Monday, December 30, 2013

Regata Storica Revisit

Nereo Zane has just posted a great video showing some of the warm-up
and parade activity on the Grand Canal during Regata Storica.

Friday, December 27, 2013


My dear friend Joe Gibbons of Boston sent this in recently.
This is a photo of my father in law, Pellegrino Ragosa.
Those that were close to him called him Bill.
Unfortunately Bill passed away earlier this month.
We miss him terribly. Bill played accordion for 7 years aboard our gondolas here in Boston. He entertained with his old fashioned style of playing the standards from the past. Our guests really enjoyed Bill and often request him. Bill was from Avallino, Italy and was often seen sitting on our gondola bench telling story's to the young gondoliers. Bill played the accordion as a teenager back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. For 43 years his old accordion sat idle until his daughter, Camille and I convinced him once again to bring it to life and to share his talent!. We all have great memories of him and the gondola culture will not be the same here in Boston without him. We salute you Pellegrino R.I.P.
Bill was lovingly laid to rest on December 13, 2013

Someone once said that "a team is nothing without it's players",
and nothing could be more accurate in the gondola business.
Pellegrino and his instrument had a positive impact on countless cruises;
he was a true blessing, he will be missed, but he'll never be forgotten.

The Boston gondola operation has been long been known for their live musicians, many of whom were mentioned in the post "Live Music in Boston", including Pellegrino.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Christmas greetings from our friend Uwe Kunze (aka "Carlo") in northern Germany:
Hello Greg,
I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
My daughter has given to me this wonderful Japanese Origami artwork.
She knows what I´m dreaming of.
We still have to wait 5 more months to be back on the water day and night with The Black Magic....
In January I´m in Venice and meeting some old friends from G.S.V.V.M.
- Carlo

Merry Christmas, Carlo.
Stay warm and enjoy Venezia in January.

Club Photo for Christmas

photo courtesy Nereo Zane and GSVVM

Nereo Zane sent this one in just now.
Here's a nice group of rowers from the GSVVM posing in front of a club caorlina, and wishing us all a hearty "Buon Natale!"

Grazie Nereo, and Merry Christmas to you too, caro amico.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa in Coronado

On his way around the world on Christmas Eve, Santa (aka Babbo Natale)
made a short stop in Coronado, California to do what only truly exeptional individuals do: row a gondola.

photo shamelessly stolen from the facebook page of The Gondola Company

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Just the Photo - Business as Usual

Just another gorgeous sunset, followed by ethereal colors at dusk.
Just another evening of calm breezes and cool but comfortable temps
in December.

This is the view from my "office"... it's also one of the reasons I keep
coming back to work.

Just business as usual in Southern California.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Boat Parade in Newport - Friday Night Lights

The Christmas boat parade in Newport was as lively and eye-catching tonight
as it ever is.
I was on the Contessa, a pupparin, with a fun young couple who thoroughly enjoyed front row seats to this great show.

After a short jaunt through the canals, we emerged just as the parade was making it's turn in front of our docks. A few other gondolas were already
lined up, so I pulled up alongside them. 
Eventually there were at least six of us, all in a row and enjoying the spectacle.

Newport has more than one gondola operation, and I was happy to see
Mike Ruffino from the Gondola Company of Newport next to me.
A couple other guys from that operation were there, but I didn't get their names.  As the parade plowed by, someone in a small boat with a loud sound system spotted us all and exclaimed "Wow, it's gondola city here!"

There were lights - lots of lights.
After most of the parade had passed through the basin in front of our office,
I rowed under the Lido bridge and managed to intercept the front of the procession once again, shooting video as they went by. 
Many of the parade boats have someone on the microphone,
wishing everyone Merry Christmas. 
When you're on a gondola, they like to talk to you.
Watch for the dragon's fire a few boats into the procession.
We saw this one boat (with the bright anchor and the musical notes)
a few times, and each time there was a small boat flanking it - a boat that
had a clever 50's car facade on it.

And there was music, lots of music, different types of music blasting from the various parade boats as they plowed by.

The weather was pretty much exactly what we pray for this time of year:
clear sky, mildly cool temperature, and almost no wind.

December in California - it's terrible. Don't move here.

Sunset in Alamitos Bay

photo by Mark Schooling

A remarkable sunset sky over Alamitos Bay as one of the caorlinas
of Gondola Getaway passes homes decorated with Christmas lights.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gator in the Bay

These images come from my friend Martha Lenoir-Beachem
who operates Las Olas Gondola in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
It seems that Southern California isn't the only place with Christmas
boat parades.
Here's Martha standing next to one heck of a creative piece.
I've seen a lot of clever and impressive things float by in boat parades,
but this may just have them all beat.
Not only does it have a huge alligator mouth,
but there's a crane inside which opens and closes those gaping jaws.

And of course they lit up the teeth.  Who wouldn't?

The whole thing is a creation of a guy named Lloyd Goradesky - artist and photographer, with a heart for the Everglades and all those critters who live in it.

You can learn more about Lloyd's "Gator in the Bay" on his website:

If Martha's smart, she'll stay out of the way of that thing on the water,
I hear that it it has a taste for gondolas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Solar Powered Christmas Lights

photo by Konnor Boivin

We sent our gondolas out into the crazy madness that is
the Newport Harbor Parade of Lights.

Fifty-one weeks out of the year, our standard running lights
serve well  - keeping other boats from colliding with ours,
but during parade it's a different story.

photo by Konnor Boivin

Visibility is survival out on the water, and in a black boat in the dark, you need more than just the little red and green up front and a white light on the tail.

This is where solar powered lighting systems come in mighty handy; they are
self-contained, and easy to mount on the boat.
My right-hand-man Steve Elkins did a great job of decorating these two gondolas.

photo by Steve Elkins

In twenty years on the back of a gondola, I've only been run into one time...and yes, it was during boat parade.  The guy was driving a boat with christmas lights draped from the bow rails of his yacht. 
The whole boat was lit up, and my guess is that he was pretty lit up too.

Nobody got hurt, and it ended well for the gondola too,
but it sure could have been worse.

Since then I have strong opinions when it comes to visibility on the water.
photo by Steve Elkins

Visibility is survival, but in this case it looks pretty good too.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sunsets in December

photo by Carey Vandewalle

This time of year the sun rises and sets on a different arc than in summer, resulting in sunsets that can last longer and sometimes show more color. 
Saturday, the 15th was no exception.  Our clients were not disappointed.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Gondola Culture" in America

The other day I was talking with someone about gondolas in America,
about how we all know each other and about how there really is a
"gondola culture" in this country.
With gondoliers rowing boats in several locations, and a history of these operations going back decades, the US has a “gondola culture”.

The word "culture" seems to have many meanings, but simply put:
America's gondola culture consists of several individuals,
who practice a similar craft,
share many of the same traits and interests,
and to a certain extent, are only truly understood by other members of the culture.
In addition, our gondola culture has some of it's own lingo, protocols, mannerisms, and so forth. There are hierarchies, "families",
and even feuds within the culture from time to time.
Of course we take many of our cues from what goes on in Venice, Italy,
but we interpret and adapt things to suit our unique locations.
Our whole world revolves around this wonderful boat known as the gondola.

When you do something as unique as gondoliering,
sooner or later you'll realize that nobody understands what you do,
like someone else who does it too. Get a bunch of those people connected,
and you've got a sort of club. A few decades into it, and you've got a "culture".

American gondoliers use the same lingo, help each other out like brothers,
and enjoy working (or not working) together.

More importantly, most of these gondoliers love their job.
Sure, there may be a few jobs they'd rather do (astronaut, rock star, sultan, secret agent, Ferrari test driver) but within the realm of reality, there aren't that many vocations as enticing as this one.

In some of the gondola operations that have been in place long enough, hierarchies, rowing methods, preferences in clothing and footwear all come into play in the gondola culture.
Many gondola operations have also developed traditions - some are location-specific, while others can be observed in multiple servizi.

Because Southern California is home to nine separate gondola companies,
the gondola culture is strongest here. Get-togethers occur regularly,
gondoliers visit and row together in different harbors, and groups from the region participate in Vogalonga and other events in Venice. 

But the culture exists in other parts of the country too, with enthusiastic rowers in locations in New England and the midwest - each with their own accent to the dialect that we all speak.

With all this in mind, it's no surprise that the recent national competition
(with gondoliers from eight different companies in several states),
almost felt more like a family reunion than a series of races.

When you're a gondolier, no one understands you like another gondolier.

Friday, December 13, 2013


"Two inches will hold the weight of a person,
four inches will hold the weight of a car"
He said, naming off some of the things about ice thickness that are basic information, that any Minnesotan knows.

Twin Cities native John Kerschbaum is a guy I've known for probably ten years now.  I've rowed with him on expedition, in competition, and here in Newport during his annual visit for Valentine's Day.  John is like a brother to me, we've heard each other's stories many times, but now and then he'll surprise me with something new - like iceboating.
John comes out to California each winter to row, because as you might have guessed, his gondolas aren't available for cruises in February. 
The St. Croix River freezes in winter.

John wrote me the other day, telling me that his gondolas were out of the water for the season.  he sent me a few photos of the boats, the property and this strange craft called an "Iceboat".

I had to call him on the phone. There were just too many questions.

He'd just gone out on one for the first time and was still riding the adrenaline wave as he told me about it.
I'd heard of iceboats, but mostly I'd heard of their land-sailing cousins that folks sail in the desert and on salt flats.  Those vehicles travel on wheels, the thing John went sailing on was moving across the ice on steel blades.

"Different lakes and rivers freeze at different times and to different thicknesses.
The best scenario is when a lake freezes before the snows come, because once the snow falls on the ice, you can't skate on it."
John went on to describe things to me on the phone.  We'd talked for years about things relating to water, but never about frozen water.
"Sometimes we go out skating with our life jackets on, wear spikes around our necks in case we fall through - we can use the spikes to climb out."

