Sunday, January 29, 2017

Summer Weather Tonight

Summer made an unexpected limited-time appearance this evening
here in Newport.  The Santa Ana winds, that blow warm, dry air
from the inland deserts brought us some relief from the pattern of storms swinging in from the Pacific, and my gondoliers and I enjoyed conditions
that we all agreed were more than we deserved.
Here are some shots from the back of the boat tonight in Newport:
Rowing towards that bright fiery ball
(and snapping a few pictures along the way)
Stalking Simon as he drops a message-in-a-bottle in the water...
...she picks it up, reads the message...
...and says "YES!"
Kyle cruises by with happy passengers.
true, pure, perfect serenity.
Simon catches up with me and stalks my boat...

...and snaps a photo of us as my passengers and I
as we cruise under the Newport Blvd. bridge.

It was a wonderful evening.
I'm really not sure if we all deserved it,
but I will say that I have spent quite a lot of time
pumping rainwater out of my gondolas,
So I'll take it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Synco at the Seattle Boat Show

Our friend John Synco has some terrific support
from his home port of Gig Harbor.
It seems that everybody knows him and loves him.
If you know John, this should come as no surprise.
John writes:
A couple of weeks before the Seattle boat show,
the Gig Harbor tourism and communications director Karen Scott contacted me to ask my permission to use a life size cutout of Nelly and I.
She wanted to use it for the Gig Harbor city booth at the show and offer guests a chance to take pictures with their faces in the cutouts that replaced the faces of my original passengers.

I had to think long and hard about this.
After about a second I said, "um... heck yeah!"

So I sent them a few high resolution photos and kept my fingers crossed. I wasn't sure if the plan would actually work out,
but when I got to the boat show I was greeted by the city booth with that huge photo.
What a treat!

Tricia and I feel very fortunate to have landed in a town
where I've been fully accepted by the community.

I can't wait to see how a Gondola Nationals would go here.

Grazie, Greg. I'm on my way out soon for another day where I get to walk around in stripes and a Giuliana Longo cappello.
I'll again be chatting with the public about Gig Harbor,
Venezia and gondolas in America.
Keep a look out on Facebook and Instagram for more photos!

In the photo above, John managed to create
an image of himself...rowing himself!

Continuing the fun, here's a shot of the
gondola with passengers...walking towards you.

Thanks for the great photos, John.
I'm so glad to see that things are going well for you there.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Tie-Strap Trick

photo by Matt Kilgore

Yesterday I professed my undying affection
for a wonderful device known as the sump pump.

I spent plenty of time pumping out boats,

and then placing a "Stella system" on each boat,
so I could sleep through the night.

Well, I slept.  Slept through more rain, and even hail.
When I arrived, I was reminded that "Murphy" might as well be
my middle name.
I pumped out fifteen boats yesterday.

This morning, fourteen of them were still floating on the surface.

But then there was Stella.
She had a battery that didn't fulfill it's duties,
and was summarily baptized in salt water.

No, the irony is not lost on me.
The very boat that I chose to use when I named the "Stella system",
was the one that had tried to make a mad dash for the bottom of the bay.

She failed, of course, because Venetian boats are made of wood.
But there she sat, a lowrider gondola.

If gondolas could speak, this one would be saying:
"you haven't given me enough attention lately,

but today I made sure that you would."

My friend Matt and I had stopped by the docks
to just clean a few things up.
But then...your plans don't always
work out the way you thought they would.
I told Matt that our "plans" had changed,
and we went about the business of reviving Stella.
This wasn't the first time we'd done this.
In fact, we've dealt with submerged gondolas several times before.
Some have been on purpose - to soak the wood.
Some have been on accident (even though not always admittedly so).
We started by pulling the other boat out of the slip,
so Stella was alone, and we could give her all the attention she needed.

Next, we ran a few ratcheting tie-straps across the slip.
These are the same tie-straps I like to use to secure a boat to my trailer.
we attached them to opposing cleats - using extensions of rope
to make the stretch.

The gondola was moved into the center of the slip.
Each tie-strap ran under the boat.
In all we set up five of them.
As we tightened the straps, the rails of the boat rose above the water.
As Stella lifted, we ratcheted the tie-straps a few clicks
every five minutes or so, thus helping the process,
and preventing the boat from "whaling over".
Once that was accomplished, I tossed my trusty sump pump in the boat
and began the process of pulling out the water within her. 

Twenty minutes later we'd lifted the rails
a comfortable distance from the surface.
We were beginning to win our battle with the waters of the Pacific.

photo by Matt Kilgore
Next, I stepped onto the back of the gondola
and plugged in a second sump pump.

About an hour later, Matt and I were going compartment to compartment, drawing the last bit of water out of the gondola.

