Friday, October 11, 2019

Hard Time Sleeping


Two weeks from now I'm gonna have a hard time sleeping.
Not that I won't be tired - I'm sure I'll be in dire need of sleep by then.

But after months of planning and preparation, 
two weeks from now I'll be fired up for what begins the next day:
Saturday, October 26th-27th

The US Gondola Nationals in Newport Beach.

I'll have friends sleeping in spare bedrooms, 
on couches and even floors.
The boats will have all been moved to the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club.
Lists will have been made, food will have been bought, 
coffee - ready to brew, 
and there will be a huge bunch of bananas ready for hungry gondoliers.

It's right around the corner, my friends.
And I am SO excited.

This year we've managed to include the slalom event 
(in both solo and tandem categories), 
and there's a whole new race being conducted on three matching gondolas that were built right here in the US.

Descriptions of all the races as well as schedules for both days can all be found on the website www.usgondolanationals.com

Two weeks from now I'll have a hard time sleeping,
but the next day it will all be worth it as we take to the water on those magnificent crescent-shaped black boats we all love.

Fall is my favorite time of year, 
and it's ALL about Nationals.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Polished Metal on a Red Boat

photos by Mark Schooling


Mark at Gondola Paradiso in Oxnard, California has been working hard to get his new gondola dialed-in, and it shows.

If a red gondola looks familiar, it should.
This was the boat that we all saw, and admired in Huntington Harbour.
Tim did a great job with her, but now she's moved up the coast, and Mark is giving her lots of TLC.


Recently she got some fresh paint, and now her metal adornments have been polished up.

Here's a "before":

...and here's the "after":

What a difference a guy with a buffing wheel and some compound makes.

I'm working hard to convince Mark to let me bring his iconic red gondola down to join the fleet for Nationals in a month.

With any luck you'll all see her then.
Of course you'll need to come to Nationals.



Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Last Days of Summer

Ahh, summer.
It was a welcome season, where our phones rang, our boats moved, 

and we worked hard to dig ourselves out of the hole that winter and spring left us in - with all their rain and win.

On the water today I looked at my watch and realized that we only had about six hours left of summer.
 
Summer was good to us, and we're sorry to see it leave.
Here's hoping that fall will be filled with good gondola weather as well.

This summer our ranks were joined by not one, 
but two lady gondoliers - the first female rowing gondoliers ever in Newport.

I mentioned Joelle in my previous post ("A First in Newport")

Last night I passed Jessica while I was out on a cruise.
She's our second lady gondolier.  Her brother Lucas has been with us for a while, and she's rowing like a pro.


 Jessica and her happy passengers.

This summer we also got better acquainted with our new location
(and all the tides and winds that come with it).

We got to know some of the neighbors along our new cruise routes.
It didn't take long to figure out where to be along our route - to catch a great sunset.


 My favorite sunsets are the ones with purple or violet hues.
This was my view on Saturday night.

And of course we've also figured out the best ways to take advantage of the acoustics of the PCH bridge while singing on the back of the gondola.
 
Evan K. delivers a great aria under PCH.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Stella, Stella, Black and Yella

Recently our beloved gondola Stella decided that she wanted to leak.

She had been fiberglassed before we acquired her, 
so hauling and glass-patching seemed the thing to do.

Meanwhile, we'd been working on a new set of floorboards in a rather nontraditional color.  
Previously she'd been sporting some purple ones,
(see "Bride Transport")
but, well, we learned a few things about what penetrating epoxy can and can't do, so it was time for a new set.

By "we", I mean some great guys who I've been lucky to work with:
Mike Olsen, Evan Kliewer, and Kalev Pallares.

So after lots of fresh paint (and the aforementioned glass-patching)
today was the day to put her back in the water.



 Stella at dock, just after launching.

 Looking forward.

There's nothing like a freshly polished ferro.
It makes for a great funhouse-style self portrait.


I pushed away from the launch ramp dock and Stella and I made our way towards the home dock.  Rowing through parts of the Back Bay means that you often encounter interesting birds.
These shorebirds crossed my bow, on their way to another part of the harbor.


