Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Unusual Gondolas on Lake Las Vegas

Some of you have asked about the gondolas we have in Lake Las Vegas.

I'm sure many have been curious about them as they
are unusual.

These boats were designed by a gentleman in Canada named Tom Harper in Nanaimo - a city on Vancouver Island.
They were originally launched and run under a company called Harbour Gondola in Victoria B.C. in 1994.

Like Venetian gondolas, they are about 36 feet long, black, and crescent-shaped.
Unlike their Venetian counterparts, these boats are almost six feet wide, constructed of fiberglass with foam core throughout, and designed to be propelled by motor. I know that Gondola Blog readers vary in their tastes when it comes to traditional vs. non-traditional boats. But it's important to consider the potential uses for this design.
Operating in Victoria's Inner Harbour, they were propelled by 12 volt Minn Kota trolling motors - one in the front and one in back.

Two 12 volt trollers may sound weak, but they were state-of-the-art back in 1995 when I visited the operation. Even so, those trollers were sometimes barely enough to move such big boats around on windy days.


The most interesting thing about Tom Harper's boats was not how they were built, or the motors that propelled them - it was
where the energy to propel them came from.
Solar panels.

The Victoria gondolas were officially "the world's first solar-powered public transportation".
With a series of solar panels on the roof of the canopy, and a large bank of deep-cycle batteries (the type often used in forklifts), Tom's gondolas took passengers using energy drawn directly from the sun.

As for the "public transportation" part - these boats served as water taxis during the Commonwealth Games which took place in Victoria in 1994.
After Harper had sold the boats to another owner, British Columbia received a near-record amount of rain, which stretched out through an entire summer.

In February of 1998, the second owner sold the boats to a third owner, who kept two and sold the other two to someone in the city of Vancouver.


Eventually, all four gondolas ended up for sale.
I brought them to California, refinished them, added new upholstery and gave them the upgrade in power they needed. Each boat was sea-trialed in Newport Harbor before being transported to a new home on Lake Las Vegas.

These gondolas are perfectly suited for Lake las Vegas:


- They have 36 and 48 volt Ray Electric Outboard motors now, which help when the desert winds pick up, sometimes clocking in at 30 to 40 knots. Some of the solar panels are still there, but they don't generate enough to drive the more powerful Ray motors.

- We get a lot of groups, and these boats can accommodate up to twelve passengers.


- The boat design has an unusual "gondolier's cockpit", which allows the gondolier to sit and steer. I know some of you view such a thing as sacrilege, but in the summer, temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm pretty sure rowing against strong winds in 120 degree heat is a recipe for heat exhaustion.


- Speaking of heat, the fiberglass construction is a key feature for boats in the Nevada desert.

I'm not positive that a wood boat would burst into flames in 120 degrees, but I wouldn't want to take the chance.

1 comment:

EastvanBlackcat Hardscapes said...

I worked for Tom in 94/95, the second owner in 96 then ran one in Vancouver for a third owner in 97.... some time in 99 while log salvaging on the Fraser river i saw the one with no canopy on the hard in some scrapyard. thanks for saving those boats, i had a blast running them and made a ton of money.