Changing Sands

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An overwash at the Point, September 16, 2017

An overwash at the Point, September 16, 2017

You cannot live near the beach without being aware of the impact of wind and water. Our sandy shores are constantly being reshaped. It is the rare occasion when you go to a beach and it has not changed since your last visit.

Strong waves backed by high tides and strong winds can easily carve a bench into a beach like the one near the Point pictured here. I took that picture on a high tide walk at the Point on September 16. For the first fifty yards there was hardly enough beach for walking. The high water was coming from Jose and mostly covered an area that normally has plenty of beach.

Ten days later I walked at Third Street Beach at the eastern end of the Town of Emerald Isle. All summer there had been a bench there with a steeply sloped beach. Maria did not come close to us but her waves and winds took the bench away at Third Street and gave the beach a gentle slope as you can see in this picture.

Changes from moving sands can be even more dramatic at the Point, an area on the westernmost tip of Bogue Banks Island where Emerald Isle is located. I regularly walk the Point but I never pay any attention to the maps that Google and Bing create for the area. Even with the miracles of the Internet, the Point can change faster than you can post a map.

The picture of the top of the post is an area being washed over by the same high tides that carved the bench. It is hard to believe the changes at the Point in the last ten years. This picture which shows the Point under water was snapped on November 4, 2007. Since that time the sands of the Point have made a remarkable recovery. Where there was once water I have measured sand stretching .313 miles in 2013 to .261 in September of 2017. Today looking out from the same vehicle ramp, there are acres and acres of sand that seem to stretch almost to the horizon.

If you pull up this map of hikes on the Point, you can begin to imagine how it has changed especially if you remember that water covered most of the Point in 2007. I did not fully complete my recent hike and make it to the end of Bird Island near Coast Guard Channel but from the angle of the shore when I turned back towards the ramp, I am expecting drastic changes.

The good news is that the Point seems to be very resilient. Many beaches are not that lucky. We are fortunate to have beaches here on the Crystal Coast that are not as endangered as those out on Hatteras Island.

If you need some guidance on having a great time here in Emerald Isle, please remember to check out our book, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The 2017-18 print editions were published on August 15 and  are Prime eligible at Amazon. the Kindle version went live on September 20. If you are in Emerald Isle you can pick up a black and white copy at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  The Emerald Isle Town Office carries the color version.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below. I have to apologize that I have been unable to get out a newsletter this summer but if all goes well I will have a news-filled one out the first week of October.  I am going to try to publish once every three months during the winner. Next year we will not be remodeling our home so maybe time will not be so precious in the summer months.  The most recent edition of the newsletter can be read at this link.

A July Beach Evening

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Once every year or so I end up writing about beach evenings.  The reason is a simple.  I have many pleasant memories of beach evenings here on the North Carolina coast.  I was fortunate as a child.  Even though my mother was a single parent, she managed to carve out a couple of weeks each summer when we took a vacation.  Being true North Carolinians, we either went to the mountains or the beach.  I remember the beach winning about three quarters of the time.

Mother would pile whatever nieces and me that would fit in her old 1953 Ford and off we would go to the beach.  Somehow she found the time to pack a picnic lunch of fried chicken and country ham biscuits and there would be a cooler full of Coca-Cola.  The roads were all two lanes but she never failed to get us there safely.  She was a better driver than many men.  The beach cottages we found were always simple and a few blocks off the beach but it was still heaven to a car full of kids from the North Carolina Piedmont.

There were tomato sandwiches for lunch and at least a couple of seafood dinners out during the week.  Most memorable were those long evening walks on the beach.  Some nights were perfect beach evenings.  As I wrote in my post, A Beach Evening, in June 2014.  You have to feel a beach evening.

You are more likely to walk outside and feel a beach evening than you are to know that it is outside waiting for you. A beach evening is more about the air and breeze than it is about how it looks outside. You can go outside in the complete dark and know by how the air feels on your skin that it is great evening to be at the coast.

When you have a beach evening, you feel embraced by the warm, moist air. Maybe it is a tropical evening with a touch less heat but the warmth is crucial to the sense of comfort that makes you wish that your time outside might never end.

A couple of nights ago I was out enjoying a late night walk and it slowly dawned on me that I had stumbled into a perfect beach evening.  There was no shortage of warmth but I was not hot.  The air was moving and it smelled of the beach. The humidity was not overpowering and except for walking on a street among pine streets, I could easily have been on the beach in the mid-fifties in Nags Head.   The walk brought back lots of great memories of trying to keep up with my teenage cousins along the dark sand dunes and crashing surf of those long ago trips.

