Perfect White Oak River Morning

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White Oak River, Perfect Morning

White Oak River, Perfect Morning

Once you have enjoyed a perfect morning or a perfect afternoon on the river, you keep going back trying to grab another piece of perfection. The experience hooks you. Maybe it is the river seducing you.

For me it is just the pure relaxation that you can get from floating around between the oyster rocks on a blue sky day when the wind and tide conspire to make life easy on the river. Though I often use the word paradise to describe the Crystal Coast, do not be lulled into thinking that all days are like the one in the picture.

Sometimes those days are pretty hard to find even for those of us living here. That is especially so during the persistent winds that are common.  Still I am one of the lucky few who can look at his schedule and take an hour or two to go kayaking/fishing if things are not too busy at work. I might have to make up some work later in the evening, but that is a small price to pay if you hit one of those wonderful days on the White Oak River.

My kayak is rarely more than ten feet from the water and I just launch from our backyard. Depending on the wind and tide, I can paddle to the middle of the river in ten to fifteen minutes so there is no putting my kayak on a car and driving thirty minutes to get to water. We kayak nine to ten months out of the year depending on the water temperature.

The biggest enemy of kayaking on the coast in a big coastal river is wind. The more experience you have kayaking, the more wind you can handle. That is assuming you have a kayak that can also handle it. In the last ten years, I have kayaked exclusively in a small area of the White Oak River. I rarely go very much north of our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, and I have never kayaked south of Jones Island, the island at the bottom of the map. I know my part of the river very well, but even I can get beat up the wind and tide.

Wednesday May 11, I had a few hours off and there was hardly any wind in our inlet. However, I learned long ago that the lack of wind back at our house in the marsh means nothing when talking about wind on the river. I have also figured out the best way to understand what is happening on the river is to paddle out there and check it out. I have a couple of close fishing spots where I can usually wet a line even in tough conditions. I headed out Wednesday and I figured out the conditions before I got very far into the river. Still even with all the wind and waves, I was determined to fish a little. Three our four casts were all that I needed to decide that working my way back into Raymond’s Gut and fishing the marsh edges was the only logical course.

I did that and fished for twenty to thirty minutes without getting a touch so I headed back to my dock less than five minutes away. Thursday, the next day, during my morning walk around the boardwalk in our neighborhood, I took a couple of telephoto shots and determined the river might be a quieter on Wednesday afternoon.

Before I even considered my earlier experience, I was sliding my kayak in the water and heading out on another journey. From the attached map you can see my trip after I got in the river and turned on my GPS recorder. While it was by no means an easy paddle, it was beautiful out on the water and I was determined to get to my oyster rocks and fish. I got there, made one cast and the skies opened up.  A rainstorm that I thought was crossing the river at Stella had come downriver.  I was one wet fisherman by the time that I got back to the dock. Once I got inside our inlet, I stopped to take a picture. Instantly a new joke came to mind. “How do you give a kayak a bath.” The obvious answer of course is “to take it fishing and dry it off with a towel.”

I used a cloth to wring out a couple of inches of water in the kayak. It is good that I have a short memory. I’ll be back on the river chasing fish again this upcoming weekend. Often it takes two or three times to finally enjoy a nearly perfect day on the White Oak and and catch dinner. It is worth it because I love doing it.  The river is truly magical when you find that perfect combination of water, calm winds, blue skies and a slack tide.

I have no plans of giving up just because I got wet one kayaking trip. That is the first time I have been wet from rain while kayaking in over 23 years.  At least it was a warm rain, I have been soaked to the bone fishing on a skiff in late October when the rains will chill you to your bones.

It is time to make vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99.  Purchasers of the Kindle version can get a free update to 2016 version when we publish in  late May.  Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page 2014 paperback version for $24.95 and it is prime eligible. We are revising it in June.

If you have been waiting for my latest newsletter, it is going out before the end of this second weekend in May 2016. I want to offer my sincerest apology for it being late  and I will explain the delay in the newsletter

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Bewitching Spring Memories

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beachday4wm

Spring thoughts can have many different triggers that often depend on where you live. In the north country, our home for many years, spring was the magical moment when all the snow disappeared and the grass turned green and started growing.

