Monday, September 16, 2019

Stella, Stella, Black and Yella

Recently our beloved gondola Stella decided that she wanted to leak.

She had been fiberglassed before we acquired her, 
so hauling and glass-patching seemed the thing to do.

Meanwhile, we'd been working on a new set of floorboards in a rather nontraditional color.  
Previously she'd been sporting some purple ones,
(see "Bride Transport")
but, well, we learned a few things about what penetrating epoxy can and can't do, so it was time for a new set.

By "we", I mean some great guys who I've been lucky to work with:
Mike Olsen, Evan Kliewer, and Kalev Pallares.

So after lots of fresh paint (and the aforementioned glass-patching)
today was the day to put her back in the water.

 Stella at dock, just after launching.

 Looking forward.

There's nothing like a freshly polished ferro.
It makes for a great funhouse-style self portrait.

I pushed away from the launch ramp dock and Stella and I made our way towards the home dock.  Rowing through parts of the Back Bay means that you often encounter interesting birds.
These shorebirds crossed my bow, on their way to another part of the harbor.

The wildlife in Newport is fantastic.

Arriving at the home dock, I ran into Eddie, who was at the tail end of his afternoon cruise with happy passengers.

Eddie snapped a photo of Stella and me on a very memorable day. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The "Best Kept Secret"

As a professional gondolier, I often find myself in conversations 
where someone asks what I do, and then is surprised by my answer.  
frequently they tell me they had no idea there were gondolas in Newport. 
They sometimes follow up by asking
"How long have there been gondolas there?"

Imagine how shocked they are when the answer is "since 1906".
My point?
with the exception of a certain casino in Nevada,

just about every gondola operation in the US is the best kept secret in their city.

It's not that we want it that way.
It just is.
It has a lot to do with the fact that we often operate silent black boats in the dark.  We're like stealth ninjas, but less violent - more romantic.

Hunter Mitchell rows in the fog - photo by Oliver Johnson

The same type of conversation takes place when I meet people from out of town.  As a gondola fanatic, I can usually name the nearest gondola to where they  live. 
Seattle? Gig Harbor.
Minneapolis? Stillwater. 
New York City? Right there on the lake in Central Park.
And the list goes on...
New Orleans, Oakland, Providence, Fort Lauderdale.

Australia, Germany, the UK - there are multiple gondola operations or owners in those countries as well.

We watch movies where the coolest person has remarkable connections, and knows of all the best kept secrets when it comes to food, night clubs, surf spots, places to appreciate gorgeous views.  

But while it might be great to find some secret taco stand that nobody else knows's not so great for the guy who owns the taco stand.

So as flattering as it is to be referred to as a "best kept secret",

It's not so good for business. 

I find myself having those conversations all over town.
"Yes, really, I am a gondolier. Here, see..."

(as I hand them a business card with a photo on it).

Best place to kiss?
For sure.

 photo by Cassandra Mohr - originally appeared in "Kiss Like You Mean It!"

Best place to pop the question?
Most definitely. 

Best kept secret in Newport?
Not so much.  

I'm working hard to get rid of that title.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Regata Storica 2019 - Watching It With a Little Help From My Friends

photos by Lele Sartori 
videos by Alessandro Santini

If you know me,
if you really know me,
you know that I am not a morning person.
I thrive on a late night schedule
(and despise morning phone calls from telemarketers).

But once a year I voluntarily crawl out of bed 
early enough to catch the Regata Storica live as it takes place in Venice.
As it is for the Venetians, it is my Superbowl Sunday 
(except it starts much earlier for us in California).
Regata Storica took place this year on September 1st.

Over the years I've enjoyed it on the big screen through Dish Network, 
but this year they stopped carrying the Italian channel.  
So this time I had to get creative.
I assembled various webcams on my computer and had them open in separate windows.
My friend Alessandro Santini happened to be on his gondola in front of Harry's Bar and was gracious enough to send me a few video clips of passing races.

Then I discovered that Jane and the Row Venice staff were going to be going live on Facebook.
As an added bonus I got to hear some good commentary from Jane and the staff. I also got to see the Regata Storica from the balcony of a palazzo for the first time.

This year I was even more thrilled to watch the regata because I knew so many of the participants.
And it was quite a memorable one.

In both the gondolini and women's categories, 
we've seen years of similar results.
On the women's side the duo of Romina Ardit and Anna Mao 
have won handily year after year.

In the gondolino races we saw a longstanding rivalry between two teams: Redolfi Tezzat and Paolo D'este (a big guy known by most as "Gigante") 
vs. Rudi and Igor Vignotto - two cousins from Sant'Erasmo 
referred to as the "Cugini". 

Last year, after both of their rowing partners had retired, Gigante joined forces with Rudy Vignotto and they ran the regata unchallenged.

In past years we saw contests where the winners were a given, 

and it was just a matter of who would finish first...behind them.

This year was different though.
Rudi Vignotto's son Mattia was old enough to compete, 

so they took to the water as a team on a green gondolino.  
The new Vignotto team did well, and managed to cross the finish line in 3rd place - not bad considering this was Mattia's first Regata Storica in the gondolino race.

The father and son team from the famous Vignotto family.

Second place was the yellow gondolino 
with Andrea Ortica and Jacopo Colombi on board.

Andrea Ortica and Jacopo Colombi driving it home to a second place finish.

But the winners of the 2019 Regata Storica 

were Andrea Bertoldini and Mattia Colombi.

Bertoldini and Colombi finished the fastest in their purple gondolino.

As I was texting back and forth with gondolier Alessandro Santini, 
he started to go crazy because he recognize one of the guys in the lead boat (purple) as a friend of his.

It seemed like all the gondoliers along that corridor knew Bertoldini 

and called him "Cici".  Turns out he's a gondolier in front of the Hotel Bauer (which is just around the corner from there).

His friend "Cici" Bertoldini has had many good races but this was huge.
We followed the boats through the course on webcam.

The purple boat held the lead through the whole race, 

and at the end "Cici" and his tandem partner Mattia Colombi were standing on the judges platform holding red bandieri 
(the first place flags used in Venetian regatas).

Over the years I became a fan of both teams in the Cugini/Gigante rivalry.
It made for some great race drama.

But I also felt bad for the other teams.  It seemed like they were playing basketball in the time of Jordan, or golfing against Tiger Woods.
Now we are seeing a new chapter in the gondolino category of Regata Storica.

Of course there's no telling what the field will look like next year.
People have speculated that The Rudi/Gigante pairing might return in another year, but after the father and son duo from the Vignotto family finished well this year, you have to wonder if we'll see them competing as a team for years to come.  It's worth mentioning that Mattia Vignotto was on six-man the caorlina team that took first place last year.

After watching the Regata di Sant'Erasmo this year, and spending time with some of the Row Venice crew, the race I was really looking forward to watching at this year's Regata Storica was the "Donne" - the women's race.  I had so many friends in the field and with recent races won by different Row Venice staff members, it seemed like maybe this would be the year we saw new champions.

To fully appreciate what it's like to row this race, 
you need to understand a few things: 

First, the whole thing starts out in the open waters of Bacino San Marco. 
It might be placid and calm in the morning when the Vogalonga begins there, but on an afternoon in September it can be windy, choppy, and it's a decent piece of water to row in-lane (about 500 meters) before you can start to jockey for your position in the fast-moving peloton that rushes up the Grand Canal. 

Second, it's the one regata where everybody is watching, and shouting, and screaming your name from boats and buildings, from vaporetto platforms and any window they can hang out of.

Third, you're on TV for heaven's sake. 
So the judges and everyone else is on display as well.

And fourth, it's the big one, the Superbowl of voga-alla-Veneta.
Anyone who competes in this race will leave it all in the ring at the end of the match.

I watched a webcam that faces the Bacino San Marco and saw the mascarete plowing through the stretch where you stay in your lane and pretty much drag race to gain a leading position before everyone bunches up. The lighting wasn't great, but I knew the race had begun.

Allesandro sent me this video, which told me what I needed to know about how things were developing at the beginning of the race.

Switching to the Row Venice live feed on Facebook I saw them flying up the Grand Canal.  They came around the corner in front of the judges platform as church bells all over the city were chiming.  
It was magnificent - like a movie.

The first mascareta coming into view was the green one with Elena and Elisa Costantini on board.  They were rowing strong. then the team of Romina Ardit and Anna Mao in hot pursuit.  
Venetians everywhere began to lose their mind.
The Row Venice folks were especially happy to see Elisa in the lead boat, because she's one of their star instructors. 

