Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Just the Photo - Police Parking Lot

photo by Tamás Fehér
As shot from the vaporetto.
My guess is that these are the reserve vessels.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gondola Capsizes in Venice

Every now and then we see a news story like this.
Sometimes it's caused by a vaporetto.
Other times the gondolier is blamed (although I don't usually believe it).
This time it was a "large motorboat" that caused the spontaneous swimming lesson.
Here's the story:
"Tourists take unexpected dip after gondola capsizes"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Flipped Floorboards

photos by Chris Clarke

There are a few logical reasons why someone would systematically flip over all of the floorboards in a Venetian boat.

The person who maintains her may have done so to allow the bilge to dry.
Simply tipping them up in place, with a slight turn will often achieve the same goal.
But then everyone's got their preferences.

Perhaps the floorboards were getting some algae or moss growing underneath, so they got a good scrubbing and were flipped
to allow them to dry.

They are upside down; a close look at the inside ends of the rib notches will attest to it.

Maybe they got flipped over by a drunk boat owner?

Or maybe some kids were looking to play a joke on the owner of the boat.

I suppose the boat was just sold and the new owner hadn't yet figured out how the floor pieced together.

Anybody else got a good explanation?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Ship's Cat"

photo by René Seindal

I saw this photo pop up on René's facebook page and asked him to send it to me. I did more than just ask.
It was one of those "!" messages.

As a kayaking guide, René goes all over the Venetian lagon and sees a lot of places most folks wouldn't. 
He shot this picture of a black cat on a black sandolo on the island of Certosa.

René Seindal, who does a lot of his kayaking tours from Certosa, said this was taken 
"where they keep boats awaiting repair. They have two or three maestri d'ascia there, one or two of which are German."

To read more about Certosa, see this link.
I was fortunate enough to visit the island a few years ago and have lunch with some of the staff there.  Later I met with Sean Antonioli and Mathias Lühmann (who is probably one of those German maestri René was talking about) and got to see their work areas and some of the projects they'd been working on.
The place was amazing, and I was jealous of all the people who had the luck to work there.  I also got my hat handed to me a few times in foosball, but that's another story.

Looking at the boat, she sure seems like her floating days may be behind her (and I don't think it has anything to do with the luck of a black cat).

René wrote:
That boat has been sitting there for quite a while. First I thought she was put there for display, as it was placed on a kind of trestle just along the main pathway towards the offices and ship yards. Now it is moved more to the sides.
It does look a bit like a goner, but who knows if it is still salvageable.

In preparing for this post, I did a little reading about black cats, and how cats have tied in with boats.  It turns out that not all cultures associate black cats with bad luck - in fact some see them as quite lucky. 
Without question, black cats, and cats of all colors were viewed as very lucky to have around on ships; they ate rats and mice.
For some interesting reading, search "ship's cat" and read up on the subject.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Report from Boston - Hurricane Preparations

I awoke this morning to begin my day.
As I turned on the news, the first thing I saw scrolling across the screen was :Cape Hatteras orders more body bags for Hurricane Irene".

I thought about my friends in Virginia Beach as I had just spoken with them yesterday and the storm is heading toward them.
Then I checked my e-mail and received this report from Joe and Steve in Boston.

Hi Greg

Hope you are well!

With the approaching hurricane I thought this may be a good time to address it on your blog.

After completing a dozen tours last night in perfect conditions

Steve and I had to come to the reality that we need to start making preparation for what may or may not be a storm that could cause serious damage to our gondolas. It was about midnight when our last tour came in, so after rowing a bunch of tours feeling tired, we decided that our 2 gondolas would remain on the river tied to our mooring float. Needless to say all the furniture, floor boards, ornaments, carpets, and anything that could float away needed to be removed and stored safely. Our SUVs were packed to the Max.

"The girls" as we call the Maria and Fierenza now sit naked at their mooring, coverless, as you can imagine the covers would be the first to rip and take flight when winds get up over 70 miles per hour. Extra bumpers and some strategic additional ropes and we were finally on our way home at 2:30am this morning. Now just a prayer and a bit of luck and we will be back in business in the days ahead.

Anyone here on the East coast should know the damage that these storms can create. Our good friend Robert Dula can certainly testify to this. The attached photos show some of the damage to his Bella Mae after Hurricane Katrina.

In planning your approach as to how and what you will do with your gondolas when faced with this situation, you usually have some options. Getting your gondola out of the water and having a secure {preferably indoor place} is no doubt the best. Sinking the gondola and weighing her down with sand bags is the option we would choose if this storm was predicted to be a category 2 or above. Here in Boston it will be a category 1 or less. Sinking the gondola worked well during hurricane Ivan in Florida about 6 years ago. One thing we would never suggest to any gondola operator is to remove your boat and leave her resting outdoors unsecured where the winds of these storms can easily take them airborne. The potential is also there for trees, limbs and other flying debris to come crashing into your most prized possession!! Your gondola could also float away! Several years back in New Orleans, there was an eccentric collector of unique things, Yes, he owned a Venetian Gondola and left his gondola unsecured on land during a violent hurricane, This boat was beautiful!! The storm carried his gondola about 3 miles from the owners facility and it was severely damaged and stripped of its contents. It was retrieved from a low income housing project and brought back to life by another gondola enthusiast!

We felt by leaving our boats on the mooring , Naked,in safe harbor with extra bumpers and ropes was our best option for this Hurricane Irene!! Risk, Risk, Risk is something all of us know a little about as gondola enthusiasts. Wish us Luck.


Joe and Steve

Thanks for the report, dear friends.
Keep safe, and remember that as much as we love these boats, they can be replaced.  Friends and family members can't.
You will certainly be in the thoughts and prayers of all of us.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Golden Hour

The "golden hour".
I've mentioned it a few times here.
It doesn't happen every time the sun sets, but when it'll know.
The most inaccurate part of it all is that the "golden hour" doesn't usually last an hour, in fact sometimes it's only there for a few minutes.
Tonight was a case-in-point.
I love this job.

Chippewa Canoe

While visiting Washington D.C. last winter, My family went from one incredible place to another.  It was all very interesting and educational.  Seeing the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Vietnam Memorial were amazing. DC is full of museums as well, and it seemed that there was one museum that was most interesting to each of us - for me it was the National Museum of the American Indian.

I knew everyone else would find it interesting, but that not everyone would want to linger as long as I would in front of the many displays. 
My brother had raved about it, so I knew the National Museum of the American Indian was the kind of place I could happily get lost in for a whole day.  I slipped away from the rest of the family for a while to move at my own pace.  My decision was a good one as I was able to slow down and absorb so much more - learning new things about some tribes and cultures, and warming myself by a few familiar fires as well.

North America is full of people of different cultures from all corners of the globe.  The US and Canada are both "melting pots". 
I don't know the exact numbers, but I'll make a bold statement that most families, if they've been on this continent for more than a few generations, have at least a little bit of native blood. 

My family is no exception; somewhere way down towards the trunk of my family tree (between the Mayflower and my parents' exodus from Minnesota), there was a mother with Chippewa DNA,
and while her name is lost, and most of us look pretty darn Nordic,
all of us feel a connection through her.

"Chippewa" is only one version of the name.
You'll also see "Ojibwe" and slightly modified versions of it.
This nation of people is the largest group of native Americans north of Mexico - equally divided between the US and Canada where they are sometimes called "Saulteurs". 

Enough about my family, let's talk about boats.
Before there were planes, railroads, automobiles, and before there were even horses on this continent, there were boats. Most, if not all tribes had some sort of floating craft to move about in.
Rivers, lakes, and coastal waters served as roads, and the first people to live here hunted, fished, transported goods, and moved about on water.

Some tribes hollowed out heavy logs, making their vessels tough to move around out of the water, but "my people", (yes, I know I'm the whitest guy you've ever seen, but I'm still hangin' on to my slight roots), as I was saying, my people were known for their birchbark canoes. 
They weren't as durable as the hollowed out logs, but they were lightweight and fast.  

From a boatbuilding standpoint, these canoes were also more advanced - requiring a higher level of craftsmanship, and involving pine pitch for waterproofing purposes. 

That pitch you see is covering a line of "stitching" that holds together segments of birch bark.
There were no nails used in constructing these boats, instead, joints and other fastening areas were bound in a way that reminds me of wicker furniture.  In our modern mindset, it's hard to imagine building a boat without screws or nails, but the flexible roots of a tree can be employed to literally "stitch" things together.

My understanding is that no measuring devices are used in the traditional building process of a birch bark canoe.

Clearly, a boat of this type wasn't something thrown together.  Meticulous craftsmanship was required to make sure all the ribs were bent properly and everything fit together well.

When I said "they weren't as durable as the hollowed out logs",
I didn't mean they were disposable. 
Most of these canoes were maintained by their owners until they died.
In fact the description in the photo below states that the canoe will last for "one lifetime with proper care".

As you can see by reading the materials, everything comes from the forest.
Gathering the materials is of great importance. 
The better the ingredients, the better the result.
The two gentlemen who built the boat took their time gathering the right pieces, and followed traditional ways that have been in their culture for centuries.

I can think of no better phrase to use here than the tried and true
"they don't make them like this anymore."

For those of you who are fans of the birch bark canoe, there's a great segment of Ray Mears' program "Bushcraft" that follows the construction of one of these vessels.

In this episode he works with a Canadian canoe builder who isn't of native heritage, but who has a great reverence for the art and is fun to listen to.

Set aside some time to watch the program and enjoy watching a method of boatbuilding that is older than, well, just about everything.

It's spread out over seven brief segments so it's easy to get through as long as you have a good connection.

I do have to take issue with one thing Mr. Mears says though:
He says the birch bark canoe is
"The finest craft people have ever created".

I'd have to give the Venetian gondola a slight edge there.
But hey, maybe I'm biased.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shot from the Day - Just Another Day

Just another boring day in Newport.
Nothing to report here.
Had to spend time rowing in the sun and endure a cool ocean breeze.
Don't move to California - it's horrible here.

Monday, August 22, 2011


photo by Tamás Fehér

Let this image serve as one of the strongest reasons I'm happy to not drive boats that rely on a flamable liquid to keep them going.
Tamás snaped this shot in a boat yard on Giudecca.
I'm guessing the owner was wishing they'd never owned the boat.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Super Deluxe"

photos by Chris Clarke
 Before automakers and other manufacturers started coming up with all sorts of terms to add value to their top-tier editions of everything from cars to boats to toaster ovens, there was one word:

"Deluxe" meant that it had all the extras.
The "deluxe edition" of something wasn't entry level,
it wasn't middle-of-the-field, it was the best you could get.

Everyone was using this golden word.
As sure as there's ice in Antarctica, the term got over-used and our automakers, boat builders, and toaster manufacturers upped the ante by making their top-of-the-line offerings "Super Deluxe"
(and hopefully adding a few extra features too).

I'm choosing to ignore all the adjectives that came next, each one designed to set their product apart and make it sound even more deluxe.
For the duration of this post, I'm declaring that "Super Deluxe" signifies the absolute zenith of quality.
And while there are only a handful of gondolas in Venice that match such a description, the one above sure looks like one to me.

Here is a close-up of the bow of our "Super Deluxe" gondola:
 Beyond just a fully carved deck, this wedding gondola has raised relief characters that stand well above the rest of the carvings. 
Her ferro has custom engraving. Even her canon has been replaced by a gold plated statue that bears a flag.

 Looking at the tail section, we see more carvings,
a luxury forcola with gold leaf accents, and a striped remo.