Spring in the Shenandoah Valley that stretches from West Virginia to Roanoake, Virginia is a time of beautiful blooming trees from redbuds to dogwoods.  Spring in the Piedmont of North Carolina is an explosion of growth from daffodils and tulips to azaleas and rhododendrons. You can chase spring and blooming bushes from the foothills to the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A coastal Carolina spring is more of a tease. While many years like this year we are spared the worst of winter, we also are haunted by winds blowing in across the area’s extensive waters. Sometimes it gives us a drawn out spring and only teases us with real warmth. Then there are years like 2012 when we are wading in the ocean water in March. This year turned cool in early April and we even had a light frost on April 6, 2016. It was the first April frost we have seen in our almost ten years on the Crystal Coast. Just to make sure we got the message, we came close to another frost on Sunday, April 10.

Since then our temperatures have been in the low to mid sixties which would delight most people. However, our low temperatures have been in the mid-forties. We had an eighty degree day on March 28, but in the fourteen days since April 1, there have only been three days that have touched seventy degrees. Our average high this time of year is seventy and our average low is fifty-five Fahrenheit so the first part of April has been cool and very windy compared to the averages.

The winds are not so unusual but right now cool temperatures reinforced by steady winds means that we are living on spring memories. Usually by this time of year, I have been out in our skiff a number of times and even enjoyed kayaking a few times. The call of the river is powerful for those of us who live close by the water but it is not enough to overcome cold water and persistent winds. I have managed one kayaking trip back during our warm spell on March 12. Since then both the skiff and the kayak have been at the dock.

My other spring passion is hiking along the beaches. I managed one trip where I hiked the Point back on March 11, but it has just been a little cool and windy for my regular hikes on the beach. I stopped by Third Street Beach the other day and there was no one on the beach as far as I could see in either direction.

The cool weather is not all bad, the flowers are lasting longer and it has been a great season to grow lettuce and broccoli. Still I would rather be out on the beach or the water and Mother Nature just has not cooperated very much since March. I continue to cling to my uniform of crocs, shorts and t-shirt, but I have been forced to don a sweat shirt for my morning and evening walks.

There is never a question as to whether it will get warmer or not in Eastern North Carolina. The question is whether we will get to enjoy that happy medium between too warm and too cold before it does get too hot. In March we kept the windows shut to keep out the pine pollen. The pine pollen has disappeared by mid-April but only in the sunny afternoon is it safe to open the windows a little. Even worse the heat pump comes on just before I get up in the morning.

I am grateful that we have had something of a dry spell. After last years unbelievable rains, it is nice to have a chance to walk on our yards without them feeling like sponges. Spring warmth will get here and our cool waters will keep it from being a Washington, DC spring where you go from spring to summer in a week. The wait is just a little longer than normal.

It is time to make vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99.  Purchasers of the Kindle version can get a free update to 2016 version when we publish in May.  Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page 2014 paperback version for $24.95 and it is prime eligible.

Our target date for the new 2016 versions now is early May.  My day job has been kept me from writing as much as I would like, but I do not give up easily.

Our next email newsletter should be out in late April.

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The Winds of March

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bouguesoundwm

It is the time of the year when the winds rule North Carolina’s coastal counties including where I live along the Crystal Coast.

The winds that we get in March and April are no surprise. In fact it would be much more surprising if there were no winds in spring. The bigger the temperature differential between the water and the land, the stronger our daily dose of wind will be.

The land warms more easily than the water. That means as the air over land warms it rises. Conversely the air over the water cools and falls towards the surface of the water. Of course the rising air over the lands sucks the falling air over the water towards the land.  It is like a conveyor belt for wind. The conveyor belt reverses at night and the winds go towards the water.  When the water and land have greatly different temperatures, the effect is magnified and we have strong winds.

Understanding the scientific reason for our winds does not make the river any less choppy. I have taken a couple of new-to-our-area boaters down the river recently. Because I went out on the river at 10:30 AM and came back around 1 PM, I can testify to the midday warmth having a great impact on the winds on the White Oak River. The river became noticeably more choppy the closer we got to noon as the air temperature warmed. Very early in the morning, the river was much calmer.

In spite of the winds, it was nice on the river, but those of us who love the water will say that even when we have almost frozen our fingers off.  Thankfully this early March trip required no gloves.  I managed to survive in shorts and short-sleeved tee shirt. I am glad that I stayed out of the water since it was still a bone-chilling 54F.

As much as I love the water, I will not put myself as risk by kayaking in 54F water. The enticing look of the water has little to do with its temperature. Besides the ride in a kayak in water as choppy as we had today can be damp and pretty challenging. The wind has been blowing straight into our inlet during daylight for the last two or three days. Just the paddling against the wind would wear you down. There will be plenty of calm mornings for kayaking. I will never forget one early spring day when I moved out of the channel to let a neighbor by with his skiff.  The wind was really challenging me  and he offered to throw me a rope and tow me out to the river.  I declined mostly because I knew if I was working very hard going out, the trip back in would be an easy ride with the breeze at my back.

The wind does not just slow down the beginning of boating season, it also can make walking on the beach a good way to exfoliate some of the skin on our ankles.  When the wind is up to 15 MPH it tempers my desire to go for a long hike over the Point on Emerald Isle.  As you can see from this YouTube video, the blowing sand at the Point can be formidable.

Back when I was newbie to gardening on the Crystal Coast, I remember having to buy bales of pine straw to protect my tender tomato plants from the wind.  I have gotten better at growing strong tomato plants but the wind never diminishes for very long until summer when the temperatures between land and sea equalize.  The wind is not all bad.  It keep us cooler when summer comes early to North Carolina’s coastal plain.  We get to turn off our heat pumps and enjoy open windows until the pine pollen explodes.

Wind, low water, and cooler temperatures than what our inland brethren enjoy are all part of the signatures of spring here on the coast as we ride the temperature curve to summer.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in late April

It will not be long before it is time to make vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99 and Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page paperback version for $24.95.

Updates to our travel guide are coming. Our target date for the new 2016 versions is the end of March.

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Glassy Water Dreams

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A Calm Day on the White Oak River

A Calm Day on the White Oak River

February can be a teaser of a month and sometimes a very cruel mistress for those of us in love with the water. It is hard to say where February 2016 falls in that scale, but it has not been one of those months when it is easy to fantasize that our waters are ready for boating.

Whatever warmth we have enjoyed has been more than balanced by cold temperatures and rain which almost make spring seem like a fantasy. On the Crystal Coast by this time of year, winter is usually on the run. At least this year, we have gotten through the winter without Raymond’s Gut being completely iced over like we were in January 2014. I also did not have to use my skiff as an ice breaker like I have in the past.

I was disappointed when I dropped my skiff in the water for a late winter test this last week of February. I found the water temperature a cool 49.8F. While it could have been colder, the fisherman, boater, and kayaker in me was hoping for warmer water. It is one of the challenges of this time of year. The water looks enticing but it can be dangerously cold. Between the cold water and the shallow tides of early spring, reality sets in quickly for most of us boaters in the spring. It only takes a few minutes on the river to remind you that even if the air temperature on land is 65F, the air just above that 49.8F water will be pretty close to 50F and that is without the breeze from running down the river at 30MPH.

Beautiful sunsets like the one I used in this post help but as much as I like sunsets, I would rather be dreaming of warm water. Certainly our February marsh diversions are far better than a blizzard or storm up north.  Still time on the water is so close that we can taste it and it almost hurts.

With the water and weather teasing us we have to enjoy what we have which includes a fair number of winter visitors to the marsh. That means otters and our standard fare of great blue herons, great egrets, kingfishers, pelicans, cormorants, grebes and even some random ducks that have escaped to live another day.

While sneaking up on ducks is good entertainment, it is easy to confess that I really want warm temperatures that stay around long enough to start that sometimes long spring process of warming our waters. I say long process but often the waters here warm quickly. That is especially true in our shallow, dark-bottomed marsh which can sometimes warm very fast once we get to March. I have joked about charging for the warmer marsh waters that we send down the river.

Even with our still cold water, our soil which has had something of break from the intense rainfall of January and early February (over thirteen inches) has warmed enough to allow planting of lettuce, onion sets, spinach, and other other cool weather crops.

It is a good start towards spring and I will soon start thinking about a late winter hike over on the Point to see what changes winter has brought. Usually a hike on the beach will make me remember that it does matter where you live and the place where I live lets me say that I am living my dream here in a Coastal Paradise.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in March.

Vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach should be on the horizon.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99 and Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page paperback version for $24.95.

Updates to our travel guide are coming. Our target date for the new 2016 versions is the April.  New versions are always free to Kindle purchasers and Kindle books work on anything including iPads and iPhones.

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The Tail of the Blizzard

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Bogue Sound Sunset

Bogue Sound Sunset

The beautiful sunset picture of Bogue Sound was taken the day before the storm which eventually became the blizzard that has swallowed Northern Virginia, New York and other parts of the east coast.

No one here along the Southern Outer Banks asked for this to be a birthplace for big storms but it sometimes happens. Usually we get some wind and rain from them and that is the last we hear of them. This storm, Jonah, seems to have higher aspirations. We are going to be hearing about it for a while.

If you have been in a few blizzards, you learn that they usually have a tail which you can sort of see in this picture. As they get wound up and tighter, the tail usually becomes shorter and the winds become higher. Sometimes the tail will drag through some drastically colder air as it has done with this storm.

Yesterday we were close to 50F and this morning the temperature dropped so quickly that the raindrops froze instantly on my car. That is not normal for the Crystal Coast, but then again our weather can be a riddle that is hard to decode.

What kind of weather you get from a big, developing storm usually depends on how the storm tracks relative to your location. Usually the coast of North Carolina which as I said can be a spawning ground for storms gets a pass but sometimes we also get whacked. Fortunately our snow normally melts by noon. I doubt the two to three feet of snow dumped by Jonah on the east will melt anytime soon. We will feel the chill of the winds blowing across those fields of snow.

When we lived in Nova Scotia, we were in a perfect location to get a taste of all parts of a winter storm. We often went from rain and attendant mud to blizzard conditions and frozen ruts in what was mud. Sometimes we went back to ice pellets or rain only to finish with a coating of snow with howling winds.

Our life in New Brunswick had a few of those storms with multiple personalities but we were much more likely to be on the snow side of the storm. We were just far enough inland and high enough in elevation to catch most of the coastal storms as all snow.

After we moved to the mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia, we got more storms with sleet or freezing rain than snow but we did get a few epic storms like the December 19-20, 2009 storm. It was perfect igloo making snow but it was also the devil to move.

As long as you are healthy and the power is on, there is something nice about a storm. At our home in Tay Creek we did not worry very much about snow storms.

Most of our heat came from a wood stove and our woodshed was connected to the house. Our water came from a spring which was gravity-fed to the house. It was so cold in the winter that we unplugged our freezers which were in the woodshed. We had chickens and the trick was to collect their eggs before they froze. I gave the chickens water each morning by bringing them a shovel full of snow. I also milked a Guernsey cow which gave around three gallons of milk a day. It was a long walk to the barn in the winter but the milk was well worth it. My wife, Glenda, would often bake eight to ten loaves of her bread at a time. With milk, eggs, and bread taken care of and a freezer or two full of beef, there was no rush to drive to the supermarket which was over twenty miles away.

The only worry when the power went off was whether or not one of the big diesel tractors would start so I could take one of the one ton round bales out to the cows. They wintered in the woods a mile from the house so I had to keep the road cleaned of snow but I had the right equipment to do it.

In the ten years that we farmed, I only missed one day taking them a big bale of hay and I had managed to take them two the day before the storm.

While we often hunkered down and enjoyed a good winter storm, there were plenty of people who chose to go out and drive in weather so bad that no one should drive in it. I cannot even remember the number of times someone would knock on my door late at night and beg me to pull them out of ditch. I would put my snowsuit on and crank up a big tractor and after a bumpy ride on the ring chain equipped tractor, crawl under their car in the snow to find a place to hook my big logging chain. I would always refuse their pleas to just hook it to the bumper because I knew as soon as the chain tightened from the 16,000 pound tractor, the bumper would fly off. There were a couple of cars so badly stuck that I had to tell the owners to call a wrecker. I could have pulled their axle out but the rest of the car would have stayed there.

As the cold air behind this blizzard of 2016 is drawn across the Crystal Coast, we will complain because the air is a lot colder than we feel in a normal winter. Still we did not have to shovel the 2.25 inches of rain that we got and I for one am happy about that. I am happy to not be waiting for the snow plow on the mountain above Roanoke.

Here on the coast we thankfully only have another three or four weeks to go before the back of winter is broken. That’s fine with me, my tomato seeds came in today’s mail and I am looking forward to getting some seeds started.

With a fairly normal spring it will not be long before we are thinking about being out on the water again. Before we know it will be spring festival season and beach season will be just around the corner. Winter is not hard to survive on the Crystal Coast and that will be especially true if we can slide through another winter without snow.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in February.

It will not be long before it is time to make vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99 and Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page paperback version for $24.95.

Updates are coming.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter