Warmth that won’t go away

Warm Day in Bluewater Cove

Warm Day in Bluewater Cove

There is something magical about eighty degrees.  If you can break eighty degrees in early spring, you feel like that winter has been defeated.  When the ocean water gets to eighty degrees, there is no longer a shock to get into up to your knees.

Unfortunately when the temperature doesn’t drop below eighty degrees at night, you know that there will be no escape from the heat short of jumping in some water.

I don’t mind the heat, but I do enjoy the early morning when we often see temperatures in upper seventies even in the heart of summer.  When the nighttime temperatures don’t get below the magic eighty degrees, it seems like we have crossed a threshold.

There are a few options.  One is to stay inside as much as possible.  Generally if there is blue sky and the winds are under twenty miles per hour, not going outside is very hard for me to do.  We moved to the Crystal Coast just so we could be outside most of the time, and I’m pretty stubborn about that.

The next option which is often my solution to the heat is to be on or near the water.  Our water along the Southern Outer Banks is like no other water as far as I’m concerned.  When the daytime temperature rises in the low nineties, I can still guarantee that a wave from the ocean slapping you in the middle of your back will cool you down.

There are lots of folks that like to be around swimming pools when it gets hot.  Unfortunately when it doesn’t cool down at night, the swimming pools stay very warm.  They might offer a little relief from the heat, but not nearly as much as a dip in the ocean.

Almost the same thing can be said for boating.  On those nights when the temperature stays about eighty degrees Fahrenheit, you can count on the river being warm which means you need to keep moving or have a nice breeze to stay cool.   However, you usually can find some relief if you get your boat over closer to Bogue Inlet where normally the breeze is a little more reliable and the water is a little cooler.

Our summer in Carteret county is not a fleeting one like the Canadian summers that I used to enjoy. It is also not like a summer in the city.  We don’t have the buildings to absorb heat like a city, and we are fortunate in that we don’t have the huge expanses of pavement filled with heat generating vehicles.

Getting some days on the coast when there is little cooling at night is just part of life on the North Carolina coast.  I try to take a pragmatic view of these days when you cannot escape the heat.  I know the time will come when the warmth stored in the water will feel good as the air around us cools.  The lingering warmth in the fall on the NC coast is one of the greatest things about living here.

Long after most people to the north of us have put their boats away, we’ll be enjoying the water.  We can usually count on the nice warm weather through October.   I like to say that you should never bet against warmth in the fall on the Crystal Coast.

Pleasant days over on the beach in October are not a rarity.   Those days and the special ones in November and December come to us courtesy of all the heat our area waters store during the summer especially on those nights when the temperature doesn’t get below eighty.

When you can think about having shorts weather in December, the heat in July is a little easier to take.  Of course, we’re lucky on the Carolina coast, you always have the choice of escaping to the mountains and enjoying a little mountain weather.  There are mountains high enough in North Carolina that there is always some relief from the heat and humidity.

In the end you get used to the heat in our world where life without walls is just the way we live.  Our grown children think we’re crazy when they come to visit.  They find we have our indoor temperature set at 78F in the summer.  Of course those of us who live on the coast know that if you set the temperature much lower than that, walking into your home from the warmth of the outside will feel like going into a meat locker.

While our weather is never normal, it is a whole lot better than it is most places.  I remain thankful for that.



Blue Water Mornings

Blue Water Morning on the White Oak River

Blue Water Morning on the White Oak River

There are special places on the Southern Outer Banks, and there are special times.  July seems to be one of the best times for mornings when the water hardly has ripples and can barely be distinguished from the sky.

I call those mornings “blue water mornings” mostly because of someone who told me that he didn’t like the color of the White Oak River.  I told him that he had just never been on the river enough to appreciate its color palette.

The White Oak is actually a blackwater river which means that the very clear water in the river is stained brown by the pigments from organic materials in the marshes which provide the water for the river.

The neat thing about the White Oak is that the river takes on a lot of different colors.  It is actually a photographer’s dream.  You can catch some amazing reflections on the surface of the river.  There are days when the river is blue in the morning and brown at night with a golden sunset in the pines.   Sometimes when I get out on the river in the evenings, the sunset is just stunning.

