Sailor of Merritt
Angelino Sandri offers an authentic Venetian gondola tour with no overseas plane trip required. Since 1999, his Gondola Servizio has given rides—and insights into the storied history of Italy’s most romantic of cities—on Oakland’s Lake Merritt.
Name: Angelino Sandri Age: 50 City: Oakland Job: Gondolier on Lake Merritt
Sandri is the real deal: He was born in Italy and spent summers in Venice. Through friends he met while “rowing for fun,” he landed a part-time gig as a bona fide Venetian gondolier.
Sandri and his wife and co-owner, California native April Quinn, had their boats hand-made in Venice and shipped to the Port of Oakland. The Italian government closely monitors the historical accuracy of gondolas, so each is built to a specific code that regulates the size, weight, and type of wood (eight different kinds, laid in precise order).
The unique one-oared rowing required to propel a gondola is an awkward skill that took Sandri months to learn. Singing came more naturally: He is an amateur musician who occasionally plays traditional Italian and modern folk tunes in local restaurants.
Sandri claims (and we have no evidence to the contrary) that he’s never been dunked. Not so for a gondolier friend of his in Venice, where surrounding motorboat traffic can make for a trickier ride. “His nickname was gatto bagnato, which means ‘wet cat,’ because he fell in three times in one day.”
A lot of customers are curious about the gondola’s backstory, and Sandri is happy to oblige. He sees his role as a sort of U.S. caretaker of the more than 1,000-year history of Italy’s City of Water, and takes special pride in sharing that lineage—especially to skeptical husbands and boyfriends who might be expecting “just some goofy guy who sings songs.”
Just Another Day at the Office
Sandri has witnessed numerous marriages and proposals, and his customers reflect the diversity of Oakland. “We’ve done weddings with two brides. One time I had a Jewish woman getting married to a Nigerian man. Each of them brought their own traditions; I just had to ask them not to break a glass under their feet on the boat.”