A couple of weeks ago I met a couple from Nags Head on an evening walk at Third Street Beach. I asked them why people who lived at the beach had driven the three hours or so to our beaches. The husband quickly replied that Nags Head had gotten so crowded that it was hard to enjoy his hometown beach.  It reminded me of how blessed we are to live in a beach area that is not over crowded.   With some luck I might get in a walk on the beach this evening.  From past experiences I know that the beach will have few people even with this being the week of July 4.

It is good that there are still some beaches where you can have your own space and hear the waves if you choose to do so.  It is nice that there is room for families, fishermen, and even our canine friends.  While it might seem a little crowded on the streets of Emerald Isle, it is unlikely that you will have trouble making a left turn.  Someone will stop and let you make that turn or even let you into the line of traffic if you are waiting.  That is just the way it is here on the Crystal Coast where the family beach is still alive and well and you just might find a few perfect beach evenings to enjoy our remarkable shores.  Do not be surprised if you see more stars in the sky than you ever have.

If you need some guidance on having a great time here in Emerald Isle, please remember to check out our book, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The 2017 edition should be out before the end of July.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below.  The next edition will be out later in July.  The most recent edition can be read at this link.

Taste of Summer in April

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It was only as the last weekend in March arrived that winter seemed to release its hold on the Crystal Coast. After a relatively warm February, we had serious visits back into winter-like weather.

We saw our first snowflakes in three or four years on March 12. On March 15 we began a series of three days when the temperatures fell into the mid to upper twenties. One day it only got into the mid-thirties and was so cold that some of my tomato plants that were hardening off inside the garage ended up with some damaged leaves.

Fortunately April has been a wonderful month so far. Sunshine, blue skies and warming temperatures have defined April 2017. Our grandchildren were on spring break the second week in April and it was a dandy with no precipitation, nearly perfect beach temperatures and no extreme wind.

The next week has been almost as nice with a couple of windy days and some clouds thrown in for variety. On April 21, we got to 84F by 11:30 AM. It feels summer-like outside and everyone has been enjoying outdoor activities. The winds continue to be more than the previous week and we are getting dry. The forecast for this weekend may solve the early dryness of our growing season.

Our garden plants which get water as needed are doing great. The Romaine lettuce, spinach, green onions and broccoli are some of the best we have ever grown.

Based on a few trips to Emerald Isle during Easter week, I would say that the tourist traffic was brisk. Food Lion was a bit of zoo at times when I ventured over.

This week we have enjoyed a few nights when the temperature stayed close to 70F which seems to be the magical number for warming the water up. The surf is already in the mid-sixties and the river is above 70F. Right on cue, someone in our neighborhood landed a short red drum. Our spring birds like the killdeer are also showing up.

I was out earlier in the spring in my kayak but since then my free time has coincided with the stronger winds so I have not made a second trip but I am more persistent than the winds so I will be back on the water soon. This is also the time of year when you will find the beach substantially cooler than inland areas. You certainly will not be cold but winds, cooler temperatures, and still chilly water can make a big difference if you get wet.

Certainly you can wade a little in the water but I would wait a little longer before getting seriously wet. It will not be long and the water will be really nice.  The Crystal Coast is as nice a family beach as you can find and early spring is a great time for a practice visit to line up your summer vacation.  Almost everything stays open all year on Emerald Isle.

If you are new to the area, do not forget to check out our books including, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is available in print or as a Kindle book.

Nearly Perfect Weather

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After two rainy but still nice summers, we have enjoyed a stretch of remarkable dry weather. In the last twenty-six days we have only gotten two tenths of an inch of rain. Before that we measured 38.5 inches of rain since June 1 or a little over 2.1 inches per week during the whole summer. Even that pales to 2015 when our rain total by early October was 43.25 inches or 2.4 inches per week.

Even as the light rain comes down early on the morning of November 4, the expectation is that it will clear this morning after minimal precipitation.  Then there will be another week of dry weather for everyone to enjoy.

Fall of 2015 ended up being great but so far this year’s fall weather has been even better. I suspect it has surpassed almost everyone’s dreams. While it was summer-like and almost too warm for a while, the last week of weather was perfect.  The fall gardens which were doing well early have recovered from Mathew and we are even catching fish which puts everyone on the Crystal Coast in a good mood.

I have been out on the river twice in the last five days and both times have been a joy. Saturday I brought home a nice black drum and a speckled sea trout eighteen inches long. I also returned to the river two fifteen to sixteen inch red drum. Thursday, November 3, I did not even get in my kayak until 4:45 PM and after twenty minutes of paddling I dropped anchor. I caught another sixteen inch red drum on my first cast. In a few minutes, I caught another slightly shorter one and on my way in, I caught one that was close to twenty inches. The net in the picture with the drum is sixteen inches across. Of course I caught the drum in my favorite spot out on the oyster rocks in the White Oak River. The only reason I stopped fishing was that I was running out of daylight.

Most of us living here on the coast move here to be close to the water. Still the great weather, abundance of blue skies and sunshine are also factors. Some folks come for the beach and there are others who come for either boating, kayaking, fishing or all of the above. I often joke that we should bottle our fall weather on the coast and bring it out in February during our short winter. The reality is that usually we get enough nice weather that it is not too hard to survive until spring warmth finds us.  Nice weather in October and into November is not unusual. We even get shorts weather sometimes in December. I usually find some warm weather for a January beach hike and some January boating. It does not take much magic winter warmth to get us through the sometimes icy end of winter.

Thoughts cold weather are still a long time off if you live here on the North Carolina coast. We have plenty of time to enjoy the beach before the winter winds. My more recent long hike over on the Point at Emerald Isle was October 20. The water was crystal clear and the air was summer-like.  Crystal clear waters are part of the heritage of the Crystal Coast. Waters like I saw on my last hike give credence to the area’s nickname.

If you have made it this far in the article, you likely have figured out that the best part of the beach season is far from over.  If you find the time, do your body and soul a favor and plan a fall trip to the Crystal Coast. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is perfect for fishing or even sticking your toes into it. There will still be some warm days, so enjoy them like those of us who live here do.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter early in November.

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Matthew’s Winds and Water

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egrettakeoffwmPardon us for flapping our wings a little.  Matthew has come and gone from the east coast. The Crystal Coast area did very well.  However, the effects of the storm are still being felt inland on the North Carolina coastal plain. Historic flooding will take place in a few localities during this second week in October.  Even Interstate 95 is still closed three days after Mathew left the area.  There are still power outages as far north as Virginia Beach.  South along the coasts that stretch from here to through Florida, people are cleaning up after a strong storm that did a tremendous amount of damage.

As with every storm there are lessons to be learned. The first is that we all need to be humble before storms like Matthew. The closest you can come to outsmarting a storm is being well prepared and if necessary, getting far out of its way.

No matter how many storms you have endured, a big one coming up the coast makes everyone who has any sense nervous. Personally I obsess over the track even with my knowledge that the size of the wind field and rain shield can can turn even a near miss into an almost direct hit and cause great damage.

I follow the hurricanes headed toward us with as many tools as I can find. There are plenty of good online tools today.  I use Storm Pulse mostly and add data that I pick up from the National Weather Service. Even when a storm looks like it might miss us, we go forward with preparations until we are well out of the cone of uncertainty. There are so many factors for a particular location that it is unlikely any weather forecaster can provide exactly the right advice for our specific location. A lot of the knowledge you need to survive comes from living through some storms.  The factors vary from the timing of the tides to wind directions and how protected a location is from wind coming from a certain angle. The direction of hurricane winds change as the storm moves through an area. Of course we all live in fear of being just to the right of a strong hurricane’s track.

Hurricane Matthew’s track came within about 50 miles of our location just off the White Oak River. The White Oak is a big wide river as you can see from this drone picture taken near our home. Home looks a long way off when you are in the middle of the a huge river in your tiny kayak. Raymond’s Gut which is our water route to the White Oak curves back a little as  it gets to our house.  The geography of Raymond’s Gut and how it intersects the river offers us some protection from storms.

There are some other good things about being on a big wide, coastal river that is not far from the ocean. Our location just three miles up river from the mouth at Swansboro means that heavy rains do not have far to flow. The White Oak River with a length of only 36 miles does not drain a tremendous area which is also a good thing when it comes to flooding. Our river is also tidal so when the tide turns some water, usually two feet of it, disappears.

We are lucky to have the very well treed Bogue Banks between us and the Atlantic Ocean. There is no way to be perfectly secure on the coast when it comes to hurricanes, but we have found our current location has been a safe haven over the last ten plus years. We stayed through all of Hurricane Irene and its punishing wind and rains. Hurricane Sandy was not much of an event here. Hurricane Matthew brought us very manageable winds and only two inches of rain. In the fall of 2015 we lived through some of the epic rains that almost swamped South Carolina. In September 2010, we even survived a strange summer downpour that dropped over 20 inches of rain on us in eight hours. None of those events brought water even close to the homes in our neighborhood. Our home is only 25 feet from the water and thankfully the water has never even gotten over our bulkhead

While the flooding water from Hurricane Matthew looks impressive covering our boardwalk, the water was gone four hours later as the tide dropped. This picture taken the next morning shows how quickly things were back to normal.

