featuring photos by Ignus Holm
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.