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Tales of An American Gondolier

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Two boats, Three Islands and about 1,000 years of history.

A little History of two locally world famous boats,

As I write this I am looking over the bay at the perfect October  “Adult” Summer.  Air temp Still in the 80’s, Water temp still in the 70’s and the waterways wide open!  I could literally sail my “Double Sabot” blindfolded from LBYC to ABYC to The Gondola Getaway without a worry of crossing another boat… The only way I know summer is winding down is glimpses of Orange Gourds on porches and the occasional witch flying by.  Even a Christmas décor and parade theme was called for and found.  “A star- spangled Christmas!”  If you live on the Island then pull out your fourth of July stuff and mix it with the holiday lights. The perfect So Cal winter/summer/holiday mix.

I am going to take a tack onto a little Island History that maybe all of our Islanders aren’t aware of.

Naples Islands are famous for introducing 2 very famous boats!  The World -famous Gondola and the Internationally famous Naples Sabot.

The Gondola

In the very early 1900’s, Naples Islands were developed as a Venetian inspired island community replete with canals, bridges, Italian street names and of course Gondolas!  Our neighborhood boasted a Venetian experience right here in Southern California as early as about 1903 or so. They are certainly unique boats for these parts, but the Gondola put us on the map over 115 years ago!  Then in 1982, the Gondola Getaway continued the presence of Gondolas in our local waters to keep the history alive and well.  Naples Islands now boast the first and largest fleet of Venetian craft outside of Venezia.  The Gondola is a 1,000 year- old design and still gracing our waterways of Naples Islands.

The Naples Sabot

The Naples Sabot was designed and built in a garage on Naples Islands during World War 2 around 1942 by Roy McCullough and R.A. Violette.  The boat was designed specifically for Alamitos bay.  It was fixed with a Leeboard instead of a dagger board, so it could sail in the mudflat areas and pull up on the beach with the “leeboard” able to kick up when it detected bottom.  Surely this was a genius idea at the time and has held on now for more than 70 years.  The Naples Sabot went on to become So Cal’s most prolific Junior sailing program boat and the Sabot nationals are held each year in Southern California.  Our own Alamitos bay hosts the regatta about every 3rd year.  The emblem on the sail is a Sabot (Dutch wooden shoe) with the letter N on it signifying Naples!  The boat has a similar shape to the famous Dutch Wooden Shoe, hence the name.  Pretty much every world class sailor from California cut his/her teeth on the Naples Sabot. A new junior sailing pram is slowly taking over the scene called the Optimist.  It doesn’t hold a candle to our Locally world famous design.  It was designed to be much more forgiving to juniors.  The Naples Sabot was designed with performance in mind which is why it has produced so many National and Olympic sailors.  The word in the sailing community has always been, “if you can sail a Naples Sabot well, you can sail anything.”  Amazing that our Island name has had an effect on so many watermen/women.  Most kids probably don’t even know where the name came from.  Well, you all at least do now.   I even designed and built the first and only “Double Sabot” as sort of a homage to the past!  I just sailed it back from Catalina Island to the Sabots hollowed grounds of Naples Islands.


I was talking with the City recently and floated out the idea of displaying our locally historic boats on the middle medians on 2nd street here on the Island.  They said they had no idea of our Island history regarding these two famous boats and would fully support such an historical project.  We should be proud of this unique piece of history and maybe show it off to others.


Enjoy the Island and our History,

The American Gondolier

Michael OToole – Founder

Michael OToole – Founder

Tales of an American Gondolier

My name is Michael O’Toole, founder of The 37 year-old business “The Gondola Getaway.”  It started as College project at U.S.C. and has turned into lifelong business and passion.  The business has taken me to Venezia, Italia over 45 times now.  I have had the opportunity to live, eat, drink and row in the Laguna di Venezia being guided by the most local of Venetians.  I have rowed and sailed over 1,000 miles through the lagoon on almost every type of Venetian boat, stayed or visited almost every Island in the lagoon, eaten and learned to cook every classic dish and made the closest of friends. I have been able to bring so much of my experiences back here to Naples Islands, Long Beach and be shared with all the Gondola Getaway customers and locals of Naples Islands and Alamitos bay.

This blog will share tales from my experiences from the Venetian lagoon and how they have shaped my life.  You will find recipes, traveling tips, techniques, comparisons, funny stories, sad stories.  All the stories will be a reflection of my life that has, is and will be a blend of Venezia and home here in Long Beach and Southern California.  This will be my own unique blend of cultures that I hope you will enjoy!  I sure have!!

Michelangelo Otolini

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