Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Newport's "Marco Polo"

Several years ago, I had the occasion to employ a gondolier from Venice, Italy in my Newport Beach operation.
For the purpose of our discussion, I'll call him "Mario".
His best friend had married an American tourist girl from this area and had relocated to Orange County, California - taking a job and starting a family. 
The two friends had both served as gondoliers back in Venice,
and after visiting his friend, Mario decided that he needed to make Southern California his home as well.

I'm quite certain that it had nothing to do with rowing a gondola in California, and everything to do with a chance encounter he had with a rather curvacious cashier at a grocery store in Fountain Valley.
Nevertheless, Mario ended up applying for a job with my servizio.

I must admit that the interview process was a little weird.
Here was a guy who'd grown up rowing in Venice, and who had rowed as a gondolier for a major traghetto, and I was there to make sure he knew what he was doing rowing a gondola.

Truth be told, I spent most of the interview watching his technique so I could try to replicate it during my next cruise.
I felt like I was interviewing Eddie Van Halen for my garage band.

Big surprise: he got the job.

So many things happened during the year and a half that he rowed for me,
but this is the "Marco Polo" post.
We learned a lot about Venetian gondoliers from Mario.
And while it may be unfair to draw the conclusion that
"All Venetian gondoliers like to make stuff up" - Mario sure did.

In fact the joke among our staff to this day is:
If you take a gondola ride in Venice,
it doesn't matter where you start,
where you finish,
or what part of the city you go through...
somewhere along the way - you're gonna see Marco Polo's house!

Is it an unfair characterization of all gondoliers?
probably so, but that's what happens when you have Mario rowing cruises for you.
You see, six months into his tenure with us,
Mario was pointing out the house in the photo above as "Tom Cruise's house!"
Marco Polo never lived in Newport Beach, so Mario had swapped him out for the next best thing.

Tom Cruise probably owns a lot of nice homes,
and a place on the corner of an island facing the setting sun,
in a city like Newport Beach would be a great choice.
But I can tell you with great certainty that
Tom Cruise did not own that house, ever. 
In fact the guy who lived there at the time was about six feet tall,
blonde, and looked more like Ed Begley Jr.

He wasn't Ed Begley Jr. either, but he most certainly was not Tom Cruise.
As time went on I found out that Mario was also pointing out the homes of "Cher" and "Madonna"...but not always using the same houses.

The funny thing about it was that passengers knew most of the time that he was just making it up, and it turned out that they loved it - found it charming
in a strange sort of way.

Eventually things didn't work out with the voluptuous grocery store cashier,
and like Texans pine for their Lone Star State,
Marco began to miss La Serenissima.

After calling Southern California his home for about a year and a half,
Mario returned to Venice, where I understand he is quite happy.
In fact as I write this, he's probably pointing out "Marco Polo's House"
to someone right now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


New Orleans gondolier Robert Dula has a problem that some of you might identify with:
I have to deal with submerged stumps in certain areas of the park.
They wreak havoc on my wooden oar.

After dealing with these underwater hazards, and the damage they cause, Roberto talked to a friend who knows a thing or two about fabrication using other materials.

Construction of an aluminum remo began.
I received the above photo with the words:
"Top Secret! For your eyes only!"
I felt like a secret agent.
It was great.
Roberto told me to hang on to the photo, and he'd keep me updated on progress and tell me when I could share the information.

Then, on Sunday, I received this photo:

This photo was shot during the first row with the new aluminum remo.
Roberto said that it rowed excellently, and felt just like a wodden one.

I pressed him with some questions about whether it behaved like a wooden oar in flexing, and expressed some concern that in a severe situation - a metal oar could bend.
The weight is close to a wooden oar, but a bit lighter. It has a slight flex to it, but will not bend. I gave it all I had and it can take it.

I asked him if he thought it could get colder in the gondolier's hand in winter because it's metal.
I plan on wrapping my hand area with something like handlebar tape. That should give me a good grip and help insulate, as well.
John Kerschbaum in Minnesota has done the same thing with his wooden remi as teperatures drop at the end of the season.
Cold remo means cold hands.
If handlebar tape works in Minnesota, I'm sure it will do the trick in Louisiana - even with metal.

