Saturday, January 5, 2008


We’ve got some precipitation coming at us here in Orange County. I spent the afternoon removing some seats and preparing for rain, and as I write this, I can hear it coming down outside. I'll probably hole-up in my garage for the next few days varnishing the tables I took off the boats.

Over the years I’ve gained a lot of experience in the discipline of “keeping more water on the outside of the boat than there is on the inside of the boat”. In the early days of gondola ownership here in Newport Beach, we had bilge pump issues, and tended to “baby” our boats - freaking out any time it would rain. With that admission revealed, there were times when it really was necessary to obsess over keeping the water out of the boat. Here in Southern California, we get some pretty heavy rain during some winters. Of course the news media has taken great pleasure in giving it a name: “El Nino”. Who could forget "STORMWATCH 2000"? Oh my gosh, I thought we were all going to float away and die as I listened to the forecasters. It turned out to be just another rainy few days. The rain comes in from the Pacific, often referred to by weathermen as the “Pineapple Express” if it comes from the direction of Hawaii.

Bilge pumps have come a long way in the last ten years, and we have made small changes to some of our boats so we don’t have to scurry around the dock so much.

The following is an excerpt from an e-mail to a friend back in the late 90’s. The gondolas mentioned in the text are ones with canopies which can be draped with plastic and bunched around the perimeter.

If you are a gondola operator, no doubt you have spent some quality time in the bilge. Next time you’re out there fighting the elements armed with a fully loaded shop-vac, remember that there’s a guy in Newport who knows what you’re going through all too well.

Here's the e-mail excerpt:

Yeah, so we had our first real heavy rain tonight. That means that I get to spend some quality time in the morning with my shop-vac while wearing duck hunting boots. I really never wear them for hunting, just slogging around in the bilge! HA! Although there HAVE been times when I've wanted to go down to the docks with a shotgun and take care of the rainwater problem once and for all. I've never done it though 'cause it's tough explaining to your wife that you got tired of pumping out your boats so you just shot holes in all of them.

So tonight we were alerted ahead of time: my father-in-law called from the freeway up in Torrance to tell us that it was "POURING". So I crawled through the garage, grabbed plastic sheets, rope, and a pack of zip-ties and lead-footed it down to the docks. As I was pulling into the driveway of the office the sprinkles were just showing up on my windshield. By the time I got on the docks it was raining. Another gondolier and I got one gondola covered and it was officially pouring. God was good to us tonight - two of the three mahogony boats had last year’s custom made rain covers still stowed under the bow so it was an easy boom-boom covering job. Then Steve Elkins showed up. Steve is one of our gondoliers. He scooted into the marina as fast as possible considering he had two passengers and a full dinner laid out in the boat. They'd been out just long enough to finish their meals and get as far as possible from the docks before the downpour began. They came back pretty wet but poor Steve was sopping. We cleared out the gondola and got it covered in minutes. During the clear-out Steve set his champagne glasses on the dock box, I poured them out and set them down again, after only 15 minutes there was a half inch of rain water in those glasses!

All in all it was a great "rain wrap".

But here's what it's like when it SUCKS:

It's around 2 o'clock in the morning,

The rain has been dumping for about five days,

I'm on the docks once again - pocketful of zip-ties and bungee cords, wearing my raincoat, boots, baseball cap, and other sacrificial clothing.

I spend fifteen minutes shop-vacing the water out of a few boats during which time the wind blows back the hood on my raincoat allowing some water to roll off the back of my baseball cap and down the back of my neck.

As I amble down the dock towards the office to put the shop-vac away, that same water manages to trickle down my back making me twitch a bit when I walk. Nearing the ramp to the docks that trickle has made it down to my underwear...imagine how funny I'm walking now.

Thinking that I'm just moments away from getting into my truck and driving home to dry clothes (mainly dry underwear), I look over the raincovers and notice that one of them is off of its gondola. I drop the shop-vac and pull the plastic raincover back into place over the canvas one that just keeps the dust out of the gondola.

This cover has been giving me trouble for days and I realize that it's been off for quite some time. So I climb into the gondola, stumbling around with a flashlight I shop-vac out the water in the bilge, and climb out again.

As I climb out, the edge of the canvas cover catches on my cell phone and peels it right off my belt. I hear a small splash between the gondola and the dock and wonder what it is. As I assess the various possibilities I reach down and realize that I've just lost another cell phone into the saltwater abyss. I stomp around angrily, swinging my arms and muttering things I wouldn't say in front of my mother. The whole thing looks like some kind of weird tribal dance.

Once I've regained my composure I notice that the reason the plastic cover keeps blowing off is that it needs to be tied down. I crouch down next to the gondola, attach a bungee cord to the edge of the plastic and begin to stretch it down toward the cleat on the dock.

At that very moment the wind shifts and two things happen, one right after the other:

1. the shifting wind blows the back of my raincoat up exposing the back of my waist

2. that puddle of water on the roof of the three story building behind me is also suddenly affected by the shifting wind and ends up being blown over the edge, into the air, falling three stories and...




my underwear.

That, my friend, is what it's like when it sucks.

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