Friday, April 24, 2015

A Gondola-Baseball "First"

I love baseball.
I don't love to play it.  In fact, I'm really quite terrible at the game,
and (truth be told) it was always a quick indicator of my geek status as a kid.
I do enjoy playing catch with a friend, but that's not my strong suit either.

What I love about baseball is the spirit of the game.
I love to watch it, and I really love going to a game.
The energy, the food, the organ music, and especially the cheering when something happens on the field.

There's a reason baseball is our "national pastime"
People go nuts over it, their fandom can meet or exceed religious fervor.
We love to show our support for the home team
and talk trash about the "other team."
Mortal enemies can become fast friends at a sports bar,
if they're rooting for the same team.

Having grown up in the LA area, I was raised Dodger-blue.

Later on, my wife and I moved to Orange County.
I didn't really take the Angels seriously until they started winning a lot.
By the time the "Rally Monkey season" rolled around, I was a fan.

In the interest of keeping the peace with my New York in-laws,
I've determined that it's wise to root for the Yankees
(especially when certain people are present).
Quite honestly though, I don't hate any team.
I have friends who absolutely despise this team or that team.
I just really enjoy watching a good game.
Watching the fans can be equally entertaining at times.

A while back, my friend Scott Davies suggested that I come up
to the San Francisco area for the opening day game at AT&T Park. 
The San Francisco Giants are quite a big deal up there - especially since they won the World Series last year.

Many Major League Baseball venues have unique features, and AT&T Park is no exception.  Because it is situated right on the bay, there's a waterway called McCovey Cove on the other side of the wall behind right field.
Fans regularly take their boats into this waterway in hopes of catching what they call a "splash hit" - a fly ball that goes into the cove.

McCovey Cove before the game.

The famous cove was named after longtime
San Francisco Giant Willie McCovey

I'm a big fan of baseball, but I'm a bigger fan of "firsts."
If I can somehow be involved with something being done for the first time,
I'll go out of my way to do it.
As far as I can tell, nobody has rowed a gondola in McCovey Cove.
I told Scott that if I could get up there, I would.
Originally my wife and I were going to make a weekend of it, but her schedule would not allow, so she told me to go without her.

On Monday morning, April 13th of 2015, 
I crawled out of bed at 4am,
made my way up to the airport in Long Beach,
and caught a Jet Blue flight into Oakland.

Yes, those are some very tired eyes.

Next I took my first ride on the rail system known as BART.

People look at you funny when you travel around, dressed as a gondolier.

In a short time I was on the ground in San Francisco.
After an amazing breakfast in the Ferry Building Marketplace, I bought some gourmet cheese to bring home, and had a lively conversation with some pedicab drivers.
Next I was riding in the back of a pedicab with Metallica blasting on the stereo, drinking my coffee and shouting "WOO-HOO!!!" as we weaved through traffic.
If you ever need a pedicab in San Francisco,
find Dan Kerrigan - the guy is awesome, and really should be a gondolier.
He's out of Austin, but he moves around.
Check out

Breakfast on the run.
I love pedicabs.

I arrived at Pier 52 to find a gondola, on her trailer and ready to be launched.
Scott and I did some prep work, put her in the water, and I took her out for a spin while he went to find a spot to park the truck and trailer.

The guy I was looking for was, well, kinda easy to spot.

Scott learned the art of Venetian rowing from Angelino Sandri in Oakland at Gondola Servizio (who taught me a lot of things I know as well).
I'd spent a lot of time on the phone with Scott,
but this was our first in-person meeting.  It felt like family.

Every gondola is unique in one way or another,
and this boat is certainly no exception.
She was designed by the late Doug Smith-Ginter - a dear friend of mine, who built several boats for the Tokyo Disney project.  One of those was a gondola for display purposes.  She was designed based on lines and measurements of the Curci Gondola, which lives here in Newport.
After building a large training sandolo for the Tokyo project,
Doug built a few more gondolas of varying sizes for me and other clients.
Then a man from the East Coast asked him to sell him some plans that he could use to build his own gondola.
This is the product of those plans.

photo by Linda Vetter

She was built in Connecticut by a man named John Russo, who wanted to do something in keeping with his Italian heritage.  Building a gondola seemed to fit the bill, so a gondola was built, and a "bucket list" item was checked off.

A few owners later and she was sitting in the waters of San Francisco Bay, taking passengers and turning heads.
For the purists out there: no, she is not a Venice-built gondola, constructed in a true squero, but I was impressed with how she performed on the water.
Every gondola deserves to be loved and maintained by someone with heart and dedication.  This boat is a case-in-point.

Of course, if you row, you're wondering how she handles.

I sent an e-mail to Scott the next day saying:
I’d heard so many things over the years about how she was really heavy, had too much resin, and could only be rowed effectively by a big strong guy (preferably who didn’t know what a Venetian boat felt like).

That was not the case at all.

She rowed quite nicely.

I spent a fair amount of time getting to know her when you were parking the truck, and I was pleased at how the gondola responded to my strokes.

Of course the test we put her through later (in the wind) sealed her credibility for me.

She's got the standard dimensions of a Venice-built gondola, and her lines are faithful to the original as well.  The frames are a little further apart, and there aren't quite as many.  This keeps the weight down.
The boat was easy to row, moved through the water well,
and did what she was supposed to do with each stroke.

While fiddling around in the bay, waiting for Scott to return,
First there were loud thumping fireworks,
A huge cheer from the crowd,
Then I the noise was pierced by the roar of fighter jets,
After that I heard "Don't Stop Believin'" playing over the stadium PA system.
It was clear that I wasn't in Dodger territory.

