Life by the Waters of the White Oak

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The White Oak River

The White Oak River

Another November has come and gone and somehow I am not surprised that once again the weather has been unpredictable but beautiful. That this fall has been yet another great coastal fall is undeniable.

The nearly perfect weather has been an interesting contrast to the cold weather of November 2014 when we saw temperatures drop to 24F and the high for one day only reach 42F. We got through November 2016 without a killing frost along the edges of Raymond’s Gut. The narrow channel of Raymond’s Gut runs behind our home and out to the White Oak River. It is a great place to garden, fish, and enjoy life.  That is especially true when we have more than our fair share of summer-like fall days that have been the gift of November 2016. Our temperatures were well into the seventies on this year’s first day of December.

Fall 2016 unlike last year has been dry since early October. Hurricane Matthew dumped three inches of rain on western Carteret County on October 8. In the almost eight weeks since then we have only received 1.72 inches of precipitation. November 2015 was much wetter. We got 7.1 inches of rain just on November 19, 2015. On December 2, 2015 our rain total since June 1 stood at 59.4 inches. This year with a total of just 40.2 inches precipitation since June 1, 2016, we are over nineteen inches behind last year’s total. No one is complaining. It is the first time in a while that we had a chance to thoroughly dry out.

Variable weather comes with living along the coast. When water is at your doorstep there are some benefits like later frosts and extended spring weather. Each year the waters are slow to cool in the fall and sometimes not so quick to warm in the spring. We are also on the doorstep of a huge weather machine that often spawns storms just off our coast. We sometimes either get brushed by storms or watch them spin up and head north to clobber New England or the Canadian Maritimes.

Life along the water has other benefits. The cast of characters that frequent our marsh is entertaining to say the least. An early morning walk along the marsh is hardly complete without seeing some kingfishers swooping along the surface of the water. Sometimes we watch them capture a meal and proceed to tenderize it by pounding it on a piling. It is not unusual to see loons and otters and of course lots of ducks from mallards to mergansers. Our most famous visitor is Frank 29X, the great egret from Canada, who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. If Frank makes it back this year, it will be his fifth straight year to visit Raymond’s Gut.

This photo album taken during the winter of 2013 provides lots of bird and creature pictures along with shots from my kayak trips. More water and some beach shots can be found in this fall 2014 album. With great Crystal Coast weather, the choice of what to do is only limited by your free hours. Now that we are into December my kayaking will be much more limited with few if any more trips to the center of the river as the water cools. December 1, would have been a great day for a beach hike but we were scheduled during our too-short December daylight hours.

A body of water like Raymond’s Gut which stretches from the White Oak into the marsh is like a watery game trail and those of us living by it have ringside seats. Beyond the gut there is the superhighway of the White Oak River where anything from bottle nosed dolphin to blue crabs and a shark is possible. It is hard to believe that I took our skiff down the river almost a week ago and I was still wearing my standard uniform of shorts.  On that trip we saw kingfishers, great egrets and a great blue heron.

We are blessed to live by waters that delight us with a new window into the natural world each day. If you ever have a chance to park yourself along the water for a few years or even months, do not miss the opportunity. It is a wonderful way to watch the seasons pass. We have seen things from our kitchen window that some folks will never have a chance to see.  How many people have seen a great egret stand down a great blue heron,  a great blue heron go ice skating or an otter eating fish like a Popsicle? You cannot ask for a better place to appreciate our natural world than the shores of a place like Raymond’s Gut.

There will still be some warm days here on the coast, so come for a visit and enjoy the weather while it holds winter at bay.  For each warm day you can enjoy, you banish one day of winter and life seems just a little bit brighter.  Turning our backs on winter is a favorite game for those of us who live here.  We like to cheat winter as much as we can.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books make great Christmas presents especially if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

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Nearly Perfect Weather

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decemberblueswm

After two rainy but still nice summers, we have enjoyed a stretch of remarkable dry weather. In the last twenty-six days we have only gotten two tenths of an inch of rain. Before that we measured 38.5 inches of rain since June 1 or a little over 2.1 inches per week during the whole summer. Even that pales to 2015 when our rain total by early October was 43.25 inches or 2.4 inches per week.

Even as the light rain comes down early on the morning of November 4, the expectation is that it will clear this morning after minimal precipitation.  Then there will be another week of dry weather for everyone to enjoy.

Fall of 2015 ended up being great but so far this year’s fall weather has been even better. I suspect it has surpassed almost everyone’s dreams. While it was summer-like and almost too warm for a while, the last week of weather was perfect.  The fall gardens which were doing well early have recovered from Mathew and we are even catching fish which puts everyone on the Crystal Coast in a good mood.

