Brush Creek Yachts ~ Concentric Circles and Paradoxes

Doug, his son Ben, and Marvin Spencer, with the new Marsh Cat “Magpie”

 

(This is a post started last August; am just getting back to it.)

It will take nearly four hours of driving to get there, to get where the boat is, a boat built by hand in the loft of an old barn. We head out at sunrise while there’s still dew on the grass.

We don’t go east toward the coast, though, where most boats and builders of them live. Instead, we turn and go the other direction – to the southwest into the mountains. Instead of the land of crabs and oysters and skipjacks, we’re going deep into coal and bluegrass and moonshine country.

After 200 miles of driving we’ll still be in Virginia, though just barely. From south of Fries it’s just 10 miles as the crow flies to the Carolina line, and 20 to Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia. This is where Marvin Spencer, proprietor and master craftsman of Brush Creek Yachts, lives and builds boats.

 

Buffalo Mountain

 

 

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Winter Harbor ~ Nocturnes

 

direct youtube link

 

It’s almost time to go. In the morning the Melonseed will get stuffed with gear, leaving a little room to skootch back and forth, tacking upwind all the way back. The tide will be out. Lots of short tacking. Another front is coming through, bringing rain. I’ll try to slip out ahead of it.

Most will wait another day to squeeze out the last few hours they can before heading back. A few plan to leave soon after I do. Beating my way out into the headwind, I see Wesley in his skiff on his way to the island to pick them up. He nods approval as he goes by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter Harbor ~ Ephemeral Arts

 

I made some things. Did you find them?

Terri had to go back early. We sailed over in the Melonseed and dropped her at the marina. When I got back, she texted clues to find things she’d hidden around the island.

It wasn’t that hard. I found her trail a few steps from the kitchen door, and easily followed her meandering path for a quarter mile through the dunes. With so few people on the island, a single series of footprints is like a story written in large print. Here she stopped to ponder a pile of bones, here at a clearing to take in the view of the marsh, enticed from here to wander in a grove of pines.

 

 

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Winter Harbor ~ Blind Woman in a Snow Storm

 

7 Down: Where Leonardo da Vinci is buried.

Oh yes, I know that one. Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the chapel at Amboise. A chateau in the Loire.

How did you know that, without even reading a New Yorker?

I always remember, because it reminds me of the night I met that charming blind woman in the middle of a snow storm.

Was that when you were in France?

No, not in France. In Fluvanna County. I was house sitting for a friend at Christmas. A big snow storm came through. I let the dog out before bed, and it did not return. I got into her four wheel drive car to go looking for him. Down the road, I suddenly came upon a woman wading through the snow. She was wearing Long Johns and a sort of antique broach.

Excuse me, ma’am, but can I give you a ride?

Oh please, I hope you can help. (She looked a little sideways as she talked. I thought from the glare of the headlights, but realized she was blind.) My husband has rearranged the whole library, and we can’t find the one book to settle this argument. Do you happen to know where Leonardo da Vinci is buried?

Strangely enough, I knew the answer. When I studied painting in Paris, I was invited to visit the Loire Valley where a chapel was built around his tomb. A beautiful chapel.

Why yes, in fact I do. He’s buried at the Chateau d’Amboise, in the Loire Valley.

Oh thank god. Will you please take me back down the road and tell my husband? He will not sleep until we know. Oh, and we have your dog. He’s been quite well-behaved. Hasn’t peed or nothin.

 

Overheard after dinner conversation.

 

Winter Harbor ~ Marsh Sailing video

 

direct youtube link

A compilation of sailing clips taken over several days. A cold north wind made for some blustery conditions at first, then calmed down as the front moved through.

Really lovely stuff, marsh sailing.

If you watch to the end, there’s an explanation of how I smashed the stem nose back in October at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival in Saint Michaels. I still haven’t quite got over a wave of nervousness when trying to sail and take photos at the same time.

Surprised it took this long to have a mishap, but definitely shifts the balance from taking photos back to more attention to sailing.

 

 

 

Winter Harbor ~ Marsh Sailing in November

 

Melsoneeds are designed for these marshes. Even with me aboard, both Aeon and Ceasura will float free in just 3 inches of water, and can sail in 6 with the board up. This place is their playground.

 

 

Even so, I got stuck on three separate occasions. Mostly due to inattention. Tacking right up to the grass at the edge of a creek, the boat would slow a little. Then, the centerboard deep in the mud, she would decline to come about. We’d get blown into the marsh grass. Looking behind I could see the graceful path cut through the mud by the centerboard, like a finger through chocolate pudding. Raise the board, push off with an oar, and away again.

 

 

I sail into the marsh, alone or with others, five times in 7 days. The camera only came out a couple of times, though, and only once when the wind was up. I’m still gun shy from a little mishap in St. Michaels, soon explained, when I should have paid more attention to sailing and less to taking pictures. So I only have a few photos. Video is coming.

But this I can tell you: There’s nothing like hissing through a salt marsh creek on a fresh breeze in a pretty little wooden boat – tall grass rushing by on both sides, past duck blinds and oyster bars, bow wave giggling along the rails.

Or gliding along at sunset, silent as a cloud, and rounding a bend into a flock of hidden ducks. The sudden explosive thunder of flapping wings and cackling calls sets your heart pounding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Harbor ~ The Island, West

 

Everything west of the island is wetlands – half sea of grass, half open water barely a foot deep, a 4000 acre living mirror of the sun. Every single stalk of spartina, rooted in black mud, refracts light like a prism.  Luminous green, orange, yellow, russet, gold. The whole marsh changes color with a shift in the wind, passing of a cloud, the slow arc of the sun, like the wave of a wand.

 

Spartina Alterniflora, aka Marsh Grass

 

 

 

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