Thursday, May 23, 2019

AMSTERDAM - by Gondola and by Bike

some photos by Tirza Mol

“No, here comes another one,” Tirza announced.
I worked fast, turning the gondola quickly to avoid the large tour boat that was emerging from under the bridge.
It was the third time this had happened in the last few minutes.

Technically this wasn’t my first time in Amsterdam, but it was the first time I’d left the structured chaos of the city’s airport.
Each time I’d touched down in the hub airport in the Netherlands, I looked out a window, knowing there was a gondola out there, but also knowing I had limited time to make it to my connecting flight.
In my opinion, you can’t really say that you’ve been to a place if you never left the airport.

When my wife started planning a cruise that would depart from Amsterdam, I was determined to make it to the famous canals there, meet Tirza, and see her beautiful gondola.
I contacted Tirza and told her of our trip.  Fortunately she was going to be in town.
In the weeks leading up to our visit, I watched the weather with increasing concern, as rain and winds were showing up regularly there.
As our plane landed I was happy to see sunny skies.
The winds were still a question mark, but I held out hope that whatever the conditions, I’d be able to handle them.
My family had a series of things to see, with windmills, chocolates, and cheese on their list.
They dropped me off near my meeting point with Tirza about an hour before our scheduled meeting time of 10am.
I hadn’t slept much at all in the last few days, and only managed a few hours on the flight over, but the anticipaton of finally being in Amsterdam, combined with the sights and sounds that greeted me on a crisp, clear morning had me wide awake.  The ancient city was alive and buzzing on a Sunday morning, as vendors off all types set up to sell their wares at a farmer’s market-like street fair that was getting underway.  In a short time I found the gondola.  She was beautiful: black and shiny, and so easy to spot, side-tied to a live-aboard barge in the Dutch waterway.

Tirza Mol decided to build a gondola as a graduation project for her boat-building study at the Amsterdam Wood and Furniture College.  She did an internship in Venice, spending four months at the famous Squero Tramontin.

Returning to Amsterdam, Tirza and her project partner Leentje Visser got to work building a gondola there in the Netherlands.  The boat was completed in 1998.

It was 9:30am.  
I was supposed to meet Tirza at a dock further down the canal, but after a half-hour of people watching at the farmer’s market I saw Tirza getting off her bicycle.  We’d never met, but I recognized her easily in her signature red skirt and blouse.  There are many recognizable people in the gondola world, but none stand out like the tall Dutch lady, rowing barefooted in a red dress.  
It’s absolutely iconic, and it really suits her … and her city.

Tirza – The Lady in Red on her gorgeous gondola.

We climbed aboard the gondola that she’d built, loosened the lines, and were off and cruising.  Tirza rowed for a while as we chatted about the various people and boats that we knew.  Her expert command of the vessel was as I had expected.  What struck me about the boat (among other things) was her glossy finish. The Dutch are known for many things.  Along with tulips, windmills, and a remarkable ability to keep the sea out of places, they have really got paints and varnishes down to a science. 

After a while I got the opportunity to step up onto the back and row the gondola.
She handled wonderfully, very much like one of my gondolas back in California.  The winds played with us a little, only enough to make it challenging at times, but every time I needed the boat to do something, she responded as I would expect a Venice-built craft to do.
Navigating the various channels and turns was a fun undertaking.  Often we would emerge from a tunnel-like bridge and have to make an immediate turn or head into a situation somewhat blind.

In my opinion, there are a few criteria that determine the quality of a gondola:
  1. How she looks - and this boat looks beautiful.  If I didn’t know that she wasn’t built in Venice, I would have thought she had been.
  2. How she holds up. Tirza built her gondola in 1998 and she looks like she was built last year.
  3. How she handles.  The more I reflect on how Tirza’s gondola responded to the various maneuvers required, the more I appreciate how well the gondola handled.

From the very start of our journey there were tourboats -- the ubiquitous long and low glass-topped bateaus like you might see in Paris -- but these ones seem to have been designed for this city, with very little margin for error as far as bridge clearance is concerned.  I’m accustomed to rowing around large vessels, but I don’t usually do it in such tight quarters.
As the morning warmed up, we encountered more and more of them, along with all sorts of other passenger boats.  The canals of Amsterdam are quite impressive -- even more so from a boat.  Seeing them from a gondola was pretty much a dream-come-true for me.

