Water that begs to be waded
Spring on the Crystal Coast can be a mix of all kinds of weather. With Mother Nature smiling on us, this year we have enjoyed a warm start to the spring season.
Though the journey to our summer season is a long way from being over in 2012. It has been great to have a taste of warmth so early in the season. The real beach season usually begins around Memorial Day, and sometimes our first really warm days wait until June. However, I would not be surprised to see summer’s heat on us even earlier than it was last year.
I do hope we can have a July that is a little different than the very warm and dry July we had in 2011 or even 2010. Our current trend of reasonable spring rainfall might let us avoid a serious drought this year. No one wants another dry spring and summer like 2011 which led to all the wildfires last summer. We were amazed last summer on our Day Trip to Nags Head when we saw all the smoke from the Alligator River fire. It took Hurricane Irene to really end our drought of 2011.
With warmth and last year’s dry conditions on my mind, Friday, March 23, I made my way over to the Point at Emerald Isle. It is one of my favorite hiking spots. I was hoping to see if my recently injured ankle could handle a couple of miles of hiking and to figure out if the salt water had warmed enough for my toes to get in it.
My trips by boat in the White Oak River earlier in the week had recorded water temperatures well above 70F. With that experience I was expecting welcoming water on my Friday walk. I was not to be disappointed.
It is no surprise that my experience in previous years found the water not so warm. In 2011, after a very cold winter, I first stuck my toes in the water on April 8. For 2010 my first April post does not mention getting wet. However, I did find that by May 1, 2010, I was knee deep in salt water.
With that history in mind, I made the under seven mile drive to Emerald Isle and turned onto Coast Guard Road. It was just another five minutes or so before I parked at the Station Street Parking lot and headed off to a CAMA access where I could get some sand between my toes.
I did check the temperature before I left the car. It was 77 degrees Fahrenheit. That is pretty warm for over on the beach in March. I fully expected that once I got on the beach it would be much cooler. Actually that was not the case.
It was more like walking onto the beach in mid-May than in late March. I headed straight for the water. It was only two or three minutes before I was wading in the water. The water was far beyond toe-dipping water.
The air temperature over on the beach was very close to what it was in the parking lot. After walking in the water for a mile or so, it is not hard to believe that the saltwater surf temperatures are already above 70F. Unless there is a big cool down. I will be wearing a bathing suit on my next beach walk.
Later in the day after my two miles on the beach, I took our skiff out on the river once again. As I circled my boat and headed back up river under the Highway 24 bridges in Swansboro, my GPS unit recorded a water temperature of 74F. When I left Bluewater Cove, where we live, the shallow water in the marshes as I piloted the boat through them showed as being 77F.
Now all of this can and likely will change somewhat. This last week of March our low temperatures at night are going to be much more seasonable. Those warm nights for the last couple of weeks have made a huge difference in water temperature. The third week of March 2012 we hardly got below 60F at night in our area just off the White Oak River.
For the final week of March, we will see low temperatures at night approaching 40F. Some inland areas might be at risk for frost so you can almost count on water temperatures going down some. However, they have been very nice and much warmer than normal for this time of year. With the water what it is, I doubt we will have a repeat of last year’s frost by the water on March 29.
However, you just never know what the weather on the coast is going to bring this time of year. Last year even on April 25 the water temperatures were just hovering around 70F. Between changing temperatures and winds, it is hard to predict what it will be like on the water.
All I hope is that the weather is nice enough that I can spend plenty of time wandering the beaches and enjoying the water.
Life this side of the watery horizon
Living along North Carolina’s coast is a treat that has to be experienced to be appreciated. For many years, I visited the coast and felt the pressure to enjoy the water no mater what the weather.
Now that I live here, I get to pick and choose the days when I get on the water. Actually it is better than that. From my second floor home office which looks out at the White Oak River, I can often sense when a short boat ride is a good thing even on a less than perfect day.
Since getting out on the water is so easy, I can also gamble a little and go out when the conditions might keep folks without a lift at home. Taking a boat ride of twenty minutes to one half an hour is something that I often do. It takes very little time to be on the water if your lift and boat are only 25 feet from your house.
If I had to launch a boat from a trailer, I wouldn’t be nearly so quick to take a short boat ride. I am aware that I am in an enviable position, but I worked hard to get here, so I am going to enjoy it. In a year like 2012 when “winter” disappeared quickly, getting out on the water has been on my mind for a while.
The picture at the top of the post was taken on March 19, 2012. For the last couple of months my wife and I have been focused on selling our mountainside home in Roanoke, Virginia. Being in Virginia has made it hard to be on the water here in Carteret County so I was pretty excited when we got back home to the Southern Outer Banks earlier in the weekend.
Only going to church kept me off the water on Sunday morning. When Monday, March 19, rolled around, I was not going to be denied some time on the water. With my second planned task of the day being planting my tomatoes, there were no worries about it being too cold to be on the water.
