One may wonder how a tall man of Irish ancestry who doesn’t speak Italian and has never been to Venice ended up singing “Santa Lucia” while rowing an authentic gondola on the Napa River. Sean O’Malley probably does, too, but he’s having a ball doing just that.
O’Malley has always been around water, and his father was in the Navy. Sean went to school in Saratoga, but spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz, where he developed his love for all things aquatic. His parents moved to Jupiter Beach, Florida when he was eight, but returned to the west during the summer and Sean ended up at Santa Clara University studying business and marketing; his roommate was future Gov. Gavin Newsom. He crewed there-good preparation for his present work.
Unfortunately, his father died and he ended up completing his degree in Phoenix far from the water. He joined IBM and technical financing companies, and returned to Santa Cruz to found a company he eventually sold. By then, he had married and they moved to Napa 12 years ago, living downtown and then buying a house with a dock in River Park. “I bought a boat and learned the Napa River,” he said.
He led wine tours, then an- swered an ad for gondoliers. After training in Oakland, he started here and eventually bought the local franchise.
A Venetian taught him to sing Italian folk songs, and he wears a striped shirt as he works.
O’Malley admits that rowing the large boat, particularly against the wind, is demanding, but it obviously keeps the former college athlete healthy. When he’s not rowing, he coaches his son’s baseball team, golfs and caddies for Pro Am events.
And, yes, he plans to visit Venice this winter to check out the original gondola scene.
Article By: Paul Franson