Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Solo Distance - USGN 2018

photos by Greg Mohr
 Rivera and Ruffino rushing by

The Solo Distance event is arguably the most difficult and demanding rowing competition in the U.S. Gondola Nationals - not just because it's an endurance race, but because the race requires a more "complete" rower.

Rowing as a team takes timing and cooperation
but you've got someone to help you share the work,
and with two or more on a boat, the burden of keeping the boat on course is shared as well.

Row the race alone, and it's all you.

Mariano fights the wind.

The wind blows, you correct.
The boat spins, you stop it.
Oh, and then there's the two and a half miles of water you've got to push the boat through.

Owner of La Gondola and host of this year's Nationals, Marcello, told me:
"More than anything else, it is the most psychological event - probably because it's the longest time-wise."

Mastery of every discipline of Venetian rowing is required to compete here.
It's no surprise that an authority on the subject once identified single-oared regattas as "the university of Venetian rowing."

Alessandro powers his way to the finish line.

Gondoliers often show up at Nationals with several races on their "dance card", but only one or two they're really gunning for.  
The Solo Distance is a prime example.  
Gondoliers train for months to duel it out in this contest.

In this edition of the Solo Distance, the race was run in heats of two rowers at a time. 
The times of each competitor were recorded and compared.
When there is an odd number of rowers, 
one competitor rows the course alone.
There are no quarter finals or championship heats.
You get one chance on the course.

Ivano and Mariano begin their heat.

The Solo Distance race this year followed a down-and-back course 
which was rowed twice, for a total of 2.5 miles.
Competitors began upriver from the Crawford Street bridge, 
got a running start, 
and rowed down the Providence River.
They passed under the pedestrian bridge being built on the piers of the old Route 95 bridge,
and then turned around the boat-like structure that surrounds the base of the Point Street bridge, and then returned.
Coming back was the most challenging part as they found themselves working against both wind and current.

Ivano and Mariano in windy conditions.

Providence gondolier Mariano said:
"It felt like after passing the pedestrian bridge the winds picked up 20 mph. The journey around the Point Street bridge to old 95 bridge was by far the most challenging."

Ah, but this wasn't a simple "wind fight" - where you work against the wind head-on.  In this location, the wind was coming in from the west - hitting the boats from the port side and shoving them into bridges.
At times the wind would shift - coming in at an angle - a sort of headwind from the side.
At one point I watched the wind come in from the east, 
again pushing boats into obstacles - this time in the other direction.

After his heat, Michael Angelo Ruffino told me everything I needed to know:
"The whole race happens between the two bridges."

Michael Angelo Ruffino fights to the finish.

The buildings on the west shore created some cover, but once guys emerged from behind them, the game was on, and the wind scored a lot more points than the rowers.

in a post-race conversation with Marcello of Providence, 
we talked about this "third dynamic." 

"It seems like the Solo Distance, more than any other event, is more than just a race of the fastest competitor. It is long, and you’re all alone, you and the boat, trying to get into your rhythm, but at least in Newport Beach, Minnesota, and Providence (three of the last four years) it’s been about you versus the conditions just as much as you versus the competitors." 

Indeed that has been the case for a lot of the distance racers over the years, but none have been more affected by conditions than the solo rowers.

A good example would be Marcello's brother Alessandro - a powerful and experienced rower who won gold in the event in 2016, but had to scratch the previous year due to conditions. This year he had a great run on his first down-and-back, but on the second loop a rogue gust of wind blasted his boat against a bridge foundation.  He ended up in the water, immediately out and back on the boat, and finished strong, but not before the winds knocked his time out of medal contention.

Marcello in a solo pursuit.

Providence gondolier "Ivano" gave me a great summation:
"Gondolas and wind mix like orange juice and toothpaste, and there was about 100 gallons of juice out there. 
That wind was unreal: dead stop in the middle of a race."

When all is said and done, one of the best ways to evaluate a gondolier is how he or she handles adverse conditions in a single oar capacity.
In both racing and passenger cruise situations, when wind, current, rough seas, or other calamities threaten you, that's when you find out just how much you're capable of.  