I have been out on the river twice in the last five days and both times have been a joy. Saturday I brought home a nice black drum and a speckled sea trout eighteen inches long. I also returned to the river two fifteen to sixteen inch red drum. Thursday, November 3, I did not even get in my kayak until 4:45 PM and after twenty minutes of paddling I dropped anchor. I caught another sixteen inch red drum on my first cast. In a few minutes, I caught another slightly shorter one and on my way in, I caught one that was close to twenty inches. The net in the picture with the drum is sixteen inches across. Of course I caught the drum in my favorite spot out on the oyster rocks in the White Oak River. The only reason I stopped fishing was that I was running out of daylight.

Most of us living here on the coast move here to be close to the water. Still the great weather, abundance of blue skies and sunshine are also factors. Some folks come for the beach and there are others who come for either boating, kayaking, fishing or all of the above. I often joke that we should bottle our fall weather on the coast and bring it out in February during our short winter. The reality is that usually we get enough nice weather that it is not too hard to survive until spring warmth finds us.  Nice weather in October and into November is not unusual. We even get shorts weather sometimes in December. I usually find some warm weather for a January beach hike and some January boating. It does not take much magic winter warmth to get us through the sometimes icy end of winter.

Thoughts cold weather are still a long time off if you live here on the North Carolina coast. We have plenty of time to enjoy the beach before the winter winds. My more recent long hike over on the Point at Emerald Isle was October 20. The water was crystal clear and the air was summer-like.  Crystal clear waters are part of the heritage of the Crystal Coast. Waters like I saw on my last hike give credence to the area’s nickname.

If you have made it this far in the article, you likely have figured out that the best part of the beach season is far from over.  If you find the time, do your body and soul a favor and plan a fall trip to the Crystal Coast. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is perfect for fishing or even sticking your toes into it. There will still be some warm days, so enjoy them like those of us who live here do.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter early in November.

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Matthew’s Winds and Water

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egrettakeoffwmPardon us for flapping our wings a little.  Matthew has come and gone from the east coast. The Crystal Coast area did very well.  However, the effects of the storm are still being felt inland on the North Carolina coastal plain. Historic flooding will take place in a few localities during this second week in October.  Even Interstate 95 is still closed three days after Mathew left the area.  There are still power outages as far north as Virginia Beach.  South along the coasts that stretch from here to through Florida, people are cleaning up after a strong storm that did a tremendous amount of damage.

As with every storm there are lessons to be learned. The first is that we all need to be humble before storms like Matthew. The closest you can come to outsmarting a storm is being well prepared and if necessary, getting far out of its way.

No matter how many storms you have endured, a big one coming up the coast makes everyone who has any sense nervous. Personally I obsess over the track even with my knowledge that the size of the wind field and rain shield can can turn even a near miss into an almost direct hit and cause great damage.

I follow the hurricanes headed toward us with as many tools as I can find. There are plenty of good online tools today.  I use Storm Pulse mostly and add data that I pick up from the National Weather Service. Even when a storm looks like it might miss us, we go forward with preparations until we are well out of the cone of uncertainty. There are so many factors for a particular location that it is unlikely any weather forecaster can provide exactly the right advice for our specific location. A lot of the knowledge you need to survive comes from living through some storms.  The factors vary from the timing of the tides to wind directions and how protected a location is from wind coming from a certain angle. The direction of hurricane winds change as the storm moves through an area. Of course we all live in fear of being just to the right of a strong hurricane’s track.

Hurricane Matthew’s track came within about 50 miles of our location just off the White Oak River. The White Oak is a big wide river as you can see from this drone picture taken near our home. Home looks a long way off when you are in the middle of the a huge river in your tiny kayak. Raymond’s Gut which is our water route to the White Oak curves back a little as  it gets to our house.  The geography of Raymond’s Gut and how it intersects the river offers us some protection from storms.

There are some other good things about being on a big wide, coastal river that is not far from the ocean. Our location just three miles up river from the mouth at Swansboro means that heavy rains do not have far to flow. The White Oak River with a length of only 36 miles does not drain a tremendous area which is also a good thing when it comes to flooding. Our river is also tidal so when the tide turns some water, usually two feet of it, disappears.

We are lucky to have the very well treed Bogue Banks between us and the Atlantic Ocean. There is no way to be perfectly secure on the coast when it comes to hurricanes, but we have found our current location has been a safe haven over the last ten plus years. We stayed through all of Hurricane Irene and its punishing wind and rains. Hurricane Sandy was not much of an event here. Hurricane Matthew brought us very manageable winds and only two inches of rain. In the fall of 2015 we lived through some of the epic rains that almost swamped South Carolina. In September 2010, we even survived a strange summer downpour that dropped over 20 inches of rain on us in eight hours. None of those events brought water even close to the homes in our neighborhood. Our home is only 25 feet from the water and thankfully the water has never even gotten over our bulkhead

While the flooding water from Hurricane Matthew looks impressive covering our boardwalk, the water was gone four hours later as the tide dropped. This picture taken the next morning shows how quickly things were back to normal.

