Thursday, August 28, 2014

Simon Handles the Wind Like a Pro

With the current wind conditions, it's not unusual for a guy to row out of our lagoon in Newport and get blindsided by an unseen force that is determined to drag him, his boat, and his passengers a mile or two down the channel.

This wind does not joke.

Standing on the docks this evening I observed just such an episode as Simon rowed out into the open gale and get dragged downwind.

Ever the professional, Simon kept his cool, and just went with the flow.
He let the boat travel a good 80 yards before even bothering to turn her upwind.

Using just the right strokes, in perfect measure,
Simon worked against the invisible force to turn his gondola clockwise.

An easy "dar-zo",

some "sotto morso",
and he was back up into the morso.

With just the right timing, Simon was up on the poppa deck,

and giving some good solid power strokes.

In no time, the gondolier and his boat were back on course,

and approaching the Newport Blvd. bridge.

The sun sparkled on glittering water, as gondolier and passengers
took in the beauty of the early evening.

Simon handled it all like a pro,
making his boss very proud.

Ramo at the Remo

What are the chances I'd end up training a guy named "Ramo" row 
with a remo?

Whatever those odds are, it happened today.
He did well too.  The wind was out in force, but he kept fighting it.

With a remo in his hand, Ramo kept the boat steady enough for me to crawl out onto the bow and snap this photo.

I predict he'll be wearing stripes soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

55 Percent

photo by Cassandra Mohr

There are some things that you just take for granted.
You hear something from a reliable source, and you never bother to check it out for yourself.

Case in point:
The statement that the gondola is only 55% in the water.
I've heard it, I've read it, I've shared it more times than I can count.

Better defined, it means that only fifty-five percent of the length of the gondola is in the water.
The gondola may be eleven meters long, but her footprint in the water is only fifty-five percent of that.

After two decades of being associated with these remarkable boats, 
I have still never bothered to find a long enough tape measure and crawl around on a dock or shoreline to investigate.

Then, while going through some recent shots from a proposal cruise, 
I came upon the above photo.  Looking at the gondola in profile, 
I was once again reminded of the 55% thing.

I said to myself "one day I've got to measure that to see if it's accurate".
Gazing across my desk (and the hundreds of things piled on top of it), 
I spotted a paper ruler from Ikea.  I never throw anything away.
Enlarging the photo to something I could work with, 
I held the ruler up to the screen and, "Eureka!" 
It was true!
(yes, I do get excited about small things sometimes)
Crunching the numbers, I was able to determine that the length at the waterline was almost exactly fifty-five percent of the overall boat length.
This gives the gondola her striking crescent-shaped appearance.
She seems to be barely floating on the water.
It's as if she weighs almost nothing at all.

An old salty boat builder friend in my neighborhood likes to say that 
"the gondola leaves the water early on both ends".
She certainly does; in fact I don't know of another boat that has so much overhang on both ends.

Sure, gondolas vary, with different builders custom building for rowers with different criteria, but it's not unusual to see a gondolier rowing from a position that's behind the waterline.

Of course if you put a whole family of sumo wrestlers in your gondola, 
your length at the waterline is sure to increase 
(along with your stress level if they decide to rock the boat).

The benefits of this design are not just aesthetic.
With a bow that overhangs like this, you can beach your gondola and allow passengers to climb on or off the boat without crawling all over the foredeck.

Similarly, you can get enough of the stern up on the beach to allow a dry boarding, but it does involve some rather ungraceful climbing.
I tried it once.
There were photos taken,
but you will never see them if I have anything to do with it.

The biggest advantage that comes from such a short footprint, 
is the gondola's remarkable ability to turn.
When you stand at the back of the boat, and perform a "dar-zo" stroke 
(that's the "prybar" to anyone I've ever taught it to), 
you can easily spin the whole boat with little effort.
In normal rowing it doesn't take much to change the direction of the gondola either, thanks to the length at waterline.
You may be rowing a 36 foot boat, but she'll corner like a 20 footer.

Fifty-five percent: It makes quite a difference.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Leaving with an Audience

Last wednesday night I arrived at Sunset Gondola,
about an hour before it got dark.

Ever the host, Tim was on the phone giving directions to someone who was on their way.  Tim's young son and a few friends of the same age were chucking bocce balls around on the grass, and I noticed a number of new, and very young faces.

Tim has a fresh crop of new gondoliers, who are big on energy and have the kind of enthusiasm that works so well in this unique job we do.

I overheard Tim say to a couple of these guys:
"As soon as Grant gets here, you guys get to ro-sham-bo to see who gets to take the seven o'clock".

It's a minor inconvenience when you book a cruise on the night of a gondolier's party, but hey, it pays the bills. 
And besides, we all got to watch The newbie board and depart,
then arrive and front of his boss
(and a whole bunch of seasoned gondoliers from his and other operations). 
No pressure here.

Sixteen-year-old Mitchell Smith was the lucky winner.
He walked his couple down to the boat, boarded them gracefully, and even took a moment to snap a few photos for them with one of their phones.

 "Ok folks, smile!"

 After getting his couple to smile for his photo, Mitchell smiled for one of mine.

 He positioned Sunset Gondola's Red Gondola...

...and stepped off the dock like so many California gondoliers like to do. 
I'm not sure, but I think this move comes from "surfer's intuition".

For the next hour. Mitchell rowed his passengers, enjoying the night air,
and probably worrying about how his docking would go.

As it happened, I was standing right next to Tim at the rail as the boat came in, and he proudly pointed out to me how well his guy was doing.
It was a good docking...and a great night.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Press for Providence

Here's a fun local piece on La Gondola in Providence, Rhode Island.
"A touch of Venice in Providence on a gondola"
The author is - - just bit biased towards the servizio in his town, but then who can blame him...La Gondola is terrific.

Phoenix at Rest

I snapped this photo just moments before escorting six ladies down the dock of a private home in Newport, to take them on a relaxing cruise.

This gondola is known as The Phoenix.
I have a lot of great memories with this boat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Great Get-Together

Tonight a bunch of us gondoliers from Southern California got together,
as we often do, at Sunset Gondola.  This is typically a seasonal thing. 
Sure, non-gondoliers are welcome, but it's mostly folks who wear stripes and row gondolas.  Most of our existence as gondoliers involves passengers who have paid to be served, and as much as we love our jobs - it is nice to spend a little time once in a while with a bunch of other people who do the same job.
Let's face it, nobody understands you, and that weird job you do,
like someone who does that weird job too.

Ladies toasting from the boat.
Tim and his daughter looking on in amusement.
Stefano (who's wife just gave birth) arrives to applause and congratulations.
Everyone who arrived was well-received.
Each time we've gotten together, there's been something different to eat. Tonight we had some of the best food ever for a Sunset get-together.
One of the gondoliers and his dad just returned from a fishing trip in Alaska. Tonight it was fish tacos, with Alaskan salmon, halibut, and other fresh catches. On top of that, Tim had grilled some sausage, made spaghetti,
and served it up with a caesar salad.
Dinner is served...
...and everyone is hungry.
After dinner, everyone continued to enjoy fellowship and music.
As always, stories (and maybe a few exaggerations) were shared.

Tim pocket-dialed Stefano on accident.
This is what Tim looks like right after five gondoliers text him
"POCKET DIAL!!!" all at once.

Half a high-five.

Music and laughter. 

Just the right amount of attitude.
Fresh new gondoliers at the rail.
Everybody looks better in stripes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Looking Over My Shoulder

It's hard to keep my focus ahead of me...when there's such a stunning display going on behind me.
As my passengers and I made our way back towards the home dock,
I had to spin the boat around at least five times so they could enjoy it too. 
Each time we stopped and turned, it was different from the last.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gondola Babies

No, this post is not about giving birth aboard a gondola - although I have given the subject some thought. Anyone who has watched TV has seen numerous situations where a woman goes into labor in an unexpected place (funny how labor and childbirth seem to whiz by in fictitious pieces).

I don't expect that I will ever need to facilitate an on-gondola birthing procedure...but I have considered the possibility that I might need to turn around and row quickly towards the nearest public dock for an ambulance to pick up a mother in labor.
Thus far that hasn't happened, but ever-the-Boy-Scout: I am ready.