Every arched bridge has a series of lights along it’s arched edges.  We were out in the daytime.  I can only imagine how it must look all lit up in the evening.
My time window was coming to a close and we needed to get back to the place where the gondola ties up. 
Heading up a wide thoroughfare waterway, I needed to take a left turn into a tight canal which was framed by one of Amsterdam’s small arching bridges.  As we approached and I was just about to execute the turn, a big glass-topped tour boat came rumbling out from under the archway.  I braked hard, turning the gondola to the right as she slowed.  Then I dropped into sotomorso and got out of the way as the whole body of the tour boat came out -- only to pivot counterclockwise in order to line up with another bridge and then continue on up the thoroughfare.
I wheeled around and began my approach again.
Tirza sat at the front of the gondola serving as a lookout.
“Here comes a second one.”
Just like the first one, another big tour boat, which barely fit, emerged from the archway and performed the same pivot-and-go maneuver while I pulled the same moves I’d done a few minutes earlier.
Lining up for try number three, and, yep, you guessed it.
Tirza announced the third giant moving obstacle and I spun the gondola around once more.
At this point we’d lost a bit of time and I was starting to wonder if there was a better route to take, but the fourth time I approached was not thwarted by another tour boat and we were on our way through the archway and heading towards home.  Tirza jumped up and took over rowing while I packed up my things.  She had already called for a taxi to meet me and it was all going according to plan, until … the taxi didn’t show up.  We tried to talk another cab driver into taking me to the ship terminal, but, well, honestly I couldn’t understand what they were talking about (in Dutch).  I was about to hoof it over to a spot where I thought I could hail a taxi (probably a loser of an idea) and Tirza said “Here, get on the back of my bike!”

My Amsterdam rowing adventure had ended, but the REAL adventure was about to begin.
Just about everyone in Holland has a bike. They’re the most bicycle-oriented people in all of Europe, if not the world.  Many of their bikes have a small book-rack on the back, and some have a cushion of sorts on it.  Next thing I knew, I was seated on this cushion, feet perched perilously on the edges of the fender supports, and holding on while Tirza pedaled barefoot through bike traffic, foot traffic, and even car and bus traffic.
It was a wild ride, and often I couldn’t see ahead because the seat was low and Tirza is taller than I am.
Unfortunately, as I was hanging on at this point, there are no photos for the bicycle portion of our adventure.
I learned more about Dutch people and their bike culture in that crazy ride than I thought possible.  At one point we were speeding towards a railway station when a clueless tourist with his face in his cellphone, stepped in front of us.  I saw it coming and instinctively shouted
“HEYYY!!!” He got out of the way just in time (and learned a little about Dutch bike culture as well).
My friend Tirza, who had been so accommodating with her boat, really went above and beyond to help me get to the terminal.  We arrived in record time, and I walked in with about a minute to spare.
I have been lucky enough to row gondolas in many places over the years, but my morning in Amsterdam was by far one of the most memorable experiences -- both on the back of a gondola...and the back of a bicycle.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A Heated Contest on the Grand Canal

On May 1st, Nena Almansi of Row Venice joined forces with Giorgio Sabbadin - one of her fellow members of the Remiera Canottieri Cannaregio rowing club.  
Their purpose: 
to compete in a tandem pupparin race down the Grand Canal in Venice.

This was the ninth edition of a "mixed" men-women regata organized by the charity Biri Biri, dedicated to the memory of Ettore Pagan.

They rowed their brown/"marron" boat from the starting line at the Giardini di Castello, up the Grand Canal, arriving at the fish market.  

It was not an easy win though.
There were ten boats fighting towards the finish.

According to Nena's account:
the "flying start" has always been complicated.  
In this case the orange boat (which was closest to shore) 
had the disadvantage.
The offshore vessels immediately gained ground, 
thanks also to a more favorable current, 
which lead to a chase between four boats:
the canarin (yellow), 
marron (brown), 
reserve (red and green), 
and viola (a light violet purple).

As they transitioned from the rough waters of the basin to the entrance of the Grand Canal, it seemed that the order would be canarin, reserve, marron, viola.

Some close calls were observed.
Canarin and reserve got tangled up for a moment.
Lots of jockeying and strategic rowing.
In the end, the first pupparin to cross the line was the marron, 
second - viola, 
Canarin in third.

 Top four finishers
1. Elena Almansi and Giorgio Sabbadin
2. Nausicaa Cimarosto and Riccardo Salviato
3. Luisella Schiavon and Nicolò Schiavon
4. Romina Catanzaro and Marino Almansi

 Almansi and Sabbadin with trophies.

