Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wrapping Up a Gift for Texas

For the last four months I've worked on a collection of remi intended for my operation in Irving, Texas. 
Stripes, varnish, and a whole lot of cure-time went into these four pieces.

Three of them came out of Saverio Pastor's shop in Venice - two have been seasoned here in California, the other was unwrapped for the first time at Nationals last November.

The fourth one (on the left) is a bit of an odd oar.
It's more of a steering oar - for a non-Venetian boat.

Tonight I inspected them to be sure they were ready to ship.
I laid them out on the kitchen floor, wrapped them in bubble wrap,
and tomorrow they will go into a boat that's being trailered to Texas.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chasing Tim and Richie

featuring photos by Ignus Holm
"Race drama" - that's what we've been calling it.

When more than one boat is on the course, and there's some sort of pursuit,
or struggle between the competitors to win, to pass each other,
or simply cross the line before the other, we call it race drama.

It seems nothing can bring out your greatest effort quite like the desire to beat that other boat.

John Kerschbaum and I had first-hand experience with it during the 2013 US Gondola Nationals against the Surprise Boys of Gondola Company of Newport.

This year we saw plenty more of it at the 4th Annual US Gondola Nationals.
I witnessed many duels between two, sometimes even three boats.
Sometimes these struggles happened at the takeoff, or at a buoy turn.
Other race drama happened as boats were approaching the finish line.

We were fortunate enough to have four-boat heats,
which made for more of these encounters.

One race saw two boats struggle the entire race.
I know this because I was on one of them.

The Race
The Tandem Distance race in gondolas was held in several four-boat heats.

Following a counter-clockwise loop around Little Balboa Island,
Balboa Island, and Collins Island, the course measured 2.2 miles.

Two noteworthy turns, one bridge passage, and the crossing of paths with the Balboa Island ferry were among the obstacles on the course.

The Start
This was the final heat of the Tandem Distance event.
After lining all four boats up in the channel, we waited for the command, and were off - rowing as fast as we could toward the southern tip of Little Balboa Island.

Tim Reinard and Richard Corbaley of Sunset Gondola had claimed the inside position, with John Kerschbaum and Michael Serge from Gondola Romantica in Minnesota to their left.
Jakob Easton and I were to the left of the Minnesota boat.

I honestly can't remember much about the fourth boat, simply because in short order, Jakob and I found ourselves tangled up with the boys from Minnesota.
Some bumping and scraping was punctuated by maybe just a little bit of yelling, and then we were apart - both boats moving fast towards the turn.

Tim and Richie had gained a lead of about two boat-lengths.
I believe the fourth boat was behind us, wisely avoiding our bumper-boat episode.
Kerschbaum and I steered our gondolas side-by-side around the tip of the island and into the headwind.
Straightening out after the turn was a challenge for both of us at that speed.
Jakob and I maintained, while the Minnesota boys ended up fighting a spin.
We pulled ahead of them and I told Jakob that it had just become a two boat race.

The Pursuit
We set our sights on catching up to Tim's gondola.
He and Richie were still about two boat-lengths ahead.
With the sun and the wind in our faces, Jakob and I worked to stay in rhythm, while rowing as fast as we could.

I was determined to catch that boat.
Tim was running low on sleep and had mentioned that he thought he might be catching a cold.
I felt like if ever I would beat him and Richie, today would be the day.
Plowing forward, we cut the lead in half.
Our prow was about thirty feet from the tail of the lead boat.
We remained there for a quarter mile, then I told Jakob in a quiet voice that we were going to wage an attack in three strokes.
Three strokes later and we were moving faster, but so were they!

We had no problems passing the ferry terminal,
but Jakob and I were having trouble catching Tim and Richie.

This happened three times before we reached the turn at Collins Island.
The first two times I wasn't sure if Jakob and I were actually accelerating because we weren't closing the gap more, but watching their strokes, I could tell that with each attack, they had increased their pace.

Can they hear me?
I thought.
No, there's no way my words have been loud enough for them to hear me.