"You learn to read the cracks and look for bubbles under the ice"

"Usually you skate with friends, sometimes we skate with rope so we'll have something to haul someone out with".
My obvious next question: have you ever fallen through?
"I've never fallen through, but you always have to be ready"

"When you see ice fishermen, you know it's safe,
you can ask them how thick it is."

Like us crazy gondoliers, there's a whole culture of these iceboaters; they sail for fun, and compete too - it's called "ice yachting". 

Before you laugh, consider the physics.

A sailboat has to plow through the water, a iceboat has almost no resistance.
With a skilled operator, an iceboat like the one John rode on can exceed 50 MPH in 10-12 mile per hour winds.
Other types have been clocked at over 100 MPH...that's enough to drag adrenaline junkies out into the cold windy winter conditions.

When I first rowed with John Kerschbaum, it was on an expedition down the Hudson River.  At one overnight stopping point, John camped by the gondola and visited a maritime museum where he learned about some of the river travel of the past. He said that in the 1800's, river boat captains built iceboats because they got bored in winter.
Originally iceboats were actual boats that had been modified to travel on blades, and some on skis as well.

 One sweet ride.

Today's iceboats are built according to certain criteria so they can fit into different sailing classes.  The boat John went on was in the International DN Class - as is evident by the markings on the sail.
DN stands for Detroit News. In 1937 the Detroit News (newspaper) held a design contest and the winning design looked something like the boat in the photo.  
Over sixty years later the International DN Class is one of the largest and most popular classes, with competitors in North America and Europe.
John told me that the iceboating is so great in his area, that he knows of a guy in Germany who keeps an iceboat in Minnesota and travels there each year just to sail across the ice.

Iceboating, just one more thing I have to try before I die.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nationals Group Shot

Every time a bunch of us get together at Sunset Gondola,
we take at least one group photo.
At the U.S. Gondola Nationals this year we continued the tradition.
Earlier I posted a tribute photo to John Synco.
Here's another shot from the same session.
What's unique here is that about half the people in this photo had seen
these group shots before - here on the blog or facebook, but this was the
first time we were lucky enough to have them on hand to be in the photo.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Head to Head

Time trials are great - one boat, with competitors taking turns running the same course on it.  Providing there's no change in wind and/or current, you'll get the most even playing field...but really, nothing is quite as exciting as head to head competition. 

Having your competitor in a boat right next to you, trying to beat you,
not only adds to the excitement, but it makes for faster course times
from almost all rowers.
In a time trial: he'll give it his all,
and you'll give it your all,
but head to head, you'll both give a little more.

In the end, we all have a little more fuel in the tank than we thought we had.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Song We All Know

What sounds better than a boatload of gondoliers singing together?
How about two boatloads.
On Sunday, October 27th, a bunch of us were hosted by Gondola Getaway
in Alamitos Bay.  At a certain point along the route, the two big caorlinas
ended up side-tied beneath a bridge.

Stefano was presented his first place medal for the solo distance race
(see "Marathon Man" post), folks took turns singing songs, and then
we all sang the one song that everybody knew - with Derek "Luciano"
Sabatini expertly directing.

Yes, you've heard it before in the post "One Song", but the acoustics
and the mood are very different in this recording.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hibernating in Minnesota

photo by John Kerschbaum

I just received this photo from John in Minnesota, who has wrapped his gondolas and put them to bed for the winter. 
As his boats hibernate,
no doubt John will think about his adventures at Nationals last October,
plan on more camaraderie and competition in Providence next year,
and he'll probably come out and row with me here in California for Valentine's Day.

Stay warm, John.
I hope your boats enjoy their hibernation and awake in the spring,
ready for more cruising.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Fire in the Sky in Newport

The view off the back of the gondola a few nights ago as a few of the local
crew boats were congregating at the north end of the harbor.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Just the Photo - Rafaello

A moment captured by the camera on Saturday of the 2013 U.S. Gondola Nationals, one of the guys from Providence, Rafaello rowing and looking rather iconic.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One Finger

Standing around and talking on the docks of the Gondola Getaway in Alamitos Bay, I noticed that my friend Peter Dever had a clever way to carry a forcola.
Spend enough time around gondolas (and their forcole), and you're bound to become acquainted with every contour and detail.
Peter discovered that with the right balance, he could hook one finger under the overhang of the testa.
He wasn't showig it off, but I noticed it.
My guess is that he's been doing it for many years.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Breaking the Ice

photo by Joe Gibbons

Joe in Boston shared a photo along with the following description of a problem that's unique to locations above a certain lattitude:
Hey Greg kinda funny but not!! Yesterday we had to remove the final pieces of equipment: docks, float ramps, and "Old Faithful" - our Boston Whaler. 
We got quite a surprise with about three quarters of an inch of ice. That's Steve on the bow of the Boston Whaler smashing ice so we could tow our boarding dock.  
Happy holidays everybody, bring on the snow!

Thanks for the report, Joe.
Glad you were able to get things wrapped up for winter.
I hope you get lots of snow soon for snowmobiling.