Part of staying sane with a hurricane coming is to be prepared.  We got cash from the ATM on Wednesday and filled both cars with gas.  The same day I took our skiff down the river to make sure it was working.  I started our generator last Thursday.  We got some extra water and canned food.  We checked our emergency radio, all batteries and flashlights.  On Friday before the rains, we moved lots of things inside or tied them down.  On Saturday I raised the boat on the lift to high water stage and got a couple of coolers of ice. We were ready to fill our 5 gallon water jug if things started looking bad.  When power starts flickering, our routine is to put items that we might need the next day in the cooler so we won’t have to open the fridge.  If the power is off for several hours, we put the generator out on the patio and power a few things in the house including the refrigerator.  Both our phones were fully charged and we talked about the papers that we needed to take with us if we decided to leave.

We were ready for Matthew but fortunately we got to spend a comfortable night at home in spite of some pretty serious and noisy winds very early Sunday morning.  We never lost power and during our trip our for lunch in Morehead City we only saw a couple of power trucks working.  Atlantic Beach lost power but Emerald Isle did not. A measure of the few power incidents in our area is that we saw a TV truck filming the one broken pole we noticed in Cedar Point.  Some of our “good luck” is due to the giant power poles used by Carteret-Craven Electric and their efforts to keep our power right of ways free of dangerous limbs and trees.

You cannot hide from Hurricanes, but you can pay attention to history and pick a place that has survived a few storms. I know that just because we have not been hit directly does not mean that we will not get a storm with a perfect track to cause us damage. I remain hopefully that being a few miles inland with a very big tidal drain beside us means that we are relatively safe.  Even so we always wrestle with the stay or go problem.  Hurricane Matthew confirms what we have seen before.  If you do leave, you are likely to have a hard time getting back because of inland flooding.  Still if a Category three storm looks like it is headed to our area, we will likely head for the hills.

If you can find some roads that are not flooded, this is a great time of year to visit. There are certainly no crowds. By the middle of October most of the flooding should be gone.  Just watch the weather and pick some nice days to really enjoy the fall treat of visiting the Crystal Coast. I took this beach picture Sunday afternoon, just after Hurricane Matthew had passed the Crystal Coast.

You can check out the Town of Emerald Isle Report on Matthew for another perspective of Matthew’s impacts.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter out around Halloween.

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Fall Waters

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White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

The colors and the light have changed as we have moved into the fall season. While it is a subtle change, it is still very noticeable especially to photographers.

While we keep hearing that the weather is changing, the slightest taste of fall usually gets overwhelmed by the powerful sun that owns the North Carolina coast during September. The humidity leaves for brief periods then you open your door during midday and it feels like summer all over again.

It is still great beach weather and the water temperature remains close to 80F. Even as September draws to a close, my last hike at the Point on September 8, is still a fresh memory. The pictures that I took remind me of just how beautiful our beaches are here on the Crystal Coast. When you walk over on the Point, you enter a different world. While beach driving started September 15, I got my most recent hike in before the trucks started hitting the beach.  That meant that I had the far reaches of the beach almost to myself.

The hike which is shown on this map was a little over two miles. In the fall I try hike down to what is called Bird Island but I ran out of time, daylight, and energy on September 8. I am hoping to get back to the Point the first week in October. The highs are supposed to be in the low eighties or upper seventies. That will be perfect weather for hiking the beaches.

The weather folks keep promising us a front that is going to drop down and sweep out all the humidity. It seems to never quite make it to the Crystal Coast and now we have to keep our eye on Tropical Storm Mathew which has the possibility of swinging up the east coast and bringing more tropical air over us.

We have learned from past experiences to keep our eyes on the water. The last year or so, many areas, some not even on the coast (see Cedar Rapids, Iowa) are getting caught in torrential non-tropical storms that move slowly across the country. Last year areas of South Carolina were swamped. We were luckily only on the edge of that storm. Even with our area not in the bullseye, the storm gave us high waters and put an end to good weather for a while. Recently, Bertie County, which is north of the Crystal Coast, got nearly twenty inches of rain over three days. It caused severe flooding. Now as I write this Washington, DC is under a flood watch and might get eight inches of rain in two to three days.

The good news is that even in years like last year we usually do get a great stretch of weather.  In the fall as the tropics settle down, we get to really enjoy the area. Fall is without a doubt my favorite time on the Southern Outer Banks. The fish are biting, the crowds have dispersed, and the humidity is a lot lower. On top of that the water is still warm.

