Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Waving in the Wind

I snapped this of Steve Elkins on February 2nd as he was coming in from a successful marriage proposal cruise.
The couple was thrilled, and so was the gondolier.
It was a bit windy, as is evidenced by the flag on the bow, but the conditions were gorgeous for February, and Steve had no problem rowing with one hand, even with the extra windage of the canvas above the newly-engaged passengers.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Celebrate Chocolate

My friend Tim Joseph has been having fun with his "Daily Food Holiday" blog.
and today he's been gracious enough to post a piece of mine on chocolate.
If you're a gondolier, chances are good that you spend a fair amount of time around the stuff.
Read my take on this tasty "vice", I mean "delight".
You might not have known it, but February is "Celebrate Chocolate Month".
Heck, we celebrate chocolate every day in the gondola business.

Here's the link:
"Guest Post - Celebrate With Chocolate...and a Gondolier"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Just the Photo - "Two-Thirds"

Here's a rare photo of a 25 foot gondola from way back, this time with a felze.  I understand that some folks call these boats "two-thirds gondolas".
They sure are cute.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The Dream"

It all started when I received these two photos from my friend Nick Birch in Stratford, England.

It's not always easy to tell dimensions from a photo,
but I could tell she was different.

I look at a lot of gondola photos.
I'm arguably one of the most severely infected "gondola addicts".
Nick told me the boat was Venice-built,
and he tantalized me with her length: 25 feet.

No, she's not a "half-size", she's a little bigger and more sensible.
The half-size gondolas are incredible in their own right, but I've yet to see one take any passengers over the age of, maybe twelve.

None of my friends have a half-size,
for the same reason I don't.
Sure, I've had opportunities to acquire one, but I can't make a living with a boat too small for paying passenger service,
and my wife, as of yet, is not interested in having an 18 foot "model" in the living room.
I'm not crossing my fingers on that to change either.

To read more about half-size gondolas, check out my posts:
In retrospect, I suppose I could have come up with more clever post titles.

I love my 36 foot gondolas, they are the real-deal, and possess centuries of history and development, geared to provide the greatest experience for the passengers and an optimum platform for the gondolier to do what he does.

But this boat has me thinking all kinds of things, and wondering what it's like to row her.
For one thing, looking at the first two photos, I could tell that she was a little wider than the half-size variation.

Here's a nice shot of the boat dressed and ready for some lucky passengers.

Nick's accompanying text read:
Here's a picture of our genuine 25ft long gondola from 1904 that we have recently restored - it was built in Venice for an Italian Fair in London.
Of course I was fascinated, probably as fascinated as some of you are now.  I wanted to see more photos, had a few questions and he sent me this photo of her on display:
Got a case of "gondola envy" now?
I sure do.
Nick wrote
Shes called 'The Dream', the name given to her in 1904 - she was owned by a famous writer called Marie Corelli.

We keep her under cover in our boathouse. She's very easy to row, being lighter than a gondola - more like a sandolo in size and weight.

When I get out there to Shakespeare country in May, I'm gonna do everything I can to try and get on that sandolo-sized gondola.
I can't wait to see for myself what it's like to row her.

Complimenti, caro Nick.
She's stunning.
Considering her smaller size, I might just try to smuggle her on the plane with me when I come home from England.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Any time you hoist something big in the air, it can be a nervous moment.
Try hoisting it into a boat, and things can be a little "iffy".
Even if you do it every day, there's always something that could go wrong (see my post "Not Dropping the Boat").
We've all seen too many movies and tv shows where disaster chooses to strike at moments like this.
Now add to that the possibility of having it crush you.
Nervous now?
I'll bet the guy in the boat wearing the white hat was when I snapped this photo from the vaporetto.
Fortunately it all went well.
But then maybe it didn't the next day.
I hope for his sake that it did.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's Nereo's Birthday!

photo by Dawn Reinard

Happy Birthday Nereo.

I've said it many times:
I consider myself very lucky to have a friend like Nereo Zane.

Nereo has also provided countless images and information here on the Gondola Blog, while hosting his own as well.

Buon Compleanno Nereo!
You're more than a friend, you're "family", and I look forward to rowing with you soon.

Ultimate Proposal on Sunset Gondola

Here's a really fun video of a proposal in Tim's neighborhood.
"Nate & Kayla"

Looking good, amico!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Carnevale in Venezia

While folks are throwing beads (and other things) at each other for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and a billion Brazilians are making enough Carnevale noise to reach several islands in the Caribbean (which are having Carnevales of their own), Venice has her own version. 
Nereo Zane snagged a bunch of great photos from the back of a GSVVM caorlina.
See his post "Carnevale 2012".
There are some really fun costumes and boat decorations.
Grazie Nereo!

