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Alexandra Hai, the first female to hold a job as a gondolier in Venice, Italy, steers a gondola built by university professor Craig Manley during its initial launch last week.

Alexandra Hai, the first female to hold a job as a gondolier in Venice, Italy, steers a gondola built by university professor Craig Manley during its initial launch last week. (Jim Sajo / Special to Stripes)

Alexandra Hai, the first female to hold a job as a gondolier in Venice, Italy, steers a gondola built by university professor Craig Manley during its initial launch last week.

Alexandra Hai, the first female to hold a job as a gondolier in Venice, Italy, steers a gondola built by university professor Craig Manley during its initial launch last week. (Jim Sajo / Special to Stripes)

Craig Manley, a University of Maryland professor at Aviano Air Base, Italy, stands next to the gondola he built on base over the course of five years.

Craig Manley, a University of Maryland professor at Aviano Air Base, Italy, stands next to the gondola he built on base over the course of five years. (Kent Harris / S&S)

A gondola built by university professor Craig Manley makes its way down the A-4 autostrada last week on its way to its first launch in Venice.

A gondola built by university professor Craig Manley makes its way down the A-4 autostrada last week on its way to its first launch in Venice. (Jim Sajo / Special to Stripes)

For tourists in Venice, Italy, the city’s famous gondolas conjure up thoughts of romance and adventure, and perhaps dreams of owning one someday.

Craig Manley isn’t technically a tourist. He and his longtime girlfriend, Toni Sepeda, own a home in the city. And now they also have their own gondola, after a successful launch last week.

“We took on a bit of water,” said Manley, a professor for the University of Maryland University College at Aviano Air Base, Italy. “But everyone said that’s perfectly normal with a boat five years in the making. The wood was really dry and it’ll expand when it gets wet.”

Manley built the gondola in his spare time between teaching and traveling each summer to a home the couple owns in Turkey.

He said he has no idea how many hours he spent on the project, but he’s probably invested at least $8,000 into it. Much of the work was done at the base’s wood skills shop. For guides, he used the book “La Gondola,” about building the watercraft, and some blueprints he purchased in Venice.

“With a full-time teaching schedule, I just got over there whenever I could,” he said of the wood shop. “Most of the things I had to do two or three times.”

Manley doesn’t plan to ferry tourists around the famous canals of the city. He’d have to join the local union and pass a series of tests to do that.

He doesn’t have to go through such a process to do what he has planned for his gondola.

“We’ll just use it for personal use,” he said. “We’ll probably spend the next six months learning how (to guide it).”

He’ll likely get some help in that from Alexandra Hai, the city’s first female gondolier. Hai has met stiff resistance from the city’s male gondoliers and has failed to pass several tests that would allow her to join their ranks. Instead, she works for a hotel that allows her to take its guests around the city.

Manley said he’s known Hai for about a year and she was the one who took his gondola out on its initial launch.

He plans to keep the vessel at a local storage facility when it’s not in use. But he knows he’ll get a few stares when he uses it.

“This is a homemade gondola in the best sense,” he said. “The nice thing about it is that nobody can ever steal our gondola, because it’s clearly ours.

“It’s got some flaws, but we like to think of it as character.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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