Saturday, February 28, 2009

Restoration of the Wedding Gondola

My beloved Wedding Gondola is back on the water. Like most gondolas, once you pull a boat out of the water, you usually need to "tend to things" a bit before she goes back in the drink.

With a boat that's over 50 years old, there's a little more involved when it comes to "tending to things".
Take for instance, the inevitable separation between the fiuboni (mahogany deck planking) and the sochetto (that hand carved chunk of lime wood at both ends of the gondola). For years I've been calling this imperfection "the sochetto spread"

The sochetto spread at the bow of the gondola.

Then there's the typical decay on the trasto da prua, an area which should be protected by the canvas boat cover, but gets exposed all too often when wind blows things around.

Lucky for me, this part of the deck is made of cherry wood, which handles the elements better than some other woods.

And then there's the big ugly secret.
The one I deliberated over, wondering whether I should post it.
Think less of me if you want, but this photo is here for posterity sake, and also to remind all of my gondola-owning friends out there, that out-of-sight-out-of-mind can come back to bite you.
And the older the boat, the more vigilant you need to be about every single piece of the gondola.

When I scheduled the haul-out for this gondola, I had plans to reinforce the ribs. Then I lifted the pagioi (floorboards) and realized how timely my plans were.

Ladies and gentlement, I give you...
the amazing floating rib.
I hope for your sake, you never see one of these on one of your boats.

After some preparation, my staff and I stepped out of the way and let an expert do some of the heavy lifting.
Boat builder and restoration specialist Douglas Smith-Ginter worked his magic with West System, replacement lumber, stainless hardware, and some creative thinking.

The results were terrific.
She looked decades younger...but then that sort of thing isn't all that unusual here in Newport just doesn't usually happen to boats.

The hand-carved deck, restored, sanded, and ready for paint.

On the left is a rib-frame in the middle of repair, and on the right, one that has received new life from an expert.

Now here are a pair of photos taken on Valentine's Day in front of the Villa Nova restaurant.
All dressed in her parecio, my Wedding Gondola is primped and ready for her passengers.

On top of all that "tending to", magic from the expert and few coats of fresh black paint, and she's back in her glory.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pupparin Construction at the GSVVM

photos and information by Nereo Zane

There's a new beauty being built in the GSVVM shop in Mestre.

They just launched a new orange and blue gondola, built by Cantiere Amadi in Burano. Now the GSVVM's master builder Luigino Marcuzzi, who's built most of the boats they row on, is meticulously putting together another vessel for the fleet.
This one's a puparin.
She is expected to be launch-ready by June.

Nereo Zane has a real knack for being in just the right place with his Nikon. He was at the club last Saturday and took these images.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

The "Whole New Look"

Well, folks, here's the "whole new look" I promised. Enjoy this photo because it's the best of the bunch.
She'd spent decades in white, took passengers in both Long Beach and Newport, and was officially decommissioned.

Or so I thought.

One day I was driving through an industrial area of Costa Mesa when I saw a rather familiar three-fingered ferro peeking over a fence.

I knew it was one of the Gondola Works boats - that ferro design is very specific to Joe Munday and the boats he built.

As I walked into the boatyard and saw the hull, I knew she was one of the thirty-footers, like we'd operated years earlier. The Gondola Works boats were produced in a number of varying lengths, but the thirty foot models were most common in Newport.

The more I examined and photographed this mysterious boat, the more certain I became that she was the Marco Polo.
Someone had bought her, done some very rough patchwork, painted her black, and was attempting to rent her out as a movie prop.

Originally the gondola had a steel canopy frame with blue canvas overlay. The new owner appears to have cut out half of the frame, screwed sheet metal onto the frame, and painted the whole thing black.

To my knowledge, the boat hasn't shown up on any screen - movie or TV, and I hope she doesn't, simply because I hope they don't try to put the boat in the water.

Why did I say that?
Because here's what the bottom looks like:

Yep, a whole new look!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Newport's Gondola Renaissance and the "Gondola Works" Boats

Newport Harbor has had at least one gondola gracing her waters since 1907.
And while I must admit some bias, as I've had the priviledge of running gondolas in this beautiful Southern California waterway since '93, Newport holds a few prominent positions in American gondola history.

My focus today is in the area of motorized gondolas.

The first gondola propelled with an electric motor (the type used in golf carts), began service in Newport.
The boat, known as the Black Swan, was built by Joe Munday (aka Giuseppe Lunidi), and was the first of many gondolas of similar design.

A few years later, with the 1984 Olympics approaching, Joe and his associates built eight more gondolas under the company name of "Gondola Works" for use in the Long Beach area to entertain the crowds brought in to experience the games.

After the Olympic frenzy, most of those gondolas ended up in dry-storage. Many of them were bought for a pittance, restored or customized to different degrees, and placed back in service in Newport.

Here's a photo of one such boat.

She was known as the Marco Polo, and operated out of our docks for many years. The Marco Polo was owned by another company, but we drove her for several years.

The shot above was taken a year after she'd been decommissioned.

As it turned out, this boat would re-emerge once again with a whole new look. Watch for my follow up post to see that whole new look.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Regatas in Venice

Teams compete for position in the 2008 Regata Storica while thousands watch and cheer.

It is said that the Venetian government held the first "official" regata in about 1300AD.

Prior to that, there were plenty of rowing contests - both sanctioned and spontaneous, but the regata which was held during the Feast of the Marias on or around 1300AD is believed to have been the first.

Because Venetians are, and have always been very connected with the sea, maritime contests have remained popular - often drawing great crowds.

Centuries ago, rowing regatas in Venice served a deeper purpose. Beyond the spectacle that was invariably created, these tests of strength and endurance were military exercises, which helped train and keep men in shape - ready for battle maneuvers at sea.

These days Venice has many regatas, with an official season culminating in the voga-alla-Veneta variation of the World Series, known as the Regata Storica.
Anyone who's a fan or practitioner of Venetian rowing should see it in-person at least once.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Arjen's New Addition

Our friend Arjen in the Dutch city of Utrecht recently bought and received his second gondola.
He bought her from a gentleman in Mestre, which is the mainland city at the base of the bridge to Venice.

She's reportedly 25 years old, and is receiving lots of attention right now as Arjen works toward getting her passenger-ready for spring.

Here's a shot of the boat when she was still in Mestre:
Yes, that's Venetian rain washing down the gondola.

As the boat is at what most Venetians consider to be "retirement age" for gondolas, Arjen is needing to do some wood replacement - especially in the deck area of the poppa. While Venetians might consider her old enough to retire, given the right restoration and proper maintenance, this gondola can remain in service for decades to come.

Nearly every gondola has something unique - setting her apart from others. Sometimes it's a design feature, or a story associated with the history of the vessel. While I'm sure there are other things that make this gondola unique, my eye was drawn to the deck carvings on the very end of the poppa:

They remind me of the original happy and sad masks from Greek theatre.

I have to wonder if the gondolier who commissioned this gondola operated her around La Fenice. Or maybe he was into theatre himself. He obviously preferred comedy, because the sad face is missing.

Like some gondoliers, Arjen has a day job which keeps him fairly busy, but each night he can be found painstakingly "serving the ship" that recently arrived in Utrecht from the Veneto.

A complete strip-down and sanding has been performed, filling and faring is in the process, and soon she'll receive the first of many coats of shiny black paint.

In the spring she'll grace the waters of Arjen's ancient city alongside his first gondola "Christina".

Hopefully we'll see some "after photos" soon.

An article in Venice's Il Gazzettino tells part of the story (in Italian) and also features some photos seen previously on this blog of Tirza in Amsterdam.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Quantifying the Volume of a Swell

photos by Sean Antonioli

It could be described in so many ways:
An amazing experience,

a true-to-life survival story,

an almost sink-or-swim situation,

an "oh crap" experience,
an "oh $%*&#@*&$%?+#&%^@*&#$! experience.

