Boating to the marshes to enjoy their beauty

Salt marshes near Swansboro, NC

Salt marshes near Swansboro, NC

Friday, July 29, I got up, had a cup of coffee, and ate a piece honey dew melon, and then headed out back to my skiff.

I really felt like I needed a trip out into the salt marshes.   A salt marsh is a place where you can find peace and beauty.  Friday morning, I needed some marsh time.

Once or twice a year we venture down to Wilmington, NC.  I don’t have anything against Wilmington, but it is a city and has far more traffic than our rural section of Carteret County.  It also has just about any store that you could want, and plenty of restaurants. A round trip for us to Wilmington takes about 3.5 hrs in the car. We don’t usually need any of the city services, and our recent trip was no exception.

Our Wilmington journey was to visit my wife’s college roommate and meet her family. For the last few years we have found a lot of enjoyment in reconnecting with old friends.  Earlier this summer we took a day trip to Nags Head to visit with some Canadian friends.  We also had two other sets of Canadian friends visit with us on White Heron Lane this spring.

When I spend more than a few minutes in a car, I have to find some peace and quiet to balance it.  That is why I headed out with the boat early Friday morning.  Fortunately there aren’t many places that boating is as easy as it is where we live.

The only place better might be living right on the Intracoastal, but there are some challenges living there, so I doubt that I could live in a much better place for boating.  Our small subdivision is tucked in along the eastern shore of the White Oak River. We are about three miles up the White Oak River from Swansboro and the ICW.

Our twenty foot skiff rests on a lift just a little over 25 feet from our garage.  I boat at least three or four times most weeks in the summer and fall.  It is a rare week that I don’t go boating.   I doubt that I have missed any this year.  Even in the depths of last winter’s cold, I took my boat out and used it as an ice breaker for the herons that feed in the gut behind our home.

With our skiff ready to drop into the water at any time, it just takes me five to ten minutes from the time I think about boating to when I am in the boat lowering it into the water.  I have my gear organized so that I can carry everything that I need to the skiff in one trip.

My routine starts with putting on my life suspenders, next the GPS and my camera go in the bag, I slip my tiny card wallet with driver’s license into a waterproof case, then I clip my waterproof fishing license to my belt, stick my Droid phone in one pocket, put a couple of multi-tools that I carry in  the other pocket, and finally I grab the emergency radio phone from its charger just as I am walking out the door.  In the garage I have another bag with some emergency gear and spare parts, along with a bucket that has a first aid kit, towel, and a throw pillow.  All this plus my fishing rod and boating cap heads out to the boat with me.

Before I get in the boat, I untie the bow line, and lower the lift a little.  Once in the boat, I mount the GPS, check that the plug is in, secure all the gear, and clip the kill switch cord to a belt loop.  Then I finish lowering the boat into the water, start the engine,  back off the lift, turn on the GPS, and start heading towards the river.  It takes about four minutes to idle out our channel, Raymond’s Gut, to the White Oak River.

The first buoy is Red Sixteen.  As I turn into the channel there, I bring the boat up on plane and throttle back just a hair.  The trip down the river is usually at 25 mph to 35 mph.  It just depends on conditions of the water and the direction of the wind.  The time on the river is six to seven minutes, and the total time from Bluewater Cove to the Swansboro Harbor is about ten minutes in decent weather.

One of my favorite easy to access marshes  is just across the ICW from Swansboro Harbor near what is now called Huggins Island.  A couple of times I have been lucky enough to see dozens of Great Egrets, know locally as White Herons, standing along the edge of the marsh.

Friday morning I had the marsh to myself, and I could see forever. Only the thought of how much trouble I might get into with my still sleeping wife stopped me from anchoring and wetting a line.

She doesn’t mind me fishing, she just likes to know ahead of time that I am planning on staying out for a while. She also watches the clock when I am out in the boat by myself.  I wasn’t thinking about going to the marshes before I went to bed, and my normal before breakfast boat trip is usually just down to Swansboro Harbor.  A trip to the salt marshes takes a little longer so I knew she would be watching for me.

Actually I was okay not fishing on Friday.  The water was very warm, and  it was just enough to be back in the marshes instead of driving through the traffic on Military Cutoff in Wilmington. The day was warming quickly, and it was great to start the day in the salt marshes, and still be back home before 8 AM in time for some real breakfast.  There will be better weather for fishing.

It is undeniable how special it is to be in a place where the water, marsh grass, and blue sky all cooperate to create a scene of hard-to-describe beauty   That it is just twelve minutes from my house is really something that keeps me humble.