The combination of wind, sunlight, clouds and the water in the river can create some amazing photo opportunities.  Of course a beautiful, uncrowded river with hardly a ripple on it begs to be enjoyed with something other than a camera.

I enjoy both our outboard motor powered skiff and my kayak.  Many mornings it is a toss-up as to what I will drop into the water. The picture in the post was taken Sunday, July 15, as I was returning from what I call a ride to the marshes.

My morning had started with a walk of one and one third miles which included a trip along the boardwalk at Bluewater Cove where we live.  The combination of the white puffy clouds and deep blue sky reflected on the almost perfectly calm surface of the White Oak was more than I could take.

I hurriedly finished my walk and got our skiff ready for a ride down the river to Swansboro.  My skiff is in a dream spot only twenty five feet from my garage so getting prepared for a trip on the water is not very complicated.  I did have to wash some sand out of the boat from my adventure on the previous Friday when I got the boat stuck on a sandbar at low tide out behind Bear Island, but that only added five minutes to the preparation.

It only takes about three minutes to idle out Raymond’s Gut to the White Oak River from my dock.  Once I am on the river, Swansboro and the Intracostal Waterway are only seven or eight minutes away.  It just takes some zigging and zagging around oyster rocks.

It was a beautiful ride down the White Oak that morning.  There were no other boats on the river, and I didn’t have to slow down until just before the Highway 24 bridges in Swansboro where a couple of small boats were fishing.   Since I had seen them the Friday before, I was prepared for the official looking no wake buoys by the Icehouse in the Swansboro harbor.

I’m a little in the dark about what is happening with the big barge and the crane on it, but I hope it has something to do with increasing water access in Swansboro.  I love the boardwalk in Beaufort, NC and would love to see Swansboro get one.

After going through the harbor, I crossed the ICW and followed what is called west channel which takes you back behind Huggins Island to the ICW just west of the channel out to Bogue Inlet.  Since I was scheduled as one of the elders helping with the communion at our church, Cape Carteret Presbyterian, I decided that I had better skip the trip out to the Point so I turned and headed west back down the ICW to Swansboro.

It was early enough that there was very little activity at the Wildlife Resources Boat Ramp in Cedar Point.   After slowing down for the no wake markers at the ramp, I got the boat back up on plane until I got back to the harbor where I slowed again until I got to the north side of the Highway 24 bridges.

I met a boat and seadoo just before I got to Jones Island and one other boat as I was crossing the river, but that was the extent of the morning traffic jam on the river.

The water and sky were both a stunning color of blue, and it was pretty hard to make the turn at the Red Sixteen buoy and head back to the home dock.  Still I managed to walk into the house about ten minutes to nine.  I had a quick shower, cooked some breakfast, and was doing a few computer chores when it dawned on me that I supposed to be at church a few minutes early.  We hurried around and got to church only a few minutes late for our meeting.  We had a wonderful communion service which was a good way to end a beautiful morning on the water.

I’ve been boating on some less than desirable mornings. You end up doing that when you don’t have the luxury of living by the water.  When you have to drive six or seven hours to get to the water, you end up taking what you get when you arrive.

Still one of the special things about a blue water morning is that they are relatively rare. While we get several a year and sometimes a number of them in a row, they are always a surprise, and a special opportunity that I hate to miss when I’m too busy to get out on the water.

There are so many days when the river looks quiet until you get out on it, or days when the wind picks up by the time I am coming back through Swansboro harbor.  Those aren’t bad days to be on the water, but somehow they don’t create the special memories that  a blue water morning does.

To be in the right place at the right time to enjoy a blue water morning is a blessing that I’m truly thankful for each time it happens.  There will come a time when I won’t be able to zoom down the glassy surface of the river, but I’ll have plenty of pictures, movies, and memories to make me smile.

Making memories is one of the reasons that we moved to the Crystal Coast, it has turned out to be the home of lots of special places and times that will inhabit my memories forever.


