Summer Boating

Swansboro, NC Harbor, July 29

Swansboro, NC Harbor, July 29

It really does not take much to get most locals here on the water and it takes a lot of wind to keep them off the water. Most us living along the sounds and big rivers like the White Oak try to have a little flexibility in our schedules to cover days when the water is calling.

Many people live here because you are minutes from great beaches and you can also easily enjoy some time in a boat. With just a little effort, your boat can also take you to a beach.

That will be a subject perhaps for my next post, but today I want to talk about the spontaneous boating that takes place here along the Crystal Coast.

If you have driven through Carteret County or looked at a map of the area, you understand that no place in the country is very far from water. We live just up the White Oak River about three miles from Swansboro.  My skiff and kayak are both as close to the water as they can get.

I can be in Swansboro by boat in just a little more than ten minutes. There are many days that I would prefer to get in my boat than in my car. I keep wishing for a grocery store and hardware store on the water, but I will settle for just riding down the river.

On a gorgeous day like July 29, 2014, a quick boat ride down the river and through the marshes over by Huggins Island is pretty hard to beat. It is a great way to break up your day and remind yourself of why you live in such a beautiful place.  You can see the homeward bound portion of my July 29 trip on this map.  The White Oak has a few zigs and zags but it is a great place for a boat ride.

I will often sneak off before breakfast and go fishing or boating in the marshes, but on a warm day like today, fishing did not appeal to me. All I wanted to do was fly down the river and feel the breeze in my face. It was a great day to do just that. We had a bluer than normal July sky because of a Canadian front pushing into the area. When the light caught everything just right, the pictures were amazing and Swansboro Harbor looked like a postcard.

We are at the peak of our season, but there were still only a handful of boats out on the river and even on our water superhighway, the Intracoastal Waterway, there was little traffic. Certainly if the weather is nice, it will be a lot busier this weekend.

It is hard to explain how much fun a boat ride can be, but on the trip home as I got close to Jones Island and pulled around a boat going a few miles per hour slower than I wanted to, I knew the river was mine. There was not another boat on the river in the next few miles.

The water was smooth and I was going north into a north wind so getting the boat up on a beautiful plane was as easy as it gets. With no other wakes to deal with I could slide our skiff around the markers with very little of the hull was in the water.  It is a lot of fun sliding across the water in a controlled slide.

It was a beautiful trip from start to finish. This is an album of pictures that I took. The pictures will set the stage for this YouTube video taken heading down the river a few years ago.

Come visit, take a boat ride, walk the Point, or go kayaking. You will not regret it.  There is plenty of uncrowded beach here if sunning on the beach is all you want to do.  However, there is lots here besides beautiful beaches and the friendly people to go along with them.  You can read about all the special spots in our travel guide.

Our most recent newsletter went out a few weeks ago and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site or visit my archive of older articles, Life Along The Crystal Coast.

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Walking The Point

Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

You have made it to the beach and gotten plenty of sand between your toes. but could life at the beach be more than roasting in the sun?   Is there a hidden corner of the beach that you could explore?  There is a remarkable, ever changing place here on Bogue Banks. It is a perfect place to explore and you never even have to leave the town of Emerald Isle.  There is more sand and adventure in this unique spot than most can imagine.  Will  you be one of the handful of visitors who make it to one of the most treasured spots for those of us who live here?

Our not so secret spot is not a place that you can enjoy without some effort. Even some folks who rent a nearby home often do not make it to the furtherest reaches of this special spot.  Of course this place is the Point at Emerald Isle.  It is both an area and a specific place.

However the Point does not yield her secrets or fish easily. If you want to get to know her, you have to be willing to walk, walk, and walk some more. If you park at the small Station Street parking lot just off Coast Guard Road, you will have a walk of a little over one third of a mile before your toes touch salt water.

Then you have to head west almost another mile before you reach what most of us call the Point, which is the western most spot on Bogue Banks. Just to get off from the beach after making it there, requires a  walk across over one third of a mile of sand to the pavement by the vehicle access ramp and you still have to walk back to you car from there. That short hike of the Point will end up being two miles and you will have missed the best part of the area.

So where is this wonderful spot and what is so unique about it. You can find it on this map or you can take a right at the first stoplight as you drive onto Emerald Isle from the Cedar Point-Cape Carteret area. After a short drive of 2.5 miles on Coast Guard Road you come to a stop sign. The Point is a right turn and about one third mile down Inlet drive.

If you get to the stop sign you have already driven past the parking lot. From May 1 until September 30 no vehicles are allowed on the beach so the only way to get to see the Point is to hoof it. As you might guess very few people do even the short hike of two miles that I described. Even fewer people take the time to walk to the northernmost part of the Point which is know locally as Bird Island. If you add Bird Island to your trip and take the shortcut back, your hike will total about three and one third miles when you arrive back at your car at the Station Street Parking Lot. Your hike will look a lot like the one on this map. My track on the map is actually along the current edge of the sand except where I cut across from Coast Guard Channel to the vehicle ramp. Google’s map never seems to be able to catch up with the changes at the Point.

If you decide to go back to your car along the beach, you will end up with something close to four and three quarters miles of hiking. So why would someone who has come to the beach to relax want to take a hike of over three miles? The Point which also is name for the whole end of the island is one of the most dynamic places along our coast. You can see barrier island features being created and some disappearing as fast as they emerge from the ocean.

On this map you can see a number of hikes that I have taken. What is harder to see are the features which have changed in the massive sand area that is called the Point. I took this picture of a new water feature on April 8, 2013. It was part of a post called The End of Sand. The small body of water did not even survive through the fall. When I took a picture this spring at the same spot, Bogue Inlet had swallowed the smaller body of water.

The small inlet featured at the top of the post was not there when I hiked the same area a month ago in June. Amazing changes can happen at the Point in a month or even in a few hours. This picture was taken at the vehicle ramp on November 4, 2007. There was no Point. Today around six years and eight months later, there is now over one third of a mile of sand extending west from the vehicle ramp. There is a lot of truth to the title of my article, Sand Keeps Moving.

Besides almost seeing the sand change as you walk by, it is possible to be almost alone on the furthest reaches of the Point. Once you get beyond the yellow house, the number of people on the beach drops dramatically. If you keep going, it is often a rare chance to explore the unknown.

You never know what mood you will find when you arrive at the Point. You might find some amazing waves, it might be a great beach evening, or it could stormy.  Sometimes the water is as calm as a bathtub and then there are times the skin on your ankles will be exfoliated by sand blowing just above the surface of the beach.

You also can see rare birds like red knots or more common black skimmers and black bellied plovers. You can almost count on seeing willets, sanderlings, pelicans and rudy turnstones.

Of course you can also fish your way around the Point, visit by kayak or skiff. It is a great place to get in touch with the natural world. Some of us who are lucky live here in the sandy, watery world of the Southern Outer Banks, but if you spend some serious time at the Point, you might understand the feeling of what it is like to be in a land of only sand and sea.

This is a link to pictures taken on my most recent Point hike on July 17, 2014.

Besides this blog, we also publish a monthly email newsletter. Our next edition will go out late in the third week in July. You still have time to sign up before I get it emailed.

If you decide to visit, you will also find plenty of new content in our Emerald Isle 2014 Travel Guide. There are over 150 links to extra content outside the book. Forty of the over eighty pictures are new this year. With a total of 14 Maps and 10 recipes, you get the latest information on the beaches of the area. For $3.99 which won’t even buy you a couple of Sunday newspapers, you can get 180 pages full of information about the area. It is the only real travel guide for the area and it works on just about every electronic device.

Come visit and walk the Point, you will not regret it.

Our most recent newsletter went out just over two weeks ago and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

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Saturday Kayaking On The White Oak

Raymond's Gut, Just Off The White Oak River

Raymond’s Gut, Just Off The White Oak River

I consider myself very lucky. My kayak is usually within 15 feet of the water. Going kayaking on a Saturday morning is something that I can do with little planning and not much more effort than the paddling.

For years when we lived in Roanoke, Virginia, I kayaked in Carvin’s Cove. It involved putting our very heavy two person kayak on top of a car and driving thirty minutes while hoping the weather stayed calm.

The opportunity to live by the water was one of the many things that attracted us to Carteret County. It is that same piece of North Carolina that the tourism bureau likes to call the Crystal Coast.

One of the first things we did the fall we moved here eight years ago was to get a new kayak. It has not been on top of the car since we brought it home, but it has been in the water more than our other kayak ever was. Some of the first pictures that I took that year are still online. I managed a few trips that year but learning the ins and outs of kayaking on a coastal river took a while. Kayaking on a big tidal river like the White Oak is completely different than kayaking on a relatively tame and captive mountain lake.

Both are great experiences but I have found kayaking on the White Oak very rewarding and perhaps the most relaxing thing in the many choices of things to do here along North Carolina’s beautiful Southern Outer Banks.

Sliding my kayak down through the marsh grass is always the beginning of a wonderful adventure. As I am paddling out Raymond’s Gut, I can usually tell what the river is like well before I get there. There are always a few surprises along the way. It might be an osprey that disappears before you can focus on it or a great white egret that lets you get tantalizing close before flying. On my most recent trip, I saw an oystercatcher on a small island in the river.

Even the way the wind is blowing once I get out on the White Oak is often different than I expected. Sometimes on weekends I find a boat or two out in the two or three miles of the river that I like to frequent but often I am the only craft on the river. If the wind or weather turns rough, I can usually dodge it by either staying close by some oyster rocks or retreating to Raymond’s Gut the inlet that connects us to the White Oak.

The tides, current, and wind always combine to make each trip unique. The White Oak is a big but short and relatively shallow river in its lower reaches. You can see the oyster rocks that I often frequent in this picture. I am very comfortable sitting out on the oyster rocks and there is nothing wrong with the view. However, the view there on the river is by nature transient. The water and clouds and light are every changing. If you sit on the oyster rocks too long, you might end up grounded there as the tide goes out.

On a really good day out on the river, you can take advantage of the current, wind, and oyster rocks to relax and fish. There are days when you have to work harder to fish or even hold your boat in position to make a single cast. Then there are times when the river seems to let you do just about anything that you want. Still a body of water that large is not the place to completely let down your guard. When the tide really gets moving, you have to make certain you do not get sucked into some of the cuts in the oyster rocks. The combination of the tide and the current especially when it is going out can be a formidable challenge.

Usually two to three hours out on the river is about all that it takes to wear me out. Most days when I get back to our dock, I have paddled two to three miles. Usually one way of the trip is pretty good exercise while I most often have either wind or tide helping me on the other way.

If I am really lucky, I can bring home enough fish to fill a cooler. Most times I stop fishing after I catch my first keeper fish of the day. We try to be judicious about using the resources of the White Oak River. Fortunately many of the places that yield the most fish are hard to reach. We are blessed to have clean, uncrowded river at our doorsteps.

The one thing I can always count on is that as soon as I am out of my kayak, I start thinking about when I can slide back into the water and start paddling once again. I have already enjoyed so many perfect days on the water, I have confidence that another great one is just around the corner.  That first kayaking trip each spring is always a treat and I usually manage to kayak well into November and most years December.

Here are some pictures from my most recent, July 2014, trip and some more photos from last fall that have GIS information embedded so you can see their locations on a map.

Our most recent newsletter went out just over two weeks ago and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

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Hurricane Arthur Visits The Crystal Coast

The White Oak River just before Hurricane Arthur

The White Oak River just before Hurricane Arthur

It would not be unusual to say that the Crystal Coast of North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks owes its economic health to visitors. Yet even here we get a visitor once in a while whose timing is a little off, and Hurricane Arthur certainly came at an inopportune time just at the peak of our holiday season.

The week just before the Fourth of July holiday is without any doubt the most important week in our tourism year. Early in that week of 2014, we first heard that a tropical storm was going to develop into Hurricane Arthur and likely brush the North Carolina coast.

Even those of us who have lived here just eight years like my wife and myself have seen more than one hurricane.  We know to take them very seriously.

As a native North Carolinian, I am no stranger to hurricanes and one of my earliest memories is evacuating the Outer Banks one fall. I was five and the image of water up to the axle of my mother’s 1952 Ford somewhere near the Alligator River has not disappeared.

Like all of our neighbors, we took the pending visit of the storm that became Arthur very seriously. We were here for Hurricane Irene and know what can happen. While our power was only out for three hours with Irene, twenty-four hours of eighty-five miles per hour winds can leave a lasting impression.

Our check list of hurricane preparedness is fairly long. Anything that can blow around has to be secured or moved into the garage or house. We always buy new batteries for our lamps and test them and our emergency radios. The cars have to be filled with gas and we always get some cash to have on hand. I make it a point to trim our palm trees so they have as few old fronds as possible.

We normally tie down our boat which is on a side pole lift and use bungie cords to tie our outdoor furniture to the deck. Then there is the emergency water bottle to fill, a cooler full of ice to get, and non-ethanol fuel for the generator to procure. This time I had a drainage project to finish. I spent a lot of time on a plugged French drain in our driveway so that we would not have a pond for three days in our driveway.

We have learned to watch the forecasts very closely and to understand each storm’s wind field as well as we can. At just before 5PM on Thursday, the first bands of precipitation hit our home three miles up the White Oak River near Swansboro, North Carolina. I was trying to bury the last of the new pipe from our French drain but ended up leaving it to run on top of the ground.

As I dried off and studied the latest storm reports, I made the decision to skip using the bungie cords on our deck furniture and to rely on my normally secure side pole lift to protect our boat. It turned out to be the right decision. At the time of the first precipitation our winds were only running at 10-15 MPH.

While the storm had turned a little inland and was headed for Beaufort, we were not seeing any increased winds or rain.

By 7:00PM or so, it had stopped raining at our house even though we were only 60 miles or so from the eye of the hurricane. I decided to grill some salmon outside. Grilling was no problem since winds were still in the 10 MPH range and there was no rain. Henceforth any salmon we grill with teriyaki sauce will be known as Salmon Arthur.

When I looked at the position of Arthur at 8 PM and the wind field diagram, I got the feeling that Arthur was not going to create any big problems for us. We were west of the track and almost all the wind was east of the track. The hurricane force winds were also in a compact area and Arthur was moving right along at 16MPH.

Our rain started back up but it was no where near torrential like we have seen in some freak storms. By 9PM we were once again in a lull with no rain and only 15-20 MPH winds. The eye of Hurricane Arthur was directly south of us and probably less than thirty miles away. At that point, I was sure that Arthur was not going to throw us a sucker punch and then knock us out.

By 11PM Thursday night, July 3, there was very little of Arthur left to pass by us. Just a few minutes after 11PM, Arthur made landfall somewhere between Beaufort and Shackleford Banks, very close to where Irene made landfall.  We got a gust or two of wind in the 30 MPH range and a few minutes later just after 11PM, the eye of Arthur was passing over Beaufort, North Carolina.

During this time, Arthur strengthened into a category two hurricane and then headed up towards our old stomping grounds, Canada’s Maritimes. It looked like Arthur might go up the Bay of Fundy and cross over our old farm in Saint Croix Cove, Nova Scotia.

By July 5, Arthur’s rains have arrived in New Brunswick. Instead of the rain stopping shortly after they started like they did on the Crystal Coast, the precipitation intensified and kept coming. One of my friends near Hartland, New Brunswick, recorded 4.45 inches of rain. Somehow a weather feature, a sting jet, that is new to me developed and created gusts of 65–80 mph (100–130 km/h) developed along the storm’s backside or west of the track where we had safely weathered it in North Carolina.

That widespread wind and rain devastated the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick.  Even as Arthur was being downgraded to a post tropical storm from a hurricane, it was intensifying with the sting jet and spreading its effects over a very large area. When I called friends in New Brunswick on July 7, I found them entering their third day without power. One friend’s woodlot is over half destroyed. Fredericton is reported to have lost 2,000 of its stately trees. Another report has all the telephone poles down on the twenty miles of the Royal Road that led to our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick.

Our friends in Tay Creek were much farther from the center of Arthur than we were and yet we did not even get a pine cone in our front yard, much less 50 acres of woodlot downed.

The weekend after Arthur was a gorgeous one on the Crystal Coast. People were out on the water and the beaches. Homes a few miles closer to the coast than us were picking up debris in their yards but it was mostly small limbs not trees.  We had one friend in Beaufort who was without power for twelve hours. However, mostly it can be said the Crystal Coast and North Carolina dodged a bullet that smashed into New Brunswick, a place far less equipped to handle a severe storm than our area.

While we had some visitors leave besides Arthur, it seems they were replaced by even more people.  Our Saturday, July 5, we had a five mile traffic backup from the bridge.  Arthur while inconvenient got most of us ready for the next time a storm threatens the area. My tomato plants did not even have a problem with Arthur.

Sunday night, July 6, we enjoyed an amazing sunset which somehow said to me that Arthur was finally no longer pounding my friends along the east coast.  The week after Arthur has been one filled with classic Southern heat.

The lesson from Arthur is never dismiss a hurricane until it is completely gone or it might come back to haunt you or your friends. In fact if you are visiting you should pay close attention to the riddle of coastal weather. We have seen a storm that put hurricanes to shame when it comes to delivering lots of rain.  This is NOAA’s summary of Arthur.

As an added note, three days after Arthur arrived in Canada’s Maritimes there are still “tens of thousands” of people without power many in New Brunswick and some in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia where we lived in the early seventies.

There are always plenty of things to do here at the beach especially when there is no hurricane hanging off the coast.

If you cannot make it today, enjoy this video of the waves at the Point on Emerald Isle.  For more information about the beach, check out our newly updated for 2014, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version is only $3.99 and it has the same 180 pages of content as the $24.95 print version which Amazon has listed for $22.46 and Prime eligible. Both books  include eighty full color pictures and lots of detailed area maps.  Plus the Kindle version has instant access to over 150 links of additional information.

Our most recent newsletter went out two weeks ago and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter