Shallow waters near Swansboro, NC
This is our tenth year living on the North Carolina coast. The Fourth of July is pretty special on the coast. If you have a place already booked, you will likely spend some time on the beach, maybe watch some of the area’s fireworks, and have some local seafood. Most of those things are easily accomplished once you make it across the bridge to Emerald Isle or one of the other Crystal Coast beach or river towns.
With so many coastal Fourths under our belts, we have seen all the fireworks we need and tend to stay fairly close to home. Like many area residents we have a pretty good idea about what to attempt this weekend and what might not be worth the challenge.
Even many of the people who live here and should know better are drawn to put their boats in the water this coming weekend. When I took a run down the White Oak to Swansboro on June 29, I was struck by the lack of boats. The Intracoastal Waterway, Swansboro Harbor, and the White Oak River were all pretty well devoid of boat traffic. The picture at the top of post was taken June 30 in area where there is usually some boat traffic.
My skiff, a fishing buddy, and I were out early the morning of June 30th fishing the marshes near Swansboro. We saw almost no boats. It will be our last trip to Swansboro until at least the middle of the week after the Fourth. The Fourth of July is when you will find the most boats on the water all year long.
I have learned that the closer you get to the Intracoastal Waterway in Swansboro this holiday weekend, the more boats that you will find. The boats are not the biggest problem. This next week is also the peak of the jet ski season and you can almost guarantee that someone will be hurt. So if you find me on the water, it will not be in the Intracoastal Waterway.
One of the places that rarely gets crowded even on the Fourth of July is the White Oak River. We also fished there this morning and managed to find a trout that came home for dinner. If I can find a few hours without a lot of wind and with some blue skies, I will likely be back on the river this weekend in my kayak. There is nothing better than being on the water and if I fish the oyster rocks, I will have a natural barrier between me and any power boats and jet skis that happen to wander up river.
A remarkable stretch of beach weather stayed with us during the first three weeks of June. The only wrinkles during that time were some winds strong enough to get the ankle-defoliating sand moving one afternoon and some showers that cleared the beach late one afternoon last week. A little less than 6.2 inches of rain has fallen in June. However, all of it but .70 inches fell on two days between June 1 and June 7. The three weeks since have been dry with almost no rain in the last ten days except the less than one quarter of an inch of rain we got on June 28. That barely settled the dust. Last year we were much wetter with 7.75 inches of rain spread through June.
The seven day precipitation forecast continues to hint that at least part of this year’s Fourth of July week at the beach will be wetter than our recent stretch of dry weather. That does not mean the week will be a rainout. The way our weather works, we could get 2.5 inches of rain in an afternoon and the rest of the week could be dry. Coastal weather is even less predictable than inland weather.
Given the potential rain in the forecast, I have some things in mind that will still let me still enjoy the Fourth. My Saturday morning will be planned around the Emerald Isle EMS Pancake breakfast and the tides. I plan to be heading across the bridge before 8AM for my pancakes. If I can get back and on the river by 10:30AM on Saturday, I will be set to fish the falling tide. The winds are also forecast to be light on Saturday morning before picking up in the afternoon. The forecast is also calling for almost no chance of precipitation on Saturday morning.
After I am done my kayaking, I will likely take it easy for most of the day, but if the bridge does not get plugged up, I might try to go back to enjoy the grand opening of Goose Creek Growler Company located at 200 Mallard Drive on Emerald Isle. They make beautiful growlers (reusable beer containers) and have wonderful beer to go in them. Both our daughters were visiting this past weekend and we managed to polish off a couple of growlers. I know they are expecting a crowd, but a special cold beer on hot summer day is nice touch to the holiday.
