A January Boat Ride

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Swansboro Harbor, January 2013

Swansboro Harbor, January 2013

January is not a particularly tough month here on the coast of North Carolina.  One of my few concessions to winter is that I wear cotton socks inside my crocs.  The crocs still have plenty of ventilation, but I get a little protection from the socks.  Only one trip to the mail box in January 2013, required that I change to my tennis shoes because of heavy rain.

Winter has not been totally absent here along Raymond’s Gut.  We have seen a few days where we did not break forty degrees Fahrenheit.  However, we are lucky that even when winter has found us, it has been tempered by outbreaks of warm weather like we are enjoying this last week of January 2013.

When it gets up over sixty or seventy degrees Fahrenheit in January, it is time to play a little. There are four things that I do to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area and take advantage of the warm weather that regularly slips into the area during January.

One is to take walks along the marsh close by our subdivision.  We are such a protected area that even on the nastiest days, I often get to enjoy a wide variety of the area’s wildlife.   I regularly seen loons, otters, great egrets, great blue herons, and king fishers among other inhabitants of the marsh. When the weather is really nice, our marsh inhabitants are often down wandering in the big marshes near Swansboro.

The second thing that comes to mind as warm weather blankets the area is taking my Sundance skiff out on the river.  There is rarely a week, that I don’t run my boat down to Swansboro.  It’s only ten minutes by water.  It can be really cold out on the river, but a few warm days can make things nice enough to ditch the gloves and coat.  However,  just because the air temperature has warmed up to seventy degrees doesn’t mean that it is going to be that warm out on the river.  On my most recent trip, the air temperature was well over seventy degrees Fahrenheit at our dock.  I left the dock with my coat tucked in the back cooler of our boat.  I was comfortable in my long-sleeved t-shirt.  As I idled my way to the river, I was impressed that the top layer of the undisturbed water in Raymond’s Gut was over sixty degrees.  By the time I got out to the river things were changing.

As my quick ride down the river at 30 MPH progressed, I could feel the chill in the air building as we approached Swansboro.  When I powered back the motor as I crossed under the bridge at Swansboro Harbor, I noticed the temperature on the depth finder was reading just over forty-nine degrees.  I put my coat on for the trip back up the river.  I didn’t take it off until I turned into our inlet.  I also noticed that after the boat had mixed the water in the marsh, even the water temperature there had dropped to just over fifty-three degrees.  When you are riding on the water, you normally feel the water temperature more than the air temperature.

The third activity I like to do on warm days is go kayaking, but I generally like to have four or five warm days in a row when the water is as cold as it is now. If I can find a streak of nice weather, it is a good time to enjoy our inlet and even the nearby river like I did on Christmas Day and in early January.

My final warm weather January activity is hiking the beaches.  I would likely have gone over during this last spell of warm weather, but we are in the midst of bridge construction and I couldn’t get free until almost four o’clock which is a little late to head out to the beaches this time of year.  It also wasn’t that long ago that I hiked the Point at Emerald Isle.

Whatever I do on these magical warm January days, I manage to enjoy our beauty area to the fullest.  The Southern Outer Banks are truly a wonderful place. It is sometimes hard to believe you can actually walk on the beaches and play on the water in January here.

You can find pictures of a boat ride of mine down the river at this link.  I have also posted pictures of some kayaking that that I did on January 12.  My latest January beach hike didn’t yield a lot of great pictures, but this is one that I do like.

If you would like to learn more about the area visit this site with links to more information.  You will also a list of my most recent technology articles.

Winter By The Gut

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A Sunny Winter Day Along Raymond's Gu

A Sunny Winter Day Along Raymond’s Gut

Most people have never heard of a piece of water being called a “gut”.  I first saw the term used when I visited Newfoundland in the early seventies.  There I found places on the map like Famish Gut, Grand River Gut, Star Gut, and Turks Gut.

When we moved to North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks in 2006, I was pleased to find out that the body of water behind our home was called Raymond’s Gut.  I’ve never been able to find the name on a map search, but an old gentleman who was working on a detailed map of the White Oak River assured me that was the local name for the water feature at my doorstep.

According to Wikipedia a gat or a gut is a narrow passage of tidal water between two land masses.  That describes the water behind our home perfectly.  For our area it is a relatively deep body of tidal water that flows from the pine woods adjacent to the Croatan National Forest on the western side of Carteret County into the White Oak River at the northern edge of Hampton Bay.

Though our gut is only three or four feet deep, it is much deeper than the cove into which it flows.  The cove because it is much wider and shallower has to be regularly dredged so that we can have a navigable channel out to the river.  So far the tide has taken care of keeping the gut navigable for my skiff.

Living along Raymond’s Gut is a treat during the whole year, but it gets really special during the coldest parts of winter.  We normally see our coldest temperatures in mid to late January through early February.  As the weather chills the water in the marshes down by Swansboro, a lot of the big birds that live there most of the year come and hang around our gut.

It is such a regular occurrence that we can almost predict the weather by the type of visitors that we have.  While we have regular big bird visits during the whole year, you can tell when the weather is turning really cold by the arrival of the pelicans.  When the pelicans hang around all day, you know things are not very nice out in Bogue Sound.

Great blue herons are almost permanent residents.  At least we usually have one or two fishing here even in the summer.  I sometimes think juvenile great blue herons come here to learn how to fish.  When the really big great blues show up, you know things are getting nasty in the outside world.

We also have a number of great egrets who pass through the area.  You will see them in their favored hiding place when we have biting cold winds.  Their spot is mostly sheltered from the wind, and if there are two or three great egrets in there, it is a good bet we won’t see any nice weather for a while.

Recently we have gone from the wonderful warmth of early January 2013 to what most of us call downright cold.  A day when the high temperature does not break forty degrees is seriously cold weather on the Crystal Coast.  Once in a while the gut gets icy or even snowy, but winter never lasts long and rarely gets very severe. The result is that we are pretty spoiled.  Several hours below freezing can get us to grumbling about the weather.

A spell of really cold weather also causes problems in the gut behind our house as everyone shows up at once.  An air traffic controller would have welcome the last twenty hours.  I saw a pelican and a great egret going at it for a while.  After they finally reached a somewhat tenuous peace, a great blue heron showed up to clear out any challengers to his territory.

About the only ones who seem to be able to laugh about the territory squabbles are the otters who would rather be nosy and wrestle than fight. Of course they have to eat their fill of fish before they get in that playful mood.  As far as I can tell there are not enough fish in the gut to make a great blue heron playful.

Fortunately for all of us here on the coast, we are only a couple of weeks away from that time of year when the North Carolina sun takes charge of the weather.  With some luck things will start to warm up and the big birds can once again spread out across Bogue Sound.  For now we will enjoy them, and hope the big blue herons behave themselves.

At least we have not seen any serious ice on the gut like we did a couple of years ago.  In 2011 the ice forced the great egrets and great blue herons into fighting over some spring fed ponds.  It was pretty spectacular squabbling but I got some great pictures.

Pictures of this winter’s birds can be found at this early winter link and this late winter link.

Warm Winter Weekend in January

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January 10, 2013 Sunset, Bluewater Cove

January 10, 2013 Sunset, Bluewater Cove

Some people do not believe me when I tell them about the first January that we spent along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  That winter I kept track of the number of hours that the temperature was below 32F.  The total was around nineteen hours for the whole month.  We also had at least ten days when we broke 70F.

That doesn’t happen every winter but we  have only endured one “cold” winter in the seven winters that we have lived along the Crystal CoastOur definition of cold would bring a chuckle from anyone living very far north.  Cold to us is when a day doesn’t make it to 50F.

A brutal low temperature would in the low twenties.  We haven’t seen very much cold weather this year.  One of the geraniums that we planted out by our bulkhead behind the house and near the water is still alive.  The geraniums on our front porch are still blooming.

So far this second week of January 2013, we have beaten the forecast every day.  At 9:30 AM the morning of Friday, January 11, we  reached 60F.  At least for the first part of the week it was cool in the mornings and I wore a jacket which helped me imagine that it was winter.  Today I abandoned my coat for a long-sleeved t-shirt.  On my walk I met one of my neighbors pushing a jogging stroller.  She was wearing shorts.

If we get into the seventies on Saturday. January 12, I suspect that I will also drag out my shorts.  We never bury them very far here.  When I worked in a real estate office, most of the men started wearing shorts by April 1.

It is likely that the weather will change and some cold air will find us before the winter ends. We could still see snow.  We get a touch of it every three or four winters but fortunately it melts almost as fast as it falls.

The threat of some cold will not stop us from enjoying the warm weather while we have it.  On Thursday I managed a nice boat ride down to Swansboro.  While I didn’t do it in shorts, I only had on a light jacket.  There is a wind chill factor when you are traveling down the river at thirty miles per hour so it was nice to have a jacket.  However, I was not wearing gloves.

When you can ride down the river in an open skiff in January without gloves, it is a pretty good indication of how nice the weather is.  Friday afternoon, January 11, we did have some rain.  However, the rain was so warm that fog developed almost immediately at the surface of the water.  In our marsh the water was already warmed to the mid-to-upper fifties before the rain.  I suspect it will make it into the sixties before the warm spell is over.

With great weather like this even if we get a spell of “cold” weather, the winter will seem much shorter.  Some of these nice warm days will make for great magic beach days.   If we can get to the the middle of February, that warm North Carolina sun will start to work its magic.  In the spring of 2012, March started so warm that we saw temperatures approaching 80F early in the month.  It made the water very hard to resist for those of us who love boating and fishing.

In February we start to see some flowers blooming.  About the third week of March I will be planting my tomato plants. Then the first week or two of April we can expect some strawberries to be ripe.   Towards the end of April we will start mowing the grass again.  Fortunately our grass grows very slowly in the spring which gives us more time for fishing.

Once we make it to May, summer is definitely on the horizon.  Usually we get to spend most of April and May sleeping with the windows open.  Sometimes the good weather coincides  with the pine pollen season, but most years we have enough rain to wash the pollen out of the air regularly.  I even managed some ripe tomatoes before the end of May in 2012.

It is nice to have a little chill in the air to remind us of all the cold weather that we are missing. However, there is nothing wrong with a string of 70F days in January. Warm days make it easier to stand on my dock and watch the otters and loons.  This weather is a wonderful treat and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would enjoy thawing out here on the coast this warm January weekend.