Ivano bringing power to bear.

All the rowers that day in Providence did incredible work.
In the case of some competitors - it was earning a medal.
For others it was a matter of getting knocked down and rising again to fight even harder - to finish with determination and earn the respect of everyone watching.

As Marcello put it "you're all alone, you and the boat."
Will you bow to adversity? 
Will you quit?
Or will you rise to the occasion?

Nobody quit that day.

Eddie Rivera and Michael Angelo Ruffino "flying south."

Marcello powers past boats filled with firewood.

Bepi checks with the time keepers at the finish line.

Here are the top four finishers:

1. Harrison "Mariano" Richards    Providence, RI          33:45.2
2. Matthew "Marcello" Haynes     Providence, RI          35:44.6
3. Michael Angelo Ruffino            Newport Beach, CA   37:13.3 
4. Adam "Ivano" Alves                Providence, RI          40:01.0

From left to right:
Michael Angelo Ruffino of Newport Beach - Bronze
Mariano of Providence - gold
"Marcello" of Providence - silver

Bepi and Alessandro  - a beautiful still shot...
of a hard fight against wind and current.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Public Radio on the Docks

In the midst of all the controlled craziness of the US Gondola Nationals this year, there was a reporter from a local news outlet - diligently interviewing competitors and snapping a few photos as well.

We love it when the press shows up and takes time to cover our unique competition.
Here's a great article that sums up nicely what it is that so many of us look forward to each year.

Seventh Annual U.S. Gondola Nationals Bring Gondoliers Together In Providence

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Dozen Photos from a New Dock

Here's a dozen images taken from the Pearson's Port dock on Saturday night 
as the gondolas cruised by.  We're still in our first week of operation 
in this new location, but everybody loves it.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Tandem Slalom - USGN 2018

photos by Greg Mohr
videos by Simon Atkins

If the sprint events are full-throttle-in-a-straight-line exhibitions of power,
The slalom events are quite the opposite.
In these events it's still a matter of who crosses the line with the fastest time, but there are very few straight lines, and the only full throttle opportunity is after the last turn as you head for the finish line.

The waterway where La Gondola operates in Providence, Rhode Island has a remarkable event known as WaterFire 
(you can read more about it in my post "What Is WaterFire?").

The fire part of WaterFire involves several floating firepits, 
which just happen to make great slalom markers.
Each firepit - which is called a "Brazier" - is supported by three globe-like floats.

After some discussion with various Providence gondoliers, as well as Marcello (who planned this event), it became clear that it was ok to let the boat touch the floats, but you did NOT want to "spear a brazier" - which means getting the prow of the gondola between the firepit and one of it's floats.

In the tandem variation of this event, the rowers were required to turn at every other brazier.  The solo runs were even more daunting - with the competitors turning at each and every brazier.

A local gondolier who'd spent some time practicing on this course told me that the key to success was to try and create a path as "straight as possible".  That is to say - the less serpentine the better. 

Seemed like a logical approach.
Seemed easy enough, too.

It wasn't.

As you can see in the following photos and videos, 
getting a 36 foot long gondola to turn back and forth as quickly as possible, well...let's just say that it results in a lot of tail wagging.

Combine feverish rowing,
with hard turning,
and do it back and forth, 
and back and forth, 
and back and, well, you get the idea.
And then throw a bit of a curve into the line of braziers, 
and some guys are gonna get pretty serpentine along the way.

Oh, there's one other thing:
while you try to get through the course, you've got to keep from getting tripped up by the floats and braziers - which always seem to get in the way of where you want your oar to go.
I heard some guys complaining about how they got their oar wedged in, or bumped it against something as they were trying to bring it forward to get their next stroke in.

Here are some of the tandem teams making their way between the braziers.

 John and Michael from Minnesota were the first team through the course.

 Powering through a turn.
As an experienced canoe guide, John Kerschbaum has been known to employ some clever moves that aren't often seen on a gondola.  
here we see him prying off the the starboard side of the bow 
to bring the boat into a quick turn.

