Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Gritti Landing

A lone gondolier glides into the landing in front of Venice's
famous Gritti Palace Hotel.

This hotel, like many other well-known places of lodging,

was once a palazzo - home to a famous and powerful Venetian family.

The Gritti sits right next to the traghetto of Santa Maria del Giglio - one of my favorite gondola stations.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Crossing the Line

photo by Ignus Holm
Whether you're in a field of several boats, or rowing a time-trial,
It's a race.
He who crosses the line with the shortest time wins.
For this reason, we saw many competitors go totally nuts this year,
sprinting to the finish line.
Lots of guys had to sit down after they finished.
Some even laid down on the deck.
As Mike Ruffino phrased it:
I wanted to push my pace, because I wasn’t just racing the three other guys, I was racing everybody.
(quote from "Ruffino - From Cage to Rage")

Some competitors managed to edge out others by only a few seconds.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of attention focused on what was happening down at the end of the dock, where a guy with a stopwatch was recording those finishing times.

At the center of it all were a few guys who went above and beyond,
to make the 2015 US Gondola Nationals run so smoothly.

Mark Schooling of Gondola Paradiso,
and Matthew "Marcello" Haynes of La Gondola
carried that burden like pros, with a couple other guys helping along the way.

In the above shot, we see Mark Schooling recording the exact time the ferro crossed the line during one race, with several of us looking on.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Chasing the Setting Sun

photo by Candace Benson

When you boil it all down to what we do,
(or at least what people think we do)
it's "rowing off into the sunset".
At least that's what most folks seem to envision
when they think about taking a cruise on a gondola in California. 
And we actually do a lot of that.

Of course we do lots of other things besides rowing,
and it's not all "into the sunset",
but then when you roll back the recording of your fondest memories,
it's moments like this that always seem to rise to the top.

When I have to escape inside my mind
(i.e. when I'm in the dentist's chair)
I always seem to go back to one of those perfect moments - the ones where
I'm chasing the setting sun.
It's a futile effort (I'll never catch it),
but for five or ten minutes it's a wonderful pursuit.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Raus Rows

photo by Lawrence Sherwin of the Orange County Register
Here's a great shot of gondolier Matthew Raus of the
Gondola Company of Newport, as he competed in a solo race
during the US Gondola Nationals this year.
I enjoy passing this guy regularly as we head in different
directions on the waters of Newport.
He's always ready with a cheerful greeting,
and I can tell that his passengers are always happy in his boat.

Special thanks go out to the staff at the Orange County Register
for allowing me to feature their images from the competition.

To see the full slide show, go to:

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Cheer from Boston

I received this photo from Joe Gibbons in Boston:
Hello Greg and the Gondola blog.
The girls are fast asleep in the tents, no chimney for Santa.
But we left them with a little holiday spirit.
Merry Christmas to all our gondola friends  
                                    -Joe and Steve

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Santas - Lots of 'em!

My dear friend Nereo Zane sent these fun photos with the following message:
Last Sunday twelve Santas rowed toward Murano on a caorlina and a batea. After a visit to S.Donato church we sliced and ate a couple of panettoni and drunk some white sparkling wine kindly hosted by the owner of "Al Canton", a bar just on the corner of Fondamenta San Lorenzo, that allowed us to use a small table.
Here are two photos taken by GSVVM member Daniela Costantini.

 Big thanks to Nereo and the amici at GSVVM.
I wish I could have rowed that caorlina with you.
Merry Christmas to all, from the Gondola Blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ruffino - From Cage to Rage

Photos by Mindy Schauer of the Orange County Register
The Fight
Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove, October 24th.
Mike Ruffino, who'd been training for quite some time,
prepared himself for a unique competition;
one that wasn't so much a challenge against another man as it was one against himself.
Like so many contests, it wasn't so much a question of winning or losing as it was a question of how much of himself he was capable of throwing into it.
He centered himself, imagined what would happen next, and called upon his training and his memories of training.
When it was time, Mike stepped into a 27 foot cage with a referee and another man.

Why was Ruffino in a cage fight?
it was partly a bucket list thing,
not only, like so many thing Mike does, a challenge against himself;
but also, because in his own words, he believes in heroism:
I believe in heroism.
I believe it is not exclusively reserved for military,
law enforcement, or fire fighters, but that it is a trait of the common man. I believe that if you have the ability to help someone in dire need, then you have the responsibility.

In my life and travels I have seen muggings, multiple-attacker brawls, and even knife fights, but even if I had not seen any of those, one could spend 10 minutes on Facebook and see videos of people doing something horrible to each other.
What we are less-likely to see are videos of people
stopping something horrible.

This is wrong.

I have been very fortunate to have fared well in all of the worst-case-scenarios that have crossed my path,
but what if I see someone being set upon by another who actually knows what they are doing?
A trained aggressor who knows how to really hurt someone?
My beliefs command me to get involved, and my ability or inability to help someone when they truly need it directly relates to how well I prepare ahead of time.

Mike stepped into the ring, fought like mad, and held his own admirably.
A couple rounds later he was the subject of a TKO.
His opponent had won the match, but Mike had won on so many levels - conquering his own needs and fears, learning what it's like to be in such a situation, and truly becoming more prepared for such time as he might be called upon to be heroic.

The Race
Three weeks later Mike stepped on the back of a gondola in Newport Beach to compete in the solo distance race:
2.2 miles around Balboa Island, Collins Island, and Little Balboa Island.

Preparing for the race, he once again centered himself, imagined what would happen next, and went out with the plan to fight like mad and demand everything of himself.

Race Mates
As it happened, Mike ended up rowing in a heat where all four competitors were from his home servizio – Gondola Company of Newport.

I’ve been fortunate to share the water with these guys for years
(Mike's been there since 2008). 
They’re a great bunch of guys who, like most gondoliers,
really love their job.

Along with several rowers, there was a noticeable fan presence
from friends and family, some even showing up with signs.

One sign referred to their home team as “G.C.O.N.”.

When these four guys shoved off and started rowing,
there was a lot of cheering going on.

Many of us caught the fever, and found ourselves cheering “GO G-CON!”.

I spoke with Mike Ruffino about the heat.

He said:
Rowing with all GCON was cool because it felt like we were all representing our dojo.

Being on the water together, we were also able to encourage each other.

The Start
With the same intensity he’d given to his cage fight in October,
Mike took off like a madman.

By the time he reached the Balboa Island bridge he was already
a few boat-lengths ahead of everyone else.

The trip up behind Balboa Island was smooth,
allowing him to move his gondola swiftly in the wind-shadow.

Rounding the corner at the tiny Collins Island,
things got a little choppy – but nothing a good gondolier can’t handle.

Pushing Himself
Even though he was ahead, Mike wasn’t taking it easy.

He’s never been the kind of guy who just does the minimum,
and today was no exception.

I wanted to push my pace, because  I wasn’t just racing the three other guys, I was racing everybody.

From time to time, boats started to encroach.
A couple of times I had to shout for some people to get out of the way, which was kinda fun because I like to yell.

Never the quiet type in competition,
I’m sure he benefitted from the energy-release of yelling.

Ferry crossing
Mike had an interesting thing happen as he crossed the Balboa Island Ferry.

I hadn’t been on the ferry in a while, so I assumed that when they dock, they go all the way in.

He’d timed his pass well, planning to move by the back end of the ferry right after it docked.

He watched the ferry enter the docking cutout, expecting it to keep going further in:

I didn’t realize that the overhang was normal.

I’d been trying to stay as close to the shore as possible. 
When the back end of the ferry didn’t disappear into the cutout,
I had to do a quick stop and 90 degree turn.
At that point I started to pick it up and try to navigate effectively.

Sixty Degrees
Thanks to photographer Mindy Schauer of the Orange County Register,
we have some dynamic images of Mike Ruffino’s trip to the finish line.

The last turn of the race is a tight sixty degrees, at the tip of Little Balboa Island.

On that day, rowers were approaching the turn with the wind at their back, and turning left into the leeward side of the island.

Hit the turn too fast and you’ll either overshoot it or spin out.

Mike told me:

What I thought was best to do with that turn, it was all power strokes, and after the turn, a really hard back stroke.

It was at that point where Mindy snapped what I’ve been referring to as
the “dance photo”.
photo by Mindy Schauer

It looks almost like Mike’s dancing on the back of the boat.

Sean Jamieson of The Gondola Company in Coronado even told me it looked like Mike was breakdancing on the gondola.

Pure Rage
With the finish line within view, Mike went all-out crazy.
He channeled pure rage into the remainder of his run,
rowing with an intensity I’ve rarely seen.

I didn’t really want to finish without giving it my all.

The only thing worse than losing a race, is finishing and knowing you had more you could have given.

