We arrived just in time to get settled and then I was on my way to Lake Carolyn, where our Texas operaton is located. Chris Harrison helped me get my gondola set up and I was off: rowing to pick up my clients at the Omni Mandalay Hotel.
The sun was setting, the breeze was light, and the temperature was just right.
The cruise went perfectly, and my couple enjoyed the experience almost as much as I did.
After dropping my passengers off at the Omni, I jumped right into a four-gondola flotilla we had scheduled for the next three hours - also at the Omni. This was what we call a "rotating occupancy" cruise, which means that we provide gondolas and gondoliers for a set ammount of time and the clients (usually parties or convention groups) can take short cruises during that time frame.
This rotating occupancy client was a high school prom. Now before you get all kinds of negative images of "teenie boppers gone wild", let me tell you that the kids I had on my boat were great, some had a little attitude, but hey, it was prom. All-in-all, they were shining examples of what I hope the next generation of Americans will turn out to be.
In between cruises with high-schoolers, I had the opportunity to "play hookie" with some of the chaperones.
After three hours of rowing and singing, usually in 20 minute trips, all four of us: Chris, Tyson, Alex and I, rowed back to the dock together. It was fun having all the gondoliers, with no passengers to worry about, joking around and talking about rowing.
I hadn't rowed with Tyson since I trained him years ago. He's been working on it a lot, with some constructive phone conversations, and I was totally impressed with his rowing ability.
Alex, whom I had never met before, was trained by Chris. I can only say "bravo Chris", the kid can row!
My only regret of the night was that we weren't able to get a photo of the four gondolas out together. Black boats don't photograph well in the dark.
On Sunday morning, Elisa, Chris and I drove down to Houston to scout various locations for our up-coming expedition on the Buffalo Bayou. It will be a one-day event, more along the lines of an "exposition" rather than "expedition". The waterway is almost indescribable. It winds right through the down-town region of Houston, with historic bridges and buildings casting cool shadows over the water. At one point, Chris and I watched a freight train cross the bayou on an old rusty bridge. At the beginning point of our route is an old quay where lots of commercal shipping used to begin and end. Further down the historic waterway is a vibrant shipping channel, big enough to operate under the Texas flag.
Chris is looking well. You'd never know that he's fighting cancer right now. His health appears to be almost as strong as his mental outlook is.
On the way back up to Dallas, we stopped at the Woodlands Mall, north of Houston and checked out their water taxi operation. Further up the road we caught a glimpse of a shopping center which had run gondolas for a short time before deciding that having them right alongside the noisy highway wasn't all that romantic.
On Monday morning I was back on Lake Carolyn, preparing the Rosa for the Houston expedition. The Rosa is one of our gondolas there on the lake. She will be the first non-Venice-built gondola to be used in an expedition. This is at the same time both exciting and worrying. Like rowing in a new waterway, it's exciting to be the first to use one of these American-built gondolas for such an event. But there are so many unknowns with the design. We've been rowing these gondolas with one oar for years. They are operating or have operated in at least a dozen cities since the first four were built by the late Jack Fesenmeyer. The boat is heavier, wider, and a few feet shorter than her Venetian counterparts, but she's a great boat - able to withstand the punishing wear and tear of passenger service. The Rosa will have something that none of her sister-ships have: a forward gondolier. That extra rowing station puts Chris and me into uncharted waters.
So Chris and I shoved off aboard the Rosa with her new forward forcola, nestled neatly in a stainless steel buso I'd had custom-made for the boat, and put her through a series of trials.
We wanted to make sure the rowing angle was right, things didn't break, and that we didn't find ourselves spinning out or going in circles. Of equal concern was how quickly we could get the boat going and keep her going.
I'm happy to report that all of our questions were answered in positive ways. The buso held up well, the gondola moved through the water better than we'd hoped she would, and the forward forcola was a perfect height for Chris - who is six feet, five inches tall.
It was quite a windy day out on the lake, but we were able to move around without any difficulty.
From the Lake, Elisa and I went to the airport and flew back home, ever so thankful to be back home with our children.