Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Special Delivery"

Hanging over the side of a bridge in the dark,
it's not really something I imagined I'd be doing when I woke up this morning, and yet here I am,
on the outside of the rail,
holding a freshly wrapped long-stemmed red rose,
looking down at the water.

It's not a very high bridge, I suppose that should be noted.
I'm not in any danger of falling to my death,
but if I were to lose my grip on the rail and fall,
it would certainly mean the death of my cellphone,
but I'm not thinking about that right now.
I'm focused on the water, waiting for the prow of a gondola to come out from beneath the bridge and pass under me.

Forty minutes ago I was at home, enjoying a barbecue and pool party with friends. The kids were playing Marco Polo, the adults were relaxing and trying not to think of work.
Then my phone rang.
You know, there are two kinds of people:
business owners,
and those who get to clock out at the end of the day.

The call came from Steve Elkins, my Senior Gondolier; he had a cruise in ten minutes.  The cruise was an important one to the guy who'd booked it - it wasn't a proposal, but clearly he'd put some thought into it,
and the long-stemmed red rose he'd ordered...wasn't there.

The florist had a lot of orders to fulfill and appeared to have missed this small but important one.
I could say she "owes me one now", but she's done a great job for a long time and everybody has a glitch now and then.

I ran out the door.
There was no time to figure out if another gondolier had mistakenly put it on an earlier cruise.
There was no reason to fuss over who was at fault.
There wasn't enough time for the florist to prepare and deliver a wrapped red rose in ten minutes.
It was all about solving the problem.

My only option at that hour was an upscale grocery store.
The first choice was an exercise in frustration.
They had roses, sure,
but the only person I could get to help me...was no help at all.
I could see it in her eyes.
She was probably about three minutes away from clocking out.
Steve was three minutes away from cruise time.

I jumped in my car and burned rubber to the next store.
All the real florists were closed at 6:57 on a Sunday night.

Walking into the store I spotted perfect long-stemmed reds, but they needed to be wrapped with all that fancy other stuff.
The store manager called the most qualified employee to help me:
"Rick from Produce."
Really, he was a nice guy, but Rick looked downright scared of the whole florist thing.

Just like I never expected to be hanging off the side of a bridge tonight,
I also didn't expect to say "thank God my mother was a florist",
but she was.
Growing up, my mom did wedding flowers and I learned a thing or two just by watching.

"Rick from Produce" was noticeably relieved when I told him I could wrap the flower, he welcomed me behind the floral counter, and dutifully provided cellophane and tape.
In about two minutes I had the rose wrapped, with the proper greenery, and a red ribbon.
I paid, ran to my car, and broke several laws getting to that bridge.

I know someone will read this and think:
"why all the fuss over a stupid rose?",
but I knew it was important for the guy on the boat,
I knew the gondolier's tip depended on it,
and in this economy, when someone is willing to trust me with their important moments, I take it seriously.

So here I am,
hanging over the side of the bridge and watching for Steve and his gondola.
I've texted him, and know that he's coming.
I look over to my car - illegally parked with the flashers on.
I hope the gondola comes soon.
I hope I don't get a ticket.
I hope I don't fall in the water.

Cars cross the bridge, looking at this weird guy gripping the rail with one hand, and holding a rose in the other. 
The full moon shines down like a street light. 
I can hear the surf break at the beach just a few blocks away.
I look down, wait, and then I see the prow emerge from under the bridge.
The gondola is moving faster than I'd expected, and before I know it, Steve is out of reach.
Instinctively, I pitch the wrapped rose ahead of Steve, it falls slowly, and lands perfectly on the the white canopy - creating a soft "thump" right above the couple.

I hear Steve say "Hey, did you guys hear that?"
He explains what has just happened,
and as I walk to my car with the hazard lights flashing,
I wave to the passengers and announce:
"Special delivery!", and they laugh.

I drive back home to relax with friends,
knowing, of course, that the phone might ring again.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Double Rower in Alamitos Bay

The last time I counted, there were over three dozen Venice-built gondolas taking passengers in the U.S., and a handful of them doing other things (usually out of the water).
And while I love the genuine article, I can also appreciate the pragmatism behind the decision of building one at home. 
We have a lot of gondolas in this country.
In fact it seems that for every gondola built in a Venetian squero,
there's another one that was built in California, Florida, or Massachusetts.
Here are a few photos I took in Alamitos Bay of a California-built boat, rowed in an unorthodox but effective way. 
I guess in some ways that's who we are:
Americans recognize tradition and orthodoxy,
but in the end it's all about getting the job done.
I would prefer a single-oar approach, but this method has a long history there, and I understand that many of the guys who start with two, eventually make the jump to one after they've spent some time on the water.

Friday, September 28, 2012

On Sparkling Waters

I snapped this about an hour and a half ago from the top deck of a boat in Newport. 
Steve Elkins was just coming in at the end of his cruise and the conditions were just right.
I love this time of year.

Three Easy Pieces

First there were the Three Musketeers,
then the Three Little Pigs,
followed, of course by the Three Stooges.

