Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oxford vs. Cambridge Men's Boat Race 2016

This is not a post about Venice, her boats,
or those of us who love her style of rowing.
It's about what they call "traditional rowing" or simply "crew".
No matter what you call it, when you watch it,
you won't be able to step away.
If it doesn't raise your pulse,
then you don't have one.
Grab a cup of coffee, put the world on hold for 25 minutes
(really, that IS possible), and be a spectator.
I must say that I'm impressed with how they covered this, camera-wise.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Naked Gondola

Joe Gibbons just sent me these photos from Boston.
Warning: these photos show graphic gondola nudity.

Joe included this message to explain the details:
Hello Greg and all our gondola friends.
It's that time year here in Boston - maintenance has started. 
She's Naked.   
Since Firenza's birth in 1994, we estimated that she
had at least 17 coats of paint. 
It was time to give her a facelift and take care of lots
of little problems that we all know exist under that paint.
With a little bit of luck she'll be back in the water in early May. Looking forward to the start of a 16th season here in Boston. 
Winter has passed - all signs of snow and ice are gone.

I love seeing the photos that come in this time of year.
Spring is here and several gondola owners are ramped-up and running,
full steam ahead to get their boats ready for launch.

Here's a close-up of the tail.

I love that stainless steel trim.
As gondoliers, we always talk about how gondolas are
"made of eight different types of wood",
and yet it's hard to tell when it's all painted black.
Take a closer look at the above photo and the difference is obvious.
You can easily tell the difference between the hull planks and the tail stem.
When you strip away all that paint, and get down to bare lumber,
you can really appreciate the good stock the guys in the squero use.

The folks at Gondola di Venezia in Boston have my respect:
They've chosen to do something that most talk about doing...but never
actually go through with.
Having stripped away all the paint and primer,
they can now see everything, and take measures to fix problems...
...both present and future.
So I say bravo to the boys in Boston!
I hope your work is both successful and enjoyable.
Oh, and...nice shop!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

St. Petersburg Gondola in the Sunshine

photo by Ilona Lambina

Just a nice shot of a perfect moment,
captured of a bride and groom on a gondola in St Petersburg, Russia.

Spring is here, and as the days grow warmer,
I'm sure my friends in Russia will be launching her once again...
to create more perfect moments just like this one.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Stella and Her Stickers

photo by Isabella Mohr

Gondolier Simon Atkins prepares for an afternoon cruise
on the gondola we call "Stella".

When she left Venezia back in 2009,
she was on her way to New York for an expedition around Staten Island.  Somewhere along the way she was given quite a collection of stickers.
Sponsors, slogans, and the like were printed and cut out in vinyl
and plastered along both sides and on the bow deck as well.

Really, it looked pretty cool (for an expedition gondola),
but for passenger service,
we knew she would have to be returned to the classic look.

Before any sanding and painting could be done,
we had to do a lot of picking and peeling.
A fair amount of adhesive remover came in handy as well.
    see my post "Stickers - Lots and Lots of Stickers!"

I worked my way from front to back,
and as I reached the tail, I came upon these great flag decals.
One that was half US and half Italia,
and the other a nice image of the flag of the Venetian Republic.

I just couldn't peel them off.

So we masked off the flag decals, sanded and painted around them,
and they live on - serving as a subtle reminder of one of her previous adventures (and of all that sticker peeling we did when we first got her).

To read more about this gondola,
read my post "Staten Island Gondola - Full Story",
which was written even before we gave her the name "Stella".

Monday, March 21, 2016

Soft Focus Beneath the Bridge

One of my friends at the Gondola Company of Newport
in soft focus beneath the Newport Blvd. bridge.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

About to Cross the Line

As Simon Atkins and I were nearing the finish of the pupparin time trial
during the 2015 US Gondola Nationals, the dedicated staff on the dock
were waiting to record our exact finish time.
Here you can see the hand and the eyes monitoring that finish line.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Foot on the Wall

During my latest visit to La Serenissima, I snapped a fair number of pictures.
While crossing a bridge I spotted this little piece of Venezia.
It happens a hundred times a day, I'm sure, but it's still very interesting.
The canals are often tight,
tighter when two boats have to pass each other,
and even tighter still when there's a third boat moored in the
place where they are passing.
The solution is often...a foot on the wall.
Here we see a gondolier with his foot planted as he makes room for
one of Venice's ubiquitous water taxis.
Having watched guys in Venice, and seen some of the tight passages
they need to navigate through, I'm sure this maneuver is quite helpful.
To read more on the subject, go to my post:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Portela Irlandese - by Sean Jamieson

Thanks to guest-blogger Sean Jamieson for this perfectly appropriate
St. Patrick's Day post.

Last year about this time, we were launching Trifoglio -
a classic Bonaldo gondola that had been used years before in Venezia.

She's twenty four years old, so some pieces have some mileage on them.

The portela was coming apart in a few places.
I decided that since I'd never built an Irish one, I'd give it a shot.

The original portela served as a pattern.
I cut out three new pieces, and dipped them in Guinness.
I selected some scrap mahogany and cut it down to serve as the border. Everything received five coats of shiny varnish
and the whole thing sat for two weeks to cure.

Finally it was time to add the finishing touches: toucan and paint.

When I was in Ireland last September, I picked up several pints from various pubs, and even visited the Guinness brewery in Dublin. 

Standing in the brewery, I fell in love with this one toucan.
It was an impulse-buy, but I knew there would be a place for it.
Gondolier Nick Navatta added some finishing touches in the paint studio
and it was done.

It was an enjoyable task to complete, and thanks to the masterful work of Guinness, the toucan perches in the center.


Sean Jamieson is the owner of The Gondola Company
in Coronado, California
Visit his website at:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Phoenix Approaches the Ramp

Yesterday Steve and I hauled out our beloved gondola The Phoenix.
She doesn't have anything particularly wrong - just lots of scratches
and dings from use (and a few extras from Nationals).

We haul each of our boats out on an as-needed rotation.

As days go, it was an easy one, with each task actually going as planned.
So now the boat is in the yard - awaiting some sanding and fresh paint,
and I've got a stack of floorboards in my backyard,
which will also require some attention.

I like the tactile, physical nature of boat work.
If I had to enter code all day and fuss around with software,
I'd be a lot less happy.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Three Shots from Tonight

At the risk of sounding exaggerative,
It was perfectly brilliant tonight out on the water.
Here are a few shots from the back of The Phoenix.
Chasing the setting sun.

Jakob approaches on Lucia...
 ...and heads off, under the 38th Street bridge.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Small Storm Washes Batela in Oxnard

photo by Mark Schooling

For the last fifteen months or so, we've been told that we'd be getting
smacked silly by the mother of all rainy seasons here in Southern California.

So far it's looked like most years at this time.
Now and then we get a sprinkle or two, a few actual rains here and there.
Today we got a nice little downpour during the mid-afternoon.
It was good to see the ground get wet.

Turns out that Mark up at Gondola Paradiso in Oxnard got a little washdown from it while he was out rowing his batela "Maria".

He told me that she'd:
"missed the Pacific Northwest and all the clouds and rain"

Maria was built at the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, Washington.
I'm sure the folks at the boat building school gave her plenty of water

sealing treatments before she was sent off to her home in California.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Three Boat Flotilla

This afternoon, Jakob, Hunter and I took out a three boat flotilla in Newport.
It was a gorgeous day - the kind that's perfect for cruising.
Here are some snaps from the back of the boat.
Hunter rows the Wedding Gondola.
Jakob on The Phoenix
Heading toward the Newport Blvd. bridge.
Side by side in the canals.
 Three big boats squeezing under the 38th Street bridge.

I like these two guys.
They really look up to me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

There's an App for That


Tides, winds, sunset times - you name it, and there's a smartphone app
that will put it readily at your fingertips.
In fact in most cases there are several options in each department.

Growing up, we didn't have any of this stuff.
We had little printed booklets for the tides.
If you wanted an indicator of sunset times,
you had to look that up in something like a Farmer's Almanac.

And wind, well, you either had to follow the weather forecast

(which was in the newspaper or on radio and TV),
or you had to have a sixth sense about such things.

Nowadays we have smartphones, and apps,
and the whole freakin' world is at your fingertips.
Honestly, if you're not in awe of it, then you're either a kid,
or an ungrateful person with no appreciation for technology
(or possibly a strange kind of steampunk traditionalist).

These days I don't leave the dock without my phone,
and a day doesn't go by without me checking several things on my phone as well as on my computer at home.

I know that some gondoliers don't like handling their phones while out on the water, but even at the dock, or on the way to work,
you can access information that can make a difference in your route,
and how you go about cruising.

In some places the tide is not an issue.
If you row on a lake or a waterway that's not affected by tidal flow,
then maybe you don't need to check tides.
But if you've got any bridges on your route - that are not always passable,
or if the tidal flow will effect your cruising time, then download something from the app store and get to checking!

I find that tide apps for surfers are perfect for keeping up with the rise and fall of the surface of my little corner of the Pacific.
I'm currently using ShralpTide.

The ShralpTide main screen shows the current sea level,
along with times and levels of high and low tides within the day.
You can also swipe through a five day period to find out
what the tides will look like during future days.
Turn the phone sideways and you get a better
visual idea of that same 24 hour cycle.

A couple of my gondoliers in California are avid surfers.
I've seen them wearing watches that track the tide as well.

Knowing the difference between "Sunset" and "End Civil Twilight" is an important thing. 
Figuring out how buildings on the horizon might affect the view of that sunset, well, you'll have to do that on your own.
And while everyone seems to want to see that big orange ball drop below the horizon, you and I both know that the ever-changing colors that come afterwards are often even more impressive than the sunset itself.
Sunrise Sunset Lite is what I'm checking on my phone these days.

You can also keep track of the lunar phase, and know when to expect a full moon.  Many apps across the spectrum of tide, sunset/sunrise, and even weather will also allow you to keep tabs on what the moon is up to on any given evening.

Oh, and if you feel like going old-school, some printed wall calendars also show the projected moon phase (in case your phone falls in the water).

Often the greatest variable that affects gondoliers is wind.
On the water I check an app from The Weather Channel.

My real go-to resource though, when it comes to wind, is www.windyty.com.
I love this website.

Windyty - in all it's glorious, um, windiness.

It not only allows you to monitor what the wind is doing anywhere on the globe,
it also gives you ability to look forward and see what the projected wind speed and direction will be at any given hour for the coming week.

Read more about windyty in my post "Seeing the Wind".

One Other Thing to Monitor:
Oh, and there is one more useful app.
It involves flow and timing.
Not of tides and sunsets, though, but of traffic flow,
and the likely timing of your passengers' arrival.

Sigalert on my smartphone.
Full screen on my computer

It's available as a mobile app, but also online at www.sigalert.com.
The company offers traffic report maps for dozens of U.S. cities.

Sigalert as it might relate to a guy doing cruises in Gig Harbor, Washington.

The term "Sigalert" originated in the 1950's
here in Los Angeles.

A broadcast executive named Loyd C, "Sig" Sigmon,
(the guy on the left)
who had served in World War 2 - working in Signal Corps in the European theater, came up with a system of alerting drivers in Southern California of traffic problems.

And the Point Is?
"So how can it help me?" you ask.
Let's say you're a gondolier in Sunset Beach or Alamitos Bay.
You've got some folks driving in from Burbank.
You look at the traffic map on Sigalert and notice that both the 710
and the 605 freeways are registering red.
(that's bad, by the way)
These are the most likely freeways your passengers will use
to drive to your location.
But then you see that the 110 freeway is registering a delightful green.
(that means little traffic, and probably smooth sailing)

You could assume that your passengers are on the ball,
and monitoring the traffic on their own.
(insert your own favorite Murphy's law wisecrack here)

You could say something like
"whatever, not my problem if the guy gets caught in traffic
and his proposal is a disaster"
Ahh, but then what kind of gondolier would you be?

Instead, you pick up your phone, or have someone from the office call the guy, and let him know that if he takes the 110 to the 405, he'll be able to avoid the red areas and hopefully get to your boat on time.

Rounding It All Out
You wake up on a Saturday morning,
get a cup of coffee, and sit down at your computer.
Checking the weather, you see that it will be cool,
and you pull out an extra layer.

Clicking over to Windyty, you realize that you'll be blessed with
the challenges of a strong wind coming out of the west in the afternoon.

You check the tides and see that the cruise you have at 3pm...
coincides with low tide.
Learning this, you make plans to adjust your route,
knowing that your boat will fit under one of the lower bridges on that route.
     You take what would have been a cold and unpleasant cruise experience
     for a family with their elderly grandmother aboard,
     and make it relaxing and enjoyable,
     by "taking the canal less windy".

Later, while preparing for your first cruise,
you pull up an app to find out when the sunset is.
You plan your second cruise route to maximize the passenger's sunset view.
Nice views become breathtaking ones - for a couple expecting their first child.

Your third cruise is the one with the couple coming from Burbank,
and the reason it's so important that they make it to your boat in time,
(besides the fact that he's proposing)
     is that you've got a fourth cruise that's scheduled right after.

For that fourth cruise you row through the first half of the route quickly...
so you can then turn towards a rising full moon.
    As that giant white sphere rises above the trees, your couple,
    who are celebrating their anniversary, share a true "perfect moment",
    as you row back towards home slowly.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Venetian Cat Chats About Ceccato

photo credit - Cat Bauer

Catherine "Cat" Bauer is an award-winning American author
who's lived in Venice since 1998.

Here, in her "Venetian Cat - Venice Blog",
she gives an excellent description of what the folks at Emilio Ceccato
have done (and are doing) with their official line of clothing for gondoliers.
"News from Rialto - Gondoliers of Venice Go Global"

Read more of Cat's perspectives on the goings-on in Venice by exploring

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tomato Soup Sky

The other night my passengers and I were treated to a beautiful sunset,
but unlike so many that I've witnessed, this one had a hint of haze
and some odd wispy clouds, which came out looking a bit like tomato soup.