A few days after the race I was talking to Tim and he told me that while they couldn't hear our words, they could hear the rush of water being pushed by our bow with each stroke.
Tim was noticing the increase in volume of that sound and whispering to his team mate to pick up the pace.

This cat and mouse pursuit continued All the way to the finish line.
Me, launching another attack, thinking Tim was  too tired to hold us off.
Tim, hearing our approach and whispering to Richie to pour on the speed.

Eric Bender And Cole Jamison of The Gondola Company in Coronado were on a chase boat following the action.
Eric told me:
Richard and Tim were in such unison.
It was like a dance.
Complete focus and determination.
It was truly a beautiful performance.

Finishing Logic
We passed under the bridge to Balboa Island one right after the other,
and then it was a sprint to the finish line.

Two guys in one boat and two guys in another boat,
rowed their guts out all the way to the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club.

The whole race Jakob and I had been fighting so hard to pass the other boat, not only because, well, that's what you do in a race, but also because of finishing logic:
In a multi-heat competition, typically you find that the winning boat of each heat goes on to place in the top three.

The Finish
We never did catch Tim and Richie.
They held us off for the entire race.
For over two miles the gap between our two gondolas stayed between one and three boat-lengths.

Like the bridge passage, we crossed the finish line one right after the other.
A chase from beginning to end, with friends and family cheering from the dock.
Jakob collapsed and I did my best to remain standing and keep the boat on course.

Jakob and I crossing the line.
photo by Simon Atkins

After we'd both finished the race,
Tim looked back almost immediately and said
"Thanks a lot Greg, you guys really pushed us"

I was happy to see a friend finish well,
but inside I was frustrated - certain that coming in second in the heat meant that Jakob and I had secured something like fifth place or lower.

Tim - saying "Thanks"

Then it happened:
The timekeepers announced that Tim and Richie had just won the gold medal...and then pointed to us and told us that we won silver!

We all yelled and screamed in celebration,
although honestly, I still thought it was a mistake.

John and Mike from Minnesota finished strong - looking good and joining the exhausted madness that often occurs at the finish of a long race.

Here are some photos of the end of the race.
Photos in this sequence were taken by Ignus Holm.


Looking Back
In reviewing the race and all the details of that heat,
I spoke with both Tim and Richie.

While we might have been frustrated as the pursuing boat,
the guys in front of us were in a different frame of mind.

Richie told me:
"I kept looking back and you were right behind us.

We were terrified you were gonna pass us"

As I'd expected, they couldn't understand my conversations with Jakob: 
"You were close enough to hear you talking but we couldn't understand"

He went on to detail the same pattern of rowing:
during that race we started off sprinting as fast as we could, set back into a pace,
then sprinting again.
pace, sprint, pace, sprint.

One competitor, pushing the other.
In the end, they both finish stronger than they might have without the other.
Each forcing the other to match or beat their pace.

"Race drama" - that's what we call it.

Tim and Richie on the dock after the race.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Display, All the Time...and Over It

A gondolier in Venice once said:
"being a gondolier is like being a monkey at the zoo".
Truer words were never spoken.
We are all on display while we do our job.
I think the guys in Venice get ogled, photographed, and treated like monkeys more than those of us here.
The gondoliers at the quay by Piazza San Marco have the biggest crowds
in La Serenissima.
All day, every day, hundreds of tourists are watching at any given moment.
It makes me wonder what gondoliers think of reality TV shows,
because when you think about it, they inhabit a real life version
of one non-stop.
Yeah, Reality shows, surveillance cameras, spy satellites - I'm sure Venice's gondoliers were over them before they even knew they existed.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Around the Tiny Island in Russia

photo by Ludmila Efimova

While many parts of the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing the full effects of winter, and some folks are turning their thoughts and longings towards warmer seasons, here are a few great photo captures of the gondola in St. Petersburg, Russia.

She operates on a small lake on the grounds of Catherine's Palace - the summer residence of the royal family prior to the revolution.
This location receives a multitude of tourists - both foreign and domestic, and it is a favorite place for residents of the city.

The lake has one gondola, which is lovingly maintained, and launched each spring for cruises that range from casual picnic dates, to family excursions, to honeymoon escapes.

photo by Ludmila Efimova

The lake has a few islands of historical note, but in this post, I'd like to point out a tiny little piece of land, with a handful of trees, and a few ducks who seem to like it quite a bit.

It looks like the gondola there loops around this tiny island and sometimes moors adjacent to it as well.

photo by Svetlana Polyakova

List of previous posts about the gondola on this waterway:

   -   Гондола!
   -   Russian Gondola Under the Flash 
   -   Just the Photo - Russian Registration
   -   Just the Photo - Russian Ferro 
   -   Russian Gondola Newlyweds

   -   гондола Царском селе

Monday, January 18, 2016

Finding that Perfect Arc

For the last few months I've had a slow-and-steady project going:
building replacement floorboards for the Lucia.

She was built in 1960 in Venezia.
Somewhere along the line, her original floorboards were replaced here
in California.  Those held up pretty well, but I realized last summer that it was time to give the gondola a fresh set.

If you were at the US Gondola nationals or saw some of the overhead video, you may have noticed the unfinished set up front. 
I purposely cut and fitted those prior to the races,
knowing that in a tandem race, the front rower would need more
solid footing than what the old boards could provide.

A static moment between heats.
Boston Charlie perches on unfinished floorboards.

After Nationals, I pulled the new floorboards from the front, measured,
patterned, cut and fit a set for the back half of the passenger area.

All six pieces received a solid slathering of Smith's penetrating epoxy.
Then I put them in the side yard for a week to get all that "fuming"
out of their systems.

Then pulled, sanded, wiped.
Three coats of primer/foundation paint were applied,
after all that they were set aside for a couple more weeks to cure.

After the penetrating epoxy, and before the primer.
You can't see it...but those boards are just "fuming".

Once the foundation paint had reached an enamel-like hardness,
it was time for more fun.
We hit all top surfaces with an orbital disk sander,
ensuring the next phase of coating would stick well.

Over the years I've spent a lot of time with two paint products.
For hulls and decks, especially in black, I like Brightsides by Interlux.
It's not the most sophisticated (or expensive),
and it tends to keep a shine well.

For floors and remo blades, I've come to rely on Easypoxy by Pettit.
It's practically idiot-proof (just my level), but more importantly,
it hardens faster and holds up better under the punishment of foot traffic.

For Lucia, I wanted a theme color other than the classic red.
I chose Pettit's burgundy shade of Easypoxy.
The more time I spend with it, the more I love this color.

Four beautiful coats of burgundy later and the boards were ready for the finishing touch: scallops.

With many of the modern marine paints, if you time it right you can skip the traditional practice of sanding between coats.
Ah, yes, I'm sure someone out there just spit out his linguini at that last statement I made.

To the super-traditionalists I say:
good for you - you don't believe in cutting any corners,
but sorry - I don't have the time (or the patience) to wait until each coat has hardened enough to sand.

Where was I?
Oh yeah, I was skipping the sanding.
With modern coatings (varnish as well), you can wait until it's lost it's tackiness, but is still not fully cured, then wipe yesterday's coat with the appropriate thinner, then apply today's coat.
The thinner wipe effectively softens yesterday's paint so when you add new product, the two layers of paint bond together.

This is especially handy when adding scallops.
With the subtle yet complex curve, masking and sanding for such a thing would make for lots of extra hassle, and probably a headache.

Tonight, as the clouds teased us with some light drizzle,
and everything outside was cool and wet,
Kalev and I broke out the black paint under hot lights,
and went about one of my favorite pursuits: finding that perfect arc.

(If you're annoyed with me that it took this long to work in the title of this post into the text, well, you're probably not alone, but, well, sorry.
For the record, I'm kinda annoyed about it too.)

The "arc" of which I speak, is that curved border between the black and the burgundy.  It's been my experience that the best way to create it is to simply freehand with a fresh brush, then fill in the rest of the black scallop field after.

The "arc" in action.

Having a clean rag with the Pettit thinner on hand is helpful for those completely disastrous attempts, but in the end, you've just got to go for it.
As for me, I find that the right music helps.
Lately I've been revisiting my musical past by digging through my old collection of cassettes.
From Patsy Cline, to Yello, to Megadeth, to the Crash Test Dummies,
I've got just the right tape for every mood and project
(if I can just find it in the stack).

Normally I find myself painting scallops onto existing boards,
which often have a slight ridge or darker show-through of the old black paint.
In those cases you just follow the curve of the previous pattern.

Tonight I got to blaze my own trail with the brush, and it was a blast.
I found that it was easy to establish the general shape that I wanted with the thinner rag during the pre-wipe.
Following that arc helped, but in the end it's about brush control and having a steady hand.

As I showed Kalev the sublime curve of the scallop arc,
we were like two surfers discussing the perfect wave.

Starting the arc.
Coming over the rise.
Bringing it home.
(see my cassette collection over there?)

I handled the "arc chasing", and then Kalev did much of the field-filling.

I swear, this was not intended to be product placement for a certain restaurant. Their coffee was ok, the cup,
however, works perfectly for painting.

Four boards and twenty scallops later, we were happy with the first coat and looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow.

Perhaps by the time you read this, we'll be finding that perfect arc again.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Three Full Boats

I snapped this while waiting for the vaporetto.
Just another day for these three lucky guys who get to make their living
on the waters of Veniezia.

If you click on the image, you can get a closer look.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Gondola Paradiso on the Cover

Our friend Mark Schooling in Ventura was featured in an LA Times travel piece recently. A photo is worth a lot more than words when it comes to our business, and not only are three of the nine photos in the slideshow, pictures of his boat,
He also ended up in the cover photo.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

One-Month Warning

photo by Candace Benson

This is me,
officially telling all gondoliers and gondola owners:

HEY! Guess what?
Valentine's Day is one month away!
Better get ready.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Crisp New Cappello

photo by Candace Benson

This time of year, many gondoliers trade out their red-ribboned hats
for ones with black.
On the day this was taken, I'd just broken out a brand new capello from Giuliana Longo.

It's been said that The hat makes the man.
I'm not sure about that, but this hat makes my day.

There's nothing like putting on a crisp new cappello from Giuliana's shop.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Peeking Out of the Casotto

The little office at a traghetto is called a "casotto".
I caught this guy peeking out the window of one at Santa Maria del Giglio.
I'm not sure, but I think he was eyeballing me!
Probably had something to do with all the pictures I was taking.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fire Extinguisher Inspection at La Fenice

On this last visit to Venice, we rented an apartment right behind the 
renowned opera house "La Fenice" - famous for hosting premier performances of several composers. 

The name of the theatre is quite symbolic.
From the 1770's to the 1830's, Venice lost three theaters to fire.
Even so, the theaters in Venice may have burned down,
but opera rose from the ashes in the aptly-named La Fenice.
Our English equivalent is "Phoenix".
Most folks think of a big city in Arizona, but the primary definition comes from Greek mythology, and describes a bird that rises from the ashes of it's own destruction.

We walked by the backstage docking area several times a day.
One morning, I spotted a guy doing inventory and inspection of the many fire extinguishers in the facility.
I knew that this deserved a photo.

I'm sure that every single manager of La Fenice has had fire at the top of his "not gonna let that happen" list.
Unfortunately it happened again in 1996.
In 2001 La Fenice lived up to her name, and rose from her own ashes.

It's no surprise that today they have a large collection of extinguishers now,
and they keep close tabs on the condition of each and every one of them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The "Stella System"

When we launched our gondola "Stella" in Newport,
just prior to Valentine's Day last year,
she had a small but persistent leak.
It wasn't a disaster, it was just the kind of leak that requires diligent attention.

Like most dry-launch leaks,
it eventually sealed up once the planks had saturated.
But in the mean time, with V-day fast-approaching,
I realized that I couldn't keep coming back again and again
with a shop-vac to keep the boat on top of the water.

Each year, John Kerschbaum comes from Minnesota to row with us for Valentine's Day.
A short conversation with John, and I had the answer.

