Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Starting on Saturday Morning

A year ago we were all regrouping, reveling, and recovering
from the fourth US Gondola Nationals in Newport Beach, California.

Like two years prior in Huntington Harbour,
we'd enjoyed remarkable weather.
But last November our sights were trained
on a whole new piece of geography:
We talked about packing long johns,
about how cold it gets in the Twin Cities,
and wondered if we might even end up rowing in gloves
with snow falling on the decks.
Arriving a few days prior to the weekend,
a few of us were happy to find seasonably mild conditions. 
It wasn't Miami, but it was nice,
and we hoped it would stay that way through the weekend.
Saturday morning was darn near perfect.
Host John Kerschbaum had everything ready,
and the hospitality of that small Midwestern town was exemplary.
We awoke to cool temps and zero wind.
Smoke from a distant smokestack showed a slow drift.
Flags in town seemed to sleep as they hung from their poles.
It might get windy tomorrow, but it wasn't happening today.
After a big breakfast bonanza at our place, and lots of coffee all around,
gondoliers were waking up and rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
After the opening ceremony,
we gathered around the gondolas and prepared for a day of racing.
Marcello discusses the course with some competitors.
The first tandem team plans their upcoming run.
Hi tech equipment gets attention.
Low tech equipment does too.
Recently repaired remi get last-minute notches.
Parker surveys glassy waters.
Mike sets his pontapied foot-wedge.
The first tandem team pushes off for their distance run.
Marcello gathers the troops.
Some funny faces are made.
Fingers are pointed (Jakob is unfazed).

Spectators gather to watch the races.
The Minnesota team waves from their gondola.
 Parker and Mike line up to the starting line...
...and they're off!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hunter's Run

I was lucky enough to get on the chase boat for a few of the distance races this year at the US Gondola Nationals.

It was a down-and-back trip;
first to a buoy downriver,
next was a tooth and nail fight
against a strong headwind to get back upriver.
Another buoy turn, and then a mad dash downstream to cross the line.

Here are some photos I took from the water as Hunter Mitchell took his turn and put all he had into it.

Starting his run with the wind at his back.
The American flag serves as a great "windicator".
Approaching the buoy,
beginning the turn,
and fighting to finish that turn with the wind conspiring to prevent it.

Suddenly having to work much harder just to keep the gondola moving.
...and extending.
Fall colors.

Passing a gazebo full of shouting gondoliers and spectators.
 After the second buoy turn, making the mad dash to the finish.

And here's the post-finish "struggle to keep standing" shot.

This was Hunter's first time competing at Nationals.
He came home with several medals,
including a bronze in the Solo Distance event.

Friday, November 25, 2016


Stillwater, Minnesota has an impressive fleet of paddlewheel riverboats.
Here's a shot of Mike Ruffino rowing past them during his run in the Solo Distance race.

This was going downriver with the wind in his favor.
After the buoy turn, everything changed.
It was a windfight extraordinaire.

Each guy who rowed this course solo gained a new level of appreciation for the wind - and how it can be your best friend, and then your worst enemy.

Mike Ruffino gave an amazing performance,
and grabbed second place and the silver medal in this event.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


We have so much to be thankful for - each of us,
no matter what challenges we may face.

I could list all the things that I'm thankful for,
but it would make for a very long post.
So I'll just leave this photo as a symbolic image.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.
Thanks for reading the Gondola Blog.

- Greg

Monday, November 21, 2016


The winter sunlight comes in at low angles.
And because our half of the sphere is tipped further away from the sun,
we get sunsets that seem to have more color.
Here are a few shots I took this evening of Hunter Mitchell as the sun shot beams of light through the frame in Newport Beach.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Fastest Horse on the Course

In the month leading up to the US Gondola Nationals this year,
I was on the phone with Marcello of La Gondola in Providence.
We were talking about the various events,
and who was on "Team Providence" this year. 
I was sad to hear that one of my favorite gondoliers:
"Rafaelo" - would not be able to make it. 
He'd just gotten married, so I understood,
but I had still hoped that we might see him.
Marcello went on to tell me about this new guy who he felt would do well. 
He was new, but had done a lot of rowing in the 2016 season.
Harrison "Mariano" Young is 19 as of this writing.
He started as a gondolier in Providence last year,
only beginning to take cruises later in the season.
This year he got a full season of rowing.
Prior to Nationals, Owner of La Gondola, Marcello,
told him that he stood a decent chance of getting a medal.
Marcello knew the kid had what it would take to do well.
This young gondolier had played football, and lived in a Spartan houseboat where a weight bench was the main attraction.
Among the gondoliers in Providence, some guys row further than others.
They have a "down and back" type of route,
where the gondoliers take their passengers to a certain point,
then turn around and head back towards the dock.
The harder you row, the further you can get before having to turn around.
So some of the gondoliers this past year made it a point to row further with each cruise - and in doing so, got themselves in better shape for the races in Minnesota.
Over the years we've noticed that any time there's a slalom or obstacle course in the competition, the top finishers are mostly from Providence.
They operate in a tight channel, which is peppered with flaming pots of firewood running down the center.
Row in Providence, and you'll get skilled at rowing around obstacles
(flaming ones, at that!).
As Mariano positioned his boat to begin his run in the Solo Slalom event,
I wasn't expecting him to be very successful.
He was new to Nationals, and I hadn't seen him do much other than train with the Providence four-man team on Friday night.
I figured he'd do ok, but didn't think he'd finish that well.
I could not have been more wrong.
Mariano came to life on that course,
rowing hard, turning the gondola around markers like a pro,
and using his explosive power to accelerate after each turn.
And yet, his run was not showy.
It went by quietly - but quickly.
About halfway through his trip up the course,
I turned around to talk to someone. The next thing I knew,
the guy was already working his way back towards the finish line,
and people were cheering and shouting from the shoreline.
Marcello was at the timekeeper's station,
and he was shouting directions to his young gondolier. 
Mariano powered his way across the finish line with his fellow gondoliers yelling and lots of cheering filling the air.
Marcello held up his hand with one finger in the air - to signal that he was number one.
Mariano was surprised and yet thrilled.
Nobody rowed that course faster.
And on Sunday night, this kid who'd never competed at nationals before,
had a gold medal placed around his neck.