 Costantinis leading the pack.

A column of fast-moving boats chased after the green and yellow.
The Costantinis had about three boat lengths between them and Mao and Ardit in their yellow boat.  
Ardit and Mao pushing hard.

Another two boat lengths behind them and we saw three more boats in a tight end-to-end group. 
The maroon boat was running in third place with Magda Tagliapietra and Sofia D'Aloja (Row Venice staff), next was the red mascareta with Row Venice instructor Giulia Tagliapietra and her tandem partner Elisabetta Nordio.

The white boat in fifth position was another Vignotto pairing - this time the mother-daughter duo of Rudi's wife Luisella Schiavon (a past champion of many Regata Storicas) and their daughter Lara Vignotto.

I wonder if this is the first Regata Storica where a father and son, and a mother and daughter - both from the same family - have competed.
 Mother and daughter in action.

My friend Elena Almansi and her partner Romina Catanzaro pushed through on a pink mascareta, followed by purple - with Francesca Costantini and Rossana Nardo.  The light blue and orange boats rounded out the nine boat field.

Switching to my two webcams on either side of the Rialto Bridge, I saw the same order of boats make their way through that tight passageway.  
The webcams have no sound, but I could imagine the noise from the crowds echoing off every wall and surface as they cheered the rowers on.

The women continued up the Grand Canal to a turning marker and then high-tailed it back down the way they came.
Passing by the Rialto once again, I saw that the Costantinis had not only maintained their lead, but it looked like they'd maybe added a little to that lead.

Switching back to Jane and the Row Venice feed I waited; wondering if the women in the green boat could hold their lead.  

In Sant'Erasmo I witnessed the remarkable speed of Ardit and Mao at the end of a race, as they blew past several other boats.

As the racers came into view it was clear:
The Costantini team had definitely increased their lead and were sprinting toward the finish line at breakneck speed in their green mascareta.

Ardit and Mao crossed in second place, 

they were followed by Magda Tagliapietra and Sofia D'Aloja in third, 
and Giulia Tagliapietra and Elisabetta Nordio in fourth place.
 Magda and Sofia taking third.

Giulia and Elisabetta with an impressive finish for fourth place.

If ever there were a year I wished I could be in Venice to watch Regata Storica in-person, it was this year.

Many thanks to Lele Sartori for allowing me to use his great photographs.

They almost made me feel like I was there.

The Costantini team with their first place red bandieri.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

First Flight of the Four Man

Each year about this time, we start getting serious about Nationals.
And while several Newport gondoliers have already begun training in solo and tandem formats, today we had our first sighting of a four-oared team in training.  

This year it was the team known sometimes as the "GCON 4", 
because all four guys grew up rowing in the Gondola Company of Newport.
The team consists of Parker Harrison, Eddie  Rivera, Matt Raus, and Mike Ruffino. They've won gold the last two years, 

and silver the two years before that. 

Today, their first workout, was really a sort of wake-up call to their muscles.
This year the US Gondola Nationals will be held here in Newport.
The races and festivities will all center around the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club - much like they were during the 2015 Nationals.
The dates are October 26th and 27th.

You will likely see more about Nationals here in the weeks to come.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Simon at Sunset

I snapped this last night as Simon was heading out on a cruise, 
rowing the pupparin "Contessa".  Evan Perez can be seen in the background, rowing one of the American-built boats.
We're really starting to love our new location here in Newport.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A First in Newport

Tonight, for the very first time in Newport, a woman rowed passengers for hire as an official gondolier.  Gondolas have been here since the first decade of the 1900's - quite a lot of history - but our records show that this is the first time any servizio here has included a female gondolier rowing.  Some time ago we had a few ladies driving motorized gondolas, and several women have rowed here in the voga-alla-Veneta, but not for hire.
Not until tonight, when Joelle Dueck took out a group of five.
She's been training for some time now with Eddie Rivera, and judging by her performance on the water this evening, he did a superb job.

Joelle handled her passengers like she'd done it all before.
She rowed well against winds and tides, 
navigated tight canals, and even sang Santa Lucia.

 photo by Eddie Rivera

A huge congrats to Joelle.
History was made this evening, and I was honored to be there.

 Passing under the PCH bridge.

 Around Linda Island.

 Enjoying the glow.

And entering the channel to return home.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Nena and Romina - Leading All the Way

photo disclaimer:
I may or may not have shamelessly borrowed, swiped, or stolen all photos and video contained in this post.  

If, by chance, I swiped it from you or your social media page, I apologize.

Last year I met Elena "Nena" Almansi when she was visiting California with some of her cool friends.  We talked about rowing, racing, West Coast IPA's, and we all ate some tacos at Taco Mesa.

When I was in her neighborhood, we talked about rowing, I watched her actively racing, we shared some low quality beers on Sant'Erasmo, and then we ate some lagoon fish and polenta (among other great things) at the Trattoria La Rosa Dei Venti.

Since that great experience, 
watching the Regata in Sant'Erasmo from a chase boat 
(see The 2019 Regata di Sant'Erasmo - "If You Ain't Rubbin', You Ain't Racin'"),
I've become a long-distance sports fan of the regatas there in the Veneto.

They're not available on ESPN, and you can't watch them live, 
but they do eventually end up online.

The most recent regata took place along the inside shoreline of one of the barrier islands that help to form the Venetian lagoon. 
This island, known as Pellestrina, is south of Venice and stretches somewhat north-to-south for 11 kilometers (about 7.5 miles). 

Just after the start.

The women's race started near the southern tip of the island,
traveled north along the shoreline, 
turned at a buoy by a huge floating drydock by the Cantiere ACTV Ex "De Poli" (for those of you geeking out right now on Google Maps),
and continued south - finishing near the church that's called the Santuario della Madonna dell'Apparizione

Here's the full video of the race.
As you watch, you'll see some of the landmarks mentioned above.

To watch it full screen, follow this link:

In a standard Venetian regata there are nine boats, along with a reserve boat on site (I suppose it's there in case one of the nine entrants don't show up, or something truly scandalous prevents them from competing).

When those nine boats line up, side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by...oh, 

you know what I mean - they stretch wide across the water.
Eventually though, all the competitors end up in a fast-moving jumble,
which then leads to a long trail of boats with occasional attempts by some rowers to pass one or more of the boats in front of them.

The key, for anyone who read my post about the Sant'Erasmo race, 

is to get ahead and stay ahead.
And that's exactly what "Nena" Almansi and her rowing partner Romina Catanzaro did.  They had a great start (a turbo boost, really), 
which allowed them to get ahead.  
While some boats were jostling for position, 
and a few even got briefly tangled up, 
the women in the blue boat were ahead...and working to stay ahead.

There were some position changes, especially after the buoy turn as the team in the orange boat worked their way forward, but Nena and Romina held the lead position all the way to the finish line.

A fast finish.

That blue boat has a different name in the Veneto: 
"celeste" - as in heavenly.
It refers to the color of the sky.

As you can see from the results, 
the first boat to finish was the #4 celeste.
Because all boats other than the reserve have numbers as well as colors, 
we can see that the second place finisher was the #7 arancio (orange), 
followed by #2 canarin (yellow), and #6 verde (green). 
As in most women's regatas these days, there are many competitors in the field who are sponsored and/or associated with Row Venice.
I have been so impressed with the impact they've had on the sport.

In Venetian regatas the top four finishers receive pennant-shaped flags that are handmade by Anna Campagnari - a well-decorated rower in her own right, who also has great artistic talents.

The top finishers receive red flags - which are called "bandiere".
Red is first place,
White is second,
Green is third
and blue is fourth.

On Sunday, August 4th, Elena Almansi and Romina Catanzaro proudly held red bandiere.  And as it happens, Anna Campagnari is Elena's mother - so the two racers weren't the only proud ones that day.

Romina and Elena with their red bandiere.

And so I conclude by saying that I am also proud...proud and honored to know these great Venetians.  A big congrats to Romina, Nena, and the parents and families of them both.  
Also congrats to all of the competitors in such a great sport - you are blessed to row in a place as amazing as the Venetian lagoon.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Orange Sunset over Black Swan

Drew sent me this today with the words:
Check out what someone sent me this morning.

I thought it was awesome and told him I wanted to post it.
When I asked who to give photo credit to, he said that it was:
Just some random guy on a boat who airdropped it to me 

as we went by him.
Technology amazes me sometimes.

Drew has operated Tahoe Amore for several years now up on Lake Tahoe.

This shot was taken on Lake San Marcos, 
where Drew recently launched Black Swan Gondola in the northern part of San Diego County.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Lesson with Row Venice

Anybody who knows me, knows that I'm a huge fan of Row Venice.
Call it a company, an organization, a cultural installation.
I call it the very best way to see Venice, 
while learning something that is truly Venetian.

Founded by Australian expat Jane Caporal, 
Row Venice is described on their website ( ) as:
"...a non-profit organization of passionate women and expert vogatrici, Venetian by birth and by choice.  We are dedicated to the preservation of the traditional Venetian cultura acquea and at its center, the voga alla veneta, the Venetian style of rowing: standing up, facing forward, native to Venice and made iconic by the gondoliers."

Over the years I've had the pleasure of meeting some of the Row Venice staff, who not only give lessons on the Row Venice boats, but also compete in the various regatas in the lagoon while wearing Row Venice gear.

Elena Almansi has become a great friend, and I was fortunate to ride in her friend's chase boat during the Regata di Sant'Erasmo 
("The 2019 Regata di Sant'Erasmo - "If You Ain't Rubbin', You Ain't Racin'").

Until my recent visit to Venice, 
I had yet to meet the founder herself - Jane Caporal.  
We communicated via text a few times and, despite the threat of rain 
(which had been making annoyingly regular visits that week), 
Jane agreed to give my daughter Isabella a lesson on one of their batelas. 

Standing on the Ponte della Sacca bridge, I spotted Jane approaching, 
 we had a brief conversation as she was about to slip beneath the bridge.
 A cheerful smile despite the threat of rain.

 Emerging from under the Ponte della Sacca.
 Lining up to moor at the Fondamenta Gasparo Contarini.

...and making contact.  
Jane tied the boat up and began with some basic terminology.
She showed my daughter how rowing the front station was done and then got her to try it while the batela was still moored to the fondamenta.

 Once Isabella had an idea of how it was done, Jane loosened the lines and we were off.  My daughter rowed up front, Jane captained from the back, and I snapped some photos and did my best to keep my mouth shut and let the expert teacher do her thing.

And an expert, she is.
It was remarkable to watch how seamlessly things worked.

My wife managed to snap this photo of us 
as we cruised by the house we'd rented for the week.
 photo by Elisa Mohr

If the boat looks familiar, it should.
Mark Schooling at Gondola Paradiso has one in Oxnard, California.
He liked the boat design so much that he had one built at the Northwestern School of Wooden Boat Building in Washington state.

A "Batela coa de gambero" (translation: shrimp-tailed boat) is a very traditional type of Venetian boat that has become quite rare since motorized boats entered the landscape. Because they're not as long as gondolas, and a bit wider too - they are easier to handle and more stable.

I've rowed Mark's boat in Oxnard several times and can attest the the fact the she's stable and well-suited to taking passengers.  

She's also a joy to row.
I can understand why Mark chose the design,

and it makes perfect sense that Row Venice chose batelas for their lessons.
Row Venice currently has four of these beautiful wooden boats in their fleet.

We cruised through the canals of northern of the Cannaregio district.
I realized that the last time my daughter and I were in Venice together was ten years ago, and she took her very first voga-alla-veneta strokes on a GSVVM club boat.

My goodness how she's grown.

Unfortunately I haven't really fulfilled my fatherly duties as a voga trainer to my family, but it left Jane an open canvas to do her work.

The next step was getting the student up on the back of the boat, 
rowing on her own.

Jane tied the boat up once again, but this time leaving the starboard side exposed, and had Isabella row a-poppa with the boat tethered.
 More instruction was given,

...and we were off again.

Jane gave a few key pointers, 
and her student started to get the hang of it.

As a dedicated fan of Venice, I cringe when I see hordes of tourists pour out of their cruise ships, follow the lady with the umbrella, and descend upon Piazza San Marco in droves.
To me it's not how such a great city should be experienced, 

and yet for many that's their only memory of Venezia.

Row Venice offers the exact opposite.
You travel on foot to a quiet neighborhood that's off the beaten path,
learn to row a boat,
and see Venice from an entirely different (and totally Venetian) angle.
You don't leave with cheap souvenirs made in China.
Instead you bring something much more valuable and enduring:
a great memory of a remarkable experience (and a few great photos too).

Later on, when you see news coming out of Venice about a women's regata, maybe one of the top finishers will be your instructor.