And there she was, floating on the surface once again.
The sun had set and the cool of the night had crept in,
but in a little over an hour, we'd won the battle for positive buoyancy.
Two guys,
a handful of tie-straps,
two sump pumps,
and some determination.
The "Tie-Strap Trick".
Next time you find yourself doing this,
consult my post "Top Ten - Swamped Boat" list of excuses
to use with annoying inquisitors.
Also, see my 2008 post "Raising My Own Titanic"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Let Me Tell You Sump'in

After years and years of living in drought conditions, Southern California
is enjoying some major relief in the form of rain - LOTS of rain.

And while I know we need it, it's not always soothing.
As I sit here typing,
I can hear the clatter of strong rainfall
as it hits the roof and the sides of the house.

It reminds me of a few things:
First, it reminds me of the many hours I spent today,
pumping out boats that were sloshingly full of fresh water.

Second, it reminds me that I'll be doing more of the same tomorrow morning.

Third, it reminds me of the summer of '89, when I lived in Nome, Alaska. 
We liked to joke that we had two seasons up there - frozen and wet
But Mother Nature really took us to task that year. 
I think we only had about five days all summer when it wasn't pouring down relentlessly.

As a rule, I like to have a bilge pump and a battery set up on each boat
(you can read more about it in my post "The Stella System").
But after so many storms, I found that many of my batteries were either discharged or no longer functioning.

Enter the sump pump.
This is not something I picked up at the local boating store.
It's a hardware store item.
The sump pump is mostly popular with folks who have flooded basements,
but when the rain gets serious, I reach for one too.

The one I got to spend so much quality time with today is a Flotec "Intellipump" model that boasts a 1/4 horsepower motor that will blow standing water out of a boat at 1,790 gallons per hour. 
They retail at about $145, plus the hose. 
If you don't either step on or tie down the end,
it'll shoot all over the place like a firehose.

The sump pump doing it's thing down in the bilge.

A well-secured hose is imperative
(unless you want it shooting back into the boat)
Just to clarify, I'm not really a fan of running around in the rain
with pumps and hoses and such, but when the rain falls,
it's good to have the right tools for the job.
And the sump pump is, well, she's "sump'in special".
(sorry, I just couldn't resist the pun)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Build Me a Crooked One"

photo by Isabella Mohr

For the longest time, gondolas in Venice were symmetric:
perfectly even in their design, with the port and starboard sides
measuring the same exact numbers.

But in the mid 1800's, as the story goes, Venice fell on hard times,

and the gondola went from a two-man boat to a one-man boat.
Up until then, the boat was rowed by a master on the back of the gondola,

and an apprentice up front. 

At some point a conversation took place between a builder and his client.
The client's name is unknown,
but the builder was a guy named Domenico Tramontin.

Because the city had fallen on hard times.
The apprentice got a pink slip,
while the maestro ended up doing twice as much work.
(yes, this is a familiar story these days)
The iconic gondola had become a one-man-boat.

There was probably wine involved in this conversation.
The client said "build me a crooked one".
Mr. Tramontin is believed to have said:
"they're all gonna laugh at you,
'cause you're the one who's gonna be rowing it, so what do I care?"

The client was tired of correcting hard to compensate for a missing front man.
Domenico built the very first asymmetric gondola.
Sure enough - when the owner of this new lopsided boat rowed her,
other gondoliers laughed...until they saw how easy she was to row.
Next they wanted to try rowing her.

Then they wanted one of their own.
It is said that from that point,
nobody build another symmetric gondola in La Serenissima.

At the time, Domenico Tramontin was just one of many gondola builders.

but his decision to create an asymmetric gondola,
Well, that elevated him to "gondola royalty."
I can't speak from a boat builder's perspective.
But I can tell you that as a guy who rows these remarkable vessels,
the asymmetry is fantastic, and if I could go back in time,
I'd love to shake hands with Domenico Tramontin.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Enzo's Final Crossing

photos by Nereo Zane

It was foggy that morning along the shores of southern England.

On some days the channel might be clear enough to see across to the other side, but this was not one of those days.

Enzo Liszka and his rowing partner Vittorio Orio pushed off from shore
and began their voyage from the British port of Dover
to Calais on the French side of the English Channel.

Record books showed the first crossings by air, by hovercraft,
on water skis, and of course there are chapters of firsts in swimming the famed English Channel, but on July 30th, 2001 Enzo and Vittorio were the first to attempt it on a Venetian gondola.

Born in 1939, Venetian Enzo Liszka first wrapped his hands around an oar at a young age.
He started on the family sanpierota.
He spent much of his life rowing recreationally with friends and in clubs.

Later he served as an interpreter for American Express.

It was this position that allowed him to hone his ability with the English language - a skill that would lead to many more opportunities,
both in work and in adventuring.

Back in the fog of the English Channel, Enzo (rowing in the front),
and Vittorio (rowing from the raised platform at the back),
worked their way across the busy shipping channel.
Gondolas are designed for the canals of Venice, but the two veteran rowers knew what they were doing, and managed the crossing in respectable time.

The first crossing of the famed English Channel by gondola was in the books.
Vittorio and Enzo did it with style and grace, they sang Venetian songs together most of the way.  And when their iconic black gondola made it to the front page of all the papers, and got on TV screens across the European continent and beyond, it was all in the name of raising support for the BIRD Foundation - a group dedicated to fighting rare diseases in children.

In 2007 Enzo and Vittorio came to America,
accompanied by their friend Bepi Suste.
I met them in Albany, New York, and along with John Kerschbaum of Minnesota and Chris Harrison of Texas, we embarked on our own gondola expedition down the Hudson River - a tribute row, honoring the fallen heroes of 9/11 (with great support from FDNY and the International Columbia Association).

A couple dear friends of mine were there to help translate along the journey, but Enzo's English was critically helpful on the boat, when things were moving fast and he was the only one who spoke both languages, Enzo made the difference.

Many more expeditions would follow, and most of them were firsts.
Additionally, Enzo had the joy of carrying on the Venetian tradition of teaching both of his daughters the art of rowing.

Four years ago, my friend Enzo began his battle with cancer.
He fought well, and pressed forward with the will
that only a distance rower can relate to.
He fought valiantly, and never lost that twinkle in his eye - even at the very end.

It was a clear and cold morning as a team of expert vogatori loaded his varnished wood casket onto the long black traghetto gondola that would serve to deliver Enzo to his final resting place.
Among the well-dressed rowers were Vittorio Orio and Bepi Suste.

The team of four vogatori wore identical white marineri with purple scarves and matching broad sashes.  Their four oars were painted in the same shade of purple as well (purple is associated with funerals by the Catholic liturgy).
The team was completed with Tino Fongher and Alberto Pagan.

After the memorial service, the traghetto gondola (with ceremonial black cloth deck cover bearing gold trim) made her way through the canals of Enzo's home. 
Leaving the city of Venice, she traversed the waters of the lagoon towards the legendary Isola di San Michele - the cemetery island.

Once again Vittorio Orio rowed from the raised platform at the back.
And Enzo Liszka was on the boat, but this time he wasn't rowing.
He was a passenger - on his way to his final resting place.
While few people look forward to their burial,
it is quite an honor to be interred on the sacred Isola di San Michele.
His final crossing to the island was carried out in the most fitting manner - with those who he'd done so much remarkable rowing with, and in many different countries.

Here are a few images from the post-funeral proceedings:
Gondoliers transport the casket from the Santi Apostoli church.
Loading on board.
re-laying of flowers.
Final departure, with attendants watching from the bridge and campo.

Yes, the world, and most specifically the Venetian realm, will miss him.
But he has left us with a legacy of rowing, and some big shoes to fill.

He had a great life, and was part of some amazing things in the rowing world. 
I am sad to know that he's gone,
But happy to celebrate such an amazing life. 


I sent a letter to Enzo just before he left us.
His daughter Samantha read it to him.

I ended with the following:
I encourage you to close your eyes for a minute and picture
John, Chris, me, and so many other American rowers,
as we raise our remi to you in a grand salute.

Farewell, Enzo.
Thank you for countless memories.

Many thanks to Nereo Zane and Samantha Liszka for helping with this post.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The "Ice Report"

photo by Nereo Zane

Meanwhile, in the Veneto, ice has been reported
on the surface of the Venetian Lagoon.

This morning, as well as yesterday morning,
Nereo Zane set out on a GSVVM boat from Mestre
with fellow club members, only to discover that the water was,
shall we say...a bit more dense than usual.

The air temperature when they set off to row their club caorlina
was a brisk -7 degrees Celsius, Nereo tells me they had to break the
surface ice with their oars in order to keep rowing.

The image above was taken in the San Secondo Canal,
looking towards Venezia.
In fact, they had to stop and turn back at that point,
because the ice had gotten too thick
and there was a concern about damage to the boat.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Simon and the Sun

Simon set out on a sunset cruise this evening,
and I couldn't resist shooting a bunch of photos as he departed.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Second Day - Just as Beautiful

I caught Hunter venturing out on a cruise with happy passengers
as we all forged our way into the second official day of 2017. 
It was just as quiet, just as tranquil, just as beautiful.

A look straight down the center of the boat,
shows how "not-straight" the gondola is.
"Gondolier power!"
Taking it all in.
Premi-stroke in action.
Contrary to what folks might think,
The conditions in January are usually remarkably calm.
We do get some winter conditions (if you can CALL them that)
But tonight, as usual, it was calm and beautiful.
The addition of a sweater and a blanket
made it simply perfect for the folks on the boat.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

All is Quiet on New Year's Day

Today, January 1st of 2017 was gorgeous.

My passengers and I had a wonderful time,
under stunning sunset skies in Newport.
All was quiet and tranquil.

I'm looking forward to a great year - I hope you are too.