Wave Catchers

The Surf at Third Street Beach, July 31, 2013

The Surf at Third Street Beach, July 31, 2013

One of my favorite soundtracks of all time is Songcatchers.  I love the movie and bought the album as soon as I could find it.  The movie was released in 2000.  As hard as it is to believe that was before the days of the iPod.

The iPod was actually released in 2001.  I was leading Apple’s federal sales team at the time and as manager of the year, I won one of the first ones off the line.  I still have it but it has never become a big part of my life.

As I was leaving the beach the morning of July 31, 2013, I stopped briefly to shake some sand out of my crocs and noticed a young lady not far away.  She seemed oblivious of her surroundings.  Though I could not tell exactly what electronic device had her attention it was pretty close to the size of an iPhone which I guess has taken the place of iPods for most of the younger generation.  I actually felt sorry for her as I turned and left the beach.

There she was on a beautiful beach with warm ocean water, soft sand, and blue skies.  Her electronic gadget had her full attention.  Now I am as guilty as anyone of playing with my smart phone on occasion, but I hope Dr. Bogus, our local surf expert, or someone else with a good aim will hit me in the head with five ounces of lead if they ever catch me plugged into an iPod on the beach.

I have a passage in my book, The Road To My Country, that pretty well covers my feelings on priorities when it comes to electronic devices.

 In those days there was no television to tell me that I needed something else. Television came later, first to our neighbors, the Fixes, then to Aunt Sally, but it was not a big part of life. We watched Howdy Doody, but still the fields and forts owned us. It was far more important to dam the creek running through the woods or chase some lizards than it was to be inside watching a small, noisy, black and white box.

I guess that I was lucky to be sent off to military school.  In the evenings we had study hall.  The only television you could watch was in the canteen during the thirty minutes after study hall and before bed.

Those of us who live here on the Southern Outer Banks are very fortunate.  Most of the time it is hard to turn around without seeing some beautiful scenery. Certainly we get some days which are not crystal clear in August and early September, but for the most part when it is not raining this area is so beautiful it is hard not to focus on the scenery.

Maybe I am an anachronism, but I can look at the same thing every day and notice something different from the ruffled waters on Raymond’s Gut to the changes in the sand over at the Point.  When I am not doing that, my mind is usually churning away on a few ideas.

I enjoy being connected with my friends and sharing pictures with them, but part of our over-connected world sometimes does not make sense.  According to Foursquare I was last seen on our dock on June 17.  That might have something to do with my decision to ignore Foursquare.  The time I spent on it was getting in the way with my life.  I have been pretty busy since June 17 and I have not missed Foursquare one iota.

I try not to worry a lot on my Crystal Coast Life blog.  Typically I use it to extol the wonder of life here on the coast with posts like Life Without Walls which I wrote after an inspiring trip to Hammocks Beach last summer.  If I worry about this next generation, it usually ends up in a post like It Takes More Than Tweets on my View from the Mountain blog.

Still this summer, I have seen more people than ever walking on the beach with their ears hooked to their iPods or iPhones.  It seems like sending texts on phones is a viral disease. I hate to think texts are going to replace story telling.  My wife sometime accuses me a taking a germ of truth and spinning it into a tale of historic proportions.  She might be the last one who will notice since most of the rest of the people seem so plugged into their phones that they would be unable to argue with me about how big the waves are or how blue the sky is.

I promise to get back to focusing on the Crystal Coast’s beauty with my next post, but I have to wonder why these folks come to the beach if they do not use their senses to appreciate being in one of the neatest and most beautiful spots on earth.   I am positive that there is no text message that can adequate describe the wave picture which I snapped.  Certainly most people in my generation appreciate that the sound of the waves is something to appreciate not hide from with an iPod. You only get to hear real waves and feel their warmth when you are walking the beach.

I guess that I am proud to be a wave catcher even if the surf did push me around a little when I was fishing and snapping a few pictures on July 31.

Crystal Coast Magic

The Marshes Behind Bear Island

The Marshes Behind Bear Island

Sometimes where we live turns into a magical place.  It happens a lot along the Crystal Coast.  We are sometimes called the Southern Outer Banks.  Actually we are just an extension of the same Outer Banks that is the home to Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Duck, Corolla, and Hatteras.  This a map of the area for those unfamiliar with our piece of paradise.

I consider myself fortunate to have friends still willing and able to visit. When we do get some visitors, I always enjoy spending time on the water with them.   I have five areas which I love to show my friends, but to get the most lasting impression, I need to take people on the water more than once at different times.  This map provides a good overview of the five areas.

My absolute most favorite thing to do is to take people for a ride on the river early in the morning when the river is calm and unbelievably beautiful.  You can get a good feel for that by taking this automatic slide show entitled, Mackerel Morning.  Often you can zoom down the White Oak River at over thirty miles per hour with hardly a bump.  Sliding around the turns in the soft morning air is a special treat.

Once we get down the river and idle through the no-wake zone in Swansboro Harbor, I often take people over to the marshes behind Huggins Island.  This short YouTube video of one of my marsh cruises gives you an idea of the beauty of the area.  We will often drift fish in the area and sometime we anchor and fish for whatever is passing through the channel.  The view across the marshes that span the area from Swansboro to Bear Island gives you an idea of just how big the marshes are.

If I have someone for more than a few minutes the next place we visit is usually the marshes along the channel that takes you out to Bogue Inlet.  Here is a picture of that area.  It is a good spot to stop and fish as long as there is not a lot of traffic going in and out of Bogue Inlet.  I try to anchor in the area during the middle of the week as traffic increases greatly the closer you get to the weekend.

A morning out on the water is not complete without a visit to Bogue Inlet.  As long as the water is calm, it is one of the neatest places on the water.  Just looking back from the inlet makes me forget any of my troubles.  This picture gives you you a feel for the area.  If you look out from Bogue Inlet, all you see is water and a few buoys.  You do have to pick and choose your times in Bogue Inlet.  It can get rough and then it is not as much fun.  However, when you do get out there at the right time, it is picture perfect.

The next spot that I take friends is usually the channel behind Bear Island.   The picture at the top of the post was taken there.  It is perhaps the most beautiful marsh area that I have ever seen.  I never tire of going to the area.  I can stay there for a long time even when the fish area not biting.

The last place I take people is usually out on the White Oak River at sunset.  When the water and sun cooperate, the scenery can be stunning as you can see from these pictures in an album that I created.  I especially enjoy doing this trip in the fall when the warmth from the river can take the chill off a cool evening, but it is also fun in the summer after the heat of the day has disappeared.

By the time I have shown my visitors all these places, they have usually grown pretty fond of the area and start figuring out when they can come back for another visit.  I have enjoyed lots of magical places including beaches in Canada but I have never found an another area where there is so much to enjoy and where people fall so easily under the spell of the area.

The great weather helps a lot.  While we are in North Carolina and expect heat and humidity in the summer, we do get some nice sea breezes to keep us cool.  Our coastal weather changes enough to keep almost anyone happy.

Even if you cannot find a friend like me to take you out on the water, there are plenty of places to escape the crowds. Those with a spirit of adventure can easily rent a kayak and enjoy some peace on the White Oak or in the marshes.

If you planned your visit for this summer, the weather has been great so far.  We have only had a couple of rainy days in July.  We are dry enough now that those of us who are residents would like to see some rain for our yards and gardens.

This is a great place to fall in love with the water whether you walk the beaches or get on the water with a skiff or a kayak.   It is a wonderful place to bring a family to let them enjoy the water.

Our area is filled with people who love the water and who are happy to give you some suggestions on how to have fun.   You can also try our Kindle book, A Week at the Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  It has even more details about enjoying the area including specific boating, fishing, and beach advice including maps.  The book will be able in paperback by the end of July.

The book can make your vacation less stressful by helping you find the best places in the area.  It contains suggestions on everything from accommodations to restaurants where you can expect great food and good value.  The book provides a link to restaurant recommendations that we update all year.  We are just getting ready to add a new restaurant to our list, Captain V.P.’s between the bridges in Swansboro.   Watch my View from the Mountain blog for a detailed review in the next few days.

Come visit us and fall in love with our beautiful waters.  You will not regret it.




The Riddle of Coastal Weather

Bogue Inlet

Bogue Inlet

I had to resist a title like, Coastal Weather Depends On Where You Are and When You Are There.  It is actually not a bad summary of the situation we face on a daily basis.  You can drive the 100 or so miles from Winston-Salem to Raleigh and only see the mean July temperature go from 87F to 89F.  Drive another 120 miles to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and you will find the mean temperature, and in July it can be mean and hot, will still be stuck on 89F.

Yet you only have to go another nineteen miles to Swansboro to watch the July mean temperature drop four degrees to 85F .  Then things start to get really interesting but there is little data that you can put your hands on to show the local coastal weather quirks we know so well.

You cannot live very long in coastal North Carolina before it dawns on you that the water and how much of it is around you has more to do with your daily temperatures than just about anything else.  We often escape almost all of the early spring hot spells because our water is still cool.  When fall comes we can sometimes wade in the surf into early November.   In the spring it can be positively chilly over on Emerald Isle by the ocean but it can be very toasty and warm over on the mainland by some of the marshes that absorb that wonderful North Carolina spring sunshine faster than the Atlantic Ocean.

That is just the start.  We have more types of water than Canadians have of snow.  Shallow marsh waters with a dark bottom like those around my house warm very quickly but they also cool off very quickly.  Deep waters with a sandy bottom stay cool longer.  Areas through which the tide draws lots of water see a real mixing action of water and temperatures.

Then you have to factor in the wind.  The wind cools the water. The difference in temperature on a part of the river where it is two miles wide and in a sheltered inlet will either start you thawing or bring sweat to your brow depending on the time of year.  The areas where the winds cannot blow across the open waters stay warmer most of the year.  The change is even more dramatic the closer you get to the ocean.

Just to make things even more interesting, if we get a lot of rain and it is cool rain from thunderstorms, it can quickly change the temperature of the rivers and sometimes even their salinity which matters a lot when it comes to fishing.  Then if the rain comes from a tropical air mass, it can feel like we are walking around in rain direct from Florida.

There are some rules to living on the coast in the summer.  If you want to enjoy the outside world in July and August, do it early and be home by 8:30 AM before it starts getting warm.  If you want to go to the beach and cannot go early, you will find that it is wonderful in the late afternoon and early evening.

We find it also helps if we keep our heat pumps set on eighty degrees.  It makes the transition to the outside much easier.  When you come inside, you do not feel like you have walked into a meat locker.  You know it is really summer here when you can take a comfortable shower without using any hot water.  Even the ground warms up pretty quickly and our water pipes are barely buried.

If you cannot hit those times of the day when it is nice outside, you need to be careful because the heat can suck the life out of you.  Again that depends on where you are.   If you are up the White Oak River where the river is twenty-five feet wide and the water  has six foot high marsh grass on both sides, finding a breeze is going to be very difficult.

Those are the times when you head for Bogue Inlet where the water is cooler and there is almost always a breeze.  That is a picture of Bogue Inlet at the top of the post.  Of course if it is a cold day, it can be mighty cold over at Bogue Inlet.  Depending on the direction of the wind, you might want to hide behind Bear Island or Huggins Island.  Then there is the difference between being in a skiff and a kayak.  If the water is very cold or very warm, you will notice it more in the kayak.  However, when we have a hot day in the spring and the river is still sixty degrees, you can be sure that it will feel colder than sixty degrees when you take a trip down the river especially in an open skiff at 30 MPH.

I was out on the river late in the evening on July 17, 2013.  The water temperature was in the upper eighties.  There was little wind and I could feel the heat radiating from the river.   The next morning after a night with clear skies,  the river was much cooler and a trip down it was much nicer.

Then there are some mysteries to coastal weather.  I often wonder why Ocracoke Island is warmer early in the morning than most other places on the coast in the summer.  It is surrounded by water and the water cannot be warmer than our water.  I do not know the answer.

The variety in coastal weather is just part of what makes life on the coast interesting.  Our hot weather usually does not last more than a few weeks and I will trade that anytime for the moderate weather that we have in the winter.

Whenever I do not like the weather, I either just wait until it changes or drive a few miles to find something different. It is the coastal way.


The Week Of The Fourth At The Beach

Blue sky and waters in Raymond's Gut

Blue sky and waters in Raymond’s Gut

Spending the Fourth of July week at the beach is a grand American tradition.  In spite of our modern world where very few people have the luxury of two weeks off in a row, many people still manage to stick their toes in the ocean for a week around the Fourth.

Here along the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina we welcome the crowds that visit us during the whole summer but the first part of July seems to be a special time for everyone.  Summer tourists provide enough revenue so our local businesses can survive through the quiet winter months.

However, it is no accident that a local would write a Fourth of July beach article and feature a picture with no beach in sight. The weekend around the Fourth of July is the least likely time for those of us who live here to go over to the beach.  We have plenty of other water to enjoy like Raymond’s Gut where I took the above picture on Saturday morning, July 6, 2013.  Even I am not interested in braving the bridge traffic on Saturday afternoon the first weekend in July.

While the residents who actually live on Bogue Banks Island where our beaches are located have a few more challenges than those of us who live over the mainland, the truth is that we have plenty of room in Carteret County for our area’s visitors.  While the grocery stores and restaurants are crowded enough that most of us who live here avoid them on the weekends during the summer season, it is possible to get in and out of a grocery store without much trouble. We survived a trip to Piggly-Wiggly without any trauma on Saturday, July 6.  During the summer months, you have to pick and choose your restaurants and be smart about planning when to go out to eat, but it is no great burden.

Yes, the parking lots and roads are somewhat more dangerous, but it is pretty easy to stick close to home or to avoid the crowds by knowing the best times to go out.  The really neat thing about the Crystal Coast is that even during the peak of the tourist season,  we are not really that crowded and as my Northern Virginia based son likes to say, our parking places are big enough for a pickup truck hauling a boat which is very different from the Prius sized ones in his area.

I can rattle off plenty of examples of the uncrowded nature of our shores and waters.  I went hiking on the Point, a popular beach are in the town of Emerald Isle on July 2.  I ended up writing a post, Escaping The Crowds.  In it I talk about how easy it is even during the week of July 4, to find a stretch of empty beach here on the Crystal Coast.

There are other even more isolated beaches here like one of my favorites, Hammocks Beach which is accessible only by boat.  I could have mentioned Cape Lookout National Seashore and its 57 miles of isolated beach, but getting some space on the beach is not a challenge here.

You will find some crowds if you try to launch your boat at the Wildlife Resources Ramp in Cedar Point during July weekends, but you will likely find plenty of space at the Emerald Isle Wildlife Resources Ramp.  There will be lots of boats it you are on the water from 11AM to 4PM, but if you leave at 7:30 AM and get back before 10AM, the crowds are not nearly as bad.  Of course you could just enjoy the waters of the White Oak River which is much less crowded than the Intracoastal Waterway.

If you are going kayaking, the White Oak River is an especially good choice and it is never crowded. There are lots of areas of the White Oak that are almost off limits to boats because of oyster rocks which are easy to avoid in a kayak.  I have kayaked each of the last four days.  My trips have ranged from two hours to close to four hours.  I have seen a total of two other kayaks and perhaps twelve to fifteen boats in the four days.  That is not exactly beltway style traffic.

On July 3, I took our skiff into the marshes on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway by Swansboro.  I was back home by just after 9AM.  I saw two boats on the Intracoastal Waterway and one boat fishing under the Highway 24 Bridge in Swansboro.  Again that is no where close to heavy traffic.

There are plenty of people here in spite of those examples. We just have lots of room for everyone to spread out.  In fact we are so uncrowded during the off-season that most of us look forward to the spring crowds to bring a little life to the beach areas.

We are not the beach for everyone, but if you are trying to avoid crowds, you can easily do so here on the Crystal Coast near Emerald Isle.  You might have to drive a few minutes to get to a Target, but if you are coming to the beach to shop,  you probably need to pick a different beach than one of ours anyway.

If you want uncrowded beaches, fishing , kayaking or some boating before you finish the day with a walk on the beach under an unmatched canopy of stars in the soft, warm beach air, then you will probably enjoy your time here.  We also have local caught seafood and plenty of local produce.  Cooking at home is a great way to avoid restaurant crowds.

Beyond the lack of crowds this is a great place to vacation or to live. You certainly will not find a more family friendly area.

However,  there are better places for shopping, listening to iPods, and going to night clubs.  Our beaches are the ones which reconnect your soul to the natural world.  This is a part of the world where you can hear yourself think.  We are all about unwinding people who spend most of the year being wound up way too tight.

Come visit and you will fall in love with the area.  If you want to read more about the area try our book, A Week At The Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  You will easily pick up enough beach lover secrets to justify its $4.99 price at the Kindle store.  You can read it on your iPad or other electronic device including your smart phone with free Kindle reader software.

If you need some additional visual stimulation to convince you that the Crystal Coast is the right spot, here are a few resources.  This is a link to an album of pictures of my July 2, 2013 hike at the Point.  This is a slide show of a boat trip down the White Oak and out to the Point area. If video is more your style, try this short YouTube video of my July 3 trip into the marshes.  Finally if kayaking is more your thing, this is a web album of my kayaking trip down the White Oak River on July 6.

One way or the other, I think you will be convinced that the 2013 Fourth of July week was a great one here on the North Carolina coast. Even the weather cooperated.

Escaping The Crowds

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

We have all headed off to our favorite vacation destination and gotten caught in traffic on the way or found more people than we expected when we arrived at our spot.  Most of us vacation to get away from crowds and finding a crowd in paradise is not a good way to start.  Yet it easy to end up right in the middle of a mass of humanity especially on a popular beach.

I started seriously escaping the crowds well before I graduated from college and headed off to live along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy.  Life in Cambridge, Massachusetts was enough to send me searching for a different world, but that is another story.

However those sixteen years we lived in Canada’s Maritimes might be responsible for my love of open space and spectacular scenery.  The beauty and relative solitude you can find on the coast certainly kept us coming to North Carolina’s Outer Banks after we moved back to the states and lived on the side of a mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia.

Over the twenty years that we lived in Roanoke, we had a number of great beach vacations.   One of the elements of a great beach vacation listed in the linked article is getting enough distance between you and civilization.   Both children and adults need to disconnect in order to renew themselves.  Sometimes it is hard to do.   We found a world away from lots of people and technology in several spots, but as is often the case, the world kept discovering our spots not very long after we began enjoying them.

Children eventually do not want to go to the beach with their parents anyway. They also grow up and move out.  So in 2006 long after the children were gone and after three years of looking for the right spot, I convinced my wife that we should try living at the beach for a few years.   We are still here on the North Carolina coast just a few miles away from the beautiful beaches of Emerald Isle.

Carteret County where we live is often called the Crystal Coast.  If you are not familiar with the area, this is a link to a map.  Our area actually wrote the book on escaping crowds.  With the 158,000 acres of the Croatan National Forest at our back, the 56 miles of Cape Lookout National Seashore on one flank, and Camp Lejeune protecting the other flank, there is little to worry about except wind and waves on our south facing beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.  We are just enough off the beaten path and the Interstates to keep from getting overcrowded even during the tourist season.

Still the whole concept of feeling crowded is an individual one.  What is crowded to me might seem a little desolate to some folks.  But with the many miles I hike along the beaches each year, I feel comfortable in offering some advice as to how to find a beach where you will feel uncrowded even during a holiday weekend.

Any beach even a popular one like Nags Head can be uncrowded if you hit it at the right time like we did when I snapped this picture from Jennette’s Pier in early June.  I will not be making the day trip to Nag’s Head on the Fourth of July to prove my point, but I suspect there will be a lot more people on the beach than there was in my picture.

Surprisingly it is very easy to find plenty of space on the beach.  All you have to do is use your legs and walk a little.  This picture was taken near the westernmost part of the Point at Emerald Isle.  It is looking east up the beach towards the town of Emerald Isle.

I consider the area crowded even when I see a few people like those in this picture.  Both pictures of the Point area were taken just after 4 PM on July 2, 2013 which would have to classed as pretty near the peak of our season.

So why is such a spectacular beach so uncrowded?  Actually there is a section that is fairly crowded for our beaches. Still the number of people is not even close to what you see on most beaches.  It has a few people on it just because it happens to be closer to the public access points and there are a handful of oceanfront homes just north of the beach.

The easiest way to enjoy these uncrowded beaches is to rent one of those handful of homes along the beach.  If your budget like mine cannot handle that, you can still get to the beaches if you put some effort into it.  I rarely have to give up on my regular hikes there and it is all in the timing.  There is only one public parking lot in the area.  It is at the intersection of Station Street and Coast Guard Road.

Unfortunately it only has 16 spaces so you either need to get there early in the day or come later in the afternoon when people are starting to leave.  I prefer to walk late in the day so I usually can find a spot if the tides are cooperating.  I prefer to walk on a falling tide.

Once you get a parking spot, you still have a hike to the beach as you can see from the map of my most recent hike.   The most direct hike to the least crowded part of the Point is straight out Inlet Drive through the vehicle access at the end of the street.  It is still a hike of eight tenths of mile just to the southern edge of that part of the beach.

The least crowded portion of the beach is great if you want to enjoy privacy and just relax in the sun.  It is not so great for playing in the waves.  The water in that section is fairly deep with strong currents close to shore so if enjoying the waves is important, you are better off heading for the section marked in light blue on my map.  A hike of about seven tenths of a mile will put you in that section of the beach.  I like to call the whole area where people are scarce The Point Beyond The Yellow House.

Actually there is not a lot of mystery to the name.  It just signifies that you are on the part of the Point without any houses directly at your back.  The last house is also a yellow house.  That is the simple explanation for why there are fewer people on the beach there. People tend to walk straight out from their houses to the beach.  If there are no houses, there are fewer people.  The only exception to the rule is from September 15 to April 30 when people are allowed to drived on the beach if they have a proper permit.

No matter where you play along the beaches, you need to remember the ocean is not a swimming pool. That is especially true at a place like the Point where the ocean currents meet the currents from Bogue Sound.  You always need to be especially  careful when playing in the ocean.  I don’t recommend swimming in the ocean because of rip currents, but it is even important to play close attention when jumping waves. Rip currents are very dangerous.

One other bit of caution is worth mentioning.  You will notice my hike which is marked in dark blue looks like I am walking on water.  That is actually not the case.  Google just has a hard time keeping up with Mother Nature’s movement of the sand.  You can read about mapping places like the Point at my RWW web article, How To Walk On Water With Google Maps or if you want to read about sand movement on the Point, try this article,  Sand Keeps Moving.

It you want the full details of enjoying the beach, try our Kindle book, “A Week At The Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide.”  It is only $4.99.  With printable maps, lots of pictures, recipes, and a list of good restaurants, it is a deal.

If you cannot visit the Point, enjoy this G+ slide show of the beach at the Point that I took on my hike on July 2, 2013.  You can also see the pictures positioned on a map at this link.