Monday, December 31, 2012

Evening View in Texas

A view of part of the Gondola Adventures fleet in Irving, Texas -
long exposure style.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

KG Buys a Forcola

Yes, I'm jealous of Kathleen Gonzalez.
Why shouldn't I be?
After all, she just published another great book.
Adding to that, she's in Venice again, and has just posted about the forcola she just bought.

Read and enjoy:
"What Is a Forcola?"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Just the Photo - Man in Black

photo by Rick Rosen
Gondolier Danny Hamamoto rowing in Newport.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hotel American Webcam

Tamás Fehér in Hungary wrote me recently about a great new webcam upgrade:

There's a webcam in Dorsudoro that overlooks a canal bank and a triangular little campo. One or two gondolas are sometimes moored there (or a garbage collection boat or a delivery moto-topo, etc.)
The Hotel American webcam has been showing that scene for a long time, but previously the image resolution was literally matchbox sized,
not much to see.
This December they upgraded to 640/800 resolution,
so the image is now much better and refreshes often.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time today watching moto-topos jockey for position up and down the canal. 
As I write this there's all kinds of action going on there.

Check it out for yourself:
Thanks Tamás.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Remembering the Full Moon

This evening I had the pleasure of rowing in the blustery winter conditions of a late December in Southern California. 
Sure, it was chilly and the wind presented some extra work here and there, but it was a welcome escape for me, and my passengers were more than happy to go out (especially the gentleman - he was about to propose).
Fellow gondolier, Bob Millspaugh (a.k.a. "Robino") departed a few minutes before me, and I had the opportunity to snap a few decent shots as I followed him through the canals.

Shortly before the gentleman in my gondola produced a sparkly engagement ring and asked the "big question", the full moon appeared and amazed everybody.
Here's an, umm, artistic photo I shot with my expensive camera
(with all the wrong settings).
I think it has a sort of impressionist feel, yeah, that's what I'll stick with.
Then I pulled out my iPhone and snapped this one,
which I think ended up to be much better
(because all that human error was removed from the process).
She said "yes", of course, and when we were gliding beneath that great big beacon in the sky, I told them that every time they saw the full moon, they'd be reminded of the night they got engaged on a gondola.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Seductive Venice: In Casanova's Footsteps

I'm excited to announce that my friend Kathleen Gonzalez has published a new book: "Seductive Venice: In Casanova's Footsteps" - it's available both as an e-book and in paperback (perfect options for both hi-tech and low-tech travelers).

Kathleen is also the author of "Free Gondola Ride" - a great book and a fun read which I posted about in October of 2007:
"Free Gondola Ride"
The official website is

Earlier this year Kathleen launched Seductive Venice - a blog dedicated to her studies and writings on Casanova.

Now, her next book is in print, complete with detailed walks you can take, learning about the things that took place in Venezia in the life of her most well-known son.

If you are planning a trip to Venice in the coming year, or if you just like to cruise around Google Earth while planning to one day go there, this is a terrific book.

Find more details and purchase the book at:

Views of Venezia in December

Nereo Zane Is a very good photographer.
He's a very good photographer who is lucky enough to have easy access to Venice.
Recently he ventured out with his camera at night and caught some beautiful images of La Serenissima in December after dark.
Take a look:

Earlier in the week he was out rowing with a friend on a mascareta, and rowed to a shallow area of the lagoon that most non-Venetians never see.  Nereo took some nice shots of wildlife and interesting lagoon views:

Most of us who dream of Venice, who often wish we were there, who go there whenever we can - don't go in winter, so we don't get to see her moments of quiet serenity at this time of year.

Bravo, Nereo!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, amici.
Thanks for reading the Gondola Blog.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Boat Parade - One More Time

Out on the water one last time for the Christmas Boat Parade here in Newport, I caught a few more photos and video clips. 
It was the final night, and conditions couldn't have been better.
One of the nice things about seeing the parade by gondola,
is that you can get super close, and our boats are quite noticeable. 
In this clip you can see gondoliers Bob Millspaugh and Simon Atkins
(in silhouette), and hear the guy on the yacht address us as he passes by.
In Newport we have our fair share of ridiculously large yachts, but some of the most impressive parade vessels are those little boats that have been decorated to the max.  Here's a little boat, with a lot of lights.
And then there are the big ones, really big ones.  And of course a yacht this big needs a horn to match.  This guy came through like a battleship, with a horn that rattled the windows of houses along the route. Sure,
it sounds loud in the video, but in person this horn could wake the dead.
As the vessel was passing us, they fired a small cannon off the back deck - scaring the heck out of my passengers.
After last night's great silhouette shot by Joey Hamamoto, I saw a chance to take a similar photo and caught this image of Bob Millspaugh in the reflection of The same yacht - one of the most dramatic boats in the parade.

Boat Parade is a blast. It's also exhausting. We are always thankful for the adventure as well as the business, but we are also thankful afterwards,
for sleep.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Boat Parade Silhouette

photo by Joey Hamamoto
We often say that the best way to see the Christmas Parade in Newport
is in a gondola.  After all, gondolas can get right up to the edge.
It's a "front row seat" to the parade, and romantic too.
One of my very favorite gondoliers snapped this shot tonight of a perfect example of that "front row seat".  This is a gondola from another company, but I can appreciate good placement when I see it. Nicely done.
I'm sure the folks in the gondola enjoyed the view. 
I wonder if they knew their boat was casting the perfect silhouette in the reflection of the lights.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Boat Parade 2012 - Back on the Water with the Lucia

Boat Parade hit Newport last night, but I was busy.
As the fireworks went off and the noise began, I was knee deep in freezing water, perched precariously on the supports of a trailer as I did my best to heave a gondola into place.
I had just launched the Curci Gondola (a.k.a. "Lucia") after some important maintenance, and was working hard to get one of my motorized boats situated right.
As the honking, cheering, and amplified music echoed through the Back Bay, I wished I could be out there rowing instead.
Tonight, after a day of prepping the boat, I took some eager parade-watching passengers out on the Curci Gondola, and it was a great night.
Here's a short video clip I shot of the front of the parade as it began to pass by.
One of the things I love about rowing on parade nights is that we stick together.  Tonight I was rowing with Bob Millspaugh and Mike Bronstein.  We had separate passenger groups, but there's strength in numbers and on a crazy night like this, it doesn't hurt to know that there are two other guys watching your back. 
As you watch the video clips, you might see the ferro of a boat or two - catching the reflection of lights on polished metal.
There are a few boats that can be counted on, year after year,
to be amazing.  For the last two decades, El Navegante is at the top of that list.  This year I was happy to see that they are paying tribute to our military veterans.
Here's a short video of the boat going by:
Another motor yacht that got a lot of attention tonight was this one,
with an impressive light display.  I also got a kick out of the "shark boat" which seemed to flank the larger vessel for most of the parade.
The "shark boat", with its blue light
reflecting off the bow of my gondola.
Many of the parade vessels have sound systems - pumping out all kinds of music and noise (and music masquerading as noise).
Tonight we heard everything from "Silent Night", to "Gangnam Style". 
Often times there's someone who feels the need to talk into a microphone, about anythig and everything - whether you like it or not.

In the midst of all the craziness, I found a nice safe spot, secretly placed a message-in-a-bottle in the water and pointed it out to the young lady in the gondola. 
She fished out the bottle, read the note, and the gentleman proposed.
What happened next was hilarious.
The guy had an affinity for saying things in French.
When the question was asked, she thought it would be fun to answer in French - she thought he would like it.
But the French equivalent for "of course" is "mais oui".
The parade was noisy, so when she said "mais oui", he thought she said "maybe".
We all had a good laugh...afterward, but at the time, the guy with the sparkly new ring was confused and probably very worried.
The clarified answer, of course, was "yes", and congratulations were proclaimed from dozens of people on boats and bridges.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas is a Time for Long Exposures

photos by Simon Atkins

It's no secret that I love long exposures on the gondola. We've seen many of them here in the past.  The best time for these unique photos is when the Christmas lights are up - providing bright and colorful backgrounds.
Here are a few that we shot a few days ago.
You may notice a bright shiny diamond ring on the lady's finger as well - which explains why the gentleman is smiling so big.

Not everybody gets a clean image in a long exposure, and invariably the gondolier ends up blurred in many of these shots.  But then it's not really about the gondolier, it's about the couple.

And if you get the timing just right, a house full of Christmas lights can make an amazing background.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Raccoon Finger Painting

Like most other areas in boat maintenance, every time I pick up a paint brush, I have another opportunity to learn, to get better, to hone my craft.  And while I don't have a PHD in marine painting, I've painted my fair share of boats.

In July I got to spend some quality time with blue paint, rolling and tipping it onto the floorboards of one of my gondolas.  The new shade of blue was a nice color update, and I was quite pleased with the result, but there were a few surprises along the way.

In boat painting, as in life, you don't always know the challenges you'll face when you begin a project.

Like I said, each time I paint is another opportunity to learn...but this time I learned about something other than brush strokes and product mixing.
This time I learned about raccoons.

They're curious, and if you leave something out, no matter what it is, they'll want to check it out - maybe mess with it.
I always try to keep a brush in thinner overnight so I can use it again the next day.  This brush was neatly placed beneath the rear bumper of a vehicle in my driveway, with boxes around two sides. 
Aw, but never underestimate the curiosity of wildlife. 
It seems (and the evidence is pretty clear) that a raccoon decided to investigate my thinner cup, knocked it over, did a little painting of his own, and backed out of the place.

Raccoons - they're curious...and artistic too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Lagoon and attractions

Things aren't always as they seem to be, especially in Venice, California.
Drive through the area and you'll see homes and buildings along paved streets...but it wasn't always this way.
for some time, many of those streets were in fact, canals.
The traffic circle where Tim Reinard and I discovered the blue gondola last year, was actually a sort of main lagoon, where much of the water activity was centered.
Here we have a handful of postcards from my collection that show us what that asphalt traffic circle used to look like.
In Abbot Kinney's "Venice of the West", this lagoon was the center of the universe. Lining the shores were boathouses, hotels, and amusement park attractions.

One of my favorite postcards is this one which I featured in my post on April 1st, 2009.

The first photo I chose for this post (the one at the top) features a great view of the attractions along the waterfront.

Taking a closer look at the gondola from that postcard, we see a cloth canopy - an item rarely seen these days on Venice-built gondolas.

There were several of these canopies in the early days of Venice, California.  The cloth spread out over a lightweight metal frame, which is sometimes called a "felze de tela" is also seen in this postcard piece which was also from the lagoon.  Looking at the two images (the postcard and the current shot), gives us a good idea of the lay of the land (and water) in that spot.

Another view can be seen in this postcard:

Lastly, we get a black-and-white photo view of things across the water at the Coral Canal Bridge.

Venice, California. If ever there were a place I'd like to visit with a time machine, I think it would be at the top of my list.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mestrina Breaks Up

photos by Nereo Zane
When you have a boat that needs out-of-the-water maintenance,
you need to find the right place to do it. 
I'm continually amazed at how much bigger a boat seems to get as soon as she needs to be pulled out and worked on.
Imagine how much more challenging it must be with a boat that's over fifty feet long.
The GSVVM's quattordesona is one of the longest rowing boats in the Veneto, but she's got a very clever design feature:
She breaks into three pieces.
So when the "worker bees" (that means exper boat builders and their staff) at the GSVVM rowing club in Mestre decided it was time to address some of Mestrina's maintenance,
they naturally decided to do it one section at a time.

Nereo Zane stopped by the club this week and snapped a few shots of the bow section, propped up in the shop and being worked on.
I've rowed on this boat a few times, and seen her every time I've been to the club, but this is the first time I've seen her disassembled.

This isn't the first time we've seen boats that break into three pieces,
in fact I think if I wanted to, I could host a whole week of posts on boats that unbolt into a trio of floating sections.
I understand the rationale of doing this work over winter;
imagine if you got two of the three sections complete,
and then had to throw the boat in the water for an event.
In the mean time, the boatbuilding staff there has been working on yet another beautiful sandolo for the club members to row once the vessel is complete and weather allows. 

With all these three-piece-boats, I'm starting to think that maybe I need to split my boats into pieces so I can service them (piece by piece)
in my garage.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Casting the Ring

photos by Rick Rosen
Exploring the photo archives, I came across the images of our Ascension Day celebration of 2003 here in Newport. 
Things began with the blessing of the remi, which I shared in my post from November 23rd entitled "Blessing of the Remi".
After the oars were blessed, we all took to the water on our boats and did our best to create our own version of the ceremony symbolizing Venice's marriage to the sea.
Here are a couple shots of the main boat:

A friend of mine who was born and raised in Italy, agreed to assume the role of the Doge (Venice's elected leader).  Reading a scripted ceremony, my friend gave historic context, spoke about the importance of the sea, then raised a gold ring in his hand and cast it into the water.

Of course all the boats were filled with friends and family to celebrate the occasion as we cruised the canals in loose formation.

What a great day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Surprise Proposal, Followed by...A Surprise Wedding!

photos by Cassandra Mohr and Annalynn Benson

As I have mentioned here a time or two, I have two jobs:
and Wedding Officiant

As such, I regularly see two of the most positive and meaningful events in the lives of many young couples - 
I witness marriage proposals,
and I get to preside over wedding ceremonies.

I am blessed to be involved with so many positive events,
and I believe it's made a difference in my marriage.

There's not a lot of overlap.
Most of the couples who get engaged are married by someone else,
and most of the couples I marry have gotten engeged elsewhere.
I almost never see both an engagement and ceremony with the same couple - almost never.
There have been a few exceptions.
After nearly two decades of proposals and wedding ceremonies,
it would be easy to fall into the belief that I've seen everything,
but I know better.

Last month I had the honor of seeing both things take place,
on my gondola...within minutes of each other.

For about a month and a half, my staff and I had been in contact with the gentleman/guy-about-to-propose/groom, so this wasn't a surprise to me...but it was definitely a surprise to his lady.

The whole structure of things these days has changed a bit as far as when and how couples go from "hey, what's your name?" to "will you marry me?".

For many couples the marriage conversation has already been visited by the time he pops the question.  Sometimes it's not a surprise that the question is asked, but when and how. 
This was just such a couple, and in the interest of getting prepared for everything, they'd already applied for and received their marriage license.  All she knew was that they had a 90 day window.

Maybe "ambush" isn't the most likely word you'd associate with such a thing, but like a surprise birthday party, that's what it is.
When they climbed aboard my gondola, she had no idea what was in store.

In many ways, this was the perfect ambush.

Perfect in every respect.
We were completely prepared,
we had an "inside man" - the gentleman was in on the whole thing,
necessary paperwork was taken care of,
our "inside man" walked the unsuspecting target into place,
and unlike most ambush situations, the person being surprised was thrilled with both the ambush and after-effects.

He surprised her with the cruise,
surprised her with an unassuming photographer to take a few photos,
and then when she was totally relaxed
                 (that means she had dropped her guard),
there was something in the water...
Hmm, looks like a "message in a bottle",

...sure enough, there's some kind of scroll in there...
aaand BOOM, the man is on one knee with a sparlking diamond ring.

She said "yes", of course.

Mmmm, but there was another surprise in store:
The message, and his actions said "will you marry me?"
After she agreed, he followed up with
"ok then, how about now?"

I had a bouquet of white roses hidden below deck in the back,
along with their marriage license,
and a ceremony that the gentleman and I had worked together on ahead of time.

We rowed to spot where I could perform the ceremony,
I pulled out my ceremony book, and these two tied the knot
in a most unique and memorable way.

Rowing a little bit here and there to keep the boat on course,

I managed to stay on-script.
They professed their love for each other,
exchanged their vows,
and then it was time for the kiss.

All-in-all, this was one of the coolest weddings I've been fortunate enough to be a part of.

My congratulations go out to the newlyweds,
and my admiration to the guy who was bold enough to pull off
not only a proposal, but a wedding too!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December Arrives

Carl Sandburg famously wrote that "The fog comes on little cat feet",
and it did just that last night here in Newport, on the last day of November.
December, however, does not typically arrive with such subtlety.
I've been working on boats in Newport for twenty years now,
and I've seen the ebb and flow of activity as the months change. 
December is the craziest.
There are more yacht charters in this one month than the four months leading up to it.  More people are eating in restaurants, seeing movies, going to parties, and of course shopping.  I've come to believe that people around here crank up the volume of their lives in December.
Out on the water today I saw all sorts of signs of the twelfth month's arrival: Christmas lights, traffic on the bridge, and of course there were the charter yachts.  I think every charter yacht in the harbor was out with passengers - starting with a few in the afternoon, and by nightfall they were all out.
Mike and I had a flotilla of travel writers this afternoon, and the sunshine and ocean breeze certainly did their part to create the right setting for our passengers.

 Rowing into the sun.
My hope is that in the coming month, our phones will ring and our boats will move in stride with the up-paced month that has just kicked off so nicely on it's first day.
I hope the same for you as well, my friends.
Happy December, may your phones ring like crazy.