 Fighter jets: they're not very big...but they sure are LOUD!

Scott jumped on the boat and we headed out, rowing tandem.
I was in the front, doing my best to work some magic with the lifeboat oar we'd settled on as a forward oar for this journey.

We had both been monitoring the winds for days, hoping for some favorable rowing conditions.  So much for hoping.
The winds were moving at 20, gusting to 30, and they shifted around.
Our first goal was to get from the ramp to a point off of pier 50, where there were two large ships moored.
The wind did it's best to try and spin us around, but we made it there and took refuge in the windshadow of the big ship on the end.

All is calm in the shadow of this beast, but beyond it, there is chaos.

After some discussion, we decided to switch places
before challenging the wind head-on.
The row from the protective hull of the ship
to McCovey Cove would be a daunting one.
I told Scott what I wanted him to do, rowing in the forward position.
I apologized in advance for any yelling I might soon be subjecting him to.
We got a good start, and moved swiftly out from behind the ship
and into the mouth of the beast.

I've said for years that the wind is always out there,
waiting to mess with you.
Sometimes it's in a better mood than others.
On this day, the wind was like an angry dog.

We fought it hard.
What would have been a short, leisurely row across a small piece of water, ended up becoming a major windfight. As we traversed our way to the cove,
the wind shifted - coming from this angle and then that angle. 
I was constantly telling Scott to row or stop rowing.
We took advantage of the few leeward spots where the wind wasn't as strong.
By the time we were making our way into the populated area of McCovey Cove where all the other vessels were, the gale lessened and we were able to navigate between the various boats.

The stadium was packed.

Every time there's a game at AT&T Park, boats show up,
but on April 13th, 2015, the very first gondola showed up in McCovey Cove.
We'd worked hard to get there, and we received quite a lot of attention
from the folks in boats and kayaks and such.

A guy named "McCovey Cove Dave" snapped and posted a photo of us on Twitter with the text:
We have a in
photo by McCovey Cove Dave (from his kayak!)

Scott and I pushed through the yachts, sailboats, and small craft.
We approached the 3rd Street Bridge.

Named after another famous baseball player,
this bridge is also known as the "Lefty O'Doul Bridge."
Like many other small road bridges in the area, it's an iron structure
with an enormous counterweight,
which allows for quick lifting if a large vessel requires passage.
We were not a large vessel, so we just slipped right under
and made our way up to the end of mission Creek.

We rowed up to the end of the waterway, greeting folks from shore and on houseboats - all of whom had confused or at least amused looks.

At the end we circled beneath towering freeway overpasses.

We glided past the houseboats again, grabbed a bite to eat,
and then rowed back towards "Baseball Central."

At that point I was already doing the math in my head - trying to figure out what time I'd need to get off the water, on the train, to the airport, etc.
Time flies when you're having fun
(and even more so when you're fighting the wind).
I realized that I had no margin for error, so we picked up the pace.

As we passed under the old iron bridge once again, I directed the gondola over to a boat called the "Tortuga," which was bristling with Giants fans.

The "Tortuga".

I handed my Nikon to a guy who looked the least drunk and the most trustworthy, asking him to snap a few photos of us.

 photo by a guy on the Tortuga

 Notice the big honkin' lifeboat oar. But hey, it worked!
photo by a guy on the Tortuga

photo by a guy on the Tortuga

photo by a guy on the Tortuga

photo by a guy on the Tortuga
Our next row was a mad dash across the water,
back to the wind shadow of the large cargo ship. 
This was not a simple tailwind journey. 
The winds, which were now around 25 and gusting to 30,
were hitting us from the starboard side.
Moving at an angle, we faced our ferro towards the wind a bit,
trying to keep from getting swept out into the San Francisco Bay.
There were points during this adventure where, if we broke an oar (or just gave up), we'd end up somewhere on a muddy shore in Alameda or further south.
At one point we got broadsided by a gust that must have been at least 35mph.
It knocked our boat sideways about 25 feet.
We carefully balanced our rowing, while powering along as much as we could,
making it to the protective leeward side of the ship.
After a short pause to breath and talk about the next step,
we headed out of the wind shadow.
Passing the partially exposed bulbous bow-piece of the ship, we were greeted with more gusts.
One last fight, one last stretch of tandem rowing against an unrelenting foe.
We made it to the ramp in good time, with the effects of the wind tapering a bit as we came closer to the shore.
Scott ran off, returned with the truck and trailer, and we hauled the gondola out quickly.  Some hugs and handshakes were exchanged, and I was off and running with backpack on.
I called my new pedicab friend, and not long afterwards we were weaving through the crowd in a hurry, music blaring.
Back on the BART, I thought all was going well, but the train took much longer than expected.
When I arrived at the gate to board my plane, they had already called my section.  The flight home was smooth, the drive - even better.
And you better believe, that I slept quite well that night.
L.A. to The Bay, and back in a day.
I'd hoped to have more time in the Bay Area:
to drop in on Angelino at Gondola Servizio in Oakland,
to enjoy a nice glass of "Steam beer" after a tour of the Anchor Brewing Co.,
maybe even get some sourdough.
There's always next time.
My heartfelt thanks go to Scott Davies for giving me a chance to
row the gondola I'd heard so much about,
and allowing me to be part of a really fun "first."
Scott has just launched and I expect we'll see
more of him in the future.

1 comment:

DG Beat said...

Very cool, Greg! I can't believe you did it in a day.