Some interesting details:
- Elena Almansi usually competes in tandem with Romina Catanzaro, but because this was a "mixed" event, they ended up on different boats.

- Elena and Giorgio are both members of the
Remiera Canottieri Cannaregio rowing club (colors are black and green).

- Third place finishers were both members of the famous Schiavon family.  Luisella has been part of a winning team from many regatas, including Regata Storica.

- While the fourth boat was rowed by Romina Catanzaro (Elena Almansi's partner), the other rower on that boat was Almansi's father.

- Another Row Venice rower, Cristina Montin and her tandem partner Marino Pompeo finished in sixth place.

Judges included the Famous Vittorio Orio and Luisella Marzi - the first female official in this regata.

Congrats to all the finishers in this unique and exciting contest.

To read more, see:
Memorial Ettore Pagan - Regata mista su Pupparini - Com'e andata

and "A remi in Canal Grande". Vincono Giorgio Sabadin ed Elena Almansi

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Monday, April 22, 2019

Another Perfect Moment

photo by Isabella Mohr

 Robert Moe rows his passengers out on shimmering waters in Newport.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Lunch with Eddie

Earlier in the week, Eddie rowed a lucky couple out for a lunch cruise 
on an absolutely perfect day in Newport.

Here's a pair of photos from that excursion.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Two Fresh Launches at the GSVVM

video by Nereo Zane

The folks at the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta in Mestre have a fleet of beautiful boats - Venetian vessels of all types.  
They love them all, and take great care of each one.  
Recently they had the occasion to launch not one, 
but two boats for the first time:
a mascareta and a caorlina.

Here's a nice video by Nereo Zane of the two boats being hoisted into the water and then rowed around along with a few other boats.  
Looks like it was a bit chilly that day, but nobody seemed to notice.  
They must have been having a great time.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Always Try to Row Towards a Great View

There are many disciplines we try to maintain while rowing gondolas.
Things like: 
Don't fall in the water
Don't let your passengers fall in the water
Avoid crashing into things.

But beyond the safety aspects of our unusual business,
We do our best to make sure that the people in the boat have the most enjoyable ride possible.

With this in mind, we try to maximize their view throughout the cruise.
Tonight I was on the water and followed my standard route - one that gives my passengers the best view of the post-sunset sky.

As usual, it did not disappoint.

My friend Kyle came rowing in our direction and I thought 
"Wow, too bad his passengers are missing this great view".

And then he passed me and I looked the other way...  

At that point I realized that Kyle had a different idea - a way better idea - as the big bright moon rose from the horizon.

Next time I'm heading out, I'm gonna take a good look at what the moon is predicted to do, and I might just change my plans.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Two Rings

Here's a new one.
I was rowing a cruise last week and the gentleman proposed.
(not new)

She said "yes".
(also not new)

He pulled out a ring and put it on her finger.
(Pretty much happens every time)

But then he pulled out another one.
She got all excited, saying "You remembered!"

He said that it was a fake and went on to explain that this ring could be worn at times when they might be worried about losing the real one.
Turned out they had actually talked about it long ago and she was so happy that he remembered.
Smart guy.

After 26 years on the back of a gondola, I thought I'd seen it all 
(but then again, I know better than to say such a thing).

 Proposal in action.

 TWO rings.
There were subtle differences so they could keep track of 
which one was the decoy, but it's hard to tell at first glance.

My hat's off to a guy who goes the extra mile on things.
In this case the gentleman had the two rings made by the same jeweler side-by-side. Very clever.

Big congrats to Jerry and Amanda.
I wish you all the best, 

and I hope you take that fake ring to some amazing places.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Photo

We are often asked to snap a photo or two of our passengers once they're on the gondola. I've been at this since '93 and the only thing that's changed is the thing I've been handed to take that photo.

First it was a film camera, then it was a small digital camera, 
and then it was one of a series of smartphones.
Whatever the case, to be a good gondolier - you've got to be able to take a good photo, no matter what they hand you to take that photo with.

Tonight I snapped this one of Mike O. snapping that ubiquitous shot with a phone, as Kyle rowed his passengers off towards that slowly setting sun.
It might seem like an unimportant photo 
(because we do this every day) 
but to that couple on the's a memory of a lifetime.
We take that very seriously.
(and we never take this amazing job for granted).