This morning began a little earlier than usual for the team as we awoke at about 5:30am in order to drive to the train station, catch a commuter train, walk to the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and get the gondola ready. Pat Slaven of the club met us there with coffee and great homemade banana bread, and the gondoliers were amazed at some of the boats she showed us. When the Venetian team members learned that Pat had won some big club races – one time beating the men as well – they all felt the need to congratulate her with handshakes and the obligatory kiss on each cheek.
Conditions were foggier than we’d seen all week. I also noticed an increase in humidity; just walking from the train station to the club left us feeling a bit sticky.
We left the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club at 7:45am, rowing against the current; it was Bepi, Enzo, me and Vittorio (any time I mention the people in the gondola, it is always from bow to stern). Pat Slaven followed along for a few hundred yards and then we were on our own until the Yonkers Fire Boat joined us as an escort. This was not our only escort of the day. We were flanked by fire boats from three cities, NYPD craft and a Coast Guard vessel.
Today’s row was essentially a straight shot from Yonkers all the way down to Ground Zero. This 18 mile trip was broken into three segments – mostly in order to keep things simple and make it easy to keep track of while rowing. The first segment was a six mile row to the George Washington Bridge (the GW, as the locals call it), the second and third were a twelve mile run with the halfway point being in a place I could identify from the gondola.
As we rowed into the fog on our first segment, I decided to remove my glasses because they kept fogging up. This resulted in a world that was a touch more mystical and everything seemed to be in soft focus. This was just another step for me in a long process of letting go. On the chase boat or in land, I’ve been the one in charge and have felt a responsibility for the group. In addition, I’ve spent over fourteen years on the back of a gondola as the guy in charge. To find myself rowing without any other responsibilities was difficult at first but soon became a welcome relief. Vittorio is the captain of the boat. He stands on the raised deck in the back, gives the orders and makes the decisions. The man knows how to read the water and there are few, if any, who are as skilled in this area as Vittorio Orio. With all of these things in mind, I’ve worked hard to let go at times and revel in the fact that all I have to do is shut-up and row.
This first segment had me worried though because we appeared to be way behind schedule. It was confusing to see so much water and shore pass by and still not see the bridge. We were on a schedule and it required passing under the GW Bridge at 9am, It was five minutes to nine and still no bridge. I put my glasses on again – nothing. Vittorio, who has a higher vantage point, said maybe we’d reach it in a half and hour. I began to worry because we were scheduled to meet the FDNY fire boat at nine. I resigned myself to the fact that all I could do to influence the situation was row harder – shut-up and row. At three minutes to nine I noticed something that looked like a narrow building right on shore. As I looked at it more closely, I realized that it was one of the two big stanchions of the GW. The bridge had been there all along but the fog was so thick and the bridge so tall that we couldn’t see it until we were passing right under it…at 9am.
The “John D. McKean”, an enormous red and white fireboat from the FDNY met us just a stone’s throw from the GW Bridge. This boat is incredible. I don’t know the size but it’s huge, and reportedly was built in the 50’s. In thick fog the fire-boat filled the air with a grand water display unlike any I’d seen. We rowed and smiled, when the display was over, we all raised the oars when Vittorio said “alzo I remi!” This raising of the oars is common among Venetians and we would end up doing it about fifteen or twenty times throughout the day.
As many people had predicted, once we passed the GW, we faced some big, rolling waves from large vessels. at least two dozen times we went through the process of facing the oncoming rollers and keeping the oar blades in the water for stability.
At around 10:30am the fog began to lift and we enjoyed the sun. The current had now turned in our favor and we were moving fast! Other boats came alongside to join in the escort. The big FDNY boat gave another display. The pace today was fast. At certain times it felt like the sprint I'd predicted. At one point we encountered a Polynesian paddling boat known as an outrigger canoe. Bepi decided to instigate a race and in no time we were blasting along with the outrigger alongside and eventually passing us. They had six people though and hadn’t just paddled from Albany. We visited with them for a minute and then moved on. Our progress was good and we ended up having to wait a few minutes to arrive on-schedule.
We arrived in the North Cove Marina at about 11:45am and were well received by firemen, dignitaries, and locals who had come out to see what the commotion was. Arriving after such a long trip was cause for great celebration and everyone was as happy as they could be.
Vincent Tummino gave a terrific presentation, we were each presented with a placque from the city of New York, and took hundreds of photos (or so it seemed).
After Ground Zero, Chris and John climbed on the gondola and I got a free ride in a fireboat along with Nereo , our photographer and Martina, our translator. We headed back up-river to the Circle Line Tours dock where we were welcomed by the owner of Circle Line and the rowing part of our journey had come to a successful end.
The gondola was then towed to Staten Island, placed on her trailer, and will be dressed and ready by Monday morning for the Columbus Day Parade.
Tomorrow we will participate in a wreath laying and I look forward to posting about it after the fact.