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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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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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.

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Glassy Water Morning

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Calm water on the White Oak River

Calm water on the White Oak River

There are few things that I love as much as kayaking on the White Oak River. I usually manage to kayak ten months out of the year. With a river as beautiful as the White Oak it is hard to stay off the water.

Raymonds Gut which flows into the White Oak is in our backyard. Kayaking is just a matter of moving my kayak from our dock to the break in the marsh grass and sliding into the water.

Early season or spring kayaking has more than its fair share of wind. Sometime in May after I have had my fair share of choppy water, I usually start dreaming about some glassy water kayaking. Finding those beautiful mornings even in summer is often illusive. That is especially true if you have a full time day job.

This year it has seemed especially tough. I have been on the water by 6AM a couple of times with my skiff but neither of those days would have been special in a kayak. Even July which is usually a good month for water as smooth as glass has not been kind. Part of the problem is that July 2016 has been a particular warm one. The heat has been with us since early in the month and has kept shady spots popular along the Crystal Coast. The excessive warmth has also enhanced the winds.

The heat wave we endured for the last two weeks of July 2016 has been as bad as we can remember from our ten years on the North Carolina coast. While heat can be tolerated if your kayak is in cool water, water in the upper eighties and midday summer heat together enhance the conveyor belt of wind that is part of our lives on the coast. That has been the case for much of July 2016. We have had plenty of 15MPH or greater winds with the White Oak River often whipped up to whitecaps by the midday. That makes it hard if you sometimes sneak a late lunch hour for kayak fishing.

Still people like me who kayak and fish are extremely persistent. A friend recently told me that the fish seemed to surviving the heat by having a feeding spell just as the sun was first hitting the water. Friday evening, July 29, I got all my tackle ready and made plans to get up by 5:30AM and be on the water by 6:45AM. Things went relatively well except as is sometimes the case, the anticipation of my trip kept me awake until 1:30AM which means 5:30AM came quickly.

After springing out of bed, everything went well and I even reset the coffee pot for my wife to 8AM and had the newspaper on her placemat ready for her as I have been doing the last forty-plus years. Then I slipped my kayak into the water through the marsh grasses by our dock and paddled out towards the river. I was not surprised that the heat was still with us. The air temperature was close to 80F even that early in the morning. Fortunately the sun hung behind the clouds and there was no breeze. That was a two edged sword.

No breeze meant that I could count on some calm waters and that I would not be fighting the wind and the current. It also meant there was no breeze to cool me. Still it was a great morning just to be on the river and I did manage to land a short red drum and a short flounder. Red drum or the puppy drum that we chase are magnificent fish. Though you can keep the drum at 17 inches, I will not bring one home unless it is 20 or 21 inches long. Once they get over 27 inches they have to be thrown back.

Besides catching some fish, the reason it was so nice on the river was the paddling was as easy as it has been this year. The sun did come out but the clouds were not quite right for one of those drop dead beautiful days. It was still very nice on the river. The heat unfortunately was still lurking in the air and the river water was far from cool. As I started paddling home around 10AM the breeze that started to pick up was a lifesaver especially since the sun was working hard to get the temperature back up over 90F.

Since I paddling against the tide, the slightly over one mile journey back to my home dock was good exercise and I was happy that I had brought along a bottle of water. When I entered our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, the cooling breeze disappeared and the afterburners on the sun seemed to flip on in an attempt to cook me. By the time I relaxed in the shade under our dock as I waited for my wife to hook up my Acura SUV and pull my kayak up through the marsh grass, there was not a dry thread on my t-shirt.

Even so, I will be plotting my next kayaking adventure right after I have a nap to catch up on some sleep.

If  you are thinking of a vacation, we are now on the downslope of summer.  Of course fall is stunning here on the Southern Outer Banks.   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 a 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 went out July 3 and it can be read on the web, Beach is Summer’s Heart.  We hope to have our next newsletter out in early August.

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