Summer Weather As It Should Be

Weather in the Cove as it should be

Weather in the Cove as it should be

Our minds do a great job of filtering our memories.  That is especially true of childhood experiences.  If you grew up in the Piedmont of North Carolina in the fifties and sixties, there was plenty of heat.

Air conditioning wasn’t even a dream until late in the fifties.  People put awnings on their homes to help with the heat.  Long trips in the car required riding with the windows rolled down.  Cars had funny little vent windows that you turned to help get air flowing through the vehicle.  There were also side air vents for the floorboard controlled by knobs just under the dash.

Summer was not complete without thunderstorms.  Storms brought rain and were as much a normal part of life as fireflies at night.   The most memorable storms were the ones when I was camping as a Boy Scout at Camp Raven Knob between Mt. Airy, NC and Low Gap, Virginia.

Thunderstorms could easily catch you outside at camp.  We spent those summer weeks in wall tents pitched over wooden platforms.  You didn’t spend much time in your tent so getting caught in the rain was a part of life at camp.  No one worried about not being in air conditioning while at camp because no one had air conditioning at home.

We also knew that a thunderstorm at night would likely make the cold mountain water in Lake Sobotta even cooler for our morning swims.

Schools weren’t even air conditioned.  They actually had windows that opened and closed.  Some teachers even brought fans for those last days of school when the heat seems to take up residence in the school walls.

My memories of vacations at the North Carolina coast are of small cottages a few blocks from the beach. The long trip even in a car without air conditioning was memorable mostly for the picnic that often broke up the trip.  There would be fried chicken and country ham biscuits along with Cokes in small glass bottles.  Lunch at the beach was often tomato sandwiches made from tomatoes that were brought from home.

No one expected a beach vacation insulated from the weather.  Part of the fun at the beach just like at camp was being at the mercy of the weather whether it was the bright sun or a thunderstorm.  I can still remember sitting on a bench at the trading post and watching a heavy thunderstorm at camp.  The ocean or lake water could be warm one day and cool the next day if storms had rolled through during the night.

In 2011 and 2012 the weather along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast was abnormally dry.  We were in a drought punctuated by a few periods of wet weather for nearly two years.  During the summer of 2011, our area of Carteret County along the eastern shore of the White Oak River received just 1.85 inches of rain in total from May 1 until July 31.

The dry weather short circuited our normal summer weather.  With the ground so dry, it was hard for the evaporation that helps to spark the thunderstorms to take place.  Without thunderstorms, we got drier.  Thunderstorms also help cool the waters in the area.  In an area like Carteret County which is over 60% water, the water temperature plays a big role in our evening temperature.  Cooling breezes from the water are a big part of what makes the beach an area that is so attractive to visitors in the summer.

Summer in 2012 in our neighborhood along the Crystal Coast seems much more like a normal coastal North Carolina summer.  Rain has been a very welcome visitor at our dock this summer, and I am sure that places like the Aquarium and the Maritime Museum have seen an increase in attendance.

Though a rainy day might keep us off the water or prevent us from visiting the beaches, rain is essential to keeping our area the natural paradise that it is.  That we are an area where beach traffic is almost a non issue has a lot to do with the marshes and woods that are nourished by those summer thunderstorms that are now back as a part of our life.

It is a good thing that being at the beach forces folks to deal with the natural elements. Our modern world has created such an insulated existence that many folks don’t know how to enjoy a national park unless they have a cable television controller in their hand.


Summer Beach Traffic

Beach Traffic at Third St. Beach

Beach Traffic at Third St. Beach

When July rolls around, I usually do a post about beach traffic.  While most people think of beach traffic as the vehicles on the road trying to get to a beach, I am just as concerned about the number of people on the beach hoping to enjoy the water.

The first weeks of July are our peak time for summer visitors here on the Southern Outer Banks.  The annual influx of visitors usually brings out a few complaints from local residents about how bad the traffic is here.

I try to take the complaints about road traffic about as seriously as I do a few grains of sand in our car after a walk on the beach.  In 2011 when the bridge clogged up for a few hours during check-in hours on the 4th of July weekend, I wrote a post about it.

