Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bart Arrives

I figure many of you have been checking back on Bart's blog to track his progress, but all-the-same, I am happy to announce that after thirty-seven and a half hours, Bart arrived on the beach in Holland. Photos and further information can be found on the blog I've linked to above.

Many congratulations to the first man to cross the English Channel on a stand-up paddle board.

Four Point Tie in Denmark

There are so many ways to secure a boat.
In Denmark, Simon Bognolo and his father Franco have come up with a system that any self-respecting gondola would be happy to have.

First of all, the gondola is kept on a four point tie,
which keeps her from bumping against docks or walls.

Another benefit of the four point tie system is that if the gondola is tied far enough away from anything, kids and drunk idiots aren't as likely to mess with the boat - a problem they used to have there.

In the case of our friends in Denmark, the system worked for a while - until someone figured out that if they messed with some of the lines, they could mess with the boat.
So when I showed up in Copenhagen, Simon showed me how the two dock lines on the outside now had chains incorporated, which were padlocked to the docks.
As Simon explained to me:
"Sure, someone could still get to the boat...but they'd have to get wet to do it."
When it comes to kids and drunk idiots, a night-time swim in frigid Scandinavian waters can serve as a convincing deterrent.
Speculate all you want, but since they added the chains and locks,
Simon and Franco haven't had any problems.

Another thing they experience in Denmark is rain, and as you can see,
the gondola has a very effective watershed system, which involves a waterproof tarp which fastens to buttons on the side of the boat with bungee loops - strong bungee loops.
I helped fasten some of them, and I can attest to the fact that they will hold that tarp tight to the boat no matter what the weather does.
They held one of my fingers there for a few minutes.

So if you're looking for design inspiration, or have had problems with kids and drunk idiots messing with your gondola, take a look at Simon's four point tie system.
It works like a charm.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

SUP the North Sea

Bart de Zwart is in the news again.This guy is an inspiration.

The stand-up-paddler who made news in June of last year by paddling unsupported along the Hawaiian Islands (see my post "SUP Expedition in the News"), is now splashing around in some colder waters.

This morning, Bart floated his 14-foot board in the water along the English coast and is now actively paddling towards his native home country of Holland.  This expedition will cover an estimated one hundred miles,
and is believed to be the first ever SUP crossing of this body of water.
Many people have "crossed the English Channel", in different modes;
the most popular references usually involve swimming, although Vittorio Orio made the crossing with a friend in a two-oared gondola.
It should be pointed out, however, that the route Bart has chosen is much longer and more challenging.

SUP Connect has a good article on the crossing here:
"Crossing the North Sea from England to Holland"

Updates on his progress, and a more personal view of things can be followed on Bart's blog.

Go Bart!

GondOlympics - Slalom Winners

In the waterway that the La Gondola boats operate, there are several metal fixtures, called "braziers", used in the famous Water Fire display.
After years of navigating around them, the organizers had the idea of using these obstacles in a slalom course.
In the slalom event last week, the competitors raced against the clock using the same boat. Someone was sitting in the boat to watch for scrapes, as rowers would be penalized with added run time if such contact occurred.

The top three finishers in the above photo are:
Greg Coffey of La Gondola in red stripes: second place
Matthew Haynes of La Gondola in the center: first place
Tim Reinard of Sunset Gondola in white: third place

Big congrats, guys!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vogalonga 2012 - Photos and Video from Nereo Zane

While many of us were watching, participating, or wishing we were participating  in the first-ever GondOlympics, another big rowing event was taking place in another part of the world: the Vogalonga in Venice.
This event began in 1975 and has become an international sensation, attracting not only Venetian rowers, but rowers and paddlers of all types from all parts of the world.

Our friend Nereo Zane was on hand with his Nikon, and captured some great images along the Canale di Cannaregio - a spot known for the spectacle of bottlenecked boats.  It's truly a magnificent traffic jam.  Each year during the Vogalonga, everyone who has survived thus far, jams in there, trying to squeeze through one of the three arches in the aptly named "Tre Archi" bridge before they can reach the end of the Canale di Cannaregio, turn left along the Canalazzo and then row to the finish line.

For a nice collection of images of the chaos, check out this link.

And to get a better appreciation of the madness, and to hear what it sounds like, check out his video here.

All seems to be going smoothly at the beginning of the video, but things start to bottle up at around the ten minute mark.  By the fifteen minute mark things have reached critical mass, and they pretty much stay that way.  At the end we see a brief view of things from the other side of the bridge as well.

Bravo Nereo.
Thank you for putting this up so those of us who would like to have been there...can see the madness we missed out on.
I think I'm beginning to understand why some rowers try so hard to finish early - especially those who have freshly painted boats!

Monday, May 28, 2012

GondOlympics - Sprint Winners

This came to me by text from Tim Reinard last night - it's amazing how cell phone camera quality has improved.


At the first ever GondOlympics in Providence, Rhode Island,
there were several events.

Here are the top three finishers in the Sprint Competition.
This was a head-to-head contest using two boats.
The course was approximately 100 meters long.
Gondoliers raced each other in heats
and as the guidelines stated "if you win, you move on."

From left to right we see:
Steve Bruno of Gondola di Venezia in Boston: second place
Tim Reinard from Sunset Gondola in California: first place
and Greg Coffey of La Gondola in Providence: third place

Instead of trophies or flags, the organizers of the event chose to go a little more traditional, awarding laurels similar to those placed on the heads of Olympians in ancient Greece.

Congratulations to all who competed.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

GondOlympics - Snaps from the Night Before

As I write this, the much awaited GondOlympics are under way in Providence, Rhode Island, and I'm hoping to get some reports soon.

I picked up my phone this morning to discover two nice shots texted to me by Tim Reinard.

The famous Water Fire display took place last night, so Tim texted me this image entitled "Water Fire".

My guess is that afterwards, some of the gondoliers and staff sought liquid refreshment afterwards, and that some of it was high-octane, because this photo was labeled "Fire Water".

Wish I was there for both "Water Fire" and "Fire Water".

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On the Docks in Coronado

I dropped in on the gondola operation in Coronado, California today.
Located on the grounds of the Loews Coronado Bay Resort,
this is one of the best examples of "how to do it",
how to set up and run a gondola operation outside Venice.

I've been friends with Sean Jamieson (the owner),
and Eric Johnson (his former business partner) for quite some time,
and yet this was the first time I actually got myself in a car and drove down the the San Diego area and saw it all first hand.

 I'd been on these docks before, but that was several years ago when another operator was taking passengers out on gondolas of a different sort.

The Gondola Company is a thriving operation, with beautiful,
well-kept boats and gondoliers who represent the company well.

I am friends with Sean and his guys, so I must admit a little bias,
but I don't dish out praise unless it's warranted.

Here are a few photos I shot while standing on the dock, chatting with Sean.

The tail section of a gondola that co-founders
Sean and Eric built years ago.

The bow of a gondola built by Daniele Bonaldo in Venice.

 A closer look at the portela that Sean Jamieson carved to fit the boat.

 The stern deck of that same Bonaldo gondola.

Part of a gondola built by Thom Price
under the instruction of Maestro Bonaldo in his squero.

Two gondoliers preparing the boat for a cruise. 

I was happy to finally get down to Coronado and see the boats with my own eyes, shake some hands, and crack a joke or two with some fellow gondoliers.

Next time I hope to catch these guys when they're taking out the caorlina, and maybe even do some rowing with them.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Go Tim, Go!

This morning, my friend Tim Reinard (aka "Bepi") of Sunset Gondola boarded a jet bound for the east coast. He packed two pairs of black pants,
two striped shirts, some overnight necessities, and a whole lot of moxie. 

As I write this, Tim is on the move, and will be sleeping somewhere in or around Providence, Rhode Island tonight.

On Sunday he'll take part in the first ever GondOlympics - making me and many other west coast gondoliers jealous,
and representing us well, I'm sure. 
He's the only rower from this side of the country competing.

Sleep well, Tim.
Then wake up on Sunday, eat your Wheaties, and do us all proud!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Golden Sunset

Having been away from my home waterway, it was so nice to get back on the boat and row some cruises this evening. 
The above photo was taken at one of those perfect moments.
It sure was nice in Newport this evening.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rowboats in Shakespeare Coutry

Stepping off the train from London, my family and I, joined by our dear friend Elle Sandes, enjoyed about a ten minute walk to the boathouse in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Nick Birch had given me great directions and I knew just how to get to his location.
As we reached the end of the bridge, and his operation came into view,
I saw the fleet of rowboats that Nick and his staff rent out to folks wanting to get out on the water for a pleasant row on the river.

Simple but elegant, these rowboats are timeless classics.
I imagine that countless dates, romantic picnics, and of course,
proposals have taken place on the waters of the Avon in these boats.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Denmark Gondola

Showing up in Copenhagen, I was looking forward to finally meeting Simon Bognolo in person. We'd stayed in contact via e-mail over the years but this would be the first time we shook hands.
I was happy to find him even more friendly and accommodating than I'd hoped.
He was also a lot taller than I'd expected.  But having spent some time in various Scandinavian countries, I'd gotten used to being towered over.
Simon's father is originally from the Veneto - Giudecca, to be exact. 
He moved to Denmark after having met his wife who was Danish.
This gondola, like several others I've encountered over the years,
serves as a way for her owners to stay connected with their heritage.

Judging from the condition of the boat, the family has stayed well connected - she's in pristine shape.

Denmark receives her fair share of precipitation, and Simon has an effective rain cover to keep the water where it should be.
After deftly uncovering the gondola,

And placing the flag-bearing canon,
The boat was ready to go.

As is the case with many gondolas in seasonal regions,
this vessel had been fully painted and prepped before her launch just a week or so prior to my visit.
There was fresh non-skid pain on the gondolier's platform,
and all surfaces were black and shiny.
The gondola is referred to by her owners as "Stefania" - a name engraved on the top of the trasto da prua.

We grabbed some oars and headed out onto the lake for a nice,
if all too brief, row in the sunshine.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

V-Day Ambush - Waving in the Sunshine

photo by S.E. Atkins
Gondolier Steve Elkins waves from the back of the Cassandra Anne, 
waving on a sunny February day in Newport Beach, California.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rowing a Dream

Spend enough time in London, and you’ll start to think that England is all red double-decker busses and black taxis.
With her intricate and extensive subway rail system (known as the “tube”), a financial district, and a large contingent of museums and historic urban attractions, it’s easy to see why London is often compared to New York City.
And again, the city tends to distract outsiders from seeing the rest of England, but spend a couple hours on the train, and you’ll see the other side of the country. Yesterday my family and I spent the day in Stratford-Upon-Avon – the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We enjoyed exploring the charming town, and had some incredible food.

It was all great, but the best part of the day was meeting Nick Birch, seeing his boats and workshop, and spending some time rowing one of the most remarkable gondolas I’ve ever seen.
I’ll go into the history of this little gondola in the future, and she does have quite a history, but for now I’ll just say the following:
She’s only 25 feet long,
was custom built in 1904 in Venice,
and is a working passenger gondola.
She’s also a heck of a lot of fun to row.
As Nick put it: “she sort of feels like a sandolo”, and I’d have to agree.
The boat is so responsive that she reminds me of a little sports car.

photo by Cassandra Mohr

Rowing in Stratford-Upon-Avon was a dream of mine for some time,
doing it on a boat like this made it even better.
Having my wife aboard, for me to sing to, and kiss under each bridge, made for a memory I’ll hang onto forever.
One more little tidbit of info: the gondola was named "The Dream".
How perfect is that?

My deepest thanks to Nick and his staff for their warm hospitality,
and for allowing me to row such a special boat.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Russian Gondola Under the Flash

When we walked into the storage building to see the gondola in St. Petersburg, my family and I weren't sure what we would see...or how well we would see it.
The gondola was beautiful, and had a number of unique traits.
I shot a whole set of photos using a non-flash setting, but just to be sure, I also pulled out my external flash (which tends to blast out a whole room with each picture).
As promised, here are some of the better and more interesting images from that set.
The structure of this boat was sensible but strong.

On the back deck, I discovered a pontapied, or "pedana" of an unusual design - it seemed to angle back, and out to the side.

A close-up of the tail from below.

Dmitry surprised me when he removed a small section of the deck to reveal a well for an electric motor.  As it turns out, this gondola was originally fitted with the motor - probably either to appease an inspector or to guarantee that the boat would be able to return home, even if she got caught in a current or wind.
As I talked with Dmitry about the motor, it sounded as if it might actually be a MinnKota.  I also got the impression that it doesn't get used on the lake, and is just in storage.

A better view of the motor well.

Looking forward.

More images of this vessel can be seen in my post "Гондола!" from May 10th, 2012.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lion in London

This afternoon, while touring the Tower of London, I came upon a very familiar shape amongst the armor and ordinances that were so very British.

The shape was not English, it was unmistakably Venetian.

The description was just about what I'd expected:
Of course there was an absence of any mention of Venice. 
I guess the British were busy celebrating, having scored one against Napoleon - can't say I blame 'em.

Then I took a good look at the actual statue:

Mhmm, no book.

They captured Corfu, snagged the lion, but managed to come away without the book (either that or it was out for cleaning today).

This statue us not a small one.  I realize that the photo doesn't offer much to figure out the scale, but I can tell you that the lion looked to me like it was about the same size as a real lion.

He does seem to have an odd shaped mouth, but then I'm really no expert on Venetian Lions.

As I was walking out of the place,
I noticed over the door...another Lion!

I couldn't find any description on this one,
but there was no mistaking it - the piece was either from Venice,
or from somewhere that had been controlled by Venice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Short Row and a Loud Dinner in Denmark

A few years ago I found out about a gondola in Copenhagen. 
Since then, as I got to know her owners (all via e-mail),
I wanted to go there, meet them, and see the boat.

A few days ago I was fortunate enough to do just that,
and I was not disappointed.

The owners - father and son Franco and Simon Bognolo love their gondola...and it shows.
The boat is about 35 years old, they say, and she looks fantastic.
is it because they love the boat,
because she spends winter being maintained and restored,
because since her arrival in Denmark she's only taken out friends and family,
or is she simply receiving the kind of care a boat of this pedigree should?
I think it's all of the above.
Whatever the case, this is a beautiful gondola that I wish I could have spent more time rowing.

Here's a shot I snapped while rowing in tandem with Simon.

Later on in the day, Simon was gracious enough to show my family around the city and host us for dinner - he and his girlfriend provided a delicious meal which included some great local fare (and Italian red wine, of course). 
Later Simon's parents stopped by for desert and we all had a great time getting to know each other. 
Franco is originally from Venice, and my wife's parents are full Italian. 
Very few of the people in the room weren't Italian to some degree. 
My daughter said to me later on that night:
"Italian dinners are fun, and very loud".

Really, it was loud, and everyone chimed in.  I don't think the neighbors minded, but they may have wanted to join us.  We had a blast.

Many thanks to our Danish friends for your warm hospitality.
I can't remember the last time I felt so welcome.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Burning the Midnight Oil in Boston

As the days go by, gondolas are going in the water in different locations, and those who are tasked with getting them ready have their work cut out for them.

I just received these images from our friends in Boston, along with the following note:

Hi Greg   We are burning the midnight oil!! Opening day for our 2012 season is 11 days away and Steve and I have opted to work a few late nights so we can get the girls into the water to swell ,so that we can officially open on May 26th.