My next obvious question was "how much?"
Price wise, we're looking at around $500. I know that's steep, but it should outlast a wooden oar.

Without a doubt, some folks will have a negative opinion of this new remo,
and I'm certain that others are already thinking of buying one.
If the aluminum remo truly does perform like a wooden one, and if it will outlast it's wooden counterparts, I can see a possible success story for it.

Only time will tell.
Roberto finished with:
After I row with it for a while, I'll send an update and let you know how it's holding up.

I'm so curious, I'm tempted to jump on a plane and fly out to New Orleans just to try it out!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


photos by Tamás Fehér
As beautiful and unique as they are, many of the standard-design rowing boats of the Veneto are seen as "just another _____" as they float alongside others of the same design.

Sure, a gondola in a group of gondolas may look more "common",
but each and every rowing boat in the Venetian rowing fleet is a beautiful thing; unique in her own way, and built with great care by someone who probably loves their job almost as much as they love the boats they build.

But if you still can't help but look at a bunch of sandoli at a rowing club, or the raft of gondolas in Bacino Orseolo, and say to yourself "ah, they're all the same", you can't say that about something like this:
I realize that the term is probably an aberration, and I must confess that I coined it myself, but I like to call this group of boats the "big desonas".
These bring custom-built to a whole new level.
There are 8, 10, and 12 oared versions.
The Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta - Mestre has many boats, but their pride and joy is the 14-oar "Mestrina" - a quattordesona
The "Mestrina" is so big that she consists of three sections that are bolted together (easier to transport that way).
I believe the 18-post "disdotona" at the Società Canottieri Francesco Querini currently holds top billing in the group. 

Of course each of the "big desonas" are original designs, but they all tend to have a certain look - as if they were based on the gondola design at both ends. But this one is different.
That's not the tail of a gondola there.
And the prow is more like that of a sandolo-type vessel.
Tamás shot these while attending a regatta off the end of Giudecca,
he didn't get a lot of info on the boat, but one of the photos came with the name “Benedettina”.
in taking a closer look, I noticed the name of the club on the side:
Gruppo remiero "Porto Pedocco" in Comune di Correzzola.

Next, I searched “Benedettina” and found this page on Gilberto Penzo’s website:
There’s a boat in the “Pupparin” section of the page that looks a lot like this one (except that she appears to be a three-part-boat that can be bolted together like "Mestrina").

In examining the photos, this looks like a 12 oared boat, but my suspicion was that "Benedettina" also wasn't a fancy new way to say "twelve-man-boat". 

I asked Nereo Zane about the boat, and he cleared it up as only a Venetian can:
"Benedettina" is the boat's name, like Mestrina is the name of our quatoresona.
The name "Benedettina" comes from an old Monastery (founded in the 13th century) called "Corte Benedettina" located in Correzzola. The monastery was very important for the whole area during the past centuries. Today it's an interesting and unique witness of the past.

Nereo also provided this link:
click on the "Storia" tab, and you can learn more about the history of the place.

Nereo's opinion was the same as mine:
In my opinion (after a visit to Gilberto's website) the boat is a multiple rower puparin with the stern like a sandolo buranello.

Anyone with more information on this unique boat is encouraged to comment on this post or e-mail me at

Friday, November 25, 2011

Varo di Sandoli

photo by Monica Ballielo
Well, the folks at the GSVVM are at it again - building and launching beautiful boats.
Nereo Zane has a collection of nice images,
captured by GSVVM's Monica Ballielo, on his blog.
Go to
and check out Varo Sandoli 2011
to see what you missed.
Sure wish I'd been there.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanks for checking in here, my friends.
I hope you all have a day worthy of thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Hoist

photo by Tamás Fehér
Most operating gondolas are kept in the water,
but other Venetian rowing craft
(especially the ones in rowing clubs)
are stored dry, and hoisted into the water before each excursion.
As you might imagine, the hoist is of great importance to club rowers.  I'll bet most clubs value their hoists as much as they value their boats.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tommaso's Journey is Under Way

In August I told you about Tommaso Luppi, a gondolier from Venice who was preparing to cross the Atlantic on a solo sailing adventure.
Marie at "Italy to Los Angeles and Back" knows Tommaso and has been following his adventures as he's prepared for the big journey. 
An interview with Tommaso is available in her August 18th post.