I managed to get out in my kayak last weekend. That is where I took the picture at the beginning of the post. It was great to be on the water. The previous time that I went out, I felt like the frog in a pot of gradually heating water. I was out very early in the morning but as the heat of the day caught up with me, there was no relief since the water was still in the upper eighties. Fortunately those water temperatures are gone and a kayak ride is back to being a very pleasant experience.

If you have the flexibility to visit this time of year, just watch the weather and pick your time carefully to really enjoy the treats of the Crystal Coast. As you can see from the beach pictures, there is plenty of room for visitors.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter out before Halloween.

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Watching the Water

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Kayaking on the White Oak River

Kayaking on the White Oak River

My second floor office at our home affords me a water view from my window. I look out over the waters of Raymond’s Gut which runs to the White Oak River. In a sense most of my day is spent watching the water. I even start my day with a walk around the boardwalk at our clubhouse.

Watching the area’s waters is pastime for many of the people who live along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. We watch the tides on the river and beaches. You will sometimes hear us talking about how high today’s tide was and maybe about how exceptionally low this morning’s tide seemed. When you live in an area with lots of water spread mighty thin, how much of water is out there can be very important, especially if you are boating.

Sometimes you will hear us talking about the color of the waters along the shore. Are they clear enough to live up to our Crystal Coast name? Are the waters ruffled up and cloudy?

Then are the times when the water gets very high like it did with Hurricane Irene back in 2013. Actually all of us who live here along the coast are always watching the water. As we saw this last week of August, a storm can quickly spring up and just as quickly no longer be a threat.

We once had a water spout come up the river and turn into a tornado that grazed our neighborhood. This article tells the story and the pictures linked at the end of the article show some of the damage and just how lucky we were. There was no warning. The sky got dark over the water and then things started happening. It was a good thing my youngest daughter was watching.

Of course the water is also a great source of joy for us. I took the picture at the top of the post the previous week.  Just this past weekend I spent an idyllic three hours kayaking on the White Oak River. I spent a lot more time watching the water than I did catching fish. There is no doubt in my mind that watching the water is more fun than watching television. Certainly when you kayak almost three miles while doing it, it is also a lot healthier.

While I am looking at the water, I often end up taking pictures of the water or whatever I find out on the water. Those memorable pictures often are from unforgettable trips like this one out to the big water near Bear Island or this one when I took on the fog and mist on the river.

One of my favorite places to look out over the water is the Point on Emerald Isle. It is one of those spots where as you gaze over the water, you can imagine how things were long ago. There are places on the Point where you can also feel the wilderness wrapping its arms around you.

To look out over the water is as much a part of life here on the coast as your morning cup of coffee is in the city. The water is a huge part of our life here. Most of us moved here because of the water and to say that there is a lot of really nice water that bears watching is just stating the obvious.

The really good news is that even though I am writing this post the next to the last day of August, 2016, there are two to three months left in the best water season along the Crystal Coast. After Labor Day is one of the finest times to come and start watching our waters. The water is still warm and the air has lost some of its heat and humidity. It is a great time to take up watching the water as your next hobby.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, August Warmth,  went out on August 8.  The one before that went out July 3 and it can be read on the web, Beach is Summer’s Heart.  We hope to have our next newsletter out just after Labor Day.

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Glassy Water Morning

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Calm water on the White Oak River

Calm water on the White Oak River

There are few things that I love as much as kayaking on the White Oak River. I usually manage to kayak ten months out of the year. With a river as beautiful as the White Oak it is hard to stay off the water.

Raymonds Gut which flows into the White Oak is in our backyard. Kayaking is just a matter of moving my kayak from our dock to the break in the marsh grass and sliding into the water.

Early season or spring kayaking has more than its fair share of wind. Sometime in May after I have had my fair share of choppy water, I usually start dreaming about some glassy water kayaking. Finding those beautiful mornings even in summer is often illusive. That is especially true if you have a full time day job.

This year it has seemed especially tough. I have been on the water by 6AM a couple of times with my skiff but neither of those days would have been special in a kayak. Even July which is usually a good month for water as smooth as glass has not been kind. Part of the problem is that July 2016 has been a particular warm one. The heat has been with us since early in the month and has kept shady spots popular along the Crystal Coast. The excessive warmth has also enhanced the winds.

The heat wave we endured for the last two weeks of July 2016 has been as bad as we can remember from our ten years on the North Carolina coast. While heat can be tolerated if your kayak is in cool water, water in the upper eighties and midday summer heat together enhance the conveyor belt of wind that is part of our lives on the coast. That has been the case for much of July 2016. We have had plenty of 15MPH or greater winds with the White Oak River often whipped up to whitecaps by the midday. That makes it hard if you sometimes sneak a late lunch hour for kayak fishing.

Still people like me who kayak and fish are extremely persistent. A friend recently told me that the fish seemed to surviving the heat by having a feeding spell just as the sun was first hitting the water. Friday evening, July 29, I got all my tackle ready and made plans to get up by 5:30AM and be on the water by 6:45AM. Things went relatively well except as is sometimes the case, the anticipation of my trip kept me awake until 1:30AM which means 5:30AM came quickly.

After springing out of bed, everything went well and I even reset the coffee pot for my wife to 8AM and had the newspaper on her placemat ready for her as I have been doing the last forty-plus years. Then I slipped my kayak into the water through the marsh grasses by our dock and paddled out towards the river. I was not surprised that the heat was still with us. The air temperature was close to 80F even that early in the morning. Fortunately the sun hung behind the clouds and there was no breeze. That was a two edged sword.

No breeze meant that I could count on some calm waters and that I would not be fighting the wind and the current. It also meant there was no breeze to cool me. Still it was a great morning just to be on the river and I did manage to land a short red drum and a short flounder. Red drum or the puppy drum that we chase are magnificent fish. Though you can keep the drum at 17 inches, I will not bring one home unless it is 20 or 21 inches long. Once they get over 27 inches they have to be thrown back.

Besides catching some fish, the reason it was so nice on the river was the paddling was as easy as it has been this year. The sun did come out but the clouds were not quite right for one of those drop dead beautiful days. It was still very nice on the river. The heat unfortunately was still lurking in the air and the river water was far from cool. As I started paddling home around 10AM the breeze that started to pick up was a lifesaver especially since the sun was working hard to get the temperature back up over 90F.

Since I paddling against the tide, the slightly over one mile journey back to my home dock was good exercise and I was happy that I had brought along a bottle of water. When I entered our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, the cooling breeze disappeared and the afterburners on the sun seemed to flip on in an attempt to cook me. By the time I relaxed in the shade under our dock as I waited for my wife to hook up my Acura SUV and pull my kayak up through the marsh grass, there was not a dry thread on my t-shirt.

Even so, I will be plotting my next kayaking adventure right after I have a nap to catch up on some sleep.

If  you are thinking of a vacation, we are now on the downslope of summer.  Of course fall is stunning here on the Southern Outer Banks.   If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn a vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter went out July 3 and it can be read on the web, Beach is Summer’s Heart.  We hope to have our next newsletter out in early August.

Sign-Up for the monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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Looking for the Shade

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Shade at Duke Marine Lab

Shade at Duke Marine Lab

This is our tenth summer living along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks so this summer’s heat is not much of a surprise. However, this is one of the longer stretches of July heat that we have seen. Also the temperature staying near or above 80F at night is more typical of August than most of the July months that I can remember.

It is hot enough early in the morning, that one of my chores is to roll down the windows of our car that does not have a spot in the garage. On a recent Sunday I pulled our car out of the paved parking lot at church so I could park in the shade under a tree. The picture of the shade in the post picture was taken at Duke Marine Research Lab on Pivers Island near Beaufort. We attended their open house on Saturday, July 23, 2016, and many of the exhibits were outside. Shade was at a premium but the combination of a little shade and a sea breeze made the 90F heat bearable for an hour or so.  The closest tree in the picture is a cedar and the the next one is a live oak.

I recently mowed a couple of small pieces of our yard in the heat of the day at 1PM. There was method to my madness since two of the three spots had slipped into the shade for a few minutes. Still I was happy that it only took thirty minutes behind the lawnmower. I got to take my second shower of the day and as is my custom during the heart of the summer, the shower was all “cold” water. Except here along the coast in the summer our cold water is more like lukewarm water.  Three showers in a day are not out of the question during a Crystal Coast summer.

None of this should be considered as a complaint.  We typically enjoy our warmth. We were born in the Piedmont of North Carolina so the heat is no mystery to us. We actually grew up in the days before air conditions so the only mystery is how we managed to survive back then. I remember awnings over windows and a carport over our car which had windows and vents for air conditioning.  There were also many Sunday afternoons spent under shade trees sometimes eating watermelon or homemade peach ice cream. We played in the dark woods during the heat of summer.  Even today in midsummer, most of my grilling takes place in the evening because the grill is in the shade then.

We only have about six more weeks before the heat starts slipping away and this hot spell like all the others before it will like abate well before that.  We adjust to heat like this by doing most of our gardening early in the morning or late in the evening just before dark. Sustained heat like this does have some impact. Our late season tomato plants will likely be unsuccessful in setting fruit with nighttime temperatures remaining this high.  We might plant some to come in during the fall to compensate.  Fortunately we have had plenty of moisture, 14.25 inches since the beginning of June, so the heat just makes our cucumbers and centipede grass grow even faster.

As to the beach, it has been a long time since I have been a middle of the day beach person so by five or six PM when I usually arrive, things have already started to cool off. Most people that I see staying for a significant time on the beach bring their own shade with them. That is a little like the boats going out in the heat of the day. Many have bimini tops to keep folks from being fried. Since I am a fairly serious fisherman, we go out very early usually leaving the dock by 6AM and returning by 9AM so we miss the heat of the day.

Usually I recommend just one place when it is really hot and that is the ocean.  I have been known to suggest standing in the ocean and letting a wave hit you right between the shoulder blades. However, when I was at Third Street Beach this last week, the water seemed to have lost most of its coolness. Perhaps finding some shade is not such a bad idea since heat has been the main topic this month on my blog.  Warm nights are also perfect for late beach walks so it all works out in the end.

If  you are planning a summer vacation, now is the time to catch some pure summer beach time.  If you are visiting the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide can make for a great vacation.  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. There are some changes in the restaurant scene this year.

Our Week at the Beach the Emerald Isle Travel Guide Kindle version is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter went out July 3 and it can be read on the web, Beach is Summer’s Heart.  We hope to have our next newsletter out in early August.

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Heat Calls on the Crystal Coast

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Crystal clear waters at Hammocks Beach

Crystal clear waters at Hammocks Beach

The second week in July is upon us. Summer has rewarded us with a full dose of heat and just in case it was not humid enough already, mother nature dropped about 2.5 inches of rain on us in the last few days.

While some of the crops including our yard needed the rain, no one put in a request for temperatures in the mid-nineties. This is the coast of North Carolina in the middle of summer so heat is no stranger to us. Some summers it finds us even earlier like it did in June 2015.

During the Fourth of July weekend, we had plenty of heat, but we still have a slight advantage since this is not August and the heat has yet to penetrate our bones. The area waters are barely above 80F so they still have a little coolness to the touch and there is no doubt that 80F feels cools when compared to 93F. Because of that the water still offers relief from the heat. In August when the waters of the river reach 90F, kayaking can be a little like being a frog in a warming pot of water on a stove.

In early July you can still pick your relief. A trip to the beach early in the morning or late in the afternoon will let you enjoy some of the precious coolness that finds us at the beginning and again at close of the day. You can get the same relief by going out in a boat or kayak. I did that July 3. It was extremely pleasant on the river when I anchored there this holiday Saturday morning. That first few feet of air above the river draws either coolness or heat from the waters. In the spring the coolness can be enough to chill you, this time of year it is just enough to cool you. In August it will cook you and in November it will warm you. Water temperature is more important than air temperature along the Crystal Coast.

No one moves to the North Carolina coast for a cool summer. Mostly we enjoy our warmth but that does not mean I will go outside and start working in the yard at noon on a hot day. You do have to respect the heat and learn to live with it. It is much easier today than it was years ago when there was no air conditioning. In the fifties and sixties shade trees were worth their weight in gold. No one wanted to sit in a hot house on a Sunday afternoon. You gathered under the shade trees for lemonade, homemade ice cream, and watermelon. It was the way of the South.

However, we do move to the coast for the water and we are lucky that this batch of heat has come while the water can still take a little of the edge off of it. As long as you can find a spot to stay cool during the middle of the day, early morning and late evening still can be comfortable here on the Crystal Coast.  A month from now, it will not be so easy, but by then fall will be close enough to offer hope.

Until then I will count the days until things cool off this weekend. If you find it to hot to check out the beaches, have a look at some beach and water pictures that I took recently.

If  you are planning a summer vacation, now is the time.  If you are coming to the Crystal Coast, do not forget our five-star-rated travel guide. Even if you have been here a number of times, I might have some secrets to share about the area beaches. There are a lot of changes in the restaurant scene and not everything new has great food.

Our Week at the Beach, the Emerald Isle Kindle version is $3.99  and includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last news letter went out July 3 and the article, Beach is Summer’s Heart, can be read here.  We hope to have our next newsletter out in early August.

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Another Beach Fourth of July

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Shallow waters near Swansboro, NC

Shallow waters near Swansboro, NC

This is our tenth year living on the North Carolina coast. The Fourth of July is pretty special on the coast. If you have a place already booked, you will likely spend some time on the beach, maybe watch some of the area’s fireworks, and have some local seafood. Most of those things are easily accomplished once you make it across the bridge to Emerald Isle or one of the other Crystal Coast beach or river towns.

With so many coastal Fourths under our belts, we have seen all the fireworks we need and tend to stay fairly close to home. Like many area residents we have a pretty good idea about what to attempt this weekend and what might not be worth the challenge.

Even many of the people who live here and should know better are drawn to put their boats in the water this coming weekend. When I took a run down the White Oak to Swansboro on June 29, I was struck by the lack of boats. The Intracoastal Waterway, Swansboro Harbor, and the White Oak River were all pretty well devoid of boat traffic. The picture at the top of post was taken June 30 in area where there is usually some boat traffic.

My skiff, a fishing buddy, and I were out early the morning of June 30th fishing the marshes near Swansboro. We saw almost no boats.  It will be our last trip to Swansboro until at least the middle of the week after the Fourth. The Fourth of July is when you will find the most boats on the water all year long.

I have learned that the closer you get to the Intracoastal Waterway in Swansboro this holiday weekend, the more boats that you will find. The boats are not the biggest problem. This next week is also the peak of the jet ski season and you can almost guarantee that someone will be hurt. So if you find me on the water, it will not be in the Intracoastal Waterway.

One of the places that rarely gets crowded even on the Fourth of July is the White Oak River. We also fished there this morning and managed to find a trout that came home for dinner.  If I can find a few hours without a lot of wind and with some blue skies, I will likely be back on the river this weekend in my kayak. There is nothing better than being on the water and if I fish the oyster rocks, I will have a natural barrier between me and any power boats and jet skis that happen to wander up river.

A remarkable stretch of beach weather stayed with us during the first three weeks of June. The only wrinkles during that time were some winds strong enough to get the ankle-defoliating sand moving one afternoon and some showers that cleared the beach late one afternoon last week. A little less than 6.2 inches of rain has fallen in June. However, all of it but .70 inches fell on two days between June 1 and June 7. The three weeks since have been dry with almost no rain in the last ten days except the less than one quarter of an inch of rain we got on June 28. That barely settled the dust. Last year we were much wetter with 7.75 inches of rain spread through June.

The seven day precipitation forecast continues to hint that at least part of this year’s Fourth of July week at the beach will be wetter than our recent stretch of dry weather. That does not mean the week will be a rainout. The way our weather works, we could get 2.5 inches of rain in an afternoon and the rest of the week could be dry. Coastal weather is even less predictable than inland weather.

Given the potential rain in the forecast, I have some things in mind that will still let me still enjoy the Fourth. My Saturday morning will be planned around the Emerald Isle EMS Pancake breakfast and the tides. I plan to be heading across the bridge before 8AM for my pancakes. If I can get back and on the river by 10:30AM on Saturday, I will be set to fish the falling tide. The winds are also forecast to be light on Saturday morning before picking up in the afternoon. The forecast is also calling for almost no chance of precipitation on Saturday morning.

After I am done my kayaking, I will likely take it easy for most of the day, but if the bridge does not get plugged up, I might try to go back to enjoy the grand opening of Goose Creek Growler Company located at 200 Mallard Drive on Emerald Isle. They make beautiful growlers (reusable beer containers) and have wonderful beer to go in them. Both our daughters were visiting this past weekend and we managed to polish off a couple of growlers. I know they are expecting a crowd, but a special cold beer on hot summer day is nice touch to the holiday.

If some rain does visit us this weekend, one place that I will likely avoid is Emerald Plantation Shopping Center. Check-in traffic will swamp the Food Lion parking lot anyway and experience has shown that people take shopping to another level when it rains at the beach. Last week we had some showers one afternoon and I let myself imagine that we might be able to have an early dinner at Shark’s Den restaurant in Emerald Plantation. I had wings on the brain since Tuesday is their wing special day. All it took was one pass through the parking lot near the restaurant to determine that there were no parking spaces at the Emerald Plantation Shopping Center. We reconsidered our foolishness and headed back to Swansboro and the Highway 55 Burgers and Shakes restaurant. It is one of the places we often retreat to when there are crowds on the beach. After I enjoyed a shrimp po’boy and my wife had a burger, we stopped by Piggly-Wiggly for some groceries. If you must have groceries this weekend, you should consider a visit to the Piggly-Wiggly in Swansboro. While it will be busy, it will not be as chaotic as either of the Food Lion stores or the Lowe’s Grocery store. If we go out to dinner on Saturday, we will likely drive twenty minutes to Fat Fellas in Newport instead of waiting in line at a local restaurant.

Sunday will start with church service at Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church. The Men of the Church are cooking hot dogs and hamburgers and visitors are welcome.  Drop by to worship with us and have lunch and some fellowship with one of the friendliest congregations around. If the weather is good Sunday or Monday, I will likely be back in my kayak on the river. If not there is always plenty to do around the house or in the garden between showers.  If the weather turns good, I might try to escape the crowds by going for a Point hike either early in the morning or late in the evening.

It is time for summer vacations and if you are coming to the Crystal Coast, do not forget our five-star-rated travel guide. Even if you have been here a number of times, I might have some secrets to share about the area beaches. We have a lot of changes in the restaurant scene and not everything new has great food.  Our Week at the Beach, the Emerald Isle Kindle version is $3.99  and includes extras such as a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  If you buy one of the paperbacks, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells them and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our next news letter will be out before just before July 4.

Sign-Up for the monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Beach, Boating, Crystal Coast, fishing, General Information, Kayaking, Marshes, Southern Outer Banks, water, Weather | Comments Off on Another Beach Fourth of July

Last Parking Place at Third Street

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seventhcandidatewaveofthedaywm

It has been an extraordinary spring with more than our fair share of spectacular weather. Today for the second time this week I felt compelled to head over to the beach. The waves seem to be calling me and given it was a Saturday, I was powerless to resist. While the seven and one half minutes to cross the bridge was a little longer than normal, I never complain. I actually go with the hopes that the traffic will stop at the top of the bridge so I can take pictures of Bogue Sound out the car window.  On a recent trip I got a shot of the Captain Phillips headed out for some shrimp.

The weather has been pleasantly cool but it has been windy at times. The second weekend in June is always the Swansboro Arts Festival. Those who know local traditions will confirm that the Saturday of the festival is usually one of the hottest days of summer. When heat comes to the Crystal Coast, water of some form is usually the answer and today the slightly cool beach waters were exactly what I needed.

Third Street is something of a hidden beach since there is no Third Street. You have to know to turn at Fifth Street or watch for one of the Town’s newly installed signs. My start to the beach was a little late since I was recovering from a late night return from a business trip. When I drove east along the beach by the Eastern Regional Access, there was a line to get in and they looked like they already had a crowd.

By the time I turned at Fifth Street and headed east on Ocean Drive, I was worried. As the tiny parking lot came into sight, I thought I was going to be out of luck, but luck was actually with me and there was just one spot left and it had my name on it.

Third Street is one of my favorite beaches for four reasons. One Bogue Banks Island is very narrow at Third Street so you really feel like you are on an island. You can even see Bogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean from the picnic table platform at Third Street.  Second the water is reasonably close to the parking area so while it is something of a drive, it is a a shorter hike to the water than many areas. Third the beach is never crowded because the parking lot is so small. Fourth sometimes I catch some fish from the beach. This time I left my rod at home because of the time of day and the desire to walk the beach.

You will notice a couple of things as you move from the platform with picnic table to the beach. One, there is no ramp like there is from the parking lot to the platform. This makes the actual beach inaccessible for our friends in wheel chairs which is unfortunate since there is only a short stretch of soft sand before the more solid sand that would easily support one of the EI beach wheelchairs. The second thing you will notice if you look to the right or west along the beach is a Bogue Banks water tower. It is about one half mile from the beach access point. It is a good landmark which is always handy on a beach hike.

This year Third Street is a gently sloping beach but storms have been known to cut a shelf into the beach. Fortunately the sand tends to come back fairly quickly. It is easy to get a good taste of the Atlantic Ocean at Third Street.

My Saturday trip was such a success that I repeated it the next day. I got there earlier and there were at least three parking spots when I arrived on Sunday which made me happy since I had tried the Station Street Parking lot on Coast Guard Road with the hopes of a Point Hike. At 10:30 AM there were already two cars waiting for an open parking spot there so I quickly headed up to Third Street.  The Point can be mighty popular during peak hours.

On Saturday, I waded down to the water tower since the water felt so good. On Sunday I walked up to the town line between Emerald Isle and Salter Path and then made my way a little ways west of the water tower, spending plenty of time in the water. Both days were nearly perfect beach days and the colors in the water were mesmerizing.

People were enjoying themselves all along the beach, but I did see a parent trying to encourage a toddler to try the water. Fortunately the toddler had more sense than the adult who was encouraging the toddler to wade in a place I would not have chosen. Most people pay little attention to where they plop down on the beach. I encourage people to read the water a little before they choose where to swim or wade.

Before you even let your children get in, you should wade out until the water is up to your knees and face the shore and feel how hard the current is in the place you have chosen. If it feels like it is going to pull you off your feet, you should find another spot. The toddler rightfully ran away from a spot that looks like this. It is a spot that because of its shape concentrates the outflow of a lot of water in a small area. I always look for broad, flat areas like this where the outflow of the water is spread over the same area as in incoming water.

Just a little forethought can make for some wonderful memories on Emerald Isle’s beautiful beaches. This is an online photo album of mostly wave pictures that I took on my two hikes at Third Street this second weekend in June 2016.  I think you will find the waves very inviting.

It is time for summer vacations and if you are coming to the Crystal Coast, do not forget our travel guide. Even if you have been here a number of times, I might have some secrets to share. We have a lot of changes in the restaurant scene.  Our Kindle version is $3.99  and includes extras such as a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  If you buy one of the paperbacks, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sell them and they are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our next news letter will be out before just before July 4.

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