Kayaking Our Big Tidal River

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glassywhiteoakriverwm

Looking north up the White Oak River

Maybe it is the weather or just the rhythm of life here on the coast but it seems that I often write about kayaking in the middle of July. Last year on July 13, I wrote Saturday Kayaking On The White Oak.

Until I moved to the coast in 2006, all my kayaking had been done on quiet mountain lakes. Kayaking on the White Oak is nothing like those trips that I used to take on Carvins Cove near Roanoke, Virginia. There was little to worry about on the lake except an afternoon thunderstorm.

Kayaking on the White Oak is more complex. The White Oak is a big coastal river that is from one to two miles wide. While the current seems light, it can be amazingly strong when all that water is forced into a narrow channel where that are cuts between the oyster rocks.

Most people have never heard of oyster rocks and you certainly do not want to get acquainted with one at high speed in your boat. While real rocks are not native to Carteret County, we have plenty of oyster shells that compact together to make oyster rocks.

In the White Oak the oyster rocks are long ledges that span much of the center of the lower river. At high tide some are barely covered and others are under water a foot or so. This picture shows a long oyster rock just emerging from the water as the tide drops.

Sometimes just an end of an oyster rock might be sticking up appearing as an island like the one in this picture. There are other times when just a few shells from a massive oyster rock are visible. A close look at this oyster rock should give you a good idea of why I never go kayaking with bare feet.

Oyster rocks which show up as white lines on this map of the river are a big part of kayaking the part of the White Oak where we live. While I respect the rocks, I am pretty much at home on the oyster rocks. The oyster rocks are where the fish are so that is often where I am.

There are other challenges on the river but boat traffic is rarely one of them. The interaction between the current of the river flowing to the sea and the tide which can be enhancing it or going in the other direction makes kayaking on a big coastal river interesting. Then there is the wind. Once in a while you seem to reach equilibrium on the river and you can just enjoy the glassy smooth water and not worry about wind, current, tides, or oyster rocks but that is relatively rare.

Sometimes the wind whips the river up into whitecaps. Since most of the river is shallow this can happen quickly. Because of the oyster rocks and the way they are positioned, there are areas in the river which actually enhance the chop caused by winds and tides. My Old Town Dirigo 120 seems to handle the chop better than my old Wilderness System Pungo 120. It has a higher bow but that also lets the wind push it around a little more.

You have to flexible when you head out on a river like the White Oak. Sometimes when I get out our inlet and into the big river I find conditions that I did not expect. Once in a while I end fishing along the edges in protected areas instead of my favorite area in the middle of the river.

I do go out prepared. I wear my life suspenders, have a small anchor, my cellphone and a flashlight with me. There are areas where it would be hard for a boat to rescue you, but most of those are shallow areas and with shoes you could walk to the edge of deeper water. I used my Pungo 120 for so many years on the oyster rocks that it developed a leak which I have yet to be able to fix. Somehow a couple inches of water in the bottom of the kayak never bothered me but I did take a sponge along because the extra water made the kayak harder to handle.

If you are new to kayaking there are plenty of places in our area to get some instruction and practice before tackling a big river. Lots of folks practice in our quiet inlet and there are some quiet areas in the marshes on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro. This map has some of the area’s public access points for kayaks. Centennial Park and Hammocks Beach actually have kayak launch ramps. There is a small boat ramp at the Cedar Point Croatan Access. You can also launch at the Wildlife Resources boat ramps in Cedar Point and Emerald Isle. Most of the subdivisions along the White Oak have launch points but you need to have a friend living there to provide access.

With a little practice, the right equipment, and the knowledge of what you might find, kayaking in this area is a lot of fun. While the White Oak might not always be as glassy looking as the post picture, it is always scenic. I have only touched on the White Oak because it is in my backyard and is the easiest place for me to kayak.

Our most recent newsletter went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out in August.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and during the season there is update information in our newsletter.

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Memorial Day On The River

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White Oak River near Bluewater Cove

White Oak River near Bluewater Cove

Memorial Day 2015 has come and gone. By all reports it was an overwhelming success. The flag was out at our home and it was a great holiday.

By a twist of fate we were in Raleigh on the Friday before Memorial Day so we got to sample 34 miles of stop and go traffic on Interstate 40. It reaffirmed my belief that there are better ways to get to the Crystal Coast. We needed to stop in Beulaville so the better routes that we include in our travel guide did not make sense that day but it was a good reminder of how bad traffic can be on the wrong route.

My other measures of success are the volume of traffic heading over the bridge to Emerald Isle and the number of boats that I saw on the river.