Whatever the description, I'll never forget it and I'm thankful that it ended well.

Once upon a time, some friends of mine launched a couple gondolas in a harbor which was right next to another harbor where they were operating gondolas.

They invited me to join them in rowing the gondolas from one harbor to the other, and being a hopelessly addicted gondola fanatic, I jumped at the invitation.

Our adventure began on calm waters, rowing through a beautiful bay with the sun glistening on the smooth surface, but as we began to exit the breakwater,
we encountered some rollers.

The further we got, the bigger the swells, until we were officially "in it" and began to wonder if we might be at any risk.

Eventually Murphy's Law took effect and we received a nice big swell over the side.

You never really think about how much water is in a swell...until it lands in your boat.
Even then, you still can't quantify it until you're removing it from your boat - one bucket at a time.

If I'd remembered to count my bucket-fulls, I'd be able to tell you exactly how much water is in a swell...or at least that one.
As you can imagine, I had other things on my mind at the time.
Actually, even if I had been counting, the whole thing would have been moot, as we were blessed with at least three or four more swells that welcomed themselves aboard while we were bailing.

We bailed, and bailed, and bailed.
It was great fun, and as it turned out - a terrific lower-back exercise. If you are looking for a good lower-back workout, I highly recommend the "desperately trying to bail out a boat before it sinks" workout.
You get so caught up in the task at hand, that you don't even think about aches and pains.
There's no time to "feel the burn".
You just go nuts with the bucket!

As we worked feverishly to rid our boat of water, the wind was blowing us steadily closer to the breakwater of the other harbor.
The closer we got, the more perilous we felt, until we were about twenty feet from the rocks.
We achieved our goal (of an empty bilge) and began rowing with about ten feet to spare. From there we rowed into the breakwater opening as if it was just another happy row.

Anyone watching from that point on, would have had no idea the ordeal we'd just been through...that is unless they happened to notice that we were soaking wet from the waist down!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hangin' it Over the Side

...the camera, that is.
I shot this a while back while heading up one of the canals in Newport towards the latter part of the sunset.

If you choose to do this, be sure you've got a good grip on the camera. Otherwise, it could become a very expensive shot.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Flotilla on the 15th

The day after Valentine's Day, John Kerschbaum and I took out a ten-passenger flotilla.

Rowing the Phoenix and the newly-restored Wedding Gondola, we enjoyed a cruise that was pretty much the opposite of the ones we rowed the day before. We took our time, didn't concern ourselves with whether or not we hit the dock on schedule. And while most V-Day cruises carry two people, we had full boats on this one.

As it had been on the 14th, we enjoyed perfect weather.
Here are a few photos John and I snapped while rowing.

John leaving the docks on the Wedding Gondola.

Yours truly on the Phoenix.

Passing under the 38th Street bridge.

Rowing together from my perspective.

John's view while rowing "in formation".

It was such a great day that I couldn't help but smile.

John doing some close-quarters maneuvering in the marina.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ten Good Reasons for a Gondolier to Wear a Hat

1. Keeps the sun out of your eyes. (Duh!)

2. Leaves a nice depression line across your forehead.

3. You can't tip your hat to the ladies without...well...a hat!

4. Makes for an interesting conversation piece while boarding a plane. One time I had a flight attendant remark "I see you've been to Disneyland".

5. Helps avoid sunburn (at least on the top half of your head)

6. Makes you look like a gondolier instead of "Where's Waldo" or that one guy in Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video.

7. Sets you apart from all the other shmoes out there driving boats.

8. One of my gondoliers tells me that "chicks dig it".

9. Conceals hair loss (or "forehead gain")

10. I'd rather have bird crap land on my hat than in my hair.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Finish the Sentence Follow Up - "Valentine's Day Is..."

The sentence began with:

"Valentine's Day is..."

Many of you responded - some by posting a response, some by e-mailing me, and others by sharing it verbally in person or on the phone.

I liked Elle's take when she said it was "the only day it is compulsory to say "I love you", the other 364 days, you say it because you want to."

Sean's response "the stupidest day I love" cracked me up and totally fit his personality.

For years I've called it "The Superbowl of Gondola cruises".

It's also become "The day when we find out just how good our operation is, or needs to be".

Sometimes it seems like "A time in the middle of winter when the wind blows hard, knocking all the nuts off the trees. We're just a bunch of squirrels who scurry around and gather up as many nuts as we can in hopes of making it till spring."

Some of my gondoliers have referred to it as:

"Like Christmas"

"Like finals"

"A pain in the butt"

And I have observed it to be "One of the only days in Newport where we literally see gondola traffic".

Someone anonymously submitted that it was "a pefect occasion to simulate a gondola sinking so the couple can propose Titanic-style." I can't say I've had to do that yet, but nothing surprises me any more.

Valentine's Day doesn't always go the way you'd like it to.
I've endured some nasty weather conditions in years past.

There are other factors to consider too;

Robert Dula in Huntsville, Alabama e-mailed me
“Valentine’s Day is… an empty lake, full of broken hearts.” (they are still trying to fix the leak in the lake).

Robert's not alone either; I got word two days before the big day that a gondola operator in Australia showed up to find that the lake he operates on had accidentally drained, leaving one gondola sitting in the mud and the other hanging by her dock lines. With no hope that enough rain would fall before the 14th, he was out of luck.

There are those who don't operate during winter, and for good reason.
John Kerschbaum, who runs gondolas in the Minneapolis area, told me that his waterways are usually frozen about one to two feet thick right now.

John has come out from Minnesota each year for the last four years to row with us for the big day, he refers to Valentine's Day as "a great excuse to go to California".

It's been a few days since the 14th, and I'm happy to add one more response to the pile:
"Valentine's Day is...over. Thank God".

Monday, February 16, 2009

Austin Expedition - Summary

"That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger"
- Friedrich Nietzsche

"What don't kill you makes you more strong"
- James Hetfield of Metallica

"That which doesn't kill me...only postpones the inevitable"
- Chris Harrison

"That which doesn't kill me...can sometimes really piss me off"
-Greg Mohr

It was a windy one in Austin.
Chris Harrison and I had spent a lot of time hoping and praying that the wind and rain, which had been in the forecast, would pass us by.
We got a pass in the rain department, but when we arrived at the dock in the morning, the wind was there, waiting to give us a hearty welcome.

Now I am not a superstitious man, but over the years I have gained a certain amount of respect for Murphy's Law. Mr. Murphy's principle was in full effect in the wind department that day.

Chris and I made some great headway as we rowed from our dock near the Congress Avenue bridge toward the 1st Street bridge. I noticed that the wind was trying to spin us around as it hit us from the rear-port quarter.

Just under the 1st Street bridge, we met up with Paul Parma, an Austin local who is well-known in the American gondola community. Paul was rowing a small skiff in perfect Venetian style. We were very impressed with how perfect his form was on such a unique platform. The remo even had the red and white chevron stripes.

Rowing further along the shore we encountered a few photographers and publicity staff, took some photos, grabbed a snack, and continued on. I noticed that the wind was now coming from the port side, offereing new challenges in keeping the boat straight.

As we made a slight bending turn near Zilker Metropolitan Park we regained the tailwind which had repeatedly tried to spin us around earlier. We almost never had a "perfect tailwind" to push us properly. Further north and we were now being blasted from behind, and approaching the MoPac bridge at a high rate of speed. As we passed under the bridge I spotted my wife Elisa with our two daughters calling and waving. Excitedly, I waved back, taking my attention away from things long enough to almost run into a bridge piling.
Yes folks, remember me this way.
A little quick reacting and some colorful language and we cleared the piling.
After the MoPac I began to realize that our "happy little tailwind" had become a fierce beast. I decided that it would be wise to turn around and begin the inevitable windfight to get back to the other end of the lake.

