Friday, March 12, 2010

Unique Features and Operation of a "Venetian" Boat

In a series of posts from early January, we saw photos and video of the gondolas operating in a famous casino in Las Vegas. The boats there, and in her counterpart in Macao, are unique in many ways - many of which can be seen by looking closely at the stern of the vessel.

One cannot help but admire the detail put into the upholstery of these gondolas. It's not really reminiscent of a Venice-built gondola - more like a horse-drawn carriage, but the quality and comfort are impressive.

The wood used as trim and seat framing was cut using standard patterns, but then each piece had to be handcrafted - some were placed in a very large steam-box to add the necessary curve. All screw fastenings were countersunk and plugged with matching wood before the whole thing was stained and varnished.

Seat belts?
You think you see seat belts in the salon?
Indeed there are seat belts, but not because these boats move at unsafe speeds.
The seat belt story goes back to a decision made by someone who was obviously worried about liability and lawsuits.
The main idea being that if a stupid drunk guy tries to stand up in the middle of the ride, and the boat is heading under a low bridge, he's less likely to hit his head on the bridge if he's buckled in.

And, more importantly, he's less likely to sue the casino.

As the boats are routinely boarded from the port side, a small step is located on that side. The top has a nonskid surface, and the step does a great job of keeping people from stepping on the upholstery.

Looking at the photo below, you can see the metal cap of the charging port, which is located on the inboard side of the step. During down time, this is where the charge cord is plugged in.

These boats do have forcole, but the design has a serious difference: the morso is turned 90 degrees and serves as a holder for the remo, which is used more as a rudder than a propulsion oar.

Over the years, the gondoliers who operate these boats have learned how to use the remo as an oar. The style of rowing could best be compared to the sotomorso style used when a Venetian gondolier has stepped forward onto the trastolini - trailing his remo behind him and making fishtail movements with the blade. At one time, I heard rumors about how some gondoliers there were refusing to use the motors and had to be chastized by management to insure that the motors were being used.

Why are the motors so important? As it has been explained to me, when all the boats have their throttles set at the same speed, and all gondoliers use the motors in the same places,

the flow of traffic is more manageable. Each boat's throttle can be adjusted, but the controls for that are under-deck.

Once again, liability has reared its head in another form: tendonitis of the wrist.
There are, from time to time, gondoliers who develop a painful movement-related condition of the right wrist. This is why you may see some gondoliers there wearing gloves or wrist braces.
I would imagine that blisters have also prompted some to wear gloves.
The threat of tendonitis has also supported the argument from management that using the motors was necessary.

So how do the gondoliers operate the motors?
They step gently on the buttons on the deck (you can see them more clearly in the top photo).
When I last checked, one was the on/off button for the carefully adjusted forward propulsion.
Step on it once and the boat goes forward.
Step again and it cuts power to the motors.
The switch toggles on and off.

The other button was what could best be described as "the closest thing to a brake pedal on a boat".
Step on that other button and the motors go into full-throttle reverse.

Some have described it as the the "OH $#i@ button"
Operating these boats requires a combination of skills, and most of the gondoliers who pilot them do an exceptional job – spectators along the canal, typically have no clue as to whether motors are involved. The gondoliers’ job description also involves a lot of interaction with the passengers aboard, and then there’s the singing – but that’s a subject for another post.


Bob Easton said...

THANKS for the explanations Greg! I was puzzled by some of these things, especially the forcole, when I saw one of these boats a couple of years ago.

I did not see them in operation since we were out and about early that morning when the temperature was low (104 F). Hint: Vegas is hot in July.

Lesee now, if all the motors have to run at the same speed, the passengers have to wear seat belts, the path through the canal is set, why not just put the whole shebang on rails and let a Disney ride controlling computer replace the "gondoliers?" I don't have much use for how much the theme parts stray from tradition.

Tamás said...

If I were a gondolier in that Casino Royale, I'd tell customers the gondola has seatbelts because those seats are ejection seats, James Bond-style!

Those who don't behave are forcibly disembarked mid-cruise. Those who really don't behave are offloaded while passing under a bridge... Mind your head and don't criticize the singing!

Tamás said...

> The path through the canal is set, why not just put the whole shebang on rails and let a Disney ride controlling computer replace the gondoliers?

Actually I've been thinking about something similar, but for Venezia proper, not the Vegas casino. Everbody complains how the reaction force from ship-screws, especially the big vaporetti damages the Canale Grande palaces.

Considering the Canal Grande route is fixed, why not install a permanent underwater cable drag system for vaporetto? I mean something like the famous cable tramcars of San Francico.

The systems's cables and guide rollers should be anchored into the bottom of the canal to avoid being an eyesore. The motoscafo could latch onto the steel cable at will to obtain propulsive pull.

There would be no need to run the ships' onboard engines during normal operation and thus, ship-screw induced "moto ondoso" would not erode palace walls.

The power to drag the underwater steel cable loops would come from electric motors installed in a few pierside stations, so there would be no more acidic diesel exhaust soot to deface the beautiful marble walls.

staff said...

Many thanx Greg. It's interesting to see how those boats have been modified to fit the needs to navigate in those canals.
The seat belts are awesome.

Wayne R Morton said...

Hey, Greg! This is Wayne a former Gondola Adventures gondolier AND a former gondolier from that Vegas hotel depicted.

If I may, I'll answer some of the questions posted.

First, at the canal design stage, they considered some method of fixed operation. But, there are portions of the canal that have space for only one gondola at a time. If there where railings or cables, they would have to cross. So, it would never work.

Second, to clarify the pedals, the original design was a forward pedal that only propels while pressed and a reverse pedal that would cause the same forward facing motor to run in reverse. Not a great beaking system! When they opened the outside ride, the conditions where more difficult and they decided to mount two motors, one in the aft facing forward, one forward facing backward, much more effective. I don't know for certain. But, I believe they have retrofitted the inside gondolas to match.

Lastly, the original reason for the motors and the seatbelts, actually came from the Clark County Fire Department. They were charged with safety regs for any "ride" in Las Vegas. The specs for the Gondola Ride where treated like the Roller Coaster at NY, NY. hence the seatbelts. Also, by Clark County rules, the gondolas must be able to be evacuated in a certain time frame, which is the original reason for the motors. Of course, now that it is a money making venture, they use the motors to full advantage!

Sorry for my waxing nostalgic, but I love to share! lol

If you have any other questions about the hotel's methods, let me know.