By both those measures there were plenty of people visiting our piece of paradise during this amazing stretch of weather. Our “sunny forecast” looks like a broken record but everyone is enjoying the extended period of nothing but sunshine.

With Memorial Day being the official kick off for summer, there are plenty of choices of what to do all through the summer.  I took advantage of the holiday to catch up on my work around the yard, attend a subdivision cookout, and spend some quality time on the river.  My barrier island beds (because they are shaped like barrier islands) continue to get more and more interesting.  It has been a great season for spring flowers. Our amaryllis clump had over thirty-six blooms this year as it finished out the spring with these last few blooms.

The neighborhood pool while tempting even to the last moment was still a little cool for me and there was too much traffic to Emerald Isle on Saturday and Sunday to attempt a beach walk. Perhaps we could have slipped over late in the afternoon but that was just when the tides were right for kayaking and fishing on the White Oak and fishing comes first in my book.

I had high hopes of catching a drum out on the oyster rocks like I did last year in the same time frame but it was not to be. In two afternoons of fishing I hardly got a nibble but I did get all my gear in top shape and get my paddling muscles limbered up.

As is always the case, the river was stunningly beautiful. It was also fairly easy paddling. My new Old Town Dirigo kayak handles heavy chop better than my old Pungo 120. One thing you learn on a coastal river is that the water fifty yards away can be very different. Depending on the wind and tide, you can find some choppy water almost adjacent to smooth blue water. Sometimes I paddle over to the edge of the river and fish the water by the marsh grasses to get out of the wind and current. Still no matter which way you look, the water is always beautiful.

I usually spend a couple of hours out on the river exploring my favorite oyster rocks. People sometimes have a hard time visualizing an oyster rock but it is simply a pile of oyster shells that have come together like a rock. Oyster rocks are impressive at low tide and dangerous to boats when hidden by a high tide. However they are great spots to fish especially when there is a cut through the rock.

Though at the last moment our neighborhood pool was tempting, I stuck with my plan for fishing.  These days you have to earn your fish so sometimes I fish with the knowledge that I will not catch any today but I will likely start catching them soon. Paddling back happened to be very easy both days and we have a good system for getting my kayak up a little hill and out of the water. We actually pull the kayak in with my SUV. It builds trust with my wife since it would easy for her to do me in by pulling the kayak into our bulkhead.

All the traffic on the bridge and the many boats and jet skis zooming around the Intracoastal Waterway really mean very little when you are out on the river.  It is a different world on the White Oak River.  It is never very crowded.  My time on the river was very peaceful in spite of the crowds only a few miles away. The peace and quiet of the White Oak was just what I needed.  I also got to visit with an oystercatcher which is always a special treat.

Our most recent newsletter went out the first week in April and can be seen at this link. We are running a little on next newsletter, but it should be out by the end of May.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information, please consider purchasing our extensive Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and I always provide instructions on how to get the annual update in our newsletter.

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The Thin Line On The Blue Horizon

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Swansboro in the distance, taken from the White Oak River, May 3, 2015

Swansboro in the distance, taken from the White Oak River, May 3, 2015

Many of us live along the North Carolina coast because of the ease of access to water. The ability to enjoy all our special waters from rivers and sounds to the Atlantic Ocean in so many way is one of the reasons we have so many visitors to the Crystal Coast.  I love it when I am out in our skiff or my kayak and land is so far away that it is only a thin line.   The impressive thing is that you do not even have to be out by the big ocean water for that to happen here. The picture in the post was taken from our skiff coming down the White Oak with Swansboro in the distance.

Our wide coastal rivers like the White Oak offer numerous opportunities for kayaking and boating. All rivers go somewhere and the White Oak empties into Bogue Sound which by hook and a few crooks manages to make its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

There are so many different kinds of water to enjoy that sometimes you can end up in a quandary of what is the best pick on a given day. Many of the choices are driven by weather and some are just personal preferences.

If I have two or three hours, the winds are cooperative, the water is warm, the tides are right, and there is some sunshine, I will usually choose my kayak. I love the exercise, how peaceful it is, and the closeness to the water. Also if I am hungry for fresh fish, the kayak will win hands down since it takes me to my favorite fishing holes where the skiff mostly cannot go.

However, if I have just an hour or so I am more likely to pick the skiff. One of my favorite things to do is get up early on a summer morning and ride down to Swansboro Harbor and do some drift fishing in the marshes on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway. I can often go fish for a few minutes and can be back before the day gets started for most people.

I am also not averse to sticking my toes in the surf along the edges of the town of Emerald Isle. While I have never been as successful fishing in the surf as I am in the kayak or skiff, there are some moments along the beaches when it does not even matter that you are not catching fish. I love walking the area that we call the Point and am not ashamed that my fishing rod is sometimes just a decoration. You do not have to catch fish to enjoy the water.

The waters in the area are stunning beautiful on a good day. Some days they are so spectacular that only a picture will suffice. Even with the tail end of tropical storm Ana trying to hang on here for a little longer, the area’s waters still touch my soul

If you are looking for a place, where being closer to nature can make a difference in your life, the Crystal Coast is great place to start.

Our most recent newsletter went out the first week in April and can be see at this link. We are running a little on next newsletter, but it should be out by the middle of May.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information, please consider purchasing our extensive Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and I alway provide instructions on how to get the update in our newsletter.

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The Water is Ready

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White Oak River, April 2015

White Oak River, April 2015

Boating happens twelve months of the year along the Crystal Coast. However, January, February, and March are not months for lingering on the water.

Sometimes the water warms by the end of March and then there are years like 2015 when we have to wait until early April before the water temperature is right. While going out on the river in our skiff is safe when the water temperature is under fifty degrees, I would rather not be on the river in my kayak until the water temperature is in the mid-sixties.

When I took my skiff out on the river on March 8, 2015, I found the water temperature to be 51.5F. I was unable to sneak any time for a trip on the river later in the month. However, based on the March water temperatures collected by Dr. Bogus and his daily posts which also include the sound which is always similar to the river, I knew the water was very slow to warm this year.

According to Dr. Bogus we have had an “Unusually cold start to 2015 with both February and March ocean temps at Bogue Pier averaging below 50 degrees.”

Easter week here on the Crystal Coast was nearly perfect and we finally started getting some warm nights instead of the thirties and forties that were typical of March. It was with great anticipation on Saturday, April 11, that I finally got some time to exercise the skiff and get out on the water for a few minutes.

What really surprised me was how high the river water temperature has risen in such a short time. My reading in the middle of the White Oak was 71.8F. That rise of over twenty degrees Fahrenheit in less than a month is something that I have not seen recently.

Last year on March 22, 2014, the White Oak was at 62.9F. I went kayaking for the first time of the season on April 12, but by April 21, the river temperature had plunged back to 58F.

Water temperatures like the weather can be very unpredictable in early spring. The good news is that it is spring and with the recent warm-up, we are more likely to have some relatively stable temperatures especially since the forecast for the balance of April looks pretty normal.

The marsh is coming alive and it looks pretty nice out on the river even when making a wave or two. We are going through our spring low tides as you can see from this high-tide picture of an oyster rock that is normally well covered by our summer high tides.

If the wind will just die down a little this afternoon, I am hoping to make my April 12 first kayak trip an annual tradition.  It would be nice to look forward to that every year.

Unfortunately weather impacts ofter things besides water temperature.  The cold February and March created many problems.

While the water temperature has recovered nicely, lots of things have not. Last year at this we had already picked strawberries twice. Weather here on the Crystal Coast is always interesting and sometimes memorable. I will not forget the ten hours of below freezing weather on March 28, 2015. I lost several tomato plants that night even though they were all covered.

If I can catch a fish or two this April, that will remove the sting of having to wait for strawberries and losing some tomato plants.

Our most recent newsletter went out the first week in April and can be see at this link.  We will be getting another newsletter out around the end of April.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.  If you need more information, please consider purchasing our extensive Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99.  We update it each year and I alway provide instructions on how to get the update in our newsletter.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

The Cure, Blue Skies and Blue Waters

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Blue Skies over the White Oak River

Blue Skies over the White Oak River

Winter is tough for many of us, but some blue sky and blue water enjoyed when the clouds and cold seem to be winning can make a huge difference in how we feel.

Some of us are incredibly sensitive to sunlight or the absence of it. When we lived on the side of the mountain in Roanoke, Virginia, I loved to roll out of bed and capture the sunrise. I photographed some amazing sunrises there.

Over our twenty plus years on the mountain I noticed more and more haze obscuring the sunrises. While I had no real scientific explanation or proof, I always linked it in my mind to unbelievable increase in truck traffic going down Interstate 81 through the Roanoke Valley.

So when we started looking for a place to spend our next couple of decades, sunshine and blue skies were priorities. I also wanted access to water. My dream was to live by the water and enjoy it to the fullest.

It did not take long wandering around North Carolina’s Crystal Coast to figure out that there is a lot of sunshine with accompanying clear skies here on the coast.

No place is ever a perfect place to live but without a lot of effort we have somehow enjoyed living in a variety of different places. Some of those places have been very foggy spots or snowy places.