Local boys Mariano and Ivano were the next pair to navigate the course.
They showed a clear understanding of how this unique race is to be done.
I was told that these two would be contenders in this event, 
and not surprisingly, they took the silver medal with this run.
 Keeping the turn arc as close as possible.

 Executing power strokes whenever possible, but not flying off course.

Now watch the onboard GoPro footage of their run:
Beyond just watching the methods and techniques, I'm intrigued by the communication that takes place between two guys on a boat 
as they go through a course.
In the case of these two, they clearly speak the same language 
as they refer to different moves.

Having spent exactly zero minutes practicing for this event, 
I was really impressed with Newport gondoliers Parker Harrison 
and Michael Angelo Ruffino.  They are a remarkable tandem team, 
as is evidenced by their 3rd place finish in this unrehearsed event.
 Consistency served them well in this run.

That, and carefully applied power.
Now here's the onboard GoPro footage of their run:
It's evident at the very first turn that Ruffino knows to use a tirare-style drag, and they definitely work well together.

To do your best, you need to push things right up to the edge.
Almost right up to loss-of-control.
at 1:13 we see an impact, Parker falls forward,
but like the good surfer that he is - he's back on deck and in control in record time.  In fact the boat never even slows down, and they're able to stay on track for a fast finish that's good enough for a bronze medal.

Simon and Jonah of Newport Beach experienced an error at the beginning of their run, but they refused to quit. They got lots of applause for their dedication and had a good solid run after that.

Tim "Bepi" Reinard of Sunset Gondola in Huntington Harbour, CA 
and Greg "Rafaello" Coffey of Providence teamed up for an 
East Coast/West Coast run.  
They were fun to watch and turned in a solid time.
Tim working a mid-ship dar-zo pry to keep the boat on course.

A nice tight turn...

...and a fast finish.

Now watch and listen to the onboard GoPro video of their run:
Watching these two communicate is remarkable.
One guy lives there, and knows the course.
The other guy is new to it all, but he knows his way around a gondola.
It's almost like the guy on the back is giving a tutorial of the course to the guy on the front.
And yet Bepi is quick on the draw.  
I'm a huge fan of the draw technique he uses at 0:43.
And he doesn't just draw a little - he takes it to the floor.
The midship pry (dar-zo mezza barca) at 1:17 is also powerful.
Things get a little crazy at 1:35 - in this entire competition, 
Bepi is the only one to "make a basket".
A quick recovery and a hard push to finish.
Bravo, boys!

The fastest time (by more than 12 seconds) 
was the team of Marcello and Allesandro. 
Two brothers who have won and placed in many races over the years 
(you can read more about them in my post 
"Tandem Distance - the Brothers Haynes"

With a combination of experience, power, and expert technique,
these two brothers showed true mastery of the tandem slalom. 
The boat never slowed down, never wavered from a tight pattern.

Power in the back.

Reaching over a brazier.

Speeding to the finish line.

Now watch the onboard GoPro footage of their run:
So cool.  
And by that I mean these two go about it in a calm and controlled manner.  Marcello gives direction in an understated way.  
In fact the only time he raises his voice is to be heard over the cheering.
One thing I noticed is that the winning team employed almost everything in subtle, carefully measured amounts...
which is why they made it look so easy. 

I'd like to give a big thank you to Simon Atkins for all the diligent hard work getting GoPro devices in place, recording, and with regular battery changes.

Here are the top four finishers in the event:

1. Alessandro & Marcello Providence, RI                                 1:30.0
2. Ivano & Mariano         Providence, RI                                1:42.8
3. Harrison & Ruffino      Newport Beach, CA                            1:43.5 
4. Bepi & Rafaello          Huntington Harbour, CA & Providence, RI   1:54.8

From left to right:
Parker Harrison and Michael Angelo Ruffino of Newport Beach - Bronze
Alessandro and Matthew "Marcello" Haynes of Providence - Gold. 
Mariano and Ivanno of Providence - Silver

Mariano and Ivano