If some rain does visit us this weekend, one place that I will likely avoid is Emerald Plantation Shopping Center. Check-in traffic will swamp the Food Lion parking lot anyway and experience has shown that people take shopping to another level when it rains at the beach. Last week we had some showers one afternoon and I let myself imagine that we might be able to have an early dinner at Shark’s Den restaurant in Emerald Plantation. I had wings on the brain since Tuesday is their wing special day. All it took was one pass through the parking lot near the restaurant to determine that there were no parking spaces at the Emerald Plantation Shopping Center. We reconsidered our foolishness and headed back to Swansboro and the Highway 55 Burgers and Shakes restaurant. It is one of the places we often retreat to when there are crowds on the beach. After I enjoyed a shrimp po’boy and my wife had a burger, we stopped by Piggly-Wiggly for some groceries. If you must have groceries this weekend, you should consider a visit to the Piggly-Wiggly in Swansboro. While it will be busy, it will not be as chaotic as either of the Food Lion stores or the Lowe’s Grocery store. If we go out to dinner on Saturday, we will likely drive twenty minutes to Fat Fellas in Newport instead of waiting in line at a local restaurant.
Sunday will start with church service at Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church. The Men of the Church are cooking hot dogs and hamburgers and visitors are welcome. Drop by to worship with us and have lunch and some fellowship with one of the friendliest congregations around. If the weather is good Sunday or Monday, I will likely be back in my kayak on the river. If not there is always plenty to do around the house or in the garden between showers. If the weather turns good, I might try to escape the crowds by going for a Point hike either early in the morning or late in the evening.
It is time for summer vacations and if you are coming to the Crystal Coast, do not forget our five-star-rated travel guide. Even if you have been here a number of times, I might have some secrets to share about the area beaches. We have a lot of changes in the restaurant scene and not everything new has great food. Our Week at the Beach, the Emerald Isle Kindle version is $3.99 and includes extras such as 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. If you buy one of the paperbacks, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for $1.99. If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells them 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 next news letter will be out before just before July 4.
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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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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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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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December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River
It is not unusual for me to be out on the river during December, January or even February. However, it is a little different to be headed down river with the boat up on plane on December 27 and to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
On our Christmas boat ride last year on December 26, 2014 my daughter, Erin, and I found the water temperature just under 53F. It does not take anyone long to figure out that the air temperature close to the surface on a big river is pretty close to the water temperature. In December and January we can see some cool water temperatures. On January 4, 2014, the river water was at 43.5F.
What cold water in the river means is that you can have close to 80F air temperatures like we enjoyed on December 27, 2015 but still have a cold ride on the river if the water is down below fifty degrees especially when you add the 20 to 30 MPH wind chill from the moving air of a skiff riding on top of the water.
That was not the case on December 26, 2015. Because my GPS unit is broken I could not tell the exact water temperature in the White Oak like previous years, but I could guess that it was somewhere in the upper sixties. Based on other reliable reports and how comfortable we were riding down the river in shorts and t-shirts, the water had to be close to 70F.
Since the air temperature was very warm at almost 80F around our home just off the river, our December 27 boat ride was even refreshing. That happens to be the whole point of boat rides. You do not get a boat to be miserable riding around in it.
I have written much about the White Oak River, and I get very close to it since I also kayak the river and walk its shores. I find that being close to the river and its marshes lets the peace of nature find me. It is the best way to unwind from the tensions of modern life. Among the many choices here, kayaking is perhaps my favorite way of unwinding. My wife fails to understand how being in a kayak just twelve feet long in the middle of a choppy tidal river close to two miles wide could possibly be relaxing but I guarantee that it is.
December kayaking is even more special and if the weather and water temperature holds, I might even get in some January kayaking which is indeed a rare treat. Our waters can briefly freeze over in January and it takes a long time for them to warm. Once the water gets below fifty Fahrenheit, my only trips out on the river are in our skiff since cold water can be deadly if you flip your kayak. Usually the water warms to kayaking temperatures about the time that the strawberries ripen which is sometime from the end of March until the middle of April. That means that normally there is no kayaking for me in January, February or March. I have to make do with a few warm days, lots of marsh walks, some chilly boat rides down the river, and a few magical winter beach walks.
However, each morning sunny or not, I usually manage to walk our neighborhood boardwalk. It gives me a chance to check out the visitors in our marsh.
This year it has not been cold or stormy enough yet for the big birds to need to visit the sheltered area of Raymond’s Gut where we live. It is a little bit of win-lose situation. If our winter is warm, we have fewer marsh visitors and the bird feeder goes begging. A cold winter means there is a big bird around every corner.
Winter will find us soon enough though it is going to be tough to let go of the Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and spring onions that we are still enjoying as the New Year draws close. You do not often pick a tomato for a sandwich like we did on Christmas Day 2015 even in coastal North Carolina.
Wintering at the coast is a pleasant adventure and there are always some surprises to keep us on our toes. Just maybe the cold weather will help us get another visit by our famous egret, Frank 29X. That would almost make the cold weather worth it.
Update December 29
There was great excitement in the marsh around Raymond’s Gut this morning. Frank 29X did show up for a visit. This is now four straight years that Frank 29X has visited us during December. It is a long flight from the Ontario marshes where he spends the summer. It was not surprising that we saw Frank 29X on a very windy day and that he was chasing fish in a marsh spot that I call Where The Egrets and Herons Go To Hide. You can get a good perspective of Frank 29X’s foraging spot by checking out this photo shot from a drone this past Thanksgiving.
Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out hopefully around New Year’s Day.
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Last Sunday in November Beach Crowd
There are perhaps a number of reasons to remember this past November. One of the most poignant for me is that this is the first month in the last eleven years that I did not have the time to write a single post for the web.
I did find a few times when I could enjoy the Crystal Coast with my skiff, kayak, and through the camera on my son’s drone. Even with the challenges that have kept me mostly off the water, it has been a wonderful month.
Looking back a year, it is hard to believe how different the weather has been in 2015. Last year I was writing about unusual cold. That November was memorable mostly for how cold it got.
This year it is hard to write about our weather without mentioning the unusually heavy precipitation that has fallen since June 1, 2015. Currently our rainfall total since then stands at 59.40 inches. In just a few hours on the afternoon of November 19, we received 7.1 inches of rain. That downpour of rain is typical of some of the storms we have seen this summer except it was even more intense. Over six inches fell in just three hours. We had a sheet of water four inches deep flowing down our street.
With all the rain, fishing in the White Oak River has not been a way to get fish into the pan. While the water temperature was holding at sixty degree Fahrenheit the last weekend in November, it will likely drop into the fifties by the first weekend of December. That is hard to believe given that our high temperature on December 2 was 77F. However, high temperatures after Wednesday when we saw the 77F are not going to get out the fifties until the weekend. Low temperatures are also going to dip into the upper thirties. The river water will get colder fast. The last hope for fish might be finding some trout. Last weekend I tried the river and found no trout in the usual places but I remain hopeful.
Still it was stunningly beautiful out on the river in my kayak. I was even lucky enough to paddle by a couple of otters swimming in golden water. Fortunately November has been a great month for gardening. We only had one frost and were able to protect our tomatoes and lettuce from any damage. Our buttercrunch lettuce crop has been the best ever and we finished our fall 2015 harvest of green beans on November 23 just before the one frost that found us. We are starting to get a few tomatoes. A December tomato is a rarity even here on the North Carolina coast.
November is special for photographers because the area’s waters have a habit of turning golden during the month. It seems to be a regular occurrence and I enjoy capturing the spectacular scenes like the ones with the otters. Even more fun has been seeing the area through the lens of my son’s drone. Last year he was down for a few days and only experimented a little during that Christmas.
Mostly those shots got me excited for his next trip. Seeing our area from 100 to 250 above the ground is not something that is easy to do in our land of no hills. Fortunately the drone and pilot were here for a week this Thanksgiving. It gave us time for a major effort to photograph some of my favorite spots. He got some great shots of the White Oak, Raymond’s Gut, the Point, and even Bogue Sound. He also did a panoramic movie of the Point.
While I did not have as much leisure time as I would have liked this past month, it is hard to complain when there is plenty of great weather and I have enjoyed some of it from the kayak and on the beach. The picture at the top of the post was taken from Bogue Inlet Pier on Sunday, November 29. It looks like I was not the only person enjoying November. There were a number of surfers on the other side of the pier.
It has been another great fall and you can read about our equally nice but wet summer at my SOBX Coastal Paradise site. Early fall is covered in this post.
Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out sometime in early December.
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