However, here along the White Oak River, we found our water and our blue skies. Sometime the skies and waters are an almost perfect blue. Other times they are so bright, blue, and sunny that it is hard to capture them in a photograph.  The one at the top of this post that I took from our skiff on March 7, 2015, was a challenge to keep from washing out because of all the sunshine.

If someone called blue skies and blue waters spring tonic, I would immediately agree with them. Compared to a place like Chicago, we have lots of clear, sunny skies. It looks like we have about thirty days a year more of sunshine than Chicago. That actually confirms a conversation my wife had recently on a trip to the doctor.

The doctor told  my wife the story of walking to work one gloomy morning in Chicago and how he made the decision to move from the dull skies of Chicago to here. He has been on the coast for several years and says he has not regretted the move. Even this winter which had more gloomy days than normal was a treat according to the formerly frozen Chicago doctor.

Generally I can take cold weather in stride as long as the skies are blue. This winter even I felt under attack from the cold and sometimes dark skies. Still I usually made it outside if the sun was shining. Mostly I was just waiting until I could get back on the water.

That mission was accomplished this past early March weekend. While it was not a long day on the water like I would prefer, it was certainly a good dose of spring blue-sky vitamins. My trip into the White Oak was a great reminder that spring will soon be here with warmer waters and bluer skies.

Spring can be magic here on the Crystal Coast. There is no reason to believe the spring of 2015, might not be a memorable one like the spring of 2011. Our area’s spring waters are addicting.

It is hard to wait on the water as it warms up, but the fun on the water under those magnificent blue skies is well worth the wait.

So if you are looking for a place with sunshine, you might want to give the Crystal Coast a try.  If you cannot make it for a visit, there are lost of sunny pictures in my book, 100 Pictures, A Thousand Words, A Crystal Coast Year.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after Valentine’s Day.   Our first newsletter of  2015 can be found at this link.  Our last newsletter of 2014 is still available on the web.

We will be getting another newsletter out around the end of March after the first of the season’s festivals.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

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Winter’s Back Is Broken

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Icy Raymond's Gut, February 25, 2015

Icy Raymond’s Gut, February 25, 2015

I am going out on a limb to suggest that the persistent cold weather that has camped in the eastern half of the country is finished at least along the southern coast of North Carolina.

Actually I am basing my prediction on what happened on February 27, with our high temperature here near the White Oak River not far upriver from Swansboro, North Carolina.

For the first time in a long time our high temperature ended up being higher than what was in the forecast. Our forecast was actually changed upwards at least a couple of times. I did not capture the image the first time I saw the forecast, but I did get the next time and the time after that. I also grabbed the image when the temperature got above the forecast.

This did not surprise me since I have been expecting better weather in spite of the ice in the picture above that I took on Wednesday, February 25.  Winter is done even with this February 27, 2015, snow coverage map which shows all of North Carolina covered with snow except our tiny piece of land from the Southern Outer Banks down to the South Carolina border. March can start with a fair amount of cold, but it is unusual in coastal North Carolina.

Both my wife’s family and my family have their roots in the western foothills of North Carolina near the Virginia border. One of the things I remember about February is that my father-in-law always planted his potatoes and onions around the third week in February. Like my mother, he was a renowned gardener and could be counted on for great crops.

In general March is a great month in North Carolina and I have even suggested that my Canadian friends pack their bags and head our way. While our ride to spring here on the coast can be something of a roller coaster, the journey is pleasant enough and the destination is well worth the ride.

March is usually when we start getting out on the water and our beach walks become more regular as March goes along. We can even end up with some water that you can wade in by the end of March.

Spring is pretty special on the coast but most of us are dreaming of salt water as March arrives. March is a teaser month with enticing waters and almost irresistible beaches.

While March might not be warm enough to get in the water, being on it and along side it is a pretty good start. It is also a good time to do our yard and gardening work while dreaming about fishing when the water warms up a little.

If I am right about the weather, everyone should be pleased as I announce the end of this cold winter. My first priority is getting my peas in the ground and tuning up my fishing tackle.  Hopefully the onions and radishes that I already have in the ground will not have to be replanted.

There are also some more pleasant trips out on the river to contemplate.  While I never stop boating here on the coast, it is a whole lot more comfortable on the water in March especially in a kayak than it is in February.  A ride in the skiff in March can be very nice.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after Valentine’s Day.   Our first newsletter of  2015 can be found at this link.  Our last newsletter of 2014 is still available on the web.

We will be getting another newsletter out around the end of March after the first of the season’s festivals.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter