Friday, February 27, 2015

Fast at Fifty

A week ago, with friends and family,
I celebrated my birthday - for the 50th time.
It was a great day, with lots of folks over for barbecue and cake.
I enjoyed swapping great stories with several gondoliers.
Bring up "falling in the water" with a bunch of guys who make their living
on a boat and you're sure to hear some fun stories.

One of my great friends is Steve Atkins, who is the father of gondolier
Simon in my Newport operation.  Steve wrote me by far the most creative
and researched birthday cards I've ever received.

I asked him to send me the text so I could post it, because really,
something like this deserves to be appreciated by everyone.
With any luck it might just go viral.

Here's the birthday message to me from Steve Atkins
on my 50th anniversary as a person:

My dear friend Greg,

You've now lived for 110010 years, as far as binary goes.

The Romans would have said you are now L.
That looks nice and clean and probably significant to them.
In base 10, you're 50, and that's significant to much of the modern world, but what's a year anyway? And why aren't we counting those first 9 months?

Today we have arrived at roughly the same place in our solar
orbit where you were when you were born. For lack of a better name, we could call this place February 21st. In the northern hemisphere, we call this neighborhood of the solar system winter. Counting the day you were born, you've now been here 51 times, but it kind of feels like, other than orbiting the sun 50 times, maybe you haven't really gotten anywhere.

After thinking about that for awhile, and thinking that must be wrong, I did some research and some math, and based on the rotation of our galaxy and the speed at which it is hurtling toward this ominous sounding thing that I didn't even know about before called
The Great Attractor, it turns out that in your lifetime, you've actually traveled 914,286,753,091 miles. I know that's not a nice round number like 50, but... all I can say is congratulations!

And no matter where or when you go in the future, I'll be glad to be your friend. Don't feel old, feel fast!  (and well traveled indeed)

Happy Birthday,
Steve Atkins

So to my friend Steve:
thanks for this great, thought provoking piece of well-wishing.

To my friends who were at my house on the 21st:
Thanks for being here to help usher in the big number.

To those who couldn't make it:
I hope to see you soon, and thank you for your friendship - it's worth more to me than you know.

And to anyone who might be racing against me in the upcoming US Gondola Nationals:
Watch out! I'm fifty, and I'm fast!

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Moments after hauling out the Lucia, I looked back at the boat
and noticed an artful shadow of the beautiful gondola that was
brought to the U.S. back in the 60's by the Curci family.

I've used the word "crescent" plenty of times.
A "Moon Shadow" title was considered, but I knew that millions of
Cat Stevens fans would find my post, only to learn that it had nothing
to do with his hit song from the 70's.

Finally my wife (who is a lot more intelligent than I am)
suggested a latin-based word:
"falcate" - which describes things of this shape.
From eucalyptus leaves, to dolphin's dorsal fins,
a thumbnail moon to every Venetian gondola.
They all have that falcate shape.

The same moon-shaped shadow can be seen in the post
"Shadow in Providence", with a remarkable rear-view-mirror photo,
deftly taken while driving.

And while we're talking about shadows, an interesting gondolier's
shadow was photographed and shared in the post "Shadow".

It's a new addition to your "gondola vocabulary".

Truck Noodle

My friend John Kerschbaum operates gondolas on the St. Croix River
in Minnesota, but each winter he drives south, explores the deserts of the South-West, and then comes to Newport to row with us for Valentine's Day.

This year he arrived, eager to see the new gondola, and amused by the photos of noodle stickers plastered on both sides of the bow.

I saved a fusilli souvenir and stuck it on John's truck to take home with him.

as I write this, John has just arrived home in Minnesota after a long drive,
and is most likely sleeping quite soundly - warmed by the fire in a wood-burning stove as the snow falls outside.

The "Truck Noodle" - no truck should go without one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dolphin and Trident

photo by Candace Benson

Cavalli are the impressive brass fixtures that decorate gondolas
and a few other rowed passenger vessels from Venice.

Most cavalli are designed on a horse theme - which makes sense
as "cavalli" translates to "horses".
There are some deviations though.

Here we see one version of the "dolphin and trident" design.
Taking a closer look, you might think that the "dolphin" looks more like
a serpent-like sea monster, but what we're looking at here is an example
of how the ancients saw dolphins.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Two Boats and Two Cameras

photos by Candace Benson and Isabella Mohr

Two boats, two couples, two cameras.

On Valentine's Day we sent out several cruises
with staff photographers on board.
At one point Jakob and I ended up next to each other and the fun began.
Well, really, it began when he started catching up to us and we had a little rowing contest.

I'd call it a race, but there was also some clever maneuvering
(that means I cut in front of Jakob before he could blow past me),
and some spinning (a result of the maneuvering).
Our couples enjoyed the experience even more than we did,
and our photographers caught some of it in freeze-frame.

Jakob approaches on the "Lucia".

Jakob catching up with Candace snapping away.

Here's what it looked like from our boat.
 My photographer expresses herself.

The purple-striped remo in action.
We had a ball out on the water.
Beginning my "maneuver".
Spinning the new boat as the Lucia cruises by.
It was fun to blow off some steam and get those gondolas moving.
I was also happy to take the new boat and do something other than
slow and easy cruising.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stripes Reflected

photo by Candace Benson

One of our staff photographers caught this image of a striped remo
reflecting on blue water as the pupparin known as "Contessa"
passed by on Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 16, 2015


"Happy National Gondolier Recovery Day!"
This was the funniest and most accurate facebook post I'd read in a long time.  Mike Bixler - a gondolier from The Gondola Company in the San Diego area posted it.

Barring any bad weather, Valentine's Day is the busiest day of our year around here.
The weather could not have been better here in southern California.
Chocolate was melting and gondoliers were getting sunburned faces.

The 14th was a banner day, and the 15th, a Sunday,
was pretty darn busy too.
I chose to celebrate Gondolier Recovery Day on Monday.
Coffee with some of my favorite gondola company owners,
conversations with some others, a nap in the afternoon.

Valentine's Day is behind us once again.
I'll reflect further in the Jacuzzi.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

It's Here!

Happy Valentine's Day from the Gondola Blog.
I'd write more, but then I'd be late for my first cruise!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Summer is Back!

From the back of my newly restored gondola,
I snapped this photo as we ventured out into the harbor.

The Santa Ana winds were blowing, bringing the air temperature
to places they usually only go during the summer months.

We've been fully rained-out on previous Valentine's Days,
but this year we're looking at some of the best conditions ever.

For a limited time only, Summer is winter.
I don't know what we did to deserve it, but I'll take it!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Own Tradition

We all have ways that we like to do things.
Some are purely practical, some are religious or based on superstition,
and then there are those things we do out of a reverence to tradition.

"It's a family tradition" or "it's the way my people have always done it."
Most of these traditions are rooted in one of the above reasons
(practical, religious, etc.).
In my gondola operation I have one of my own:
Every time we add a new boat to the fleet, she takes her first passenger cruise with my parents.
If they're not in town or unable to make it, we move forward,
but if they can climb aboard, they're the first ones to take a ride.

Yes, it's a nod to them, and it started out as a gesture of appreciation,
but it's become an "I really can't do this until I first do that" kind of thing.
I don't see myself as superstitious (although most mariners are),
I just like the message it sends.
My parents have been married for over fifty years.
If just a little bit of that longevity rubs off on my business and boats,
it'll be a good thing.

Tonight I continued the tradition with the new gondola,
which we launched yesterday.
I enjoyed catching up with my folks as much as I enjoyed rowing a new boat and getting to know her from a navigation standpoint.

The boat rowed nicely, and I can't wait for my next cruise with her.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Launch Day!

Today was the day.
A month ago she was coming out of a truck - a broken boat
needing major surgery.
A group of dedicated gondoliers spent countless hours giving her the attention she deserved, and at 2:13pm this afternoon, her hull was kissed by saltwater for the first time since 2009.
She arrived at the launch ramp, looking good and ready for her spotlight.
Of all those stickers, I chose to leave a few in order to remind us all of the great story this boat has to tell - of a tribute voyage around Staten Island, by four Venetians, rowing in honor of those who gave their lives on 9-11-01.

Gondolier Simon was there to help with the launch.
In appreciation of his assistance in restoring this gondola,
I gave Simon the first row.  He handled her like a pro,
providing the camera with some great images.
Later we rowed tandem back to the dock and tucked her in next to her sister-ships - all of them ready and waiting for a great Valentine's Day weekend.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tiny Skylights

This morning, while I was lying on my back beneath a gondola
and rolling on bottom paint, I saw this brilliant sight.
What you're looking at is a fiberglass patch with the sun beaming
through the prism of glass cloth and cured resin.
There were several of them:

A total of eight of these little patch jobs had to be made.
When this gondola was put in outdoor storage in New Jersey,
she gathered rain water quite well. 
Traditionally maintained gondolas won't hold water like that,
because the seams open up, but fiberglassed boats can become frog ponds
if left full of water.
To avoid this, someone drilled several half-inch wide holes.

Patching the drilled holes wasn't tough.
My gondolier Konner took care of them with no surprises.
We had some long cracks along the chine that presented more
work than expected.

After  all the glasswork was done, and the boat was prepped,
Simon and I rolled on the antifouling bottom paint.
Normally this is not a favorite on the task list, but we'd hoped to get it done
a few days earlier, so when we finally got to it, it was a happy occasion.
Greetings from "down under" (the boat, that is).

I've never been so happy roll bottom paint.
Looking forward to launching this gondola even more.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Just the Photo - My Reward

Some days in the boat yard seem to go exactly as planned.
Plans are executed and everything falls into place.

Today was not one of those days.

It was one of those "one step forward, two steps back" kind of days.
So I was happy to step on the back of a gondola and row this evening.
I love my job so much that it was like a reward.

Tomorrow I'll jump into action once again, and work to make all those things
go as planned, and I'm sure that my time on the water tonight will help,
as I look forward to cruising on boats that aren't yet in the water.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Serving the Gondola

One month ago I loaded a gondola into a truck in New Jersey.
A few days later she was in California, and my staff and I began
to work on her.
There has been cleaning, repairing, a whole lot of sticker peeling,
sanding and painting.
It's amazing what a difference a few coats of shiny black paint can make.

Today I took on the job of sanding and prepping her for bottom paint.
Believe me, when you're lying on your back with a disk sander,
grinding away at old Venetian bottom paint, you gain a new appreciation
for eye protection and a breathing mask.

In a previous post, I explored the meaning of "Serving the Ship" .
Today's work definitely qualified as such.

My gondoliers are all asking:
"who gets to row this boat on Valentine's Day?"
I've assured them that they will all get an opportunity to take her cruising.
They've served this ship too, and I want them to experience that connection which can only come from working on, launching, and then rowing a gondola.

Bringing this beautiful boat back into her full glory
has become an obsession for us.

The restoration continues.