Monday, February 20, 2012

My View This Evening

I could share my views on religion and politics with you,
try to convince you to agree with my views on love and relationships.

I could toss out opinions regarding the situation with our economy,
or share my views on any number of current news stories.

Instead, I'll just share this view with you...the view my passengers and I enjoyed this evening on the canals in Newport.

Happy Birthday Bob Millspaugh!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

More Ice in Venice

Nereo Zane has posted some more images of the frozen version of Venezia.This time some swans came by to check it out.
"La Laguna Ghiacchiata 3"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Morning Conversation

On the morning of St. Valentine's Day, I met up with Stefano and Bob Millspaugh (a.k.a. "Robino") as they were heading into the canals for their first cruises of the day.
I needed to hand Stefano a hat, but couldn't help reaching for my camera.
No matter how many times I see it, I never seem to tire of the shape of a Venice-built gondola.
Here are some of the images I captured.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


photo by Stephen Anastasia

Somewhere in the back canals of Newport,
not far from where a lot of our marriage proposals take place,
Stefano found himself on Valentine's Day. 

It was actually his shadow - cast through the water and onto a shallow spot near the north end of Newport Island.

with remo in one hand and smartphone in the other,
he captured this image from the back of the gondola.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Diagonal in the Morning

I caught Stefano on his way out this morning for the first cruise of the day, snapped this with my iphone, and saved it under the name "Stefano diagonal in the morning".

"Diagonal" because the boat is diagonal in the shot, but as I thought about it, I sure felt "diagonal" this morning, and I'm pretty certain I'll be "horizontal" for most of tomorrow.

Happy V-Day, my friends!

Fiona's "Odd Job"

This piece has aired about ten times today on the Fox affilliate in Dallas.
Fiona has her own take on the "dirty jobs" format, but in this case it's not dirty but "odd", and in this case, romantic.
Derrick, my manager in the Gondola Adventures location in Irving, Texas set this up.
It's a fun piece, and a rare look at a unique gondola we have out there.
"Fiona's Odd Jobs - Gondolier"

Monday, February 13, 2012

On the Eve

Tonight, as I write this, I'm tired:
"tired" not so much from all the rowing that I've done as we ramp up to the 14th, but tired from all the work I've done to get my boats in order, and tired from all the other work associated with getting the business prepped.

I'm amped:
"amped" because this is our busiest day of the year,
our "Superbowl", the time when we push things to the limit in so many ways.

I'm pensive:
"pensive" because I've got a million things buzzing through my mind right now, from glassware, to forcolas, to docking arrangements.  It's all got to come together, and that doesn't just happen, it requires planning.  I've spent a lot of time on the planning, now I'm unable to stop thinking about it all.

I'm fired up:
"fired up" because I live for this day, absolutely live for it.
And when that alarm clock rings tomorrow, I'll be in my stripes and out the door in no time, with a big thermos of coffee and sunscreen on my nose.

Valentine's Day - can't wait for it!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Today's Proposal

photo by Mark Mohr

My brother Mark was in the neighborhood today, and for good reason:
One of his best friends was getting engaged on my gondola.

I'm not Hawaiian, but over the years I've developed a great love for the culture, and one of my favorite words is "ohana" - which means "family".

Today, Tiago Costa (a true "ohana" to the members of my family),
asked his girlfriend Lesya to be his bride. 
She said "yes", and then about twenty friends and family members popped-up from behind things along the canal and shouted congratulations.
It was awesome.

I've been at this for a long time, but today's proposal was one of the very best I've witnessed.

My most sincere congratulations to Tiago and Lesya.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lucia in Light

Just a quick shot taken from the dock today in Newport.
Steve Elkins rows the historic "Lucia" on a breezy but beautiful day.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tips on Trailering

In my Newport Beach gondola operation, I have eight boats, and for all but one week out of the year, I've got only seven gondolas in the water.
It's a slow rotation; we always have one boat out of the water for maintenance.
One week each year I have all boats in the water - that week of course,
is the one surrounding Valentine's Day.

Yesterday, after lots of work, I trailered a gondola out of the service yard, and parked her near the launch ramp so I could add her to the fleet this morning.
It's been almost twenty years now that I've been "messing around with boats" in this manner, and while the trailering thing is nothing new,
it's always taken seriously.

