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

Teased by Spring’s Warmth

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Beach near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC- March 2015

Beach near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC- March 2015

Spring is always an interesting season on the coast. I feel lucky if I only go through two sets of clothing during a spring day. You can wake up to temperatures under 40F only to find yourself quickly looking for shorts and a t-shirt before lunch.

Sometimes instead of getting cool at night, it get warmer. Then there are the persistent spring winds. Often you can be quite comfortable out of the wind only to find yourself needing another layer or two of clothing when you step into the wind.

The most challenging aspect of spring for me is the sun. When it hides behind clouds, you can get cool pretty quick. However, when the sun is out, the wind dies down, and you are in just the right place, things can warm up quickly. I have gone on some beach walks only to regret that I wore too many clothes.

On a recent afternoon walk around the marsh I started out with a long-sleeved t-shirt and shorts. There was a cool breeze hitting me as I walked out our driveway. The breeze was still strong as I walked around the docks near our home. As I got even with the inlet that runs out to the White Oak River, the wind dropped and the sun had me directly in its sights.

The temperature seem to climb quickly and I started wishing for a short-sleeved t-shirt. I solved the problem by getting on the move again. I quickly transitioned to the shade of some large pines and as I rounded the next corner, I was once again facing a cool breeze.

I recently wrote about the roller coaster of early spring weather. Sometimes March can also be unpredictable. March of 2015 has been pretty nice to us. The only night we have dropped below freezing so far was March 6. It is no surprise to me that the forecast is for us to again go below freezing on Sunday, March 29.

We had a frost all the way down to the water on March 29, 2011. It is not unusual to get a frost that late in the year, but we also have had tomatoes blooming at that date. We stay prepared and have some nice Easter egg buckets in pastel colors all prepared to cover our plants.

Probably the most challenging part of our 2015 spring is having nice days but very cool nights. Cool nights make it hard for the water to warm up and most of us live here because of the water.

This time of year the beach can be irresistible and the waters very enticing. However, there are not many years when the waters are begging to be waded even by the end of March.

Seeing the blue skies and blue waters will help us get over winter, but only true warm will pull us out of spring into water season. I might enjoy walking to the ends of the sand on the beach but what I really love is answering the call of the river in my kayak or my skiff.

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

Coastal Roller Coaster to Spring

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Bogue Sound, February 11, 2015

Bogue Sound, February 11, 2015

Over the decades I have seen few springs arrive without a little weather drama. I was once surprised by snow when I was trying to mow our yard in April in Roanoke, Virginia.

Another time we endured breathtaking lows on the way to the hospital when it dropped to minus twenty Fahrenheit when our son was born in the middle of March in Canada.

Here on the Carolina coast it is not too much of surprise to get some very warm days well before the official start of spring. March of 2012 had enough heat to get me thinking about wading in salt water. At the other end of the spectrum we have gotten a touch of snow in the first few days March. With that kind of record even we coastal residents stay on snowflake patrol until mid-March. This year February has been a real roller coaster.

We always thought that the cruelest month of the year in Maritime Canada was April. You would get warm sunshine one day and the next day you could wake up to a few inches of snow on the ground. It was not unusual to have snow hanging around in the woods in early May.

Just over 1,200 miles south of Fredericton, New Brunswick, on North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks the weather is understandably a little different. I bounce back and forth on our most challenging month, but most years here on the White Oak River it is February. February’s cool weather can linger into March. It can be a very cold month sometimes bringing us ice which is much more common in January. Yet even with that history, we can often easily slip into spring before February is over.

Last Sunday, February 9, 2015, we managed to sneak over 60F. I took my skiff out on the river on Saturday the day before our sixty degree Sunday. The air temperature was nice but the water temperature was sobering at 44.5F. The river water did not even look inviting and I love being out on the river. This coming Sunday, February 16, 2015, our predicted high temperature is only 31F. That night we will drop down to 18F. Two days later the forecast is for a couple of days in the sixties. I will not be out on the water for any length of time until we have put together a week of those warm days with no nights below fifty.

I have often joked that spring unfolds quickly in the mountains compared to the coast where it takes longer for things to warm up. We get signs of spring at the coast much earlier in the season than our friends in the mountains. However, once the spring starts in the mountains and Piedmont, it almost explodes while we can wait weeks for our coastal spring to reach its peak.

We have a small crocus patch that has been blooming for a month and this week our first daffodil decided to bloom but that does not mean that spring is here yet. The daffodil managed to survive twenty four hours of strong winds. Since it appears determined to survive I will help it through the spell of cold weather scheduled for this weekend.

Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching and I already have seeds in the ground and tomato plants growing in my office. This first week or so of February 2015, has not been one of those which seduces you into thinking about being on the water. I did get a hike in over at the Point on January 19 and the pictures will keep me going for a while, but it is true warmth that will signal the coming of spring and we just have not had any of that yet.

However, I remain on alert for some serious heat and at least in my dreams, I am expecting it any day now.

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 New Year’s Day. This is the link to it.  Our Thanksgiving newsletter is available here on the web.

We hope to get our next newsletter out around Valentine’s Day.

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

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Nature’s Peace Will Flow Into You

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Fall in the Raymond's Gut Marsh

Fall in the Raymond’s Gut Marsh

John Muir once said the following.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

I wish that I could have invited John Muir to join me in a walk along the salt marshes of North Carolina. I have seen my share of mountains from those in Alaska to the Canadian Rockies, the Tetons, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and the Alps of Austria and Switzerland.

No mountain has ever brought me the peace that I feel walking or paddling the edges of the salt marshes. The sounds and beaches of North Carolina that surround the marshes are part of that world that I love so much. It is a world that has helped me renew my soul and achieve a balance in life that had escaped me for so many years.

I do not disagree that the redwoods and the tall mountains of the world are wonderful cathedrals to nature. However, I think marshes are even more important to our lives and what they give back to those who treasure them is priceless.  The marshes have certainly given me a new outlook on life.

The wonderful thing about the salt marshes and the waters that touch them is that they are alive with creatures that touch our existence in so many ways.

It is easy to fall in love with the beautiful feathered friends that I find on my trips through the marshes. However, it goes far beyond that. The other day I saw a fox chasing something along a marsh pond. I have watched river otters play on the shores of the marsh. I have been lucky enough to have an osprey dive straight into the water just yards from my kayak. I have caught fish in the marsh. I have seen an osprey  eat mullet in the trees along the marsh edges and watched great blue herons and great egrets stalk their prey in the shallows. I have stood in awe as fish and crabs fight over scraps we feed them.

The marsh is a world in itself. Birds and fishes live and die in the marsh. Nothing is wasted in the marsh. Whatever falls there is always recycled. An area of marsh which has been either undisturbed or repaired is a powerful source of life, food, and even healing for the soul.

Walking through the marsh, I see swirls of bait fish, ducks and other birds feeding in the marsh, hawks and osprey hunting for food, and sometimes from the edge of the marsh, I can even see bottle nosed dolphins feeding on fish that were born in the marsh.

The marsh can be covered with ice, stirred up by a strong wind, or nearly sucked dry by a strong storm, but given time it will recover. I have seen it flooded with over twenty inches of rain. Hurricanes have whipped it with winds, but the marsh is always there unless man attacks it and tries to drain it.

While I will always enjoying seeing mountains, I will always feel at home in the marsh. The salt marsh is a much more hospitable place even when winter finds us. You can live on top of a mountain, but you have to work very hard during three months to survive the next nine months. In the marsh there are only a couple of months a year when life is difficult. Much of the year our salt marshes are producing food that we can take advantage of relatively easily. Some years we have harvested vegetables from the salt marsh almost twelve months out of the year.

So if I had to pick a place to live, it would be here on the salt marsh. My odds of survival are much better and the peace that I have found is better than I have found on any high mountain.

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 on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It is available here on the web. You can read our October newsletter online at this link.

We hope to get our next newsletter around New Year’s Day.

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