No traffic that I have ever seen here on the beach holds a candle to Washington, DC traffic so I am happy to report our number of annual traffic tie-ups still is still just a handful.

My 2011 tour of the island at around 2PM on Saturday, July 1 indicated that we had a very good crowd.  In 2012 on Saturday, June 30, the bridge so clogged, I decided to wait a little before doing my beach check.  I suspect that means we have a great crowd this year.

Around 5 PM I left for a quick trip to Swansboro where I was dropping off an award for the area’s best restaurant as listed in my new book, “A Week at the Beach, An Emerald Isle Travel Guide.”  By the time I drove by the bridge it had already cleared.

By the time I returned to the bridge it was 5:30 PM.  I decided to time my trip just to provide some concrete numbers.  It took me about two minutes to cross the bridge, and another six minutes to get to Sweet Spot, the ice cream shop in the block before the stoplight to the Bogue Inlet Pier.

The whole trip to what most of us consider the center of town was about eight minutes which is perhaps a minute or two longer than normal.  I can think is very bad by any standards.  Certainly things were much slower earlier in the day, but we will survive another traffic event on Sunday, July 1.  Possibly we will have seen the worst for another year.

There was a slight traffic backup between the CVS and Sweet Spot because of an accident, but it only added a few seconds to my trip.  After visiting with the folks at Sweet Spot, I headed on up the island to the Third Street Beach.

Vehicular traffic appeared to have mostly dissipated from the mess earlier in the day.  From what I could tell, most people seem to have headed for their vacation homes and disappeared inside to recover from their road trips.

When I arrived at the Third Street Beach parking lot, I was not surprised that there were only two other cars in the lot.  I was a little surprised when I walked out to the beach, and my quick survey indicated very few people on the beach.  The picture at the top of the post will confirm my beach visitor estimate.

By then it was almost 6 PM and the worst heat of the day was almost gone especially with the nice ocean breeze.  I suspect people were inside having dinner or planning their next moves on their vacation. However, I think folks were missing the best time of the day to enjoy the beach.

As I headed back to the mainland, I was a little shocked to see a parking place or two in front of Jordan’s Seafood which is usually packed on summer Saturday nights.  Perhaps people were worried about having to wait outside in the hot air.  When I drove by Food Lion at Emerald Plantation, I could tell that parking places were a scarce commodity.

My trip from the Third Street Beach to the stoplight at the intersection of Highway 24 and Highway 58 took eighteen minutes which might be a minute or two more than normal.  Certainly my quick visit showed that people traffic on the beach was minimal and vehicle traffic on the roads was nothing to get excited about considering this is our busiest week of the year.

Those of us that live here often get spoiled by having almost no traffic to deal with in our daily lives.  Ninety-nine percent of the area residents are happy to have our summer visitors.  We would have a bleak economy without the annual migration to the beach that is tradition on much of the east coast.

We are blessed here on the Crystal Coast to have such low density housing along our beaches.  Even at the peak of the season, it is not hard to find privacy on our beaches if you are willing to walk a little.  We have more beach than most people need.

I spend a lot of time walking the beaches of Emerald Isle.  My walks are sometimes serious ones at the Point.  It is not unusual for me to cover three to five miles in one of my beach hikes.  I rarely see more than a handful of people once I get into the serious sand that extends over 1,800 feet from the vehicle ramp at the Point.  I might skip any lunch hour visits to the Point this week, but it will be more because of the heat during the day than crowds that I might find.

Human traffic is minimal here when you get into the more remote areas of our beaches.  It seems most people walk to the beach and head straight for the water.  They spread out like the delta of a river but they rarely go very far from where they first find sand and water.

It is perhaps human nature to enjoy the closest water, but it gives those of us willing to walk a little a lot more beach to enjoy.  I know from experience there are lots of crowded beaches in the world,  I am happy to live in an area where it is easy to enjoy life without walls.

For tips about the best places for walking and evening some suggestions for avoiding traffic on the roads and grocery stores, check out my book at Amazon.  It is available currently in Kindle format, but with free Kindle reader software, you can read it on practically anything including a Mac, a PC, or an iPad.  I am working on a native version for the iPad.