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.

The Lure of the Ocean

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Dredge Working on Bogue Inlet Channel

It has been a while since I have written a post, but sometimes experiencing life comes before writing about it. This spring on the Crystal Coast has been extraordinarily beautiful and few of us are complaining about the long string of blue skies and daily sunshine.

As often happens on the North Carolina coast, spring has transitioned quickly into summer but it has remained relatively dry. We had .75 inches of rain on June 8. It was eleven days before we got our next half an inch on June 19.  It certainly feels like summer now as we approach the last week in June.

Even with the blue sky, no rain and lots sunshine getting out on the water can be a challenge. My last kayak trip ended when the wind chased me back into our inlet. When I cannot get out in the kayak, I fall back to our skiff. Fortunately, this winter I got my lift repaired and a couple of weeks ago my boat got its spring maintenance and a new GPS installed. Finally on Friday, June 9, my work schedule cooperated with the winds, and I took an extended lunch hour and headed down to Swansboro. It is a short trip and one of my favorites.

We live on Raymond’s Gut just off the White Oak River about three miles north of the Intercoastal Waterway where it meets the White Oak at Swansboro. Just a short distance from there is Bogue Inlet where a marked channel takes you to the Atlantic Ocean. It happens to be one of the most beautiful spots in the world.

Boating is not my wife’s favorite activity, so she rarely tags along physically but like a good wife should, she worries about me when I am out in the boat and usually makes me promise not to go out in the ocean.  However, sometimes the lure of the ocean is too much for me and I venture out a little beyond land.

All navigational aids were removed this spring from Bogue Inlet because the old channel was not safe.  In our little boating world it was big news and I have been itching to visit the area since I heard that some locals found a very usable new channel. I had a good idea where the new channel should be and had watched some boats navigating it on one of my walks at the Point. I knew if I was careful and went out at low tide, I could fairly easily find my way.

I tried to convince one of my friends to tag along but he was too busy, so I headed off on my trip with the promise to my wife that I would not go in the ocean. I went well prepared and only intended to visit the marshes near Swansboro since I was alone on the boat. However, once I got through the marshes, I decided that it was such a beautiful day and things were going so well that I could not resist heading out Bogue Inlet to the ocean.

The trip out the Inlet went well and for those of you familiar with Bogue Inlet, the new channel goes to the east of the big sandbar in the Inlet and is a much more direct route. My trip went so well that I was itching to go back out again. I was able to do that a couple more times in the last week. On my Friday, June 16, trip I was pleased to see that the Coast Guard had placed the buoys in the new channel.

I love the new channel and think we are all going to enjoy it this summer. So if you were worried about wandering around Bogue Inlet without navigational aids, you can put that worry away. I have gone out as far as the Green 5 buoy without any challenges.

This is a map of the old and new Bogue Inlet channels. It is just for guidance. Please follow the new buoys and enjoy the new route through Bogue Inlet.

The water is almost 80F in Bogue Inlet so if you have to wade a little in the water there will be no shock to the system.  Boating is just one part of the the Crystal Coast. This is as nice a family beach area as you can find and early in the season is a great time to visit.  It will not be long before the Fourth so hurry down before things get too busy.

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.  The 2017 print edition should be available in July.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below.  The next edition will be out shortly.

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.

Vestiges of Winter in the Marsh

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It has been over two months since I have written a post on my Crystal Coast Life website. It happens ever now and then that you just need a break from writing even if writing is something that you enjoy very much. If there is a good time for some time off from writing, it is winter and if there is a good place to restore yourself, it is the marshes along the North Carolina coast.  I am back now and refreshed from the break and hopeful that we are seeing the last vestiges of winter.

The winter of 2016-17 has been an easy one so far in the Raymond’s Gut marsh on the edges of the White Oak River. We had one serious cold spell from January 7 to Jan 10. We experienced 15F, the lowest temperature in our ten plus years on the Crystal Coast. Fortunately for those of us along the coast there was no frozen precipitation to go along with the very cold temperatures.

Winter brought our usual cast of characters including our most famous visitor, Frank 29X and a new friend, an otter who has been named Emmet. Frank 29X is a great egret born in Canada who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. He is a true snow bird with his trips south each winter. He has not missed a winter since 2012 and is somewhat famous in birding circles.  Emmet is a young river otter who seems to have developed a fondness for our marsh. There was one stretch when he was around for almost two weeks. I am guessing that Emmet is one of the otters that were born here in the marsh last year. The marsh did get iced over during our one cold spell but that is long gone and the duration of our cold spells is shorter and shorter as we get closer to spring.

As winter slowly releases us to spring, we can still expect some cold nights but often the brilliant North Carolina sun can make you forget about cold temperatures well before 10AM. Winter winds often linger and become spring breezes which given the length of time that it takes for the waters to warm up are only marginally warmer than the cold winter winds.  It does not take much to change the quiet inlet in the post picture to a wind whipped inlet.

Another part of winter that takes a long time to change is the reddish brown of our mostly centipede lawns. This area by our boardwalk is green in the summer but stays brown until April usually. While it is not unusual to see green grass in central North Carolina in early March, it takes much longer for our brown centipede lawns to turn green. If you see green grass at the coast early in the spring, it is likely that someone over-seeded their centipede yard with annual rye grass. We actually hope the centipede grass does not turn green until into April. A late March frost can turn a centipede yard brown and it has to start greening up all over.

The roller coaster weather that we have on the coast also keeps our area waters which were cooled by the winter’s cold temperatures from warming up quickly. Cool water temperatures are the most maddening vestiges of winter. The warm days of spring often tease us but experience has taught us that the beautiful waters of spring are often deadly cold. We might end up being lucky this year with the water temperatures already in the mid-fifties, but I am not counting on it yet.

All it takes is for the northern half of the country to be snow covered and for those cold north winds to sweep across the fields of snow to keep our spring damp and cool. Still we know that spring is drawing nearer by the day. We have already picked up almost an hour of daylight. Our daffodils have responded with beautiful blooms. And in what might be a surprise to many people our wagon train tomatoes are still producing ripe tomatoes. We already have tomato seeds planted and it will not be long before we are planting cold tolerant plants.

It will take a while for those last vestiges of winter, the brown centipede grass, the cold winds, and cold water to disappear but we are on the downward slope to better weather. We will soon be thinking about spring festivals and walks along the beach.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books are especially useful if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below.  The first newsletter of the new year is late but should be out late in the week after Valentine’s today. It will just in time to provide information on the first spring festivals.

Life by the Waters of the White Oak

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The White Oak River

The White Oak River

Another November has come and gone and somehow I am not surprised that once again the weather has been unpredictable but beautiful. That this fall has been yet another great coastal fall is undeniable.

The nearly perfect weather has been an interesting contrast to the cold weather of November 2014 when we saw temperatures drop to 24F and the high for one day only reach 42F. We got through November 2016 without a killing frost along the edges of Raymond’s Gut. The narrow channel of Raymond’s Gut runs behind our home and out to the White Oak River. It is a great place to garden, fish, and enjoy life.  That is especially true when we have more than our fair share of summer-like fall days that have been the gift of November 2016. Our temperatures were well into the seventies on this year’s first day of December.

Fall 2016 unlike last year has been dry since early October. Hurricane Matthew dumped three inches of rain on western Carteret County on October 8. In the almost eight weeks since then we have only received 1.72 inches of precipitation. November 2015 was much wetter. We got 7.1 inches of rain just on November 19, 2015. On December 2, 2015 our rain total since June 1 stood at 59.4 inches. This year with a total of just 40.2 inches precipitation since June 1, 2016, we are over nineteen inches behind last year’s total. No one is complaining. It is the first time in a while that we had a chance to thoroughly dry out.

Variable weather comes with living along the coast. When water is at your doorstep there are some benefits like later frosts and extended spring weather. Each year the waters are slow to cool in the fall and sometimes not so quick to warm in the spring. We are also on the doorstep of a huge weather machine that often spawns storms just off our coast. We sometimes either get brushed by storms or watch them spin up and head north to clobber New England or the Canadian Maritimes.

Life along the water has other benefits. The cast of characters that frequent our marsh is entertaining to say the least. An early morning walk along the marsh is hardly complete without seeing some kingfishers swooping along the surface of the water. Sometimes we watch them capture a meal and proceed to tenderize it by pounding it on a piling. It is not unusual to see loons and otters and of course lots of ducks from mallards to mergansers. Our most famous visitor is Frank 29X, the great egret from Canada, who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. If Frank makes it back this year, it will be his fifth straight year to visit Raymond’s Gut.

This photo album taken during the winter of 2013 provides lots of bird and creature pictures along with shots from my kayak trips. More water and some beach shots can be found in this fall 2014 album. With great Crystal Coast weather, the choice of what to do is only limited by your free hours. Now that we are into December my kayaking will be much more limited with few if any more trips to the center of the river as the water cools. December 1, would have been a great day for a beach hike but we were scheduled during our too-short December daylight hours.

A body of water like Raymond’s Gut which stretches from the White Oak into the marsh is like a watery game trail and those of us living by it have ringside seats. Beyond the gut there is the superhighway of the White Oak River where anything from bottle nosed dolphin to blue crabs and a shark is possible. It is hard to believe that I took our skiff down the river almost a week ago and I was still wearing my standard uniform of shorts.  On that trip we saw kingfishers, great egrets and a great blue heron.

We are blessed to live by waters that delight us with a new window into the natural world each day. If you ever have a chance to park yourself along the water for a few years or even months, do not miss the opportunity. It is a wonderful way to watch the seasons pass. We have seen things from our kitchen window that some folks will never have a chance to see.  How many people have seen a great egret stand down a great blue heron,  a great blue heron go ice skating or an otter eating fish like a Popsicle? You cannot ask for a better place to appreciate our natural world than the shores of a place like Raymond’s Gut.

There will still be some warm days here on the coast, so come for a visit and enjoy the weather while it holds winter at bay.  For each warm day you can enjoy, you banish one day of winter and life seems just a little bit brighter.  Turning our backs on winter is a favorite game for those of us who live here.  We like to cheat winter as much as we can.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books make great Christmas presents especially if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

Sign-Up for the monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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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