This post, my dear friends, is about babies in the gondola community.

 photo by Joe Gibbons

Two weeks ago, Providence gondola operator Marcello and his wife Bryna welcomed their daughter into the world.
She has since been described in every positive and beautiful way,
and will forever change their lives, and the lives of those around them.
There is nothing so sweet, so fresh, and so encouraging as the arrival of a beautiful baby into the world. 
Yes, they are messy (I sure was - just ask my mom).
Yes they are noisy - my daughter Isabella screamed through the entire state of Connecticut once. 
I will never forget it (and I think some folks in Connecticut won't either).
And yes, they require a lot of time and attention, but then everything that's truly worth it, does.

Babies remind us all of what really is important,
of how fragile our existence actually is,
and more than anything, they give us hope for the future,
and get us thinking about how we should be treating things for their future.
I awoke yesterday morning to an e-mail from Boston with photos.
The text read:

Hello Greg,
my new grandson John Pellagrino had his first rowing lesson last night.  
Ciao.  Joe Gibbons

Joe and his youngest "trainee".
As if the "theme of the day" hadn't made itself abundantly clear to me,
the next electronic message I received surely did.
Just after rowing a lunch cruise, I got a text from Stefano,
(the guy from "Marathon Man") saying:
Baby on the way.
and at 9:44pm, there was yet another angel in the world.
Elena JoAnne Anastasia was born last night,
weighing in at 5 pounds, 12 ounces, and 18 inches long.
My warmest congratulations go out to all the new parents and grandparents, whose lives have recently been changed.
Over the years I've been thrilled to see fellow gondoliers and their wives become new parents.
Our children remind us of our own beginnings.
They remind us of how much love is required in life.
We get the opportunity to relive childhood - vicariously through them.
They remind us that we leave a legacy,
and as they grow they become our closest friends,
and even one day return the favor by caring for us.
In the gondola world, we welcome them with on-the-water salutes,
we dress them up in stripes, and eventually take them out on the gondola.
They feed the ducks, take brochure photos, and eventually they row.
So here's a salute to those gondola babies - may we raise them well,
and may they one day represent us well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tight Quarters

A couple weeks ago I stopped by Gondola Paradiso in Oxnard
to visit my friend Mark Schooling. 

We rowed the route and talked about some of the things that
make the waterway unique. 
At the end of the loop, we passed under a three-arch bridge - one that
reminds me a little of the famous Tre Archi bridge in Venice.

photo by Mark Schooling - this and other shots

The main passageway is a nice archway - probably wide enough to spin the boat around (but because it wasn't my boat, I wasn't about to try). 

After rowing through and testing the acoustics with a song,
I flipped around and went under one of the side arches.

It was wide enough to row through, but not by much. 
I used the stroke that guys in Venice use to pass each other in tight canals.
It may be the narrowest tunnel I've rowed down so far.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Photographer in the Photo

photo by Joey Hamamoto

Gondolier Joey Hamamoto snapped this image tonight as the sun was setting and everything was perfect in Newport.

Steve Elkins can be seen rowing the Phoenix, with photographer Cassandra Mohr capturing images of her own.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rowing the Route in Oxnard


A few days ago I was up in Ventura and managed to spend some time
on the water with Mark Schooling at his gondola operation in Oxnard.

In his first year of operating, Mark has nothing to compare his monthly
numbers with yet, but his recounting of things so far was encouraging.

This unique gondola was launched about six months ago in Oxnard
and despite the elements and the foot traffic, she looks great today.

The canal waterway there is in a great residential area of the harbor. 
Mark's route begins and ends with impressive bridges.

For the first half of the route, Mark rowed and talked, 
telling me about some points of interest.

Next, I stepped on the back and did some rowing of my own
while Mark told me about one of the interesting boats along the canal.

For over fifteen years Mark has been a fixture in Newport - rowing for the Gondola Company of Newport. 
Seeing him on the water was pretty much a "given". 
If anyone was out on the water - it would be Mark.
But for the last six months he's been missing, and while he was rowing for a competing company, we are all friends and I looked forward to seeing him whenever I'd push off the dock.
While Mark is missed in Newport, I am so glad to see him doing well with his own operation up north.
The company name is Gondola Paradiso
and he's got a pretty cool piece of advertising on the back of his car too!