Thursday, June 30, 2016

I Love New York in June

Last Sunday I found myself in New York City with a little time to spare,
and I set out towards Central Park to look up my friend, Andrés García-Peña.

Arriving at Columbus Circle, at the South-West corner of Central Park, I jumped in a pedicab and took in the perfect weather as the driver took us through the park.  As the blur of greenery and happy people passed by on both sides, I chatted with my driver, who was wearing, appropriately enough, a striped shirt.

A few of the other pedicabs on the path.
One of the famous horse-drawn carriages of NYC.

The pedicab rolled to a stop at the famous Bethesda Fountain,
overlooking part of the lake.
I took a moment to scan the water and appreciate the fountain that's a gem of a landmark in New York City.
The Bethesda Fountain with the lake in the background.

I jumped out and headed down towards the Loeb Boathouse, where the gondola takes off from.  By far the most active (and pervasive) boating activity on the lake is the rowboat concession.

Like a huge flock of aimless and clumsy geese, these white rowboats are everywhere.

This was the view from the dock.
The further you go around the corner, the more rowboats you see.
On a perfectly beautiful Sunday afternoon, the line to rent those rowboats was frightfully long.

Making my way along the dock, I saw her – black and shiny, awaiting her next guests.
Andrés was nowhere to be seen, but I found him inside, and after some loud happy handshakes and backslaps, we were heading towards the boat.  Andrés had a half-hour gap between cruises, and was just about to give a short ride to someone associated with the restaurant.
He said “you wanna come along?”, and I said “you don’t have to ask me twice”.

Ten feet off the dock, I was invited to row, and again there was no hesitation.
Rowing in Central Park - an unexpected treat.

I found myself navigating around dozens of rowboats, waving and calling out to them.
Halfway through I mentioned something about not wanting to bump into any of them and Andres said with a smile 
“I’m surprised you haven’t hit any of them yet.  I usually hit four or five of them during a cruise…sometimes on purpose!”

Remember that neither rowboats or gondola move at much of a pace, so bumping is minimal.

Sure enough, as if it had been spoken into existence, upon turning, I made contact with a hapless rowboat.  Everybody laughed, and I smiled along with Central Park’s gondolier and our guest.
With the famous Andrés.

It is my opinion that Andrés Garcia-Pena is the most seen gondolier,
the most observed gondolier in the world.

A few other worthy contenders being the guy who rowed the gondola in that James Bond film, and of course, Alex Hai, in her trademark crisp white uniform with dark dress shirt – being featured in news articles certainly made her the most well-known and talked about gondolier.
But as far as being seen, I think Andrés is the guy.
Sure there are lots of guys who row in prominent, visible areas in Venice, and the same holds true for the folks who pilot boats at The Venetian casinos in Las Vegas and Macao.
But in Central Park, there’s only one gondola, and most of the time, only one guy rowing her.
He’s been there for decades, and yet he still has the glow of someone who truly loves their job.
New York City has been called "the center of the world", "the capitol of the world", and even "the new Rome".
In the middle of the city is Central Park, in the middle of that park is a lake, and there on the lake, in the midst of white a shiny black Venetian gondola with Andres on the back.
The gondola looks great.  She sees a lot of traffic,
but she’s none the worse for wear.
Andrés has a solid Paolo Brandolisio remo to row with;
it felt perfect in my hands.

Making our way past the Bethesda Fountain I took it all in:
afternoon sunshine beaming between Manhattan skyscrapers, romantic couples rowing by, folks in the park enjoying the kind of weather they’d probably spent all winter looking forward to.

I gained a new appreciation for the song from the 1940's that says:
“I love New York in June, how about you?”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cannaregio Cruiser

Crossing a bridge in the Cannaregio district of Venice,
I looked over to see a little hidden gem of history:
an old squero, which is privately owned now and still has boats in it
(but not gondolas).
Coming up the canal was a beautiful fully varnished rowing boat.
I had to stop and watch.
The bridge spans the Rio della Sensa - one of several long canals
that make up Cannaregio's long and organized grid-like layout
(noticeably less chaotic, compared to many of the canals in the city).

So there he was, a solo rower on what may have been
his own personal boat, rowing along. 
I don't know where he was going or where he'd been.

Of course, like many true Venetians - he's got a special bond with his phone.  For most of the time I observed him, he was either on it or fiddling with it.
But then it is his boat, and his time,
No passengers to complain,
and you really only need one hand to row.
Just another beautiful boat in Venice.
Looked like a sandolo to me,
but there may have been some mascareta-hybrid traits in there.
Either way - a boat I'd sure like to row if I lived there.
And just as quickly and quietly as he arrived,
he and his well-cared-for craft were gone,
rowing of to who-knows-where.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Andrés in Action

Here's a shot of my friend Andrés García-Peña as he cruises with passengers
on the lake in Central Park, NYC.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Gondolas on Zappi's Wall

I was in Niagara Falls yesterday.
No, I was NOT researching my next gondola expedition,

but only because my wife vetoed the idea.

While there, I sought out the best pizza in town, and found Zappi's
(founded by the Zappitelli family).
Great pizza. It even impressed my New York Italian in-laws - and that's not easy to do.

Sure enough, there on the wall of the building was Venice.

Classic approach: bright red and green paint, framing photos
or paintings of a scene in Italy.
Most restaurants choose one of the standards - Colosseum,
Tower of Pisa (not always with the correct amount of lean),
Fountain of Trevi, and of course Venezia.
Here we see a gondolier who wears his winter garb,
and we know he's a true Venetian, because he's on his cellphone. 
He's skilled enough at his job that he can row with one hand, 
while handling whatever important business presents itself.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Joey's First Cruise (Twenty Years Ago)

photo and story by Joey Hamamoto

Recently one of my gondoliers reached the twenty year mark.
Joey has become one of my dearest friends.
He went from a newly hired employee,

to a guy who's wedding I was asked to perform, years later.

A lot has changed,
including our way of handling things on the water.
As you read Joey's story, remember that when he began with us,
we were running motorized gondolas that were owned and maintained by another company.  We also don't venture so far from our base of operations.
The boat was retired years ago, but the friendship and memories endure.

~June 1996, my first gondola cruise~
It was in the early afternoon that I came down to interview for the gondolier position. About 20 minutes later I stepped foot on a gondola into a whole new world.
Gondola Greg and I cruised around the harbor for a couple of hours. We passed houses and people with the sun on our backs and the wind in our face.
While cruising Greg received a call. I thought to myself, "This must be a really important guy...he's got a cell phone." Remember this is the 90's so everyone has a pager. Cellphones were not as common as today. When he finished his call he said, "So do you think you've got the hang of it?"
I said, "Oh yeah, in 2 or 3 weeks I'll be a pro."
He said, "Good you have your first cruise tonight at 7:30pm."
Talk about a sink or swim opportunity.
7:30pm comes and the gondola is all set. Champagne is chilling in the bucket, glasses and Godiva chocolates are neatly placed on the platter, and I've got just about everything I need to have a perfect first cruise. The only thing I didn't have was a radio or some form of music...Looks like I'm singing.
I saw a older couple probably in their late 70's or early 80's coming down to the dock. It didn't occur to me to look at the occasion that they were celebrating that was written on my trip sheet.
I said, "Can I help you folks?"
The husband replied, "Are you Joey?"
I said, "Yes, you must be..."
Turns out this was my client and they were celebrating their 50th anniversary. 
If you ever want a challenge try to help a couple in their 80's get in and out of a gondola.
So I got them into the gondola and we're cruising along. I have no music and I've probably sang every song I could remember including the song I sang in the high school choir. Those of you who were in choir with me know what I'm talking about.
The gondola is motorized electric so being that this was my first cruise I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. Now keep in mind I had the boat in high gear. The higher the gear the harder the engine runs. The harder the engine runs the quicker you lose power. Needless to say the boat lost power around the Corona del mar jetty near the wedge.
So let's recap: 
I have an 80 year old couple celebrating their 50 anniversary in my gondola on my very first cruise, I have no music and I've sung every song I could possible remember, we're a million miles from were we started at a time when cellphone are practically nonexistent to the common man, and the boat engine is dead.
Fortunately there are two things that can potentially save me from this being my last gondola cruise. I have a flashlight and a couple with a great sense of humor.
With the flashlight I was able to call a fishing boat over to tow us in.
When we got back to the dock I couldn't stop apologizing enough for the fact that the boat died. This was their 50th anniversary and I blew it.
The husband said, "Son, this was very fun and we will remember this always...thank you."
They even called the office to rave about how much fun it was and how I helped make it memorable.
Fast forward 20 years:
Last night I had cruises and couldn't stop thinking about that night. When you're a kid with your whole life ahead of you, you've got this large window of opportunity and perhaps it's easy to get upset over things that aren't actually perfect.
Someday when you're trying to hold onto the past and the window's of tomorrow seem less open. And you find yourself closer to the end of your journey than the beginning, perhaps it's easier to just let things go and cherish the time you have.
At least, that one man's opinion.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gondolier candidate in Boston