Post Race
He knew he'd finished well in his heat, but Mike was surprised to learn that he'd secured second place overall.
He hadn't rowed cruises since summer, and had only spent an hour or so tandem training the day before Nationals.
He credits other training exercises with his readiness and level of conditioning.

In preparation for his cage fight, Mike had trained in martial arts – boxing, kickboxing and grappling with a mixed martial arts center known as Bearpit.

Mike also does a variation of hot yoga which includes weights.

Some of you might be tired of hearing me say that gondoliers are interesting, but Mike is a prime example.
In addition to all of the above, he's been a sculptor's model for seven years now. He's worked with world renowned artists and some pieces based on his posing have been displayed in galleries.

His bucket list no longer includes "cage fight,"
but there are plenty of other interesting items.
He'd like to work on a cruise ship,
drive in a demolition derby,
and "bulldog and alligator."

On Christmas Day he'll head to Northern Ireland
and work at the Vagabonds Hostel (another bucket list item).

The Photo - I Mean THE Photo
With all of the sculpture posing and other remarkable "image captures" he's ever been the subject of, I really don't think anything can compare to the photo Mindy Schauer snapped of Mike Ruffino, just a few strokes from the finish line.

photo by Mindy Schauer

If the world sees only one image of voga-alla-Veneta in the United States,
I hope it's this one.

Special thanks go out to the staff at the Orange County Register
not only for showing up and taking great images,
but also for allowing me to post them here.
To see the full slide show, go to:

Simon Atkins managed to get a GoPro camera on that boat before the race,
and the full run is viewable on YouTube at:

photo by Mindy Schauer
I have it on good authority that Mike will be joining us next October
in Minnesota for the 2016 US Gondola Nationals.

I can't wait to see him row again.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Parade from the Air

photo by Jakob Easton

On his way home to Alaska to spend Christmas with family,
my gondolier Jakob snapped this from the window of a plane
taking off from John Wayne airport in Orange County.

He writes:
I got to see the boat parade as I flew out!!

He'd been on a gondola with passengers just 24 hours earlier,
watching the parade cruise by, but this was a whole different view of it.

I've seen this angle of the harbor many times, but rarely at night,
and never with the boat parade going on. 
What a fantastic treat.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Two Clips

video by Steve Elkins
Last night we saw a pair of snapshots from gondolier Steve Elkins,
who, along with some other gondoliers in Newport,
went out with passengers to see our famous boat parade.
Tonight, he grabbed a couple video clips from the back of his gondola.
Here they are:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blue Christmas

photos by Steve Elkins
Just a couple snaps from the back of the Lucia in
Newport Harbor this evening.
The above shot was taken at dock, prior to boarding,
while the one below was taken out on the harbor as the famous
Christmas boat parade began to cruise by.
We have a nice collection of blue lights for our gondolas,
as you can see here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Wall at Squero San Trovaso

There are many things about Squero San Trovaso
that set it apart from other gondola yards.

It's by far the most photographed squero in Venice.
All the guidebooks include it as something to see that's truly Venetian.

It's an active yard, with something to see just about any time you stop by to watch.  Some activities can easily be seen from across the canal
(where most of the tourists go to peer across the water).
Seeing a couple guys turn a gondola up on one side by hand or a group of workers wrestle a boat out of the water on rollers are good examples. 

Other things are best appreciated from inside the place.

I should make it very clear, however, that most outsiders should not try
to get into the squero unless involved with a film crew that's made prior arrangements.

Remember - these guys are workers.
They've got work to do.

Imagine if a bunch of tourists with cameras decided to just "show up" at a construction site and try poking around, or if they stepped out of the elevator at a law firm and started trying to chat people up about "what it's like to be a lawyer".

However, if you're a gondolier who has a Venetian friend, the right attitude, some photos of your boats on your phone, and some lucky timing - you might just manage to get in the door.

I'm posting a few different photos here this month from just such a visit.

Walking around (and trying to stay out of everyone's way), I noticed a certain wall, which I'd seen a few hats on in previous years.

It was clear that the wall had received some attention since the last time I'd been there.

My friends, I give you: The Wall.

I imagine it started with one or two hats, and, well,
somewhere things got serious.
Now it reminds me of an old restaurant that my folks took me to
as a kid called "Bobby McGee's".
The only thing missing is a bent trombone and an old baby carriage.
What a beautifully chaotic work of art.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Office Phone

I thought about giving this post the title
"Yeah, I'm calling you from the office..."

Stepping off the traghetto boat after a quick crossing,
I spotted this guy "sitting in his office" on the phone.

If I had to pick one place to be planted to people-watch,
it would definitely be at a Venetian traghetto quay.
This was at Santa Maria del Giglio,
but many others are just as great to watch.

Some interesting boat details can also be observed here;
including varnished floorboards in the gondola in the foreground,
as well as a very unique perimeter trim design.

Anyone wanna venture a guess who he's talking to?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sleeping at The Venetian

After dinner tonight, my wife and I took a stroll through the casino 
known as The Venetian and I looked for gondoliers.

I found the boats, but none of their pilots.

Turns out that even Las Vegas gondoliers need their sleep from time to time.
Maybe next time I visit, I'll go before midnight.

Here's what the gondolas looked like as they rested for the night.

Purple seems to be the color this year.
most of the gondolas I saw there this evening had purple seats.

Christmas decorations are popping up all over Las Vegas.

When you keep your gondola indoors all the time, you can really obsess 
over how perfectly shiny the deck is.

Sleeping gondolas outside too.

Number 4 - seatbelts and all.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

December in the Desert

I spent a nice cool December day working on my boats 
out on Lake Las Vegas today.

The Nevada desert may be hot and uncomfortable at times, 
but during this time of year it can be invitingly nice.

Most of my attention was directed at installing some interior mood lighting, which came out looking great. 
With rains coming, I'll spend much of my tomorrow making sure 
those bilge pumps work.
I don't want to have to explain to someone how 
"my gondola sank in the desert".

It turned out that gondola owner Joe Deverell was visiting Las Vegas 
for a convention, so we met up and along with some of my staff, 
took a boat out under the bridge and sang a few songs.

fresh red stripe tape makes a nice border between 
painted and non-skid decks.

Two boats receiving some TLC with a replica of 
Florence's Ponte Vecchio in the background.

Newly installed interior lighting sets a mood in the boat.
( I just wish I'd removed the seat covers before snapping the shot)

Monday, December 7, 2015

That Guy from Gig

photo by Joy Sailing

Among the many competitors at the US Gondola Nationals,
there were a few guys representing new operations. 
The newest being Gig Harbor Gondola in Washington State.

John Synco is no stranger to us in Southern California - he's been rowing
here for years, but a while back he and his family moved north.

We all missed him.
He missed us (or at least a few of us),
but he also missed rowing a gondola - missed it terribly.

After great determination, and help from friends who understood the need to row, John managed to launch his own servizio in Gig Harbor, Washington.

He was seen rowing at this year's competition,
looking sharp in white pants and a "Gig harbor Gondola" striped shirt.

Bravo John!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Turrning Five

While we were rowing three boats here in Newport
(and feeling pretty good about ourselves),
The folks down in Coronado were taking this flotilla thing to black-belt levels.

Owner Sean Jamieson sent the above photo with the following text:
Hey check this photo out.
This is a fleet cruise with 38 people.
At the end of the canal we have to turn around.
One boat is easy. With five, it's super fun.

The gondoliers at The Gondola Company know how to do things...
including turning five boats around in tight quarters.

Looking good, Coronado!

Three of a Kind

Out on the waters of Newport tonight, my gondoliers and I
enjoyed rowing in a three boat flotilla.
It's fun to row a Venice-built gondola, but it's even better 
to row three of them with your friends.

Amrin and Steve - lookin' sharp in stripes.
Shameless selfie.
I don't usually take them, but with two gondolas
in the background, it's likely to be a better photo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What It's All About

photos by Joy Sailing
Operating gondolas is a business.
We are fortunate however, to be in a business that's really cool.
It pays the bills, and we love doing it.
And as amazing as these boats are, at the end of the day,
they truly are just things.
What matters,
what really matters,
is family.
When I learned that some gondoliers would be bringing their
wives and children, I was thrilled.
There could be no better example than the two branches of the Haynes family.
This photo of the two families from Providence is among my very favorite images that came out of the weekend.
This, my what it's all about.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Four Across

Two years ago, Tim Reinard was able to get four boats racing side-by-side. 
It was a first for US competition - giving each rower more competitors to race against.

One of my main objectives in planning this year's Nationals
was to field as many boats as Tim did.
I love the race drama, and it makes for great photos too.

I had four of my own, but one gondola - the Phoenix - was heavier than the others.
Three across was good, but four would be better.
I talked Tim into bringing me one of his gondolas, and we had it:
Four across.

From left to right they are:
"Lucia" (also known as the Curci Gondola)
"The Wedding Gondola"
my newest addition - "Stella"
and Tim's boat - "Michaela"