T and I tagged on to the last couple of days Doug and his family were spending near Mathews on Mobjack Bay. Weather had been iffy all week, and didn’t look very promising for the weekend; but things cleared up after a few storms blew through.
Doug and I took his lovely Marsh Cat out on the last day, with low expectations. If nothing else, we could motor around for an hour and come back. But once we cleared the creek, there was a steady breeze blowing. It was enough to relieve some of the summer heat, and we ended up sailing for hours. So nice, we only came back when we got hungry and thirsty.
Shot a little video on the phones, as I was otherwise unprepared, but came out alright.
This is some video shot before Thanksgiving, a week spent on a barrier island in the Chesapeake off the coast of Mathews County.
The trip started with storms and high winds and coastal flooding. A really rough crossing. Within a few days, it blew itself out and left behind sunshine and impossible stillness.
Once you get about 40 seconds into the video, the wind noise dissipates. Then you can hear birds in the marsh, waves, a crackling fire, and Great Horned Owls.
One quiet evening after a beach bonfire, T and I were out staring up at the stars. The peaceful silence was broken by the screams of a rabbit caught in the talons of an owl. The sound was so frightening T grabbed my arm and left a bruise. 🙂
By mid-week we could take the new kayaks out into the tidal creeks. T has the blue Chuckanut 12s, and I have the larger white Chuckanut 15, both designed by good friend Dave Gentry of Gentry Custom Boats. (Plans available through Duckworks.)
A few years ago, I brought one of the Melonseeds here, and had some marvelous sailing. But the inlets have filled in even more since then. At the south end, where steamboats once came into the harbor, you can now wade across the inlet and not get your knees wet. The island is shorter by a hundred yards.
With the creeks silting in, and the weather looking iffy, I was glad to have the new kayaks to bring along. I was often paddling over the mud in less than 3 inches of water.
You can read about the island in previous posts starting here:
Still one of my favorite photos. Might have been my first overnight sleeping on one of the boats.
I remember waking up to the sound of wild turkeys and owls along the shore, seeing the clouds turn from cool blue to vivid crimson as the boat wandered slowly at anchor. Then sitting up to see the lotus leaves floating in that same reflected sky.
Passed a couple of really big milestones this week.
1) Today I finally was able to bring the boats home.
The Melonseeds have been away rooming in Doug Lawson’s rented garage for well over two years – since a month after the house fire. We needed our shed to store what could be salvaged from the house while cleaning and construction progressed.
Even after the basement was cleaned out from two feet of sooty water, and purged and repainted, it was temporary storage when we moved back in, until remaining projects got sorted out.
So Doug gratiously offered to space with his boats about 20 minutes away. We’ve had four boats, plus kayaks, two or three lawn mowers and wheel barrows, etc., all crammed into that two car garage ever since.
Then, of course, we got hit with this little thing you may have heard of – a worldwide plague – which has lasted over a year.
So before I could re-home the boats I had to clean out the shed. To clean out the shed, I had to first clean out the basement. Done, and done.
Also, after a year of doing nothing, I’m out of shape, so this project required some concerted hammock time to finish.
2) And, fortuitously, I was able to schedule my first dose of the anti-plague vaccine last week. Apparently, I’ve been drafted by Team Pfizer. Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play!
Weather was great today, so Doug and I met over at the garage and extracted my boats. Looked just like we left them – a fine dusting of pollen the only sign they hadn’t been on the water a few days ago. And home they came.
It’s been a harrowing couple of years, no question. Today, for the first time, it’s starting to feel normal again.
Looking forward to time on the water again very soon.
We’ve known Doug Lawson and his wife Giselle Gautreau in various ways for over thirty years. Doug is a writer and sailor of small boats, including Melonseeds. Giselle is an artist, a painter. We’ve always had much in common.
Before moving back to Virginia, they lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, which is, among many other fine things, fire country. Our daughter, Amanda, lived just a few miles away at the same time, so with one trek to the West Coast we could visit both.
Driving the countryside – whether in the mountains or valleys, even on the coast road and into the redwood forests – Terri and I were struck by the scars of past wildfires. Everywhere were unexpected reminders of its constant presence and destructive force. Some even still smoldering.
Back east, we would sometimes get texts from Doug and Giselle during fire season. On the smell of smoke, the strange color of the light, an ominous glow over the ridge, or throbbing pulse of choppers swinging buckets through the night sky overhead.
Years of living with the constant threat and visible presence of wildfire leaves scars on the psyche, as well as the landscape.
Safely back in Virginia, I suspect as a form of self-therapy, Giselle recorded the surreal aspect of that experience in a series of paintings, including a large one she called “Conflagration.” It hung in their house here for several years, and we always admired it.
After our own personal experience with fire, though, Terri and I saw it in a new way. A grass fire burning away across a wide field, it seems at once oddly normal, menacing, and beautiful. Fire thrives as a living part of the landscape, moving across it like a herd of cattle or flock of birds. A natural but dangerous predator, a pride of lions hunting gazelles.
Soon Terri and I realized there was a place to hang this painting in our house – now saved from the fire, but still scarred by it. As we are, too.
Terri and I first met Timm Schleiff back in 2009. He rolled in late one night to the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival in St. Michaels, after driving all day from West Virginia. He was starting a new trade as a custom boatbuilder, and was pulling the first boat he set his hand to: a Herreshoff Coquina. Terri pointed him to the campsites – he must have just slept in his van that night – and told me later about the nice young man she had met. The next day we found him on the docks by his boat.
If you don’t know anything about building boats, I am here to tell you that no one I know, save Timm, would attempt a Coquina for a first try. Herreshoff was a lifelong designer of elegant yachts, and this was the daysailer he designed for himself at the height of his career. A graceful boat with fine lines and a fast sailer, but challenging construction for even experienced builders. And Timm’s boat was a real beauty, complete with bronze fittings, hand made cleats and leathered oars.
We took a sail with Timm on the last day, helped him shuttle to the ramp and load up. Exchanged information, and have kept in touch over the years.
Turns out the business of boat building is even more challenging than the building, especially in the mountains of West Virginia. Boats are complicated, take a long time to complete, and boat owners are notoriously persnickety clients. Timm decided to broaden his horizons, and spent two years honing his craft at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, one of the premier craft schools in the country.
A few years later, he bought an old quarry in Lewisburg, WV, built himself a shop and a sawmill, and opened business as Hidden Quarry Artisans, where he has been doing very well. Now he and his wife Maria, also an artist, are building their own house. And raise over 80 hives of bees with a honey business in addition to everything else they do.
When Terri and I began replacing what we lost in the fire, we made a concerted effort to collect things made by friends and family if possible. Even when it means having fewer things. We already have paintings by friends Giselle Gautreau, Curt Bowman, Eleanor Hughes, and Randy Smith. Tools from Dennis Keener, a handmade bookcase and books from all my buddies in the extended TSCA sailing group. This list goes on.
So I contacted Timm about making a piece of furniture for us, and sent a couple of photos of things we like. A few weeks later we got a simple sketch back and a proposal.
Timm sent some progress photos now and then, and a couple of weeks ago the sideboard was ready for finish.
Yesterday, Terri and I drove to Lewisburg to pick it up. I think the photos speak for themselves, but needless to say, we’re delighted. Timm’s craftmanship is amazing. The wood is figured cherry from trees cut in Pennsylvania.