Joe Gibbons

Gondola in the tent.

Steve "serves the ship".

Thanks for giving is a peek inside the tent, Joe.
Have a great launch and an awesome season!

V-Day Ambush - Stefano Three-Quarter

photo by S.E. Atkins
Congrats to Stefano and family on their new baby girl.
I hope mother and daughter are doing well and getting some rest.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Just the Photo - Russian Registration

Dmitry in St. Petersburg showed me this on the portela and explained that it was sort of like a license plate for the boat, and that a cushion usually covers it.  He said "it is mostly for the inspector".

I had to smile - we have so many things on our boats these days 
that are "mostly for the inspector".

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

GondOlympics Schedule

As I mentioned in a previous post, the folks at La Gondola in Providence are putting on an exciting event at the end of this month.
As far as I can tell, this will be the first of its kind in North America, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

Matthew Haynes at La Gondola has sent me an updated itinerary which details the various things that are scheduled for the day.
Of course it is subject to change, and as they get closer to the date, they’ll know if adjustments are needed.
Check the website,, for updated information, or call their office at (401) 421-8877.

The date is May 27th, 2012.
The schedule begins at 3pm and ends at 7pm.
The location:  1 Citizens Plaza, Providence, RI  02903

Here’s the schedule:
3 p.m. Greeting and welcome at the Gondola Landing 

Ongoing from/to the Gondola Landing:  FREE 10 to 20-minute (one-way or two-way) trips open to the public for donations; proceeds go to the Providence After-School Alliance.  Not just Providence's own, but any and all experienced (and uniformed) gondoliers are welcome to spend some time rowing these trips.

Ongoing at the Gondola Landing:  performances by all of the La Gondola Providence musicians: accordion players Maria and Daniela, "The Don," our mandolin player,  and our soprano, Adelina, as well as a set by the barbershop quartet known as The Gondoliers (consisting of members of the Ocean State Chorus, one of whom is our own Marcello,) some of our own gondoliers' singing in Italian also, and any visiting gondolier who would like to do so, at the small amphitheater right next to the landing.  A gondolier's hat will be passed after each set; proceeds to benefit PASA.  

Ongoing at the Gondola Landing:  Italian-style desserts and pastries made by the wonderful owners and staff at The Deli On Post.  These delectable delights include handmade Italian wine biscuits, biscotti, and tiramisu, Boston creme, NY cheesecake, and cannoli cupcakes!  Again, all proceeds benefit PASA.  

GONDOLIER EVENTS:  La Gondola has invited any and all gondoliers from across America to join us for the inaugural GondOlympics.  Due to a conflict with the Vogalonga in Venice, which occurs on the very same day, many gondoliers have had to express their regrets that they cannot make the trip (or be in two places at once.)  However, in addition to Providence's own gondoliers, a number of others are expected from as close as Boston, MA and as far away as the Pacific coast!  All are welcome, and acknowledgment of the full list of participating gondoliers is coming soon.  

3:15p - After the greeting and welcome of all of the visiting gondoliers to Providence, two of the boats will head down river to the Crawford Street Bridge, at which there will be gondola sprint races.  Heats commence immediately, semis and finals to follow.  It's a head-to-head format; if you win, you move on.  The sprints will be approximately 100 meters in length, and are an exciting event to behold and an exhausting event for the gondoliers!

4:45p - After the sprint races are over, one gondola will be used to have slalom races against time, using the WaterFire braziers as obstacles and racing up one block of the river, bridge-to-bridge, from Steeple Street Bridge to Exchange Street Bridge.  One extra person will be placed in the bow of the racing gondola, for safety, and to watch out for scrapes against the braziers, which will result in penalty time added to the gondolier's time.  

6:00p - Following the end of the slalom event, all gondoliers present will be invited to participate in a relay race down and up the river.  The race will begin at the Waterplace Bridge, the gateway to Waterplace Park, and two boats will race down to the Crawford Street Bridge and back up to the Exchange Street Bridge, just past the Gondola Landing.

1. Teams will be chosen by two captains, and all participating gondoliers must remain in their gondola at all times.  
2. Gondoliers must be changed at minimum under every bridge.
3. No other gondolier is allowed to propel the boat besides the one rowing in the stern.  
4. The team that has the inside (Memorial Boulevard / Downtown) lane down the river must travel up river on the outside (Main Street / East Side) lane, and vice versa, with the turnaround happening anywhere outside of Crawford Street Bridge.

Trick rowing (rowing backwards, three-point turns, and all other manner of rowing arts) will occur as time permits after the relays, as well as introductory demonstrations to all interested visitors at the Gondola Landing.

Awards Ceremony / Closing Remarks
6:45p - Acknowledgment of the fastest and most skilled individual and team of gondoliers, with a closing given by one of the gondoliers.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Two days ago in St. Petersburg, 
I stood in the presence of a Venetian painting. 
Yesterday I saw a Russian gondola and made friends with the man who cares for her. 

Outside the city of St. Petersburg, 
on the grounds of the famous Catherine’s Palace, 
there's a very unique gondola. 

St. Petersburg has long been known as "the Venice of the North", and while there are, and have been other cities that have compared themselves to Venice, traversing this city for the last two days has brought me to a better appreciation of the moniker.  
She may not have some of the things that Venice has, but the similarities are many - including a lot of canals and bridges. Oh, and then there’s the gondola.

Because St. Petersburg is so far north, their gondola season doesn't begin until about the 20th of May.  When I arrived, the boat was still out of the water.  
I'd made arrangements months in advance of this visit, and was well-received by the staff there at Catherine's Palace. 
My family and I were greeted warmly by Dmitry Rdabyevsky and his son Ilya, who showed me to the storage building where the gondola was being kept until her scheduled launch later in the month.

I was impressed with Dmitry’s ability with the English language (impressed and quite thankful, because my Russian is very weak). 
There are many gondolas I’ve wanted to see first-hand for a long time, but this one was high on my list – unlike many gondolas in Europe, this boat was not just hoisted out of the water in La Serenissima and trucked to her new home.  I must confess that I’m still trying to solve the mystery of the origins of the gondola at Catherine’s Palace.  
This article in the St. Petersburg Times from June of 2004 gives us some idea, at least of how the press saw the original operation coming together - they got some things wrong (like the whole "pushing with a pole" misconception, but that happens in the U.S. a lot too), and it sounds like the fleet count of six was not the final count.
Dmitry explained to us that a total of five of these unique vessels were produced in St. Petersburg, and that they were assembled using parts that had been shipped from Italy.
Originally they were all afloat in a waterway closer to the city center, and after a few years, the owner sold them off. Four of them ended up in or near Moscow – I’m told that two are on display and two are afloat.  The remaining gondola was bought by the museum there at Catherine’s Palace, 
and she fits neatly on the lake.

I shot a series of photos without a flash, 
and I’ve posted some of them here. 
In the future I may also post some that I shot using a flash unit, and more that were shot by my daughter Cassandra.

As you examine the images of the boat, you’ll notice some details that set her apart from other gondolas.
One such design feature is that this gondola seems to be a bit lower on both ends – my guess is that she was originally built to operate in a waterway with low bridges.

Here are some of the tight shots of fixtures and inner structure.

From the poppa, you can see some asymmetry.

Listening to Dmitry, it became clear that the staff there who operate and maintain the gondola have a great love for her.  She is very special to them and I can tell that she has been well cared for.

A great image of the gondola doing what she does best can be seen at this link.

The official internet page for the gondola at Catherine’s Palace is at

in Russian, and if you search the site you can also find it in English.

My thanks go out to Dmitry and his son Ilya for their hospitality and to our tour guide Maria Sigaeva of SPb Tours for helping to make sure that this meeting took place and for lending a hand in translation when it was necessary.