The wildlife in Newport is fantastic.


Arriving at the home dock, I ran into Eddie, who was at the tail end of his afternoon cruise with happy passengers.

Eddie snapped a photo of Stella and me on a very memorable day. 


Thursday, September 12, 2019

The "Best Kept Secret"


As a professional gondolier, I often find myself in conversations 
where someone asks what I do, and then is surprised by my answer.  
frequently they tell me they had no idea there were gondolas in Newport. 
They sometimes follow up by asking
"How long have there been gondolas there?"

Imagine how shocked they are when the answer is "since 1906".
My point?
with the exception of a certain casino in Nevada,

just about every gondola operation in the US is the best kept secret in their city.

It's not that we want it that way.
It just is.
It has a lot to do with the fact that we often operate silent black boats in the dark.  We're like stealth ninjas, but less violent - more romantic.

Hunter Mitchell rows in the fog - photo by Oliver Johnson

The same type of conversation takes place when I meet people from out of town.  As a gondola fanatic, I can usually name the nearest gondola to where they  live. 
Seattle? Gig Harbor.
Minneapolis? Stillwater. 
New York City? Right there on the lake in Central Park.
And the list goes on...
New Orleans, Oakland, Providence, Fort Lauderdale.

Australia, Germany, the UK - there are multiple gondola operations or owners in those countries as well.

We watch movies where the coolest person has remarkable connections, and knows of all the best kept secrets when it comes to food, night clubs, surf spots, places to appreciate gorgeous views.  

But while it might be great to find some secret taco stand that nobody else knows about...it's not so great for the guy who owns the taco stand.

So as flattering as it is to be referred to as a "best kept secret",

It's not so good for business. 

I find myself having those conversations all over town.
"Yes, really, I am a gondolier. Here, see..."

(as I hand them a business card with a photo on it).



Best place to kiss?
For sure.


 photo by Cassandra Mohr - originally appeared in "Kiss Like You Mean It!"

Best place to pop the question?
Most definitely. 


Best kept secret in Newport?
Not so much.  


I'm working hard to get rid of that title.



Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Regata Storica 2019 - Watching It With a Little Help From My Friends

photos by Lele Sartori 
videos by Alessandro Santini

If you know me,
if you really know me,
you know that I am not a morning person.
I thrive on a late night schedule
(and despise morning phone calls from telemarketers).

But once a year I voluntarily crawl out of bed 
early enough to catch the Regata Storica live as it takes place in Venice.
As it is for the Venetians, it is my Superbowl Sunday 
(except it starts much earlier for us in California).
Regata Storica took place this year on September 1st.


SETTING UP
Over the years I've enjoyed it on the big screen through Dish Network, 
but this year they stopped carrying the Italian channel.  
So this time I had to get creative.
I assembled various webcams on my computer and had them open in separate windows.
My friend Alessandro Santini happened to be on his gondola in front of Harry's Bar and was gracious enough to send me a few video clips of passing races.

Then I discovered that Jane and the Row Venice staff were going to be going live on Facebook.
As an added bonus I got to hear some good commentary from Jane and the staff. I also got to see the Regata Storica from the balcony of a palazzo for the first time.

This year I was even more thrilled to watch the regata because I knew so many of the participants.
And it was quite a memorable one.

In both the gondolini and women's categories, 
we've seen years of similar results.
On the women's side the duo of Romina Ardit and Anna Mao 
have won handily year after year.

GONDOLINO
In the gondolino races we saw a longstanding rivalry between two teams: Redolfi Tezzat and Paolo D'este (a big guy known by most as "Gigante") 
vs. Rudi and Igor Vignotto - two cousins from Sant'Erasmo 
referred to as the "Cugini". 

Last year, after both of their rowing partners had retired, Gigante joined forces with Rudy Vignotto and they ran the regata unchallenged.

In past years we saw contests where the winners were a given, 

and it was just a matter of who would finish first...behind them.

This year was different though.
Rudi Vignotto's son Mattia was old enough to compete, 

so they took to the water as a team on a green gondolino.  
The new Vignotto team did well, and managed to cross the finish line in 3rd place - not bad considering this was Mattia's first Regata Storica in the gondolino race.

The father and son team from the famous Vignotto family.

Second place was the yellow gondolino 
with Andrea Ortica and Jacopo Colombi on board.


Andrea Ortica and Jacopo Colombi driving it home to a second place finish.

But the winners of the 2019 Regata Storica 

were Andrea Bertoldini and Mattia Colombi.

Bertoldini and Colombi finished the fastest in their purple gondolino.


As I was texting back and forth with gondolier Alessandro Santini, 
he started to go crazy because he recognize one of the guys in the lead boat (purple) as a friend of his.

It seemed like all the gondoliers along that corridor knew Bertoldini 

and called him "Cici".  Turns out he's a gondolier in front of the Hotel Bauer (which is just around the corner from there).




His friend "Cici" Bertoldini has had many good races but this was huge.
We followed the boats through the course on webcam.


The purple boat held the lead through the whole race, 

and at the end "Cici" and his tandem partner Mattia Colombi were standing on the judges platform holding red bandieri 
(the first place flags used in Venetian regatas).


Over the years I became a fan of both teams in the Cugini/Gigante rivalry.
It made for some great race drama.

But I also felt bad for the other teams.  It seemed like they were playing basketball in the time of Jordan, or golfing against Tiger Woods.
Now we are seeing a new chapter in the gondolino category of Regata Storica.

Of course there's no telling what the field will look like next year.
People have speculated that The Rudi/Gigante pairing might return in another year, but after the father and son duo from the Vignotto family finished well this year, you have to wonder if we'll see them competing as a team for years to come.  It's worth mentioning that Mattia Vignotto was on six-man the caorlina team that took first place last year.





DONNE  
After watching the Regata di Sant'Erasmo this year, and spending time with some of the Row Venice crew, the race I was really looking forward to watching at this year's Regata Storica was the "Donne" - the women's race.  I had so many friends in the field and with recent races won by different Row Venice staff members, it seemed like maybe this would be the year we saw new champions.

To fully appreciate what it's like to row this race, 
you need to understand a few things: 

First, the whole thing starts out in the open waters of Bacino San Marco. 
It might be placid and calm in the morning when the Vogalonga begins there, but on an afternoon in September it can be windy, choppy, and it's a decent piece of water to row in-lane (about 500 meters) before you can start to jockey for your position in the fast-moving peloton that rushes up the Grand Canal. 

Second, it's the one regata where everybody is watching, and shouting, and screaming your name from boats and buildings, from vaporetto platforms and any window they can hang out of.

Third, you're on TV for heaven's sake. 
So the judges and everyone else is on display as well.

And fourth, it's the big one, the Superbowl of voga-alla-Veneta.
Anyone who competes in this race will leave it all in the ring at the end of the match.

I watched a webcam that faces the Bacino San Marco and saw the mascarete plowing through the stretch where you stay in your lane and pretty much drag race to gain a leading position before everyone bunches up. The lighting wasn't great, but I knew the race had begun.

Allesandro sent me this video, which told me what I needed to know about how things were developing at the beginning of the race.




Switching to the Row Venice live feed on Facebook I saw them flying up the Grand Canal.  They came around the corner in front of the judges platform as church bells all over the city were chiming.  
It was magnificent - like a movie.

The first mascareta coming into view was the green one with Elena and Elisa Costantini on board.  They were rowing strong. then the team of Romina Ardit and Anna Mao in hot pursuit.  
Venetians everywhere began to lose their mind.
The Row Venice folks were especially happy to see Elisa in the lead boat, because she's one of their star instructors. 

 Costantinis leading the pack.

A column of fast-moving boats chased after the green and yellow.
The Costantinis had about three boat lengths between them and Mao and Ardit in their yellow boat.  
Ardit and Mao pushing hard.

Another two boat lengths behind them and we saw three more boats in a tight end-to-end group. 
The maroon boat was running in third place with Magda Tagliapietra and Sofia D'Aloja (Row Venice staff), next was the red mascareta with Row Venice instructor Giulia Tagliapietra and her tandem partner Elisabetta Nordio.

The white boat in fifth position was another Vignotto pairing - this time the mother-daughter duo of Rudi's wife Luisella Schiavon (a past champion of many Regata Storicas) and their daughter Lara Vignotto.

I wonder if this is the first Regata Storica where a father and son, and a mother and daughter - both from the same family - have competed.
 Mother and daughter in action.

My friend Elena Almansi and her partner Romina Catanzaro pushed through on a pink mascareta, followed by purple - with Francesca Costantini and Rossana Nardo.  The light blue and orange boats rounded out the nine boat field.

Switching to my two webcams on either side of the Rialto Bridge, I saw the same order of boats make their way through that tight passageway.  
The webcams have no sound, but I could imagine the noise from the crowds echoing off every wall and surface as they cheered the rowers on.

The women continued up the Grand Canal to a turning marker and then high-tailed it back down the way they came.
Passing by the Rialto once again, I saw that the Costantinis had not only maintained their lead, but it looked like they'd maybe added a little to that lead.

Switching back to Jane and the Row Venice feed I waited; wondering if the women in the green boat could hold their lead.  

In Sant'Erasmo I witnessed the remarkable speed of Ardit and Mao at the end of a race, as they blew past several other boats.

As the racers came into view it was clear:
The Costantini team had definitely increased their lead and were sprinting toward the finish line at breakneck speed in their green mascareta.


Ardit and Mao crossed in second place, 

they were followed by Magda Tagliapietra and Sofia D'Aloja in third, 
and Giulia Tagliapietra and Elisabetta Nordio in fourth place.
 Magda and Sofia taking third.

Giulia and Elisabetta with an impressive finish for fourth place.

If ever there were a year I wished I could be in Venice to watch Regata Storica in-person, it was this year.

Many thanks to Lele Sartori for allowing me to use his great photographs.

They almost made me feel like I was there.


The Costantini team with their first place red bandieri.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

First Flight of the Four Man


Each year about this time, we start getting serious about Nationals.
And while several Newport gondoliers have already begun training in solo and tandem formats, today we had our first sighting of a four-oared team in training.  

This year it was the team known sometimes as the "GCON 4", 
because all four guys grew up rowing in the Gondola Company of Newport.
The team consists of Parker Harrison, Eddie  Rivera, Matt Raus, and Mike Ruffino. They've won gold the last two years, 

and silver the two years before that. 

Today, their first workout, was really a sort of wake-up call to their muscles.
 
This year the US Gondola Nationals will be held here in Newport.
The races and festivities will all center around the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club - much like they were during the 2015 Nationals.
The dates are October 26th and 27th.

You will likely see more about Nationals here in the weeks to come.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Simon at Sunset

I snapped this last night as Simon was heading out on a cruise, 
rowing the pupparin "Contessa".  Evan Perez can be seen in the background, rowing one of the American-built boats.
We're really starting to love our new location here in Newport.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A First in Newport

Tonight, for the very first time in Newport, a woman rowed passengers for hire as an official gondolier.  Gondolas have been here since the first decade of the 1900's - quite a lot of history - but our records show that this is the first time any servizio here has included a female gondolier rowing.  Some time ago we had a few ladies driving motorized gondolas, and several women have rowed here in the voga-alla-Veneta, but not for hire.
Not until tonight, when Joelle Dueck took out a group of five.
She's been training for some time now with Eddie Rivera, and judging by her performance on the water this evening, he did a superb job.

Joelle handled her passengers like she'd done it all before.
She rowed well against winds and tides, 
navigated tight canals, and even sang Santa Lucia.

 photo by Eddie Rivera

A huge congrats to Joelle.
History was made this evening, and I was honored to be there.


 Passing under the PCH bridge.

 Around Linda Island.

 Enjoying the glow.

And entering the channel to return home.