Sitting for lunch at Ristorante Da Ivo in 2009, I was much more interested in the present company of Bepi Suste and his wife, along with Nereo Zane and his family.  This was the first time we'd shared a meal since our expedition down the Hudson River two years earlier, and I was eager to spend some time with them.  When Isabella asked me for my camera, I handed it to her more to make her happy than to get great photos.

I've said it several times:
It's hard to take bad photos in a place like Venice, and when Bella stationed herself at the window of one of my favorite restarants, she found a "target-rich environment", with beautiful boats gliding by at regular intervals.
Here's a sequence she shot of a gorgeous wedding gondola that I've admired many times.

The bow glides under the Ponte dei Fuseri.

The gondolier ducks to avoid serious head injury.

He continues to row from the hunched postion.
Passengers in the boat notice the eight-year-old with the camera
and smile for the picture (well, most of them do).

As the gondolier emerges from under the bridge,
he points in the direction of something worth talking about. 
Maybe Marco Polo lived in that apartment.

As the boat continues on her way, we see her beautiful carved deck
and pristine condition.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Just the Photo - "Socializing"

Like any other tradesman, gondoliers appreciate a chance to swap stories
and compare experiences with their peers.  Visit any traghetto in Venice, watch any servizio gondole in the world with more than one gondolier,
and you're bound to find rowers "catching up" between cruises,
just like these guys I saw at the Molo San Marco.