Here are a few thoughts I felt like sharing on the subject of trailering a gondola.

strap the boat down.
You might think you're the exception. 
You might think that there's no reason for you to worry about the boat moving around on the trailer, after all, there are no stop signs,
traffic lights and no obstacles between you and that ramp. 
Murphy's Law applies to people just like you
(I should know, Murphy is practically my middle name!).

Strap the boat down anyway - when a cat, squirrel, fox, kid with a ball,
or idiot in a Toyota enters your path unceremoniously - you'll be thankful you strapped the boat she won't come through the back window and join you in the front seat when you have to slam on your brakes.

I prefer to place the straps with the ratchet-buckles on the left side of the boat so I can see them in my rear view mirror better.
It should also be mentioned that if you don't strap the boat down,
you will likely have a hard time explaining to the nice officer who pulls you over, that you are the exception - you're not, and he will tell you so.

Make sure your stern isn't hanging too far off the back of the trailer,
and if it is, hang a flag or other attention-getter off the tail. 
Your boat will thank you, and so will the guy driving behind you.
Also, if you are crossing state lines, check to see if the overhang requirements are different in the state you're driving into.

On the subject of overhang, leave your gondola hanging too far off the back of the trailer for too long, and let's just say that "bad things" can happen.

Smile as you drive. Smile at the folks at traffic lights,
smile to the people looking and pointing from the sidewalk,
and definitely smile at the curious policeman who pulls alongside you on his motorcycle.
Smile, and he might not be as likely to pull you over.
Then again, smile too much and he'll call for back-up.

As you drive around with that beautiful boat in tow, folks will be looking. 
Smile and they might just go out of their way to look up your business and book a cruise with you.

Flash your hazard lights to make sure the tail lights work on your trailer.
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of trailering and forget to connect the lights.

Chances are good that anyone sharing the road with you will be so interested in your boat that they won't need to rely on your brake lights,
but Murphy has a wicked way of capitolizing on such situations.

Anyone who has spent time playing chess competetively, has a brain that's already wired to drag a trailer. 
Sadly I got my butt kicked in checkers, never really played chess,  
and that was that. 
Navigating with a trailer was something I had to learn to do.
Like chess, this kind of driving requires you to "think five moves ahead".

You don't just turn onto a street without first determining:
whether it is wide enough for you and your trailer,
that it doesn't dead-end,
and isn't going to lead you into a dangerous or challenging piece of road.

Driving carefully ought to be a given, but sometimes we get a little carried away, in an "I got this" kind of manner.  Here's what happened to one such guy:
"Bad Things Happen - Part 2 - Dropping and Dragging" see the "Transit Tragedy" part.

Thinking ahead doesn't just apply to the driving part; you must also think ahead with other things.
For instance, a week before you're going to trailer, hook up the lights and make sure they work.  Time is on your side at that point, but if you wait until the day of, you might discover a problem and decide to just go without lights.
Chess, my friends, chess.
While I'm at it, make sure you've brought everything you'll need to accomplish the goal - including a full tank of gas!

It's amazing what you can forget to bring.
Today, I'm sorry to say, my adventures were stalled because I was missing a small but important item, one that connects the vehicle to the trailer.
Sure, I suppose I could have just chained the two things together and skidded down the road, but I think the men-on-motorcycles with ticket books would have had a field day with that.
Better to wait while someone goes and gets the wayward piece of hardware.
Mhmm, insert your favorite chess vs. checkers wisecrack here.

B.A.R.F. stands for "bring a real friend", and in many cases you won't need one, but when you do!

Sometimes you need to lift something that takes two people.
Sometimes you need a friend to stop traffic while you back out of that alley you shouldn't have turned into (ask that friend to help you learn to play chess later).
Often you need a friend to guide you as you line your vehicle up to connect with the trailer.
I like to have my friend follow directly behind me to keep an eye on things.
In some traffic scenarios, having a friend who can shoot ahead of you to help facilitate a critical lane change can save you a lot of grief.

John Kerschbaum likes to say:
"better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it".

There are times when having a simple item with you can make a huge difference.
Duct tape certainly fits that description sometimes.
When trailering, I always have a traffic cone with me.
Most of the time I don't need it, but it's helped me more than once:
Finding a parking spot for vehicle and trailer is hard enough,
getting into that spot can be even more difficult sometimes. 
Now imagine you've been away for twenty minutes and some jerk has parked his black BMW six inches from your front bumper and there's a truck behind you that doesn't look like it's moved in three months.
Yes, I know your first thought - it's the same as mine,
and while it may feel gratifying at the time, 
four-wheeling over the rear quarter of the BMW will probably cause more problems than it's worth.