On a big marsh like the one that stretches from where I was on Friday over to Hammocks Beach and beyond, it is easy to understand what a small part in the universe one person plays.  The marsh will hopefully be there long after I am gone.  I hope other generations get to see the same beauty that I see each time I guide my skiff by its edges.

We are really fortunate in Carteret County. There are several boat ramps that make viewing the marsh by boat possible for many people who might not otherwise get access to these special waters. From the Wildlife Resources Ramp in Cedar Point to the Cape Carteret Ramp, the new one in Emerald Isle, the isolated one at Haywood Landing on the White Oak to the private one at Boondocks in Stella, there are lots of spots just on the western side of the county where you can start your own salt marsh journey.

Then there are places like the Croatan access in Cedar Point for small boats and kayaks and the mainland side of Hammocks Beach State Park in Onslow County where you can launch kayaks.  Finding a marsh once you get in the water is not a problem.  There are salt marshes everywhere.

Kayaks are even available for rental right on the Intracoastal near the salt marshes I visited on July 29.

Carteret County is place where access to the water is important.  It is one of the reasons that I live in the county.  Where else could I find such convenient and beautiful marshes and glorious water?   That the salt marshes and blue water wash away any memories of city traffic almost instantly is all the reason I need to live here.  Places that restore your senses through their beauty are precious.

While you might not be near a boat that can take you on a salt marsh trip, this is a YouTube ride down the White Oak and a YouTube ride into the marshes. A virtual trip is better than no trip at all.

You can also see my journey on a Google map at this link.  Whether you see the marshes from a kayak or powerboat, or even by taking a hike on some of the area trails, you will not be disappointed.   The salt marshes are special.





Early Morning on the River

The White Oak River

The White Oak River, near Red Sixteen Buoy

When July rolls around, you expect some heat if you are living on the coast of North Carolina.  We are rarely disappointed, and this year is no exception.

While much of the eastern part of the country has baked, we have been relatively lucky here on the Southern Outer Banks.  However, we have had our moments when there was little escape from the heat.

With summer and even our less than brutal heat comes the challenge of staying cool. One of my favorite retreats from the heat is the river near our house.  Before the sun gets high in the sky, it is like an oasis of cool during the summer.  With heat just being part of life here, a little NC background is in order.

Being a native North Carolinian and having spent most of my youth in the Piedmont town of Lewisville just outside of Winston-Salem, I have some history of dealing with the heat.

My mother raised me as a single mom, and we didn’t get our first air conditioning unit until the late fifties.  We didn’t have an air conditioned car until 1962.  In the summer time you wore as little as possible and tried to find a shade tree when you could.  The idea of staying in a house on a summer day was foreign.  Houses were good places to get cooked.

You stayed outside and found some water to be near if possible.  Nearly sixty years later a lot has changed, but I still don’t feel the need to be inside to stay cool.  When I talked to my son, who is in his thirties, on July 22 when the temperature hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit at Dulles Airport not far from where he lives, he told me his plan was to not leave the basemen of their home. That wouldn’t work for me.

Their basement is cold enough that my wife wears a sweater when we visit in the summertime.  Maybe it is age, or having spent a lot of my life working outside, but I have to go outside, or I end up feeling like a prisoner in my own house.  Mostly meeting the heat head-on and facing it down seems to work well for me.  Still even I need time outside when I don’t worry about the heat.  That involves picking the right places and times.

Outside of taking a trip to the mountains and getting up over 3,000 feet or down in a cavern, there are really only a couple of outside places in North Carolina where you can spend time and not get fully cooked if you play your cards right.

Of course the easy choice for many is to head over to beach.  That was one of our solutions when I was a youngster.  Mother would pile me and whatever nieces happened to be around and off we would head for a summer vacation on the NC Coast.  We never stayed in an oceanfront cottage, and I don’t remember any being air conditioned, but we loved it.

Unfortunately today, even as close as I am to the beach,  getting over to the sandy shore involves getting in a car and riding for at least ten minutes.  There are days during the hot season when heading to the beach can be frustrating.  On weekends traffic can get backed up for a while and parking can be challenging.  When I went over to the Island on Thursday,  July 21, at around 11:00 AM I managed to get one of the last three parking spaces just off Coast Guard Road.  My beach walk was a real treat, and standing in the water at the Point was a great way to stay cool.  Still the hike to and back from the easternmost part of Point where there were no people was close to two miles, and part of it was along a hot paved road.

However, there is an easier and less frustrating solution for me.  It is the skiff just behind our home.  My skiff, which sits on a lift, is ready to be dropped in the water at a moment’s notice. It is just over twenty-five feet from our garage.  I have driven a lot of motorized things over the course of my life including a small air plane.  For sheer pleasure, it is hard to beat a twenty foot outboard skimming across the waters.

When you add a deserted coastal river, the slight cool of an early morning, you have an equation that can end being a recipe for happiness.  Taking the boat out on the river before everything heats up is without a doubt one of my favorite ways for limiting the impact of heat.

On July 22, I dropped my boat in the water around 7:30 AM.  I idled out the Bluewater Cove inlet until I got into the main channel by the red sixteen buoy.  In seconds I brought the boat up on plane, and in just a few minutes, I was idling around Swansboro Harbor.  It didn’t take me long to turn around and head back up the river at a little over 30 miles per hour.  I docked and was back in the kitchen getting ready to cook my breakfast at just before 8:00 AM. The ride both ways was thrilling and a great way to cool off before the day even started.

The boat ride was truly fun, and the best thing is that it took only thirty minutes. I was back before my wife even had finished her coffee.   As you can see from this YouTube Movie skimming across the water at a speedy clip can start your day right.  The good mood from my boat ride lasted all through the morning.  Getting the same psychological lift from a beach walk would easily take three times as long.

Our river, the White Oak, also has the advantage of being uncrowded.  My July 22 boat ride was on a deserted river so I saw no people.  I had the river to myself.  This time of year, getting the beach to yourself requires some serious walking.

So the next time, you’re headed to work and crossing the White Oak River on the Highway 24 bridges before 8:00 AM on a weekday morning, watch for a Sundance skiff sliding into the harbor.  If it makes a quick tour of the harbor and then heads quickly back up river, that is likely me, making the most of the best cool spot that I can find.



The one place to go when the heat is here


Ocean Waves at Third Street Beach, July 11, 2011

While heat is often welcome in the month of June along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, once our waters get close to eighty degrees,  we would like to avoid extreme heat like we have endured recently.

The reason for wanting our high temperatures to stay out of the nineties is our low temperature at night often is very close to the temperature of the area’s waters.   With high temperatures in the nineties, the area’s waters get hot early in the season, and we stay hot at night unless we can find a serious Canadian cold front.

Heat is a challenging thing.  We often have too much of it in the summer and not enough in the winter.  We are fortunate that really hot days usually only come a few at a time in July.  Our current hot spell will be over after a couple of days.

There is a good chance the nighttime temperatures later in the week will be cool enough to bring down the water temperatures to a more acceptable level.

This recent hot spell has been a serious one in spite of it lasting only two days.  July 12 our thermometer registered 94F, and July 13 we got to 97F.  Those are actually unusually high temperatures for the area.  However, with area water temperatures hovering in the mid-eighties, there is little to cool us down other than hope for a rescuing weather system from the north.

There is also little consolation in the knowledge that other areas have endured multiple days in a row of over 100F temperatures during this hot spell.  North Carolina’s summer humidity mixed with 97F temperatures is a challenging environment even when it lasts only two days.

We all handle heat in different ways.  My wife and I tend to eat smaller meals, less meat, and more nicely cooked southern vegetables during the heat.  I don’t completely avoid extreme heat, but I do limit my time out working when the temperature soars above 90F.  If I have work to do, I try to plan around the heat.  This most recent spell of heat was mentioned by weather forecasters late the previous week.

I took the warnings to heart and mowed my yard before the heat got here.  I managed to start mowing one morning when it was “only 84F”, and I finished just after noon when the temperature had climbed to 89F.  While I could have started earlier, strong breezes which were in the forecast did show up and take the edge off the heat. There is something of a sense of accomplishment in facing down the heat when mowing your yard.  It is probably a strange southern thing, but it is also a little like going into a sweat lodge and surviving the heat.

Still I came in from mowing and trimming with few dry threads on me.  It didn’t take me long to head to the shower, and I didn’t bother with any hot water.  Later in the week on the hottest day of this siege of hot weather, I saw a neighbor out washing her car in the 97F temperature in mid afternoon.  In spite of wearing a bikini, I bet she was still hot.  On miserably hot days I save my car washing for late in the evening just before dusk.  By then there is usually a sea breeze, and the temperature always drops into the eighties by dusk. Fortunately we are not in Mississippi where I have recently seen temperatures over 90F at 9PM.

So where is the one place I go when the heat won’t go away?  Of course it is the beach, but I never go until the heat of the day is waning.  Planning to arrive on the beach at 7 PM or later usually works well for me.  There is no danger of the water being cold, but there is a real likelihood that the sand won’t be hot enough to burn my feat.

Of course going early in the morning works well also, but I usually have outside chores to do then, so my beach time usually maps the best to the evening.

With temperatures this hot, a bathing suit might not be a bad idea for my next trip.