What followed was a great man-against-nature experience as we put our shoulders into it and rose to the occasion. The Austin expedition was similar to many others but there was one noteworthy difference: the addition of a boombox CD player, which came in quite handy when we turned to face the wind. Believe me when I tell you, that row would not have been nearly as enjoyable without the new album from Metallica blasting, inspiring angst and raising our pace to a new level.

We met that crosswind again about halfway back, this time coming from the starboard side. The Austin skyline was in view for much of this section of the row. Austin has some of the standard high-rises, but there are a few buildings that really stand out, making it a very interesting city to look at.

Once we passed back under the Congress Avenue bridge, it was headwind time again. We decided to venture past the dock and fight our way down to the other end of the lake, turning finally at Festival Park. It was all tailwind from there.

All along the way we were greeted by folks on the shore and from bridges. I have heard that Austin is America's second most fit city, and it doesn't surprise me. Everywhere I looked there were people running, biking, walking, and all in February.

Our Texas-sized winds reached speeds of 25 knots, gusting to 30 at times. It wasn't the worst we'd seen - that honor goes to the Buffalo Bayou in Houston, but it did prompt me to rethink what we call this thing.
This was our third one-day expedition, and so far they have all involved fighting the wind.
At dinner that night, I suggested that we stop referring to them as "gondola expeditions" and begin calling them "wind hunts", because we appear to be quite skilled at finding wind to row against.

It didn't kill us to row against the wind so much, it only made us stronger.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

V-Day is over...

Thank God.
And thank God for good weather!

Here in Southern California, Valentine's Day is a crapshoot - we never really know what to expect.

I've seen dozens of cruises go out in heavy winds.

We've had to reschedule a fair share of cruises due to rain.

A few years gondoliers and dock staff have been literally dumped on by our favorite storm which comes from south of the border: El Niño.

Each year we hope (and pray) for good conditions.

This year the weather was darn near perfect.

Here are a few shots I took from the gondola.

Giuseppe cruises by on his Crystal Swan.

Cole waves while passing by the docks
at the Villa Nova restaurant.

A few stand-up paddlers "rowed" past my gondola, Laird Hamilton style.

A gondola from my competitor
glides toward the setting sun.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy V-Day

As you might expect, I didn't have a lot of spare time to spend at the computer today.
Dozens of tasks needed completion to make sure everything is ready for the big day tomorrow.
If you're a gondola operator, then I expect you won't read this until the 14th (and possibly a day or two after).

Whatever the case, I wish you all a great Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wedding Gondola Re-launch

most photos by Cassandra Mohr
After months out of the water, receiving repairs, renovations, and a few coats of fresh paint, my beloved Wedding Gondola is back in the water.

John Kerschbaum from Minnesota arrived a few days ago to keep up the tradition of rowing with us for V-Day. As soon as he arrived, we put him to work, contributing to the Wedding Gondola painting project like only another gondola owner can.

This afternoon, when the paint was dry enough, we launched her and rowed back to our docks in Newport.
It was a nice windy evening, and we were treated to a good stiff gale to row against.
What a great rowing experience, not to mention the workout we got.
After we reached the dock, we pulled the masking tape off and checked the bilge for water - no problems.
Tomorrow we'll dress the gondola and she'll be ready for passengers.

Here are some of the photos from the day:

Backing her in.

John checks to see if water is leaking in.

A stacked image. Notice that the blue masking tape is still on - that's how fresh the paint was.

Handling the remo.

Local spectators.

John looking far away.

John looking REALLY far away.

Back on the water at last.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Let the Games Begin

Early on the 14th of February, gondoliers gather on the docks in Newport Beach in a sort of "welcoming the day" ritual. In anticipation of what is arguably the busiest day of the year, and one which will test every facet of the operation, the gondoliers shout "let the games begin".
What follows is a day full of cruises. The docks are managed by staff who specialize in keeping things running clean. Clients roam the property, often arriving early and enjoying the show.
Many traditions are carried out that evening - some involve the whole group, while others are specific to one or two people.
Whatever the case, we are thankful for the holiday we call "V-Day", and welcome it loudly - much to the neighbor's annoyance at times.

"Let the games begin!"