Gondolier glides into Gig Harbor: 'People love it'

GIG HARBOR, Wash. -- A slice of Italy has slipped into Gig Harbor's marina. Amid the paddle boards, dinghies and sailboats, the sounds of Venice fill the salty air.

Dressed in his red and white striped shirt, serenading passengers, and gliding through the bay in a 36 foot Venetian gondola, John Synco is attracting cameras, waves and "ciaos" from nearly everyone he passes.

"People love it. People are coming out of what seems to be million dollar yachts and going 'yep, that's pretty cool.' And I go, 'thank you sir, yours is too," Synco said of his $14,000 gondola.

This Southern California transplant worked as a gondolier for years back home and dreamed of one day opening his own boating business. He and his wife settled on Gig Harbor because it's protected from the sound and this month launched Gig Harbor Gondola.

Finding the water wasn't the only challenge. Learning how to steer the 800 pound boat proved tough too.

"It took me probably six months just to be able to go straight comfortably and come back to the dock," Synco said.

The gondolier traveled to the crowded canals of Venice where he studied rowing styles and became obsessed with perfecting Venetian rowing.

And then there was finding an authentic gondola for sale. A friend who owned a gondola business in California sold him one crafted in the 1980s. The boat's name is Nelly. Synco said it's a tradition for gondoliers in Venice to name their first gondola after their mother. Nelly was a perfect fit for his family. That was his great grandmother's name.

Synco is not Italian but says he feels a connection to the Venetian culture and is living his dream. He plans to offer rides at $85 an hour for 2 people even in the winter.

"There is a chance during winter that nobody will come out," said Synco. "But I do have that sense that I'm finally doing something that I want to do for the rest of my life."

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