(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.
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.
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.
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.
The directions were a little vague. Arriving on the downwind leg of the afternoon, we followed not so much directions to this place as a description of it. Our friends decline cell phones. Their farmhouse is lined with shelves of books, the kitchen with jars of food from the garden. They don’t use the internet; no email or texts. They send hand-written notes by mail, or call on a land line shared with another couple. Not much help here. There’s no land line out on the island, either, so we can’t call to be sure.
This feels right, though – they’re good with words, our friends – but we’re going a bit on faith, like looking for a place you only know from novels.
Went with Doug to help him pick up his new Marsh Cat, waaaaaay down in southwest Virginia. Marvin Spencer, of Brush Creek Yachts, did a beautiful job. I met Marvin many years ago at his shop in Plymouth, North Carolina. He had recently built his first Melonseed, and I had not yet started mine. When Amanda and I were driving back from Ocracoke I asked if we could stop in and have a look. Graciously, he not only said yes, but waited for us well after closing time.
He’s now built 10 Melonseeds, all beautiful, and many other boats, as well. When we went to pick up his latest creation, we invited him to come along for the first test sail, something he says he rarely gets to do.
Big fun, and great, drama-free first launching and sail. More photos and some video to come.