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.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

On a Blue Theme

Walking around Venice last month, 
I paused on a bridge and saw this gondola go by.  
I could never get bored of watching these magnificent boats plying the waters of their city.

And no two are identical.
Each gondolier personalizes his boat.

In this case I noticed that not only had the gondolier chosen blue floorboards for his boat, but he did the scallops (those curved side accents) in a darker blue rather than the traditional black. 

Aahh, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.
First, let's start with a nice wide-angle of the gondola:

Yeah, that's nice.

And of course our gondolier does that put-the-foot-against-the-wall thing so subtly.
In this case he uses the opposite foot.
The couple takes it all in, and as they approach, we begin to see just how nice this gondola is.  Fully carved decks, an impressive scimier (the crest decoration that rests atop the seat back), and several other details you might hope to see in a gondola.
Preparing for a tight turn, the gondolier uses his left foot this time, 
and deftly pushes off the wall behind him.

I swear, everything on this gondola is carved.
Such a beauty!

As they emerged from the bridge I was standing on, 
I noticed that the gentleman had his phone out...

So I snapped a shot...wondering if I might just be able to zoom in on the photo later.
Not bad, but I could have gotten the focus a little better.

They passed under the bridge I was standing on, 
and the gondolier stepped forward to row sotomorso style.

It was at that point I noticed the blue scallops on his floorboards.
I also spent some time drooling over the portela, 

the carvings, and pretty much everything else.

And just as smoothly as they had arrived, our gondolier, his blue-themed boat, and happy passengers glided off to see more of La Serenissima.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The "Lazy Drop"

Here in Newport, as in many other US gondola locations, 
we offer a message-in-a-bottle option, where the client can propose, 
or deliver a birthday or anniversary message.

It's printed, rolled, and placed in a corked bottle before the cruise, 

and somewhere along the route, the gondolier places it in the water and doubles back to have the intended recipient retrieve it.

As you might image, we all have our preferred methods 
of placing the bottle in the water.

Here we see Hunter's "Lazy Drop" method.
It's stealthy, creates no splashing sound, 
and as you can see - it makes for a great photo.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


photos by Ruben J

On a recent trip to Mexico City, my friend Ruben visited Xochimilco once again.  I've posted about this remarkable place before 
(see "Ruben Goes to Xochimilco").

In these photos, we see actual punting.  While they don't row the boats like we do, Ruben tells me that every boat he saw there was pushed along by men with long poles - even the smaller food boats that were making the rounds.

By the size of some of those boats, 
I'd guess that a lot of those guys stay in pretty good shape.

Some day I hope to see and experience it myself.

Monday, July 8, 2019

New Paint (among other things)

 I woke up this morning, drank a bunch of coffee, 
and my friend Mike and I went over and got the gondola we call "Lucia" and hauled her on trailer over to my house.

At first she was just a freshly painted hull, 

but I managed to get all of her removable pieces back in place.  
When she was all together (see above photo) it was time to launch her.

Lucia has new paint (inside, outside, top and bottom), 

and her new floorboards look great.
I ended my day by launching her and rowing her back to the dock.
Tomorrow I expect the ferro will come back from the polisher and she'll be complete.

There are few things I enjoy more than seeing a gondola on launch day - whether she's a brand new gondola, or one that's received a makeover.

Just like rowing into the never gets old.

Sunday, July 7, 2019


“If there is magic on this planet, 
it is contained in water.” 
— Loren Eiseley

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Very Best Beach Towel

photo by Jonah Bonner

During a recent visit to Venice, I spent some time with my friend Alessandro Santini (the lucky guy who rows the boat in my post "Santini's Varo")

We spent some time on his beautiful boat, and I noticed this cool beach towel he had on the boat that had the flag of Venezia on board.

The next day he gave me one just like it - which I now use for cruises.

It's the perfect way to set the mood and keep dew off the seat back prior to boarding. 

Thanks Alessandro.  Maybe some day I might even take it to the beach!