Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Smoking or Non-Smoking?

In the same thread as the "Must Love Dogs" post,
I'm now looking at the subject of personal controlled combustion,
smoking, that is. 

From the very first time that European sailors stepped ashore in North America and saw one of the locals burning tobacco and breathing it in,
we've been asking ourselves and each other "smoking or non-smoking?"
Since the 15th Century, we've been asking that question.

At first it was "Why?", then "How?",
followed by "Where can I get these big leaves?"
Next probably came "Oh, the folks at home are gonna love this."
Eventually came "Hey, umm, turns out this isn't very good for you",
and finally "Uh, guys, you think you could maybe do that somewhere else?"

When someone asks you "can we smoke on your gondola?", it's important to remember that they are essentially asking "would you mind if we set something on fire aboard your wooden vessel?" 
There aren't as many smokers today as there were twenty years ago, but we still get the requests.
Say "no" and you could effectively ruin the experience for your passengers.
Say "yes" in just the right way, and you may just bring their gondola experience up a notch for them.
As with many potentially awkward situations, I like to answer in a way that's funny, but also gets the point across - something like "No problem, just remember that the thing we're all floating on is made of wood; set it on fire and sooner or later we're gonna run out of places to stand".

Having a ready ashtray can mean the difference for your passengers.

Of course before allowing someone to smoke on your boat, it's important to determine what exactly they'll be smoking on board.  The laws regarding the smoking of marijuana have been changing quite a bit lately, but I'm not sure if the Coast Guard shares the same progressive opinions.

So what do you think?
Do you allow smoking on your boat?
What are the pros and cons according to your experiences?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Busy Times at Gondola Getaway

I stopped by the docks of Gondola Getaway this afternoon and took in the spectacle of things.  As I arrived, I noticed three full-sized motor coaches parked near the facility.  walking towards the dock I navigated through the crowds of people who'd ridden in those busses - high schoolers and their chaperones enjoying a whole day of pre-prom adventures, which included gondola rides.

There's so much history in this waterway.
The first gondoliers in Alamitos Bay date back about a hundred years - those were Venetians who'd traveled to California. 
The guys rowing these waters today are Californians who travel to Venice, regularly, for Vogalonga among other reasons.
The real history here is Gondola Getaway itself, which has hosted romantic couples on their boats for over thirty years now.
To be clear, the waterway is Alamitos Bay, but the area of canals they row through is known as Naples - a neighborhood in Long Beach.

The caorlinas, rowed by two gondoliers, handled their large passenger groups with ease today, regardless of the spirited winds that Mother Nature threw at them.

While I'd rather row than watch someone else row, today I thoroughly enjoyed watching the gondoliers make their rounds, handling the winds with full boats, then returning to dock like seasoned pros.

Perhaps the most iconic sight at Gondola Getaway is the office on the pier, with a black silhouette of a gondola and four flags flying.

Over the years I've noticed that the waters off the dock in Alamitos Bay have an almost Caribbean-like hue.

I hung out with general manager Mac for a while, swapping stories about fighting wind and the various types of boats they have in their fleet.

Watching the staff handle group after group was impressive.
Watching gondoliers row the big caorlinas was even more impressive.
Really, nobody in the gondola businesses handles large groups like these folks. 





Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nothing is Straight

photo by Isabella Mohr

One of the things that sets the gondola apart from other boats is that
she's asymmetric (that means crooked). 
It is said that most gondolas are about nine inches off center,
although in all honesty, I've never gone so far as to break out a
measuring tape to check the accuracy. 

I row them, and from where I stand,
I can easily see that gondolas have an obvious lean.

Of course the gondola is not the only crooked boat on the water.
There are several other rowing boats native to the Veneto,
that have a lean to the starboard side, and then there are those other boats - which were not meant to curve to one side or the other...but somehow ended up doing so anyway.

Looking at the gondola, one notices that there are very few
straight lines on the boat.
Just about everything has some sort of curve to it,
in many cases, a complex one.

Come to think of it, the boat isn't always rowed in a straight line either.  Because she's got a flat bottom with no keel or rudder,
it's not unusual for a gondolier to pilot the boat somewhat sideways.

In light of all this, I chose to post this photo today, a photo where nothing, including the horizon, is straight, and I like it that way.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rowing Lessons in Venice

photos by Nan McElroy
Venice is great
I must admit, that while I love Venice, and think that everyone should
visit La Serenissima to see what an amazing city she is...
I hate the way so many tourists end up seeing my favorite city. 

The problem
Few things annoy me more than to see a crowd of Columbians,
a herd of Hungarians, or a mob of Malaysians getting shuffled into an
already overcroweded Piazza San Marco to look at this and that
before shuffling off once again in a desperate attempt to keep up
with the lady holding the folded umbrella over her head. Normally she's using
some sort of device to describe things hastily in the language they speak.

It's the same for tour groups of countless origins and languages -
they spill out of their gigantic cruise ship, buy some gelato,
shop for masks and trinkets (that were probably made in China)...and then follow the lady with the umbrella.

I suppose one day in Venice is better than none at all, but it amazes me that people pay money for such an un-enlightenning experience.

On the other hand, I'm a huge fan of experiencing a city in the way that her native inhabitants do:
Have breakfast the way they do, in the place they do,
move at the same speed that they do,
and if at all possible, have a local with you to keep things on course and interpret things the right way.

It goes without saying, of course, that I'm big fan of rowing.

The solution
So for those few people who want to visit Venezia in a more proper and complete way, may I suggest the following:
Slow down - abandon the breakneck pace that you normally employ
when traveling.

Hang around a bit - spend not a day or two in Venice, but rather five days to a week. Rent an apartment if you can, and eat what the locals eat, where they eat it.

Get lost a little - really, what's the worst thing that can happen if you just keep wandering in Venice? You won't end up in Florence or Croatia, you won't stumble upon some dangerous high-crime area, no, you'll end up at the water and figure things out from there.  In the mean time you're likely to see a Venice that's quite different from the overcrowded tourist areas.

Learn to row - Now here's the reason I sat down to write this in the first place.  There's this terrific operation called "Row Venice", staffed by folks who are passionate about the Venetian style of rowing.  These folks offer several options - all of which give you the chance to actually row the boat! And as an added bonus, they do this in many different languages.
Check them out at

 photo by Nan McElroy

Row Venice is operated by l'associazione sportiva culturale Viva Voga Veneta
Students learn on a boat known as a batela coda di gambero - traditional but very rare.  This vessel has just the kind of stability that lends itself to training.

 photo by Nan McElroy

A few days ago there was a great piece in the Washington Post
that sums it up quite nicely:

photo by Nan McElroy

More great images from Nan McElroy can be seen at:


Other posts on learning to row:
"Family Rowing Lessons"

"Rowing Lessons"

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gondolas Welcome Baby

photos by Joey Hamamoto

My longest running gondolier, and very dear friend, Joey Hamamoto
got a unique view of the harbor today - a view that can only be had
from a window in the Maternity Ward of Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.

Eighteen years ago, a young smiling gondolier, who was known
to occasionally tap-dance on the back of the boat, joined our ranks. 
He was 19 at the time. 
Now he's married, and until about 3:30 this afternoon,
he had two sons to hold and play with. 

As of this afternoon he has three sons.

I sent word to the gondoliers to cruise by Hoag and wave in his direction.

I've enjoyed a little remeniscing today about Joey as we kept in touch
about the baby. 

I'd just finished the above text about Joey's unique habit of dancing,
when Joey sent me a message informing me that the baby was happy,
healthy, and then finished with:
"and I danced him to sleep as we saw the gondolas go by."

So on behalf of all the gondoliers,
I would like to welcome Isaiah Kanoa Hamamoto to the world,
and express a big congratulations to Joey and Brenda, proud parents
(who happen to have an amazing view right about now).

Joe Gibbons is Amazing

When he's not rowing or working on one of his gondolas in Boston, Joe Gibbons likes to be on his snomobile. 

Of course Joe knows that it's not all about the ride - the ride wouldn't be possible without the prep.  If you know Joe like I do, then you know that he's not afraid of hard work,
if anything, hard work is afraid of him.

The folks in the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts realized this and honored him with a well-deserved award.

Here's a link to the page.
Joe Gibbons - SAM Trail Worker of the Year

Funny little coincidences...first of all, Joe showed up for the cookout in his striped shirt.
Also, take a look at the background of the photo where Joe is holding the award...yep, Venezia.
Two of Joe's most favorite things: Snowmobiles and gondolas.

Congrats Joe!
Nice to see you getting some recognition.
The Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts is luck to have you.
I look forward to seeing gondola photos soon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Must Love Dogs

photos by Isabella Mohr

The first time I stepped on the back of a gondola was in 1993.
Back then we rarely had anyone ask if they could bring a dog on the boat.
Almost without fail we would say "no".

It was always in a nice way, but with the exception of seeing-eye dogs,
we upheld a no animals policy.  
As I write this, it occurs to me that I've known many dogs who were more
well-behaved than people, and I've definitely had my share of passengers
who's behaviour wasn't fit to be compared with that of a noble dog.

It wasn't that we had anything against dogs, Heck, I worked with
sled dogs when I lived in Alaska - I love dogs. 
This was just an issue of wear and tear - many of our boats at the time had varnished mahogony floors, which we worried about getting scratched.

While it wasn't often, people did ask, and it was usually a larger dog.
They weren't put off when we said their dog couldn't come, and that was that.

Well, times have changed.
In the past few years we've gotten more requests than we did twenty years ago.  People were surprised that we said "no", and were either irritated or determined to change our minds on the subject.

We started asking about the dog:
How big? Is he or she well behaved? Is the dog house-trained?
After all, I can't have anyone (human or canine) peeing in my gondola.

I've also been seeing a lot more small dogs, even, dare I say "purse dogs" these days.

Our stance on dogs is beginning to change.
Of course it's in the interest of commerce, but also because I recognize a shift on a much deeper level:
Dogs are the new children.

It may be a bold statement, and I'm not sure I like or agree with it,
but more and more it is the case.

I could try to soften the statement by saying that "dogs are being welcomed more as true family members" but really, in many cases they are taking the place of children. 
Fewer couples are having children early in marriage, choosing instead to add one or two dogs to the family.  This seems to resonate with single women, career-minded double-income couples, and it's especially popular with couples who've moved in together, but not yet taken vows.

To a degree, the dog is a trial run at parenting.
A dog is also fun for young couples who are active and like to go running, hiking or camping.

We've had many clients express to us that "the marriage proposal just won't be the same" if their dog isn't there to be part of it.

I still have concerns about any of the breeds that are known for their slobbering, and really, I also think that any dog that is famous for jumping into the water to retrieve ducks could present some problems, but just like trucks - dogs sure seem to like getting out on the water in a boat.
I see them all the time on the harbor in private boats - most of the time they look like they're having more fun than the humans who brought them aboard.

So for these and many other reasons, it's my opinion that a gondola operator in this day and age must love dogs, or at least pretend to...might even want to invest in a nice dog-friendly rug for the floor of the boat, or at least assemble a collection of old towels to throw on the floorboards for those canine passengers.

I haven't opened it up for discussion here on the blog in a while,
but I'm curious to hear the thoughts and opinions of my fellow gondola operators and gondoliers.

What do you all think?

Do you love dogs?

Do you welcome them on board your boats?

Do you find it a relevant issue these days?

Here are a few interesting pieces on the subject:
More young women choosing dogs over motherhood

Dogs are the new kids

Dogs are the new kids - what's the cost of pampering your pooch?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Earth is Not Flat

photo by Cassandra Mohr

There was a time when folks believed that the earth was flat.
While this might seem absurd now, it was a commonly held belief.

The concept of a flat earth is a fun one to throw into a debating circle.
Once I argued the "flat side" in a speech class - and I won,
although I'm pretty sure it was because my opponent didn't think there was
any possible way to argue that the earth was flat.

For the record, I do believe that we live on a spherical object,
although there are some fascinating ways to argue that it's flat.

I recently picked up an entry-level fisheye lens for my Nikon.
In honor of our earth and it's roundness,
I offer this view of our beloved planet from the back of a gondola.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Future's So Bright...

photo by Kierlyn

...I've gotta wear shades!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fools/March Jackasses

April Fools day came a few days early this year for some of my passengers here in Newport Beach.
I was rowing a cruise around Newport Island, one which had been booked by the lady on board. 
The whole thing was set up as a surprise for the gentleman.
As we turned a corner in the canal and approached the 38th Street bridge, two guys ran out onto bridge and began to unfurl a white bed sheet while a young woman captured video with her phone from the shore.

The two young men draped the sheet over the side of the bridge,
and there, in sloppy black spray paint, were the words:

"Will you marry me?"

Then the guys holding the sheet started yelling at the guy in my gondola: 

Thoughts raced through my head:
- I didn't see THIS on my paperwork.
- She booked this cruise - is she trying to force a proposal out of the guy?
- How did they know we would be there?
- where's my camera?
At this point the ferro at the tip of my bow was slipping under the bridge.

Next thing I know, the gentleman in my gondola starts to wind up for what looks like an actual proposal.

I'm really confused now. And so is SHE.

She starts asking him the same questions that are buzzing around in my head:
- "Are you serious?"
- "Do you know these people?"
- "How did you know that you would even be here tonight?"

And what she isn't saying, but by the look on her face I know she is thinking is "we aren't really at that point yet in this relationship".
I looked up at one of the guys with the bed sheet and said
"do you know this guy?" and he nodded his head
and then continued yelling "ASK HER! ASK HER!"
Just as the couple was about to go under the bridge, the guy in the boat revealed that he was joking and that he really didn't know the two guys on the bridge. 
Honestly, she looked a little bit relieved, and as we emerged from the bridge on the other side she shouted up to them
"you've got the wrong boat!"
We had two other cruises out at the time, so I sent out a text to the guys who were rowing them.  It turned out that the same thing had happened to Konnor's gondola and his couple was already married!
At that point I figured it was meant for someone on a boat from another company.
Later I got a text from Konnor saying:
I went and talked to the guys with the sign and they said it was a joke.
I told them that the gondoliers thought it was funny but our guests were very upset about it and they said they would stop.
It's the kind of thing that you shake your head about at first, and then you get to thinking of ways that it could have gone terribly wrong.
Imagine if I had a guy on my boat who had spent weeks planning and preparing for the most perfectly romantic proposal, setting up everything in advance, and two jackasses hanging off a bridge with a bed sheet screw it all up by either tipping her off or ruining the mood.
If this had happened in the month of April, I'd be forever referring to the guys on the bridge as a pair of "April Fools", but instead we'll just call them the "March "Jackasses".