Mark Schooling placed the medal,
but Marcello was the one who congratulated him.
Honestly, I had expected Marcello to win this event,
but I wasn't surprised that one of his other gondoliers took the gold.

In the end, the medal order was:
Gold - Harrison "Mariano" Young (of La Gondola - Providence)
Silver - Hunter Mitchell (of Gondola Adventures, Inc. - Newport Beach)
Bronze - Matthew "Marcello" Haynes (of La Gondola - Providence)

After the race was over, and Mariano had finished the fastest,
I was amazed, and I asked Marcello why he thought his young gondolier had done so well.
He said:
"He rowed over 540 cruises this season,
he's a horse,
and he takes instructions well"

The winner of the solo slalom event this year did take instructions well.
He had rowed a lot of cruises
(and chose the long route each and every time).

With football, weight lifting, and a solid and stout build,
Mariano was indeed a "horse"...

He was the fastest horse on the course.


Friday, November 18, 2016


This year the men from Gondola Company of Newport
made quite a statement in the medals - taking home lots of hardware.
Among those medals:
the second place finish in the four-man distance event.
The GCON 4 brought home the silver medal in that category,
and looked good doing it!
From left to right:
Michael Angelo Ruffino, Eddie Rivera,
Mark Schooling, and Parker Harrison

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Delivery Workout

Moving a boat without passengers is often called a delivery.
Here are three shots of Michael Serge of Gondola Romantica
making the most of a delivery situation,
by getting a little pre-competition workout in Minnesota.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Under the Lift Bridge

photo by Elisa Mohr

Jakob Easton and Greg Mohr begin their run in the Tandem Distance event at the 2016 US Gondola Nationals in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Above - the historic Lift Bridge.
Ahead - lots of river to row.
Behind - no regrets.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Dragster

Belt sanders:
those odd tank-tread members of the power tool family that just beg to be plugged in and set free across the garage floor.
I hear that there are people who have organized races using belt sanders.
Of course that's not what they were designed for, but everybody wants to.

I hear they even ride the sanders in some races!

Belt sanders aren't for every sanding application,
but they do fill certain needs quite effectively.
I mostly reach for my belt sander when I'm either shaping something,
or looking to clean up the edges of freshly-cut wood.

And then there was yesterday.
We've got a boat out of the water, and flipped over.
I needed to strip the bottom down to bare wood.
I could spend three days with a disk sander,
or I could just break out my Dragster with a 36 grit belt.

The whole project took about two hours.
It required discipline - because if you handle the tool wrong,
you'll end up with notches and uneven spots, but do it right,
and you'll be amazed how quickly that continuous loop of sandpaper
can get the job done.

Nearing the end of the belt sander's duties.
A quick buzz with the D.A. sander and we were able
to get the whole surface down to bare wood.

Big Wheel in the Back, Little Wheel in the Front.
I don't know why nobody did it sooner.
it works with open-wheel race cars, motorcycles, and dragsters.
This dragster is a little bit faster than mine.

Thankfully, someone in a tool design department thought to do it with a belt sander. 
The model I have found most useful is the Black and Decker "Dragster".
It's not the most expensive, and maybe there are other belt sanders that are built better and last longer, but this design really works for my needs.

My dragster.

I have to admit:
I wonder if they got the idea from those crazy belt sander races.

Whatever their inspiration may have been, they came up with a shaping device that has some really helpful uses.
That small front wheel allows for much tighter sanding inside a corner.
The other day I was able to flip back the top guard and reach down into the buso to shape surfaces where the forcola mounts.
Try that with a big-wheel belt sander.

the top guard flipped back to expose the top side of the belt.

Black and Decker has sold varying versions of this sander for several years.
They call it the "Dragster" with a product code of DS321.
I've also seen it at Sears under the Craftsman brand - same features,
same design.  Different colors, different name, but the same sander.

I don't always need to use my belt sander,
but when I do, I love reaching for this power tool.