Now here's where I think this gondola went from "Deluxe" to "Super Deluxe".
A salon like no other out there:
 The deck carvings don't stop at the bow and stern;
they cover all rails as well.
The arm pieces have impressive carvings to match.
brass seahorses? No! Gold statues? Yes!
The cavalli here catch one's attention all by themselves.
Even the scimier sitting atop the seat is striking.
But it's the seats that bring this boat from ten to eleven -
diamond-pleated upholstery in a way that looks (and probably is) expensive.
Luxury cars and carriages of a bygone era had such seating.
It's arguably not "authentic" when placed alongside Venice's other gondolas, but very few can compare either.
Resting against the back of the seat is a parasol for the lady.
This gondola has everything.

And then there's the gondolier:
Hat? Check!
Striped shirt? Of course.
Crisp white marinera? Yup, brass buttons and all.
Black pants? Black shoes? Check and check!
Hat ribbon that matches the boat? Well of course.

And there he stands, looking the part and encouraging folks to climb aboard. Like so many other gondoliers, I'm sure he claims to have the nicest gondola around.
Like so many of his colleagues, I'm sure he believes it.
Unlike many of them though, he's probably right.

I'm guessing he doesn't use the words "Super Deluxe" to describe his boat...but I think he should.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Just the Photo - "Evening Fog"

Originally appeared in a New Year's Eve post "Messin' Around on New Year's Eve". Some of my favorite evening photos were taken that night.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gondolier Sails Across the Atlantic? Oh Yeah, I'm Following That!

Marie over at "Italy to Los Angeles and Back" has just posted about a gondolier with a big goal: to sail across the Atlantic solo.

Tommaso Luppi is a working gondolier in Venice, but soon he'll take some time off to follow the path of Columbus.

Marie interviewed him recently and has posted her Q&A on her blog.
Check out
"Venetian Gondolier to Sail the Atlantic...all Baimaiself...all by myself!",
and join me in following the gondolier on his adventure.

Good Luck Tommaso!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Passing on the Varnish Brush

photos by Cassandra Mohr
Most fathers hope to one day pass on wisdom and skills to their children.
And while I won't claim to have much of either, I do know a thing or two about varnishing.
I also have an eleven-year-old daughter who is quite a little artist,
and has been amazing the family with her talents. 
She especially likes painting, and anything that involves a brush. 
When I announced today that I'd be doing some varnishing,
Isabella made it very clear to me that she'd like to help.

This was nothing new. Bella has pestered me for years about "helping me" with various paint and varnish tasks. I've let her paint a few times,
but today she was working with varnish.
I gave her a quick tutorial on what to do and how to do it.
We started with the smaller pieces first, and she picked it right up.

A few pointers here and there were given, but it became obvious to me that she was a lot more comfortable with a brush in her hand than most kids her age.

The more she brushed, the better she got. We talked about the mix of varnish and thinner. I explained how the whole process works, and about how the two products work together to leave a nice, shiny, and protective surface on the wood.
Different brushing techniques were described and demonstrated. 
I explained how the brush needs to be dunked and purged now and then, and how the varnish in the bucket needs to be given more thinner to keep it brushable.

I got a kick out of watching my daughter brushing on that beautiful golden coating, and visions of the future came floating in to my mind.
I saw my little artist slowly taking over some of my paint and varnish projects, and as the need arose, she would step in as my "chief painter."

I beamed with pride.

Right about then, my precious girl informed me that she was getting bored with the whole varnishing thing.


Ah, but of course "she's an artist", I thought.
I quickly explained that what we were varnishing was a thing of beauty.
My daughter said:
"Yeah, but it's not like we're going to frame it and hang it on a wall."

"Better than that", I said, "hundreds of people will see it and admire it. 
It will be a part of some of the greatest memories, and folks will step into the boat and talk about how beautiful it is".

She kept dipping and brushing the varnish onto the wood, thinking about what I'd said.
We graduated to longer pieces, which required more thought and technique.  Bella did her best to listen to my coaching - even though she was sure that she knew more about varnishing than I did.

As is common around my house, the phone rang with a call that I had to take, so I asked her if she thought she could finish the job without me.
She said "yeah, I can do it."

I smiled with amusement as I walked into the house.
Twenty minutes later I was off the phone and looking over the work. 

It was all perfect.
She did a great job.
Now if I can just convince her that what she was doing today was worth doing, I'll have my "chief painter" one day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five Shots from the Back

As the sun drops closer to the horizon, and night begins to take over, lighting, colors, and the overall mood are in a state of constant change.
Here are five shots I took during a one hour cruise tonight in Newport Harbor.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go clean off the front of my lens!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Crime Scene #29

photo by Tamás Fehér

My first instinct was to post this photo with the title: "Full Drive System",
but Tamás had sent it with the above title and it cracked me up so much that I had to go with it.

This was taken during the caorlina races off Giudecca. 
My guess is that we're looking at boat number 29's remi and forcole. 
As for the backpack - could be race related items, could be sandwiches. 
I'm going with sandwiches (maybe 'cause I'm hungry right now).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Narrow and Fast

photos by Chris Clarke
Gondoliers are watermen.
We live and work on and around the water.
I don't know a single gondolier who isn't also a surfer, sailor, swimmer, SCUBA diver, etc.
We exist above and below the surface.

I've often found myself talking with other gondoliers about other types of boats - especially those that share similar traits with gondolas.
This brings me to the "punt".

No, we're not talking about football, although if you search the internet, you'll get overwhelmed with football-related links associated with the word.
I'm talking about the long flat-bottomed boats that are pushed along with a pole in places like Oxford and Cambridge.  You can also find them in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Denver, Colorado.
To read about my visit to the Denver operation a few years ago,

Just like gondolas, these vessels are used for passenger service, and just like gondolas, they are also used for racing and recreation.

Chris Clarke and I spoke a while back about these curious boats. 
I was eager to get his take, as he's from the UK and used to live right near a place where they pole them.

As you might have guessed, there are also different versions of the punt.  The ones that drunk (or soon to be drunk) college students take out are often wider than the ones for sport.  My guess is that the one above can be used for both, but I'm quick to confess that I'm no expert in punts.

My eyes are sharp enough though, to recognize something that can't take passengers at all.

It's safe to say that what we see here is a racing punt.
Chris Clarke tells me that this single-man punt is about 32' long x 14" wide.

Some of you out there have already drawn the same conclusion, I'm sure:
We're looking at the punt equivalent of a gondolino.

Four feet shy of a gondola (and probably twice the length of my car),
this is not a canoe.
at only two inches wider than a foot,
she's not quite a tightrope...but probably close to it.
But if you can keep your balance, and effectively place, push, retrieve, and place that pole...again and again and again,
then you can really get one of these things moving.

The single punter we're looking at definitely has the hang of it.
Chris Clarke tells me:
"the guy in the photos is a multiple punt racing champion and makes it look easy. It is not."

Thanks for the photos Chris.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Eighteen years ago today, I pulled off the biggest heist of my life:
I married Elisa. I couldn't figure out what she saw in me,
but I wasn't about to try and talk her out of it.

I definitely "married up", and the wife that God had prepared for me has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. I've done my best to be worthy of her, and be the best husband I can be.

We have two beautiful daughters and have had countless great adventures together. To borrow a storybook phrase,
we're living "happily ever after".

Happy anniversary, Elisa.

I love you more than words can say.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"What I learned from 40 marriage proposals"

I think we can all identify with this gondolier in one way or another.
His name is Liam Pierce. He took the job as gondolier for "extra cash", and found (not surprisingly) that there was plenty in this job to write about.
His article is fun to read, and gives an interesting view into the life of a Central Park gondolier.
"What I learned from 40 marriage proposals"

For more, see his blog, "Central Park Gondolier".
Anyone who's ever rowed a gondola will get a kick out of some of his musings.
I think it's safe to say that anyone who spends enough time on the back of a gondola becomes some kind of expert on marriage proposals and romance.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sandolo and Gondolas

photos by Chris Clarke
To an entomologist, any picture of a bug is interesting.
For someone who longs to visit Tahiti, every picture taken there is fascinating.
So when Chris Clarke said he'd share some of the photos he'd taken in Venice, I knew I'd be interested, and fascinated by each and every one of them.
In this series of images, we see a few gondolas cruising by a passenger sandolo moored canal-side.

