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.

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.

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Matthew’s Winds and Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fall Waters

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White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign-Up for the monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter