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Gondolas make Gig Harbor feel a little like the canals of Venice

Posted on July 8th, 2024 By:

Look closely, and you’ll see a little bit of Venice in the Gig Harbor.

John “Cinque” Synco and his business partner Greg “Gregorio” Garite of Gig Harbor Gondola row along the waterfront in authentic Venetian gondolas, providing passengers a unique view of the harbor.

Synco, who started the business in 2015 after moving to Gig Harbor from California, worked for a friend who ran a gondola business in Long Beach, Calif., for a few years. Becoming proficient at the art of gondoliering took about five years, he said.

“They are masters at rowing,” Synco said of the gondoliers in Venice. “It’s been done like this for hundreds of years.”

John “Cinque” Synco rows his gondola Tommaso Sebastiano in Gig Harbor. He and his business partner Greg “Gregorio” Garite operate their business Gig Harbor Gondola year-round. Photo by Marsha Hart

Gondola gear

Families of craftspeople in Venice make the gondolas, oars, and oarlocks. The skills often get passed down through generations. 

Synco started his business with one gondola, Nelly, and bought a second gondola named Tommaso Sebastiano, built by the Tramontin family in the 1990s . He wanted an authentic oarlock, called a forcola in Italian, for the vessel. He found Piero Dri, who owns a shop in Venice called Il Forcolaio Matto. Dri is one of only four craftspeople who are still making oars and oarlocks there.

“I try to show as much respect as I can (to the culture) and if I need something, I go to the source,” Synco said. “There are tiny differences, but all gondolas are pretty much the same. Gondoliers get to choose the ornaments, and all gondolas that are used for tourism in Venice have to be black.”

The boat has a flat bottom and is about 35 feet long and five feet wide. Gondoliers stand on a small platform at the back to see where they are rowing. 

The Gig Harbor gondola tours the waterfront in 2022. Photo by Larry Steagall

In the 1800s, the Tramontin family developed a new design for the gondola so that it would ebb, Synco said. The design makes the right side a bit longer. The boat is shaped with a curve, like a banana. The gondolier rows from that side, with one oar, in a twisting, push-pull motion, unlike that of a traditional oar for a rowboat. A gondola oar is made differently, and rarely is brought out of the water.

“I have people ask me how I’m doing this,” Synco said, “because they think the oar is a pole.”

The Tramontin family in Venice built the Tommaso Sebastiano in the 1990s. Photo by Marsha Hart

History of the Venetian gondola

The gondola and the forcola are unique to Venice and first appeared in 1307. According to, gondolas became popular in Venice when the city outlawed horses in the 14th century, and the noble class embraced them.

Since then, artisans have been hand-carving the oar locks and oars for gondoliers. Construction of the piece is important for the gondolier, since that is what cradles the oar while the gondolier rows. Crafstmen make each oar specifically for the gondolier, based on height. Dri made Synco’s oars from walnut. 

When Gig Harbor resident Jayme Bell visited Venice in May, she didn’t expect to run into anyone there who might know where Gig Harbor is on a map. She said she happened upon Piero Dri in the doorway of his shop while out exploring.

“I wanted to visit a boat maker, and I looked down an alleyway and saw a red and white sign,” Bell said. “I saw the forcolas and it had an ‘Open’ sign. It was a cute little shop.”

For visitors, and residents alike, Gig Harbor Gondola provides a relaxing ride with a unique view of the harbor.
Photo by Marsha Hart

She struck up a conversation with Dri. Assuming that he would have no idea where Gig Harbor was, she instead gave a general idea of where she lived.

“I said, ‘the west coast of Washington near Seattle,’ and he said, ‘Oh, a couple of years ago I made oars for the gondola in Gig Harbor,’ and we talked about the wood that he uses, and I asked if I could take some pictures,” she said.

She said that she noticed the forcolas are all different on each gondola, and the ornamental metal pieces are as well.

“It was serendipity,” Bell said. “ You walk in somewhere and there is a connection.”

60- or 90-minute rides

With routes that include rowing along the Gig Harbor Marina and Boatyard, and toward the lighthouse past Tides Tavern, as well as an extended route that includes a trip down toward Anthony’s restaurant, Synco said a leisurely ride in a gondola is a special experience.

“It provides an interesting and unique way to see the harbor,” Synco said. “I have a mix of people, a lot of locals, and some who come every year. In November of 2021 I had a grey whale exhale right next to me.”

The rides cost $100 for 60 minutes or $135 for 90 minutes. Booking is online.

Guests are an additional $25, with a limit of six passengers, no matter the age. Passengers may bring whatever they want to eat or drink while on the ride, Synco said. Passengers can order appetizers from Slice and Social and have them waiting when they arrive for the ride. Customers must place orders two days prior to the cruise time, Synco said.

For information or to book a ride, visit

Gig Harbor Gondola offers two options for passengers, a 60 and 90 minute ride. The short ride takes passengers toward the lighthouse, while the 90 minute cruises toward the Anthony’s restaurant end of the harbor. Photo by Marsha Hart