There's the three part harmony (a more portable barbershop quartet),
the three-piece band (like The Police, Nirvana or ZZ Top),
and the string trio (making appearances at weddings everywhere).

There's "three wishes" granted by a genie in a lamp (and all the jokes that follow),
the three-piece suit,
and then there's the three-piece pupparin.
Yes, I know, not as well-known as the other famous "threes", but a very impressive vessel nonetheless.

Ok, maybe not so "Holy Toledo, look at that!" amazing while disassembled on the trailer, but still a very clever boat.

I was in Venice for the 2009 Vogalonga, hanging out with Tim Reinard of Sunset Gondola and Megan Sliger who was at that time the owner of Gondola di Venezia in Boston
We were at the GSVVM rowing club, enjoying some sort of liquid refreshment with a bunch of the club members and other out-of-town rowers when someone mentioned their "3 piece boat".
They asked if we'd like to see it.
Really, they just wanted some help assembling this craft.
These guys were from the Canottieri Armida in Torino - a city in northwest Italy, and the center for the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Such an invitation is exactly the kind of thing to draw curious American gondoliers away from their cold beverages and into a boat yard.

The reason for this three-piece design wasn't clear to me, and to be honest, I was so interested in the "how" (how it fit together) 
that I probably missed the "why" of it all.

 First, of course, you've gotta untie everything.

Each piece fits neatly in its place.
This photo brings new meaning to the phrase "stem to stern"

While the poppa and prua pieces nested next to each other on the "first floor" of the trailer, the midsection was "upstairs".

Each of the three pieces was easily carried, and as the old saying goes "many hands make light work".
Carrying the bow.
 Placing the bow - 33% of the way there.

 Bow + midsection. Two down, one to go.

All three pieces on the ground.
As Tim and Megan looked with curiosity, and I continued snapping pictures (translation: not really helping at all), the guys who'd brought this some-assembly-required pupparin, were preparing to join the three pieces.
The plastic bin full of nut and bolt hardware is a small but oh-so valuable thing.  Forget to bring it and you've got big problems.

Each hole on one side lines up perfectly with one on the other side of the piece-to-piece connection, but first you've got to get that guy to step out of the middle!

How do they keep the boat from leaking? Take a look for yourself.
I don't know if it's weatherstripping or something else, but the gasket material they use is an inventive way to avoid building each piece with bulkheads at the joining points.
Once the joining points are bolted together securely, structural crosspieces are bolted in place.  These "trasti not only give architectural strength, I imagine that they also conceal the joining points as well.
Bundled trasti, tie-straps, and soft foam buffer pieces for the rails.

Leaning against the trailer, and waiting for the boat to be assembled,
the floorboards were bundled together and ready to be placed on the floor of the pupparin.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not sure why the club in Torino wanted a break-into-three-pieces boat, but I can think of five or six good reasons.

The Canottieri Armida, like most rowing clubs outside the Veneto, is not first and foremost a stand-up-and-face-forward rowing operation. 
Voga-alla-Veneta appears to be a secondary interest for most of them - cruise their website and you'll see galleries of photos with rowers seated and facing backward.

But for the few members who like to see where they are going,
this is a great boat, which is remarkably portable.

A close-up of one of the deck adornments shows an icon that's dear to the folks at Armida.

It can also be seen on lapel pins,
and while I don't know the details of the Armida logo or crest, it sure looks great.

Most boats with a history and a heritage have at least one brass plate and the three-piece-pupparin is no exception.
One of the guys paused proudly with the forcola da poppa.
The GSVVM is right on the Venetian lagoon, but on the other end of the bridge to Venice.  I needed to catch a ride back to the apartment in Venice so we left before the 3 piece boat went in the water.  Since then I've thought a lot about that boat, and all the things I could do with it - like carry it up a stairwell and into a pool on the roof of a hotel,
or try and check it as luggage (piece by piece).
I've wondered how I might order one,
wondered if another midsection could be incorporated - like a leaf in a dining room table, and wondered if they could take out the middle,
join the two ends, and have a smaller, sportier model.
The Società Canottieri Armida Has a great website with lots of photos at
There's lots of great imagery from traditional english rowing events, but if you look a bit you'll see this boat, often rowed by as many as six at a time.

Incidently, the practice of breaking a boat down into smaller, more manageable sections isn't unique to the good folks in Torino.  In fact many of the "big desonas" we've looked at here on the Gondola Blog are built in a similar way, enabling them to be shipped more conveniently to other places for special events.

In my meanderings I also came across this interesting blog:

Next time I row in the Vogalonga, I hope to see the "3 piece pupparin" in action, and maybe try a hand at rowing her.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The View from My Office Tonight

This is the view from my office.
I know there are folks out there who have corner offices in skyscrapers with nice views, but I'm pretty happy with the view from my humble little workspace.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Green Cans in Stratford

While visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon in England earlier this year,
I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Birch and seeing his operation there along the river Avon. 
The boats were all very impressive in an English sort of way
(which means there was more wood, higher quality, and I was jealous).
Before we started looking at boats, we got a quick tour of the workshop.
There were many familiar tools and lots of the same hardware you'd see in other places, and then I spotted this large collection of green cans.

Visiting a place like Stratford can be humbling to a guy from California - there's so much history.  Nick told me that the cans were for storing various nuts, bolts, screws, and other items.  Each can was marked with numbers identifying its contents.
Some of these cans date back to before World War II.


To see the gondola in Stratford, check out
"Meeting the Corelli Gondola in Stratford"

some of the other boats can be seen in
"Rowboats in Shakespeare Coutry".

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Photos from Budapest

photos by Tamás Fehér
In my previous post "Success in Budapest", I shared a written report from Tamás, who was there when Vittorio Orio arrived at the end of his expedition which began in Vienna.
Here we have a collection of great images captured as Vittorio made land in the Hungarian capitol of Budapest.





The chase boat.
 Media attention at the arrival.

Shaking hands with dignitaries.
So what does Vittorio Orio's boat look like?
Let's take a look:

The gondola and her chase boat.

One of the key elements, of course, is making sure that the sponsors get good exposure. 
A good gondola expedition should always have a good cause:
 ...and a ristorante worth visiting:

After all the rowing and handshaking, the boats were hoisted and everyone went home happy (and tired, I'm sure).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Success in Budapest

As I mentioned a few posts ago Vittorio Orio recently embarked on an expedition covering 300 kilometers launching from Vienna and rowing all the way to Budapest.  As luck would have it, blog reader and regular commenter Tamás Fehér lives in the Hungarian capitol of Budapest. 
Tamás was there today when Vittorio made land and sends this report:

Hello Greg,

Mr. Vittorio Orio in the gondola and the tiny escort motorboat arrived all OK at the Budapest Hajogyar Wiking Yacht Club marina / port, spot on, at 11:31 local time and started to moor. A police motorboat came around 5 minutes later and told us the expedition needed to continue southwards, as the Italian embassy and media had been waiting for a full hour on the Piazza Batthyany pier on the river Danube, right across the vast building of the Hungarian Parliament.
(It appears none of the 4 Italian expedition members knew about this extension, neither did the marina-port staff or me. Suprise!)

Therefore Mr. Orio continued sculling. Luckily I was able to get on the little police speedboat, with another civilian - a marina staff member. Apparently nobody realized I am a nobody to this event in any official sense... 8-) The river police boat escorted the gondola on the 3 km extra journey to the obligatory event. Tried to take some photos on the river, let's hope they are usable. Suprisingly, there was no media on the water to make photos of the gondola with the backdrop of Budapest's riverbanks and architecture.

At the pontoon across the Parliament, the gondola moored and the Italian ambassador held a speech and there were TV interviews with Mr. Orio and journalist Mr. Cardona. The dignitaries then left about 40 minutes, the event was not overly pompous.

I went back to the Wiking Yacht Club marina in the car that pulled the gondola's transport semi-trailer.

The motorboat towed the gondola upriver, with Mr. Orio helming with remo at the poppa. Both vessels were individually lifted in slings by a 25 ton, towering big electric crane that was obviously oversized for the job. That job cost 2 x 85 euros, which price tag the Italian quartet found more fitting for the USA than Eastern Europe.
(Luckily I did not tell them about the marina's original calculation, which was 250 euros for the 11-meter gondola alone, based on the pay-by-lenght table! I sucessfully argued with the office lady to count only the 6 meter waterline.)

Vittorio Orio sends you warm regards, he remembers the 4-remier Albany expedition fondly and mentioned it several times during the media event.

Sincerely: Tamás Fehér from Hungary. 

Many congratulations go out to Vittorio Orio and his staff for the successful completion of a long and impressive row.

Bravo Vittorio and thanks Tamás.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Attention to the Details of the Tramontin Sandolo

A while back I posted about a beautiful new passenger sandolo in Canada (see "Carved Boat in Canada").
The owner of that exceptional boat just sent me these images, which give us an idea of how hands-on the Squero Tramontin was with this sandolo.
As she is a full fledged passenger vessel, she has all the parecio,
including the "pusiol" armpieces like the one above.
 The oars for this boat were made in Squero Tramontin.
These beautiful forcole were also reportedly crafted by the men who built the boat.
Often these pieces of rowing hardware are made by a separate craftsman known as a remer, but as you can see, Tramontin tended to every single detail.
Including the chairs.
 The chairs begin as a stack of wood, which is trimmed down into specific pieces that fit together like a puzzle.
 All those pieces are put together with a special glue, and then the whole thing is clamped together from what looks like just about every angle.
The end result is a pair of chairs that are specially built to fit next to each other with an arm on each side.  I was told that they arms were meant to be on the outsides so the whole thing is like a love seat, but I can see how swapping sides can be a better choice if the two passengers seated aren't a couple (or aren't on speaking terms).
As the first sandolo to come out of the Tramontin yard in fifty years, clearly they were determined to dictate every single detail.
The boat is beautiful, and I understand that the owner, Lorne, has taken over one hundred cruises since he launched her earlier this year - lucky couples, all of them.