 In a close-up of the sandolo, we can see the contrast between varnished wood and black paint.  We see the subtle assymetry in her hull. 
The decorated aft-edge of the trasto da prua is more significant because there's no portela. 
Also, from this one angle, we get a glimpse into the storage are just ahead of the rower - where he keeps his bucket and other supplies to keep her looking perfect.

A wider view reveals a couple enjoying the day and the view, while sitting on a step near the sandolo.  Are they waiting for the owner of that sandolo, or did they just find a nice place to sit to enjoy a snack?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Looking Back

photo by Tamás Fehér

Today, August 8th, 2011 
marks the four year anniversary of the Gondola Blog.

What began as a simple place to chronicle the daily adventures of our expedition down the Hudson River (from Albany, New York down to Ground Zero in Manhattan), became an outlet for other things "gondola".
I figured I'd just keep posting until I ran out of photos, stories and information to share. 

With the help of many of my friends, I haven't run out yet. 

Four years.
That's high school for most of us,
a bachelor's degree if you play your cards right,
a presidency, if you don't get re-elected.
It's also the average lifespan of a guinea pig,
the maximum lifespan of a hamster (although most kick off earlier).
Some experts also give the same lifespan to a Macbook.
An elephant can have two babies in four years...
unless she has twins (hate to be that elephant).
Speaking of elephants, I heard that someone in Japan hopes to have cloned the Woolly Mammoth back into existence within four years.
I'm not holding my breath - they told me as a kid that we'd all have flying cars by now.
Facebook just celebrated the four year mark,
and some idiot in California just got a four year sentence for stalking people on Facebook for some sort of badness.

Enough buttercowing about "four years". 
Looking back, we've seen gondolas from all sorts of places, on various continents - and more than a few in Venice too. 
We've talked about different types of boats, 
and heard stories from and about gondoliers and rowers of all types. 
We've taken a look back in time using old postcards and stereoviews. 
We've also followed some expeditions and special events.
Over the years, the Gondola Blog has seen an increase in readership. 
I've been honored to hear that several of you have made this blog part of your daily routine.

I've done my best to keep the Gondola Blog consistent, with at least one post daily.  Sometimes photos, sometimes musings, now and then it's something significant.
Now and then I don't have enough time to keep up, or have nothing worth posting, but I try my best and I thank you all for reading.
Warm thanks,
-Greg Mohr

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ponte del Diavolo - Torcello

photo by Kathleen Gonzalez
Torcello.  I haven’t been there yet myself, but according to some of the things I’ve heard, Torcello is very close to the Venetian equivalent to a “ghost town”.

Someone told me 
“everyone used to live there, now nobody does.”

By “used to” they meant back in the 11th Century or thereabouts.   
This overly foliated island, which is now home to about twenty people was once the most populated place in the lagoon.

Now the place is all but deserted.

But there is an eye-catching bridge known as the “Ponte del Diavolo” which even by today’s masonry standards, is an impressive span.

This “del Diavolo” thing is something you’ll encounter in several places in Europe.

In English speaking places they are called “devil’s bridges”, and generally fall somewhere between “impressive” and “mind blowing” from an engineering standpoint.  
Various takes on the name include stories of deals with the devil and ways the devil was tricked or outwitted (think “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” but with less fiddling and more bridgebuilding).

This bridge is on the route to the cathedral, so many people see it, and cross it.  I think it’s more dramatic because of the absence of railing. Kathy does a great job of adding some perspective as well.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tapeto Verde Gondolier - Sighted!

photo by Chris Clarke
A while back I published a post about a gondola with a green gondolier’s carpet called “Tapeto Verde”.
It turns out that last time Chris Clarke was in La Serenissima, he took a photo of the owner of that boat as he rowed by.
I wonder if he still has that same green tapeto.