The ocean voyaging gondolier is now on his journey.
He's hardly alone - as he's been kept company by whales, dolphins, and lots of other characters "local" to the areas he traverses, but he's the only person in the equation.

Marie is maintaining a regular log of Tommaso's progress at:
Baimaiself: Tommaso Luppi's Atlantic crossing running update

and she gives coordinates so his last reported position can be tracked.
Of course if you're too lazy to do the calculating (that would be me), take a look at the GPS page on his website.

Tommaso's website is simply:

Gondoliers are not fond of desks.
We like to get out there and do things.
Tommaso Luppi is a perfect example.
Go Tommaso!
We're not on the boat with you,
but we're following your adventure...with pride and envy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A "Fall Tradition" in Boston

photo by Joe Gibbons

Many of our gondolier friends in cities to the north will identify with this photo and what it represents.
My good friend Joe Gibbons in Boston sent it in so we could all share in the moment.
He writes:

Hi Greg
This shot that I sent you seems to be a yearly event. That is Steve Bruno and his sons Mike and Matthew. After winching the Maria out of the Charles River and onto the walking path, we goof off a bit in preparation for the half mile push down the side walk that abuts a very busy road. With horns beeping at us, joggers ,walkers, and bikers looking on in awe, it can be a nerve wracking experience to say the least. We actually pass within feet of the guard rail that seperates us from the highway. You can feel the breeze of cars flying past at 40 to 50 miles per hour. Once Maria was put to bed for the long winter we celebrated with a great {Santarpios Pizza} and a few beers.

Time now for a ride on the snowmobiles!! 

Thanks for the great description, Joe.
I wish I'd been there to help push the boat (and eat the pizza too).

On top of it, Joe added something a lot of us have probably thought of a time or two:

A funny thought comes to mind!  Maybe a set of skis on the bottom of the gondola and a holiday sleigh ride/gondola through the apple orchards{helmets required}.

Tell you what, Joe:
You set up "gondola sleigh rides", and I'll fly out and take one.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Photos from the Prodigy

photos by Cassandra Mohr
I took my daughter Cassandra out on the Phoenix the other day to give her some pointers on how to take good photos during a cruise.
We had a couple who wanted to be sure their cruise was captured for all time, and we thought that since Cassandra had won a few awards locally with her amateur photos, maybe she'd do a decent job with this kind of project.
We sent her out with my right-hand-man, Steve Elkins (who is an accomplished photographer in his own right), and she snapped away.
Here are some of the images she captured.

Before the gentleman proposed.

Right after she said "yes".

Steve enjoys proposals almost as much as his passengers.

A nice three-quarter shot.

Rowing past the famous "Edwards Estate" - so named because of the Edwards Cinemas family who lives there.

Venice-built gondolas are NOT short.

Steve rowing in his black peacoat - a common sight this time of year. 

The couple enjoys a perfeect moment.

All things considered, my 14-year-old daughter did a pretty good job
(especially since she managed to not fall in the water with her camera). 
I'm sure the client will be thrilled to receive the images.

Good job, Cassandra!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Father-Daughter Photo

photo by Cassandra Mohr
I took my daughter Cassandra and her camera out for a row yesterday,
showing her some of the different photos you can take on the gondola,
and she came away with some nice images.
Here's one she shot while sitting on the back of the boat.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Support Your Local Gondolier"

I snapped this photo today at Sunset Gondola.
Most gondola operations have things around that give them character.
I love this sign.
Thinking about making one of my own.

"Support your Local Gondolier"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just the Photo - Ferry to Lido

photo by Tamás Fehér
...Because you can't take your Fiat on the vaporetto.
Well, I suppose you COULD, but I know the kinds of looks I'd get from the other passengers if I tried.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Gondolas" - Egyptian-Style

I post photos regularly of true, Venice-built gondolas here.
Gondolas that are more authentic than most, and boats that many readers would be happy to buy, steal, borrow, or inherit.
I also post photos now and then, of boats that are maybe in need of some grace on the part of the viewer.  Today's post certainly falls into that category.

I've never been to the resort known as "Aqua Blu Sharm" in Sharm El Sheikh,
so my views on these boats are based solely on photos, but they do have some "interesting" gondolas in Egypt.

In shape, they seem to have lines that are similar to other gondolas,
although they are a lot shorter in length.  But the guys piloting them appear to be pushing their boats along with poles - "punting" like in England.

These gondolas are definitely in a more "controlled" environment than many others.  This is undoubtably a man-made waterway. 
One nice thing about making your own canals...

You can bring them right up to your V.I.P. bungalos!

Like I said - I've yet to visit the "Sharm El Sheikh" resort, but if I do,
I'll be sure to hunt down the main mooring area for their boats.
because really, if you're gonna design a waterway - it ought to have some cool underwater lighting.

If you've been to the "Aqua Blu Sharm" resort, or of you plan to be in Egypt soon, I'd love to hear of some first-hand experiences with these "interesting" little boats.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Blue Gondola in Venice, California

As much of a shame as it may be, there are currently no gondolas on the water in Venice, California.
There are as many as nine gondola operations regularly taking passengers in several Southern California locations, but Abbot Kinney's Venice is not one of them.
This wasn't always the case, in fact it was our "Venice of the West" that inspired so many of the gondola operations that sprung up in the US about a century ago.  Many of those operations in turn inspired some of the modern servizios afloat today.

By all accounts, there were roughly three dozen gondolas in Venice, California - all had been brought over from Venezia by steamship, accompanied by the men who came out to row them.
That's a lot of gondolas, and way more than you'd need for the current canal system in Abbot Kinney's new neighborhood.  Originally there were a lot more canals, and in fact if you look at some of the old photos and maps, you'll notice that many of the canals of yesteryear, are streets and thoroughfares today.
One such roadway is the traffic circle at the end of Grand Boulevard.  This traffic circle inhabits real estate that was once the "Venice Lagoon", and leading into it was the "Grand Canal" (you guessed it - now Grand Blvd.).

Today there are no gondolas afloat in California's Venice, but if you drive around, you just might see one - especially if you make your way down Grand Boulevard and go around that traffic circle.

This vessel has been in the area for quite some time (although I've yet to get exact date info), and for the longest time she was displayed on the lawn in front of a bank on Lincoln Blvd. (see my post "The Washington Mutual Gondola - Venice, California" for a view of her back in 2008.

At some point she was brought from the lawn of the bank, to a place where gondolas actually used to grace the water.  Blue continues to be her main color, but some of the yellow details are gone.

I was up there a while ago with my friend, Tim Reinard of Sunset Gondola, and we happened to have a pupparin on trailer.  We thought maybe we could travel back in time if we drove around the circle enough while chanting things in Venetian dialect.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              In the end, all we managed to do was annoy other people trying to navigate through the circle, and confuse some guy who was working at a copy repair store - as I stood in front of his shop and yelled like a maniac.

Next, we decided to park and get a closer look.
Tim brought along an oar, just in case there was any unexpected flooding.

We noticed a curious sign on the bow:

What a shame. 
A gondola in "Venice", that you can't even step onto, much less row.


We had an oar, the boat had a forcola, so we waited around for a tsunami, or maybe an unexpected sinkhole to open up - bringing Venice back to her former glory, but it wasn't meant to be.

So we got back in our four-wheeled vehicle, looped around the traffic circle a few more times, and headed towards the freeway by way of Grand Boulevard - all the while thinking how different it would be if the asphalt were replaced by water.

It's not unusual for me to drive down a street and wonder what it would be like if it were a canal. 

This may very well be the first time I did so on a street that once was a canal.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

While everyone is marveling over the date (11-11-11 is pretty cool),
today has a much greater significance for many of us in the United States.
It's Veteran's Day.

I've seen this quote in several places today,
and I don't think I could say it better:

What Is a Veteran?
A "Veteran" —
whether active duty, discharged, retired, or reserve — is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America," for an amount of "up to, and including his life."
That is honor, and there are way too many people in this country today, who no longer understand that fact.

Today I had the honor of taking out a young Marine and his girlfriend for my first cruise.  Then I had the opportunity to watch him propose marriage. 
She said "yes", of course.

Happy Veteran's Day.

And to all my friends who have been brave enough to "write that blank check":
thank you.

Day 11, Month 11, Year 11

I'm quite sure that I'm not the only one today who will focus attention on today's date.  It really is cool that today is 11-11-11. 
Most of my friends know how much I love a good number-related post.
In fact I already wrote one on eleven (see "Eleven" from July of last year).
There's not much left to say on the subject except:
Long live Nigel Tufnel!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

photos by Chris Clarke
In my June 20th post "Passenger Sandoli - Ready and Waiting",
I posted a nice shot by Chris Clarke of two pristine little vessels side-tied and ready (and waiting) for some lucky riders.

Then a couple weeks ago I posted "Just the Photo - Taxi Plows Through"
and a friend of mine commented on the finish of the sandolo in the corner of the shot.  

So today we'll take a closer look at the two boats.
The first sandolo has a subtle elegance to her - not a lot of bright colors,
but there is just the right amount of gold leaf.

The brass cavalli both seem to feel the need to turn to port - I'm not sure why. Myabe they're just taking their cue from the brass eagle on the bow.

The second sandolo has a bit more color - floorboards and seat cover lean hard in the blue and yellow direction (my parents, who both went to UCLA would love this boat).

The scimier has a lot of gold, and a great family crest.
The cavalli are not just brass, but have a gold finish, and while they don't match the blue and yellow theme, the side pillows have the Lion of St. Mark.

This sandolo also has a lot more high-gloss varnished wood.

Wow, which one would you choose?

Monday, November 7, 2011

The "D.R. Crest Gondola"

photos by Tamás Fehér

Our focus today, is on one of the many gondolas in Venice that has "all the bells and whistles".
Lots of gondoliers do things to make a boat their own. 
Some do more than others. 
This guy has made quite a statement with his parecio.

The stainless steel ferro has the initials "DR" engraved in it.


The eyes are of course, immediately drawn to the tapestry seats,
but there are so many other impressive details on this gondola.
Take for instance, the decorative piece called the "scimier",
which sits atop the seat back.
Once again we see the familiar initials "DR" in the central shield.

We also see a stand-up-paddler pushing by,
and offering quite a contrasting comparison.

Looking forward, we see a striking portela.
It seems that our friend "DR" has a family crest.
As family crests go, it's a lot more impressive than mine.

"DR" spared no expense when he went shopping for cavalli,
and the arm-pieces would be impressive with just the black and gold,
but their rail-facing sides have a red theme and carry smaller family crests.

I could be wrong, but I think I spotted this boat recently in a Johnny Depp film.
I'll bet "DR" was happy to get that gig.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Three-Quarters and Ridin' High

photo by Nereo Zane

One of the most appealing angles to photograph the gondola from is what we call the "three-quarter".
Technically, I'm not sure where the bow of the boat fits into the calculation.
This might be the "three-quarter", or it might be a "one-quarter" shot.
The point is that it's about halfway in between a profile and looking straight down the centerline of the boat.
Looking at a gondola from this perspective, one can better appreciate her distinct crescent shape.
Make the boat a racing gondola, meaning that she sits a little higher afloat, and we can clearly see just how little of her length is actually in the water.

This photo was shot by Nereo Zane at a single-oar regata.  More photos from the day can be seen in my aptly named post "Single-Oar Regata".

Friday, November 4, 2011