When John launches his boats in St. Croix each Spring,
he pre-soaks them before launching, but it's common for a few
small leaks to endure afterwards.
The Minnesota gondola operator told me about how he'd had success
with bilge pumps during that final seal-up period.

I took an automatic bilge pump,
mounted it in the boat,
propped the discharge hose over the rail,
and hooked it up to a portable battery pack used for jump-starting cars.

Problem solved.

The automatic pump functions until it no longer senses the
resistance of water and then shuts off.
two and a half minutes later it kicks on - if it senses water, it pumps.
If not, it shuts off again.
It's a wonderful device,
    and so much better than the float-switch type pumps.

The power source is great too.
Joe Gibbons in Boston introduced me to these portable units many years ago. You can buy them at any auto parts store.
We call them "jump boxes" - they're great for powering running lights too.

Fast-forward to this week.
Unless you've been locked in a closet, if you live in California,
you've heard tons of media hype and warning (mostly hype)
about the coming onslaught of "El Niño".

Watch the weather report and you're likely to be told about how
we're all going to float away and die once the storms hit.
Hype equals ratings.
Although the fact is that we are getting some real rain here now.
We definitely need it, but it makes for more pumping on my part.

With the "Rain-Pocalypse" looming, I decided it was time to get serious.
I told my guys we needed to install a "Stella System" on each boat.

This week I ordered a bunch of automatic bilge pumps,
bought more jump-boxes,
and installed each one of them into a different boat.

Now, instead of killing myself with a shop-vac or and hand pump,
I just go from boat to boat each day,
making sure my little Stella-systems are doing their jobs.

Product list
"Jump Box" - Super Start Power Pack (model 55001)
        I got mine at O'Reilly Auto Parts for under $60.

Bilge Pump - Rule Fully Automatic Bilge Pump - 500 gallons per hour
        West Marine carries it, but it appears to be popular - I had to order 
        them to be delivered to the store.  They retail at $72.99 each.

Hose - Shields Multiflex - 3/4"
        I have a fifty-foot roll of it in my garage, so I can't give you an
        exact cost on it.

No Drilling - if you don't want to sink a screw into your boat to hold the bilge pump in place, you can remain crouched in the boat all day...or you can put something on top of it to hold it in place.
Oh, hey, how about the "Jump Box"!
Well, yeah, but then it might get wet.
Unlesssss...we place it in a plastic bin, and put the bin on the pump!
(just make sure you put some of the boat canvas over the bin so it doesn't fill up with rain water)

One word: Ring Terminals (wait, I think that's two words)
When you pull the bilge pump out of the box, crimp a couple of ring terminals on the ends of the black and red wires.
This makes it easier to clamp onto them in low lighting with the jumper cable type clamps from the jump box.
Ring terminals
I had a box of these 16-14 AWG ring terminals in my electrical toolbox.
The 25 piece box cost $15.49.

Stash the striped one -you'll notice that the bilge pump has three wires.
The red and black ones are positive and negative.
The third one (which has stripes) is for connecting to a manual switch so you can activate the pump if it's hard-wired into a boat.
If you're just gonna clamp on with a jump box,
coil that striped wire and tie it with a zip tie. 

Secure the hose - The discharge hose is a wily sucker. 
When the pump kicks on, it can writhe around a bit, so you've got to make sure it doesn't end up spitting water back into the boat.

In addition, Tim at Sunset Gondola tells me that sometimes a pump can do a funny thing if the end of the hose reaches into the water:
Once the pump shuts off, water from the bay can siphon back up and into the boat...continuously.
I think you can do that math on that scenario.

To keep the end of the hose in the right place,
try pinning it down with the trasto bagagli - the big removable
trastolini board that's immediately behind the seat.  (see top photo)

I'm starting to like the idea of rain again,
     but I hope it will take the week off around Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Traghetto Still-Life

Just another moment captured at the traghetto of Santa Maria del Giglio.
I swear, I could sit for hours and just observe.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Taking Off!

photo by Joy Sailing

As we begin a new year, I wish you all the kind of motivation and drive that these guys had at the beginning of their race at the US Gondola Nationals.