Fading Light of Fall


Sunset in Raymond's Gut

Even with the lingering warmth, we cannot ignore the change of the seasons on the horizon any longer. Summer finished nicely and some of its warmth has stayed with us well into November. However, with standard time and shorter days, it feels like fall is finally slipping away from us. We all know what comes next.

Sunsets like the one pictured are not as rare as one might imagine but they also signal the passage into the season that passes for winter here on the Crystal Coast. When I see a series of these beautiful sunsets, I know some cold weather is not far from us.

I say cold weather with a slight smile on my face. We are still getting a few tomatoes from our garden and my wife picked enough green beans today for us to enjoy them with Thanksgiving dinner. Our red pepper harvest is still mostly hanging on the plants. It has been a good gardening season.

A cold winter day on the Crystal Coast is one where we do not break forty degrees Fahrenheit. We can usually count on the fingers of one hand the number of those days that we see in December. February is our coldest month and sometimes we even have a day when we barely get above freezing.  Every few years we get a dusting of snow.

Fortunately all of that is in the future and we are still at that time of year when the water that surrounds us in Carteret County moderates the temperatures. With the water temperature still above sixty degrees Fahrenheit, we usually get a break from the early frosts and extended cold spells. However, we are past the middle of November so we know the gardens are living on borrowed time. The grass in our yards has stopped growing and we are seeing a slight burst of fall color that sometimes eludes us completely.

Thanksgiving will roll around this week and while it will be a festive time with the beginning of the flotilla season, the truth is that the Crystal Coast has a history of being a calm spot in the storm that often defines the holidays in more populated areas. While most areas seem to rev up during the holidays, the Crystal Coast throttles down.

There are still some surf fishermen around, but most of our beach-loving visitors have made their way back home. In recent years, our beaches have become something of a refuge from holiday madness for those seeking an escape. We do have the excitement of the Emerald Isle Christmas Parade on Saturday, November 25 at 3PM, but I sometimes think there are almost as many people in the parade as are watching. It is a fun, old-fashioned Christmas parade that everyone enjoys.

November remains a great time to visit the beach. It is not too late to enjoy the sound and smell of the surf. Fish are still biting. You just have to fish a lot slower than you normally would. The beaches are just as beautiful as ever and if you are lucky, you might catch one of our wonderful late-fall sunsets. The restaurants, grocery stores, and beaches are all uncrowded. There are even a few restaurants open for Thanksgiving feasts.

If you need a break from holiday madness, give the Crystal Coast and the beaches of Emerald Isle a try. You will find lots of guidance on having a great time here in Emerald Isle in our book, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The 2017-18 print editions were just 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. Our last newsletter went out just before the middle of October.  I am going to try to publish once every three months during this winter.   This is a link to A Balmy Beginning To Fall, our October 2017 edition of the newsletter.

Changing Sands

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


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


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


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


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.