Part of staying sane with a hurricane coming is to be prepared.  We got cash from the ATM on Wednesday and filled both cars with gas.  The same day I took our skiff down the river to make sure it was working.  I started our generator last Thursday.  We got some extra water and canned food.  We checked our emergency radio, all batteries and flashlights.  On Friday before the rains, we moved lots of things inside or tied them down.  On Saturday I raised the boat on the lift to high water stage and got a couple of coolers of ice. We were ready to fill our 5 gallon water jug if things started looking bad.  When power starts flickering, our routine is to put items that we might need the next day in the cooler so we won’t have to open the fridge.  If the power is off for several hours, we put the generator out on the patio and power a few things in the house including the refrigerator.  Both our phones were fully charged and we talked about the papers that we needed to take with us if we decided to leave.

We were ready for Matthew but fortunately we got to spend a comfortable night at home in spite of some pretty serious and noisy winds very early Sunday morning.  We never lost power and during our trip our for lunch in Morehead City we only saw a couple of power trucks working.  Atlantic Beach lost power but Emerald Isle did not. A measure of the few power incidents in our area is that we saw a TV truck filming the one broken pole we noticed in Cedar Point.  Some of our “good luck” is due to the giant power poles used by Carteret-Craven Electric and their efforts to keep our power right of ways free of dangerous limbs and trees.

You cannot hide from Hurricanes, but you can pay attention to history and pick a place that has survived a few storms. I know that just because we have not been hit directly does not mean that we will not get a storm with a perfect track to cause us damage. I remain hopefully that being a few miles inland with a very big tidal drain beside us means that we are relatively safe.  Even so we always wrestle with the stay or go problem.  Hurricane Matthew confirms what we have seen before.  If you do leave, you are likely to have a hard time getting back because of inland flooding.  Still if a Category three storm looks like it is headed to our area, we will likely head for the hills.

If you can find some roads that are not flooded, this is a great time of year to visit. There are certainly no crowds. By the middle of October most of the flooding should be gone.  Just watch the weather and pick some nice days to really enjoy the fall treat of visiting the Crystal Coast. I took this beach picture Sunday afternoon, just after Hurricane Matthew had passed the Crystal Coast.

You can check out the Town of Emerald Isle Report on Matthew for another perspective of Matthew’s impacts.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter out around Halloween.

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Fall Waters

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White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

The colors and the light have changed as we have moved into the fall season. While it is a subtle change, it is still very noticeable especially to photographers.

While we keep hearing that the weather is changing, the slightest taste of fall usually gets overwhelmed by the powerful sun that owns the North Carolina coast during September. The humidity leaves for brief periods then you open your door during midday and it feels like summer all over again.

It is still great beach weather and the water temperature remains close to 80F. Even as September draws to a close, my last hike at the Point on September 8, is still a fresh memory. The pictures that I took remind me of just how beautiful our beaches are here on the Crystal Coast. When you walk over on the Point, you enter a different world. While beach driving started September 15, I got my most recent hike in before the trucks started hitting the beach.  That meant that I had the far reaches of the beach almost to myself.

The hike which is shown on this map was a little over two miles. In the fall I try hike down to what is called Bird Island but I ran out of time, daylight, and energy on September 8. I am hoping to get back to the Point the first week in October. The highs are supposed to be in the low eighties or upper seventies. That will be perfect weather for hiking the beaches.

The weather folks keep promising us a front that is going to drop down and sweep out all the humidity. It seems to never quite make it to the Crystal Coast and now we have to keep our eye on Tropical Storm Mathew which has the possibility of swinging up the east coast and bringing more tropical air over us.

We have learned from past experiences to keep our eyes on the water. The last year or so, many areas, some not even on the coast (see Cedar Rapids, Iowa) are getting caught in torrential non-tropical storms that move slowly across the country. Last year areas of South Carolina were swamped. We were luckily only on the edge of that storm. Even with our area not in the bullseye, the storm gave us high waters and put an end to good weather for a while. Recently, Bertie County, which is north of the Crystal Coast, got nearly twenty inches of rain over three days. It caused severe flooding. Now as I write this Washington, DC is under a flood watch and might get eight inches of rain in two to three days.

The good news is that even in years like last year we usually do get a great stretch of weather.  In the fall as the tropics settle down, we get to really enjoy the area. Fall is without a doubt my favorite time on the Southern Outer Banks. The fish are biting, the crowds have dispersed, and the humidity is a lot lower. On top of that the water is still warm.

I managed to get out in my kayak last weekend. That is where I took the picture at the beginning of the post. It was great to be on the water. The previous time that I went out, I felt like the frog in a pot of gradually heating water. I was out very early in the morning but as the heat of the day caught up with me, there was no relief since the water was still in the upper eighties. Fortunately those water temperatures are gone and a kayak ride is back to being a very pleasant experience.

If you have the flexibility to visit this time of year, just watch the weather and pick your time carefully to really enjoy the treats of the Crystal Coast. As you can see from the beach pictures, there is plenty of room for visitors.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter out before Halloween.

Sign-Up for the monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter