Kayaking Our Big Tidal River


Looking north up the White Oak River

Maybe it is the weather or just the rhythm of life here on the coast but it seems that I often write about kayaking in the middle of July. Last year on July 13, I wrote Saturday Kayaking On The White Oak.

Until I moved to the coast in 2006, all my kayaking had been done on quiet mountain lakes. Kayaking on the White Oak is nothing like those trips that I used to take on Carvins Cove near Roanoke, Virginia. There was little to worry about on the lake except an afternoon thunderstorm.

Kayaking on the White Oak is more complex. The White Oak is a big coastal river that is from one to two miles wide. While the current seems light, it can be amazingly strong when all that water is forced into a narrow channel where that are cuts between the oyster rocks.

Most people have never heard of oyster rocks and you certainly do not want to get acquainted with one at high speed in your boat. While real rocks are not native to Carteret County, we have plenty of oyster shells that compact together to make oyster rocks.

In the White Oak the oyster rocks are long ledges that span much of the center of the lower river. At high tide some are barely covered and others are under water a foot or so. This picture shows a long oyster rock just emerging from the water as the tide drops.

Sometimes just an end of an oyster rock might be sticking up appearing as an island like the one in this picture. There are other times when just a few shells from a massive oyster rock are visible. A close look at this oyster rock should give you a good idea of why I never go kayaking with bare feet.

Oyster rocks which show up as white lines on this map of the river are a big part of kayaking the part of the White Oak where we live. While I respect the rocks, I am pretty much at home on the oyster rocks. The oyster rocks are where the fish are so that is often where I am.

There are other challenges on the river but boat traffic is rarely one of them. The interaction between the current of the river flowing to the sea and the tide which can be enhancing it or going in the other direction makes kayaking on a big coastal river interesting. Then there is the wind. Once in a while you seem to reach equilibrium on the river and you can just enjoy the glassy smooth water and not worry about wind, current, tides, or oyster rocks but that is relatively rare.

Sometimes the wind whips the river up into whitecaps. Since most of the river is shallow this can happen quickly. Because of the oyster rocks and the way they are positioned, there are areas in the river which actually enhance the chop caused by winds and tides. My Old Town Dirigo 120 seems to handle the chop better than my old Wilderness System Pungo 120. It has a higher bow but that also lets the wind push it around a little more.

You have to flexible when you head out on a river like the White Oak. Sometimes when I get out our inlet and into the big river I find conditions that I did not expect. Once in a while I end fishing along the edges in protected areas instead of my favorite area in the middle of the river.

I do go out prepared. I wear my life suspenders, have a small anchor, my cellphone and a flashlight with me. There are areas where it would be hard for a boat to rescue you, but most of those are shallow areas and with shoes you could walk to the edge of deeper water. I used my Pungo 120 for so many years on the oyster rocks that it developed a leak which I have yet to be able to fix. Somehow a couple inches of water in the bottom of the kayak never bothered me but I did take a sponge along because the extra water made the kayak harder to handle.

If you are new to kayaking there are plenty of places in our area to get some instruction and practice before tackling a big river. Lots of folks practice in our quiet inlet and there are some quiet areas in the marshes on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro. This map has some of the area’s public access points for kayaks. Centennial Park and Hammocks Beach actually have kayak launch ramps. There is a small boat ramp at the Cedar Point Croatan Access. You can also launch at the Wildlife Resources boat ramps in Cedar Point and Emerald Isle. Most of the subdivisions along the White Oak have launch points but you need to have a friend living there to provide access.

With a little practice, the right equipment, and the knowledge of what you might find, kayaking in this area is a lot of fun. While the White Oak might not always be as glassy looking as the post picture, it is always scenic. I have only touched on the White Oak because it is in my backyard and is the easiest place for me to kayak.

Our most recent newsletter went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out in August.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and during the season there is update information in our newsletter.

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Close to Home Crystal Coast Fourth

Sunset at the Point

Sunset at the Point

For many years quiet Fourth of July celebrations were the rule for our family. We were Americans living in a very rural part of Canada. Fourth of July events would have required a drive across the border into Maine.

Somehow the Fourth has always been about being close to home and Maine was never our home so we stayed in Tay Creek and enjoyed the holiday on our own. The holiday parades of my youth in Lewisville and East Bend, North Carolina, are still alive as memories and I know East Bend continues with the tradition. As with most small town parades, sometimes there are more people in the parade than watching it.

It is not hard to find a Fourth of July event here on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. The whole world seems to come our way to enjoy the Fourth of July and the towns respond with lots of fireworks. This is no surprise since this happens to be the peak of the beach season.

Peak of the season means we typically have some crowds but not to the degree that you likely would find in more developed areas. Since most of us who live here are spoiled by having the area to ourselves for most of the year, Fourth of July means that most residents tend to stay home during all the traffic and hoopla.

As I started this post on the night of July 4, fireworks were going off all around us. We live three miles up the White Oak River from Swansboro and it seems to be an area tradition for the subdivisions on the river to have some fireworks. This year our subdivision on Raymond’s Gut decided not to have a Fourth of July party. There is so much happening in the area this weekend, it is hard to build enthusiasm for another party.

Sometimes we get creative and try to enjoy the celebrations without getting caught in the crowds. A couple of years ago, a neighbor and I took my boat and his family out on the river to watch the fireworks. It was a nice experience and there was almost no boat traffic but it was not so nice that I have tried to repeat it.

Our first summer here, eight years ago, we actually went over to Emerald Isle and found a side street where we could park and watch the beach fireworks. The normally ten to fifteen minute trip home from the beach took such a long time that we have not attempted watching the island fireworks since then.

As I wrote in an earlier article, “…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 invited another family in the subdivision to have dinner with us one July 4. They made the mistake of going to the beach that day in Salter Path. A thirty minute return trip turned into three hour journey.

Normally I will at least sneak out on the White Oak in my kayak on July 4, but I just had cataract surgery on my right eye so I am not supposed to get wet or sweat for a while. When I kayak on water that is 84F in almost 90F heat and very high humidity, it is difficult to not instantly sweat. The result is that for 2015 I had to give up my tradition of kayaking on the Fourth.

Summer boating is also very popular here but the weekend of July 4, is not the best time to boat as the boat traffic is very impressive for an area where sometimes I do not even see another boat when I am out in mine. A couple of times I have taken our skiff down the river and into the marshes early on the morning of the Fourth just to see what the traffic looks like.

Boating on the Fourth of July is never as quiet or uncrowded in the harbor and on the Intracoastal as it is the rest of year. This trip which I take regularly is my favorite but I would only try it on July 4, if could I get back to our dock by 8:00 AM.

Even a quick trip to Swansboro like that could also involve getting wet, so this year I just followed the doctor’s orders and just stayed at home and counted my blessings. After all I enjoyed that same boat ride and visited the marshes on Wednesday before July Fourth when there was only a handful of boats around the harbor.

A neighbor who did take his boat over to Bear Island on July 4, 2015, told me that the area was packed with boats. It was also so windy that there was little fun to be found. He confirmed that I did not miss anything by staying home. Holidays are often hypnotic enough to draw sensible people who are trying to escape crowds into a huge crowd.

While our crowds are nothing like they are in many areas, they are a challenge for those of us who moved here for the peace and quiet that is life on the Crystal Coast for ten months out of the year.

Fortunately one of the benefits of living here is that you can easily make the decision that there will be better times to enjoy the area’s beauty than the weekend which draws the most people to our waters each year.

This made me think about how lucky we are to live in a place where people will drive hours and fight considerable traffic and crowds just to spend a week where we get to live all year.

While our visitors barely get to taste life here on the coast, we get to live it to the fullest twelve months of the year. Almost everyone who lives here agrees that the best time is the fall. One neighbor was talking to me the other night. He started out, “Well I sure do not want to wish away our summer weather, but I am certainly looking forward to fall.”

In 2014 we had a wonderful fall. Our falls are so nice that it is not unusual to have weather so nice here on the coast that you wish that you could bottle it. With that in mind, I picked a picture of a sunset on the beach in early September for this post.

Just thinking about being on the beach might help me get beyond the heat and the crowds. I just read an article which said your body cannot tell the difference between visualizing something and actually being there. Of course I do not believe that and will be back on the beach as soon as I get a chance. We have some beaches that touch you each time that you visit and another visit is always just around the corner.

Our most recent newsletter went out the end of May and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out before the middle of July.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information, please consider purchasing our extensive Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and I always provide instructions on how to get the annual update in our newsletter.

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