I received this message, along with the above photo from Joe Gibbons in Boston:
Hello Greg, hello Gondolier friends. My grandson is seeking a position at one of our Gondola companies. John Pellegrino  claims he has been rowing for two years.   
Can anybody out there use a little guy on their boat?  hH's not quite ready to open any wine bottles but he's really good on the sippy cup.  Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Just the Photo - Trailering BIG

You think you're nervous when trailering a gondola,
imagine the stress level of this guy!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Very Effective Sunscreen

Gondolier Hunter Mitchell rows the Lucia on a sunny afternoon in Newport.
She came over from Venice in the '60s with this elegantly designed canopy frame.  I'm sure that the current canvas piece is at least third generation, but it sure does the job in keeping those UV rays off of our passengers on hot sunny days.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Alex Hai Celebrates Twenty Years

Twenty years ago this week,  Alex Hai arrived in Venice and began her long and storied relationship with the gondola and the city of Venice.

Big congrats to you, Alex!
Here's to another twenty years,
doing the job that so many of us here love to do.


To learn more, see the article
"How Venice's first female gondolier rocked the boat"

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Umbrellas in Tahoe

What do you do when it rains during your gondola cruise?
You break out an umbrella (or two).

In the words of Drew Sainte Marie:
       "Who says us Gondoliers can't multitask!?"

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Carlo's "RATAW"

A while back I posted a photo from Minnesota, with the guys from Gondola Romantica working on one of their boats.  They had the boat on an A-frame hoist, and were using the battery of John's truck to power the hoist motor.
Meanwhile, in Germany, another gondola owner named Carlo saw this photo and assumed the worst: that an American gondolier was mounting a Toyota truck engine in his gondola.
A valid concern, given our tendency to do similar things.
For the record, John Kerschbaum is not mounting Toyota engines in his boats (but if he is, I'd like the one with more horsepower during my run in the upcoming US Gondola Nationals).
Carlo sent me this dispatch a while back, along with some photos.
There's a humorous angle, but he does have a clever little invention to share.

Hello Greg,
The "John Kerschbaum Toyota-engine scandal“ inspired me in addition to my facebook posts, to write an appropriate answer to the public. We should keep calm and forget about powering up our wooden gondolas with SUV-engines.
Otherwise we will end up with atomic power engines blowing us and our beloved gondolas to the moon. But there is no water on the moon.
Breaking News!!
The Germans are on the edge to pimp Gondolas!

The very new invention is the 1.000$-fully-chromed-Copper tube, also known as RATAW-device (Rain-Air-Tube-Air-Water ). It will be soon available in the upgraded RATAG-version (Rain-Air-Tube-Air-Ground) for groundbased Gondolas, but this development is not finished yet due to the earthquake issue.

For hundreds of years in Gondola-building  the Gondoliers have been wondering about the woodfading behavior of Gondolaplanks at the end of their gondolas.

It is an endless story of pain, surprise, and immense costs.

Rainwater runs down from the aft cover - to the end of the Gondoliers platform and surely finds its way through the wood and directly to create mold inside, consuming the expensive gondola wood.

There are four main solutions to this problem – but German engineers did add a fifth mindblowing one now.

1.       seal the wood with thick layers of paint and or epoxy and dry the visible waterpitch any time and day by  day with a sponge, or cover the gondola properly with sufficient  type of fabric-tent.

2.       modification of the gondola by drilling a draining hole at the deepest point of the upper deck and the water disappears immediatly for ever! (most common)

3.       in addition to 2. make two big holes at every side of the gondola below the gondoliers platform and dry the water inside the gondola by heatgun (as seen on regatta-gondola-hole-bow) – it´s not due to aerodynamic reasons (as we are told frequently).

4.       in addition to 2. insert a short 2 inch copper tube into the hole, glue it carefully into  position and place an empty beancan beneath – a great one is better to increase the hitrate and the maintenance intervalls – a flat one is better to dry out by itself (quasi maintenancefree)

but anyhow check for corrosion of the can after 20 years of operation or earlier.

5.       the very new and mindblowing hightec solution after several hundreds years is:
drill a hole advised at 2. and then
drill a second hole at the end of the lower brass protection of the lama da poppa (risso)
enlarge the tube in 4. to the length of 20 inch and bend it to fit inside the two holes

don´t forget to let the tube stick out (only at the down end) a little bit to prevent the downrunning of water at the outside of the gondola.


It´s very easy to glue both ends into the gondola if she is opened at the bow for replacement of wood.

Carlo is, of course, talking about a low-lying area of deck behind the gondolier, which can become a pooling spot for rainwater.
I hardly ever have this problem because there appears to be a federal law against rain in Southern California.
In Germany, however, this is probably quite an issue.
Here are the photos he sent me:
Top view of the tube
Looking at the tube from under the deck
Where the tube ends (with some planking removed)
Wider view of the underside, with planking replaced.
The tube end is to the left.
Carlo went on to say:
And if you are a “Streber“ you can widen (not drilling) the mostly very little spider-home drainholes in the floor plates (very carefully not to damage the spiders and bottom planks!!) and pull a endless rope thru those holes – now you are in power to clean up the (spider-web-messy-crap sealed) drainholes in the very end of the Gondola, where the sun didn´t shine (exception: woodreplacement) by simply pulling the rope.

You never ever have to call a boatbuilding master for maintenance due to faded wood in the bow.

This is the official story.
The secret is:
The 1.000$-fully-cromed-Copper RATAW tube could be used to exhaust the  next development step: a probably invisible German nanotec - highpower engine (3 times Toyota SUV) answering  the John Kerschbaum Toyota-engine.

There should be a law to prohibit mechanical, geothermal, electric, solar, wind, nuclear and other  nonhuman powersources for Gondolas to prevent further escalation!

Officials statement: thats  the reason why Germans and John may be not allowed to compete in the Nationals this October with their modificated gondolas.

written by: Carlo the Gondolator, Germany, Hamburg,,

reviewed by: Greg

Monday, June 6, 2016

Returning Home

As you may have guessed by the lack of activity here on the Gondola Blog,
I've been away - driving through parts of America that are remarkably beautiful...but woefully deprived of wi-fi.

Ahh, but just like the tandem finish in the above photo - I always return...
to my home, to my harbor, and to my gondolas.