Still the extra warmth and almost 70F water temperature made getting out on the water an easy decision. For some reason the winds also decided not to blow. That is not necessarily a common thing in March. On top of that there seemed to be a little more water behind our house than is sometimes the case in early spring. Spring is usually when we get very low tides All the elements cooperating made for a very pleasurable ride.
I also knew that with the time of year and the perceived challenges of navigating the White Oak, I would likely have the river to myself. That turned out to be the case. The river was mine while I was there.
I didn’t take a very long ride since I had a lot of other things on my plate. I was probably gone from our dock only about thirty minutes, but it was wonderful to be out on the water in such great weather. The water is never the same twice, but it is a true pleasure figuring it out, and early spring trips always have an extra taste of adventure.
As I got down towards Swansboro where I snapped the post picture, the water became very calm. The blue from the sky would have merged with the blue of the water except for the thin line of the horizon that was the Highway 24 bridges and a few shops on the causeway.
It occurred to me that my life at the coast is lived totally on the water side of the horizon. I rarely worry about what is on the other side of the horizon. I have no desire to get on an airplane and fly to Europe and even less desire to head back to California. Everything that I need is on this watery side of the horizon.
Living in this world of beautiful marshes and water to the horizon is not something that limits you. I have actually made the argument the water and sky here at the coast stretch your imagination.
Sometimes even when you are as close to water as I am, not everything is as cooperative as it was during my recent boat ride. Then I have to take refuge in my memories of being on the water. Fortunately I have a lot of those even a great YouTube boat ride that I filmed on a warm summer morning on a glassy White Oak River. Memories like that can sustain you for a long time.
Still it is rare that we have to wait very long for a taste of the water. I am counting on getting out on the water for my third time this week in the next couple of days. I might even take my kayak out.
When you have fish in your backyard, you know that eventually you will find the right conditions to get out and enjoy the water. Patience comes easy to most of us fishermen.
The fact that water is not far from our house keeps me very calm, and for that I am very thankful.
It also seems that I spend a lot of time thinking about water whether I am out on it or just trying to get out on it. Water is not a bad thing to have on your mind.
Having a life clearly positioned on this side of watery horizon eliminates a lot of every day frustrations, and the peace that comes with that is just one of the reasons that I live here on the banks of Raymond’s Gut by the White Oak River.
ICW from Emerald Isle Bridge
Depending on how far north my wanderings have taken me, I have heard various months described as the cruelest month of the year. Usually a month got a bad name because there was a nasty transition from winter to spring. Mud can emotionally scar almost anyone.
When we lived on a dirt road in Saint Croix Cove, Nova Scotia, March was a bad month because it was then that the frost often came out of the road and turned it into an almost impassable mess.
On our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick, April was a cruel month. Just when you thought winter was over, you would get slammed with a big snow storm or a spell of cold rain at 33F. Melting snow can create some of the most challenging mud.
In Roanoke, Virginia, I have found February my most challenging month. The plants are trying to bloom, and then like we had on February 19, 2012, a snow storm will whack you back into the reality of winter. Usually the snow is followed by a few days of high winds just to remind you that it wasn’t a mistake.
The most challenging month along the Southern Outer Banks is the one that lets us dream of summer before it actually has arrived. Sometimes if spring is late, April can be our most challenging month. This year with temperatures reaching close to 80F in Carteret County on March 1, March is already starting out as a challenging month for those of us who love to be out on the water.
While I love the local strawberries that we sometimes enjoy in March, I have to admit that it is the month drives me crazy here on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. The temperature can be perfect for boating, and either the wind is blowing too much or much of our water has disappeared.
As I took my boat for a little spin on leap day, I could only hope that if March stays warm that I can resist going for a long boat ride. The temperature even before noon was well over 70F, but as I idled along Raymond’s Gut, I could tell that I was in barely two feet of water at an hour before mid-tide. Most of the year, we have three feet of water, but March always seems to a time when water is hard to find.
At the same time as I glanced longingly out at the White Oak River, I could tell it would take a ride well up on the wave tops to keep from having a rough trip down the river to Swansboro and the Intracoastal Waterway.
So there I was in my boat on February 29 and the temperature was already tempting me to think about boating. Most of March will be like that except that I will give in a few times and likely end up with some regrets.
While the water temperature is not bad for this time of year, wind and lack of water usually make for difficult boating in March. Likely, my March boating will just be short trips in preparation for an April which one can hope might be more friendly to a day on the water.
Fortunately that anticipation of the first great day on the water is almost as enjoyable as the actual day. The more I dream about it, the better the actual event is. Even if I have to wait until June 1, the wait will be worth it. There is nothing in the world like a dazzling day on the water here among the marshes of the Crystal Coast.