If you'd placed a traffic cone five to ten feet in front of your vehicle,
you'd probably come back to find it right where you left it.
It's a funny thing about traffic cones - nobody wants to move them once they're placed.

If you have several cones, you might even get away with saving a spot for your vehicle and trailer - this doesn't always work though. 
If you show up and there's a police officer holding your cones,
when he asks if they're yours, say "no..."
(because he appears to own them now),
"but I sure could use a few cones if you're looking to get rid of them".

There are several other uses for a traffic cone while trailering but I'll let you explore that on your own.

learn some of the trucking protocols. 
You might not think you're like the 18-wheel rigs you share the highway with, but there are many similarities.
And as you motor down the road, with drivers rudely cutting in front of you (because they don't want to get stuck behind you), you'll gain a better understanding of what it's like to drive a big-rig, and people can be downright mean to you. 
There are behavioral courtesies among truckers too, but they are noticeably nicer. If you flick your lights and allow a guy in an 18-wheeler to change into your lane in front of you, he will likely tap his brakes twice - it's a sort of "thank you".  Ten miles down the road, he may offer you the same courtesy.  Drive something that long, and you'll begin to appreciate every friend you find on the road.

Eat with the boat in view.
If you're going long distance, and need to stop and grab a bite to eat,
try to park the gondola where you can see it.  These boats are like attention magnets - from curious kids to crazy drunk fraternity brothers, everyone seems to want to investigate.

Dress for the occasion.
Be ready to get dirty, wet, and make sure you've got the kind of footwear necessary for the various tasks you'll need to accomplish.
I once had to change a flat tire on my car while on my way to a wedding.
No, I was not dressed for the challenge, and it took a lot more care and skill to do what I needed to do in my crisp white dress shirt.
I managed to get it done, stay clean, and arrived just in perform the ceremony.

Sometimes you've got to get your feet wet,
sometimes you've got to go in up to your knees or waist,
and sometimes you've just got to fully commit.
Empty your pockets.
Bring a towel.
You may not be planning on getting wet,
but sometimes Mr. Murphy has other plans for us.

Oh, and if you're launching in cold conditions, expect the worst and bring an extra layer.

I grew up in a waterskiing family, and my uncle had a saying that my cousins and I loved:
"This rock is slicker than snot on a doornob!"
He would say that and we'd just laugh like crazy.
Of course we were very young, but if I heard him say it again today,
I'd probably still laugh out loud.  As a matter of course, there always seems to be a slick surface around a boat launch area, and I always seem to find it (often by accident).
Watch your step, or you'll know what i know from experience:
it really IS "slicker than snot on a doorknob".

Lastly, watch out for those slick surfaces with your vehicle,
otherwise you might just end up launching more than just your gondola!


Once you're done with your trailer, if you leave it empty, lock it up!
I lost one a few years back and don't want to see that happen again,
to anyone.
(see the post "Lock Up Your Boat Trailers" )

Ice in Venice

This looks a little bit more like something I used to see when I lived in Alaska."Ice Clogs the Canals of Venice"

Venice has a lot of different kinds of boats, but somehow I don't think they have any icebreakers in their fleet.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Serenity in Texas

Some days it's windy at my operation in Irving, Texas;
sometimes it's not.
I took this photo on a beautifully calm day.
Perfect serenity in north-east Texas.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Quick Word

photo by Tamás Fehér

Headed in opposite directions, these two guys appear to have exchanged a few quick words.

What were they talking about?
Weather, the economy, the news?
Maybe they were talking about the fact that their boats were so similar.
How about that rude passenger in one of their boats?
They could get away with such talk in dialect.

Heck, they could talk about anything if they were sure their passengers didn't understand.
Politics, religion, Luigi's bachelor party.
They could talk about girlfriends, exchange stock tips, maybe even talk about how they want to kill that yappy dog that's always barking at them when they row by a certain apartment.

Then again, maybe the guy rowing away from the camera simply said
"hey, watch out for my remo",
and the other guy gave him a look.

No, I think it was the "yappy dog" they were talking about.


One of my favorite shots of this type can be seen in my post
"The Conversation".

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Concordia Disaster Sends Waves Through Venice

Anyone who has visited Piazza San Marco on a summer day has probably seen them:
the "floating alps", as Erla of "I Am Not Making This Up" calls them.

Venice is at the top of the list of cruise ports in the Mediterranean.
Since the Costa Concordia met her demise last month while passing too close to the island of Giglio, attention toward the safety of the cruise industry has grown exponentially, even on the other side of the country in Venice.

The drama that played out over the radio that fateful night between Captain Francesco Schettino and Coast Guard Captain Gregorio Maria De Falco was the kind of thing we'd only expect to witness in fiction.
No doubt, all Italians have chosen sides in that argument
(I'd guess that just about everybody has taken De Falco's side).

Erla touched on a few Venetian opinons and some historic captains
(other than Schettino) in her post "Ripples from the Costa Concordia",
and then went in depth with her post "Venice and the Floating Alps".
Venetians are nothing if not opinionated, and many are sharing their opinions these days about having the ships pass through their cherished city; some are actually protesting.

Just today Kathleen Gonzalez sent me a link to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled "Venice Rebels Against Cruise Ship Intrusions".
There are several different perspectives on the issue.
In the above article, Saverio Pastor is quoted.

What happened off the coast of Tuscany was horrible.
I'm not sure if a cruise ship is likely to plow into the Piazza at high tide, but I do understand some of the concerns of people who are lucky enough to call Venezia their home.

I also see the undeniable appeal of seeing the city from the top deck of one of these behemoths.  A few years ago, my family and I departed on an MSC ship after participating in the Vogalonga.
My daughter Cassandra and I shot lots of photos and will never forget the amazing view from up there.

Here are some of the posts that have photos from that session:
"Just the Photo - the Zattere Platform"
"Quay at the Giardinetti"
"Just the Photo - Salute and Campanile"
and "Yachts and Venezia".
It really is quite a view.

Everything I read on this subject these days mentions:
how much cruise-tourism has increased in Venice,
how the economy benefits from the income,
how the residents don't like it,
and there's usually someone quoted as saying that not cruising past the Piazza would be a "deal killer" with cruise-tourists.

As time cruises on, like an unstoppable giant ship,
we will see what finally comes of all this.
I think it's safe to say that whatever happens,
there will always be someone out there who doesn't like the way a decision went...and someone else who thinks that it didn't go far enough.

Let's just hope we don't see any more guys like Captain Schettino behind the wheel - no matter where the ships are cruising.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Friend Steve Has a New Camera

photo by Steve Atkins

I was the victim of a stake-out this evening.
A friend of mine recently got a new camera and decided to "lay in wait" for me along my cruise route.

Not long after this photo was taken,
the gentleman on my boat asked his lady a very important question.
She said "yes", of course.
It might have helped that he asked while holding a small light blue Tiffany box, with a ring inside that was just her size.

It's Hard to Row in Frozen Water - 2

Nereo has posted some higher-quality photos on's the link:
"La laguna ghiacciata (2)"

As you can see, there weren't very many boats moving about,
but there was one very hearty kayaker who ventured out.
See for yourself.

Friday, February 3, 2012

It's Hard to Row in Frozen Water

On his blog, Nereo Zane has just posted some photos of the Venetian Lagoon with a frozen surface.
Nereo showed up at teh GSVVM with rowing in mind.
Ask John Kerschbaum in Minnesota - it's pretty difficult to row when the water takes on a solid state.
I'm guessing Nereo didn't take a boat out that day.
Here's the link:
"La Laguna Ghiacciata"
These were shot with a cellphone.
I can't wait to see what he shoots with his Nikon.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just the Photo - "Two Ferros"

Ten Days

photo by Alison White
We are now two days into February and less than two weeks away from Valentine's Day - the biggest day of the year for just about any gondola operation that has boats in the water through winter.

"V-day", as we often call it, is crazy, frenzied, chaotic and a Godsend.
In the middle of winter, when most gondoliers are tightening their belts,
the phones ring (and ring, and ring, and ring).
I sometimes refer to it as "that time when the wind blows in winter and all the nuts fall off the trees, so us squirrels can grab and store them to get through til spring".

Really, it's not just one day; it often becomes about a week of activity,
so a lot of us gondoliers do our best to pace ourselves,
stay as available as possibly,
and be in the best rowing shape we can be so when that extra cruise books at the end of the night after a full schedule and a long day of fighting the wind, we can give our passengers the same quality experience that we gave to the passengers on our first cruise.