Watching the Water

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Kayaking on the White Oak River

Kayaking on the White Oak River

My second floor office at our home affords me a water view from my window. I look out over the waters of Raymond’s Gut which runs to the White Oak River. In a sense most of my day is spent watching the water. I even start my day with a walk around the boardwalk at our clubhouse.

Watching the area’s waters is pastime for many of the people who live along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. We watch the tides on the river and beaches. You will sometimes hear us talking about how high today’s tide was and maybe about how exceptionally low this morning’s tide seemed. When you live in an area with lots of water spread mighty thin, how much of water is out there can be very important, especially if you are boating.

Sometimes you will hear us talking about the color of the waters along the shore. Are they clear enough to live up to our Crystal Coast name? Are the waters ruffled up and cloudy?

Then are the times when the water gets very high like it did with Hurricane Irene back in 2013. Actually all of us who live here along the coast are always watching the water. As we saw this last week of August, a storm can quickly spring up and just as quickly no longer be a threat.

We once had a water spout come up the river and turn into a tornado that grazed our neighborhood. This article tells the story and the pictures linked at the end of the article show some of the damage and just how lucky we were. There was no warning. The sky got dark over the water and then things started happening. It was a good thing my youngest daughter was watching.

Of course the water is also a great source of joy for us. I took the picture at the top of the post the previous week.  Just this past weekend I spent an idyllic three hours kayaking on the White Oak River. I spent a lot more time watching the water than I did catching fish. There is no doubt in my mind that watching the water is more fun than watching television. Certainly when you kayak almost three miles while doing it, it is also a lot healthier.

While I am looking at the water, I often end up taking pictures of the water or whatever I find out on the water. Those memorable pictures often are from unforgettable trips like this one out to the big water near Bear Island or this one when I took on the fog and mist on the river.

One of my favorite places to look out over the water is the Point on Emerald Isle. It is one of those spots where as you gaze over the water, you can imagine how things were long ago. There are places on the Point where you can also feel the wilderness wrapping its arms around you.

To look out over the water is as much a part of life here on the coast as your morning cup of coffee is in the city. The water is a huge part of our life here. Most of us moved here because of the water and to say that there is a lot of really nice water that bears watching is just stating the obvious.

The really good news is that even though I am writing this post the next to the last day of August, 2016, there are two to three months left in the best water season along the Crystal Coast. After Labor Day is one of the finest times to come and start watching our waters. The water is still warm and the air has lost some of its heat and humidity. It is a great time to take up watching the water as your next hobby.

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, August Warmth,  went out on August 8.  The one before that 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 just after Labor Day.

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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.

Sign-Up for the monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Looking for the Shade

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Shade at Duke Marine Lab

Shade at Duke Marine Lab

This is our tenth summer living along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks so this summer’s heat is not much of a surprise. However, this is one of the longer stretches of July heat that we have seen. Also the temperature staying near or above 80F at night is more typical of August than most of the July months that I can remember.

It is hot enough early in the morning, that one of my chores is to roll down the windows of our car that does not have a spot in the garage. On a recent Sunday I pulled our car out of the paved parking lot at church so I could park in the shade under a tree. The picture of the shade in the post picture was taken at Duke Marine Research Lab on Pivers Island near Beaufort. We attended their open house on Saturday, July 23, 2016, and many of the exhibits were outside. Shade was at a premium but the combination of a little shade and a sea breeze made the 90F heat bearable for an hour or so.  The closest tree in the picture is a cedar and the the next one is a live oak.

I recently mowed a couple of small pieces of our yard in the heat of the day at 1PM. There was method to my madness since two of the three spots had slipped into the shade for a few minutes. Still I was happy that it only took thirty minutes behind the lawnmower. I got to take my second shower of the day and as is my custom during the heart of the summer, the shower was all “cold” water. Except here along the coast in the summer our cold water is more like lukewarm water.  Three showers in a day are not out of the question during a Crystal Coast summer.

None of this should be considered as a complaint.  We typically enjoy our warmth. We were born in the Piedmont of North Carolina so the heat is no mystery to us. We actually grew up in the days before air conditions so the only mystery is how we managed to survive back then. I remember awnings over windows and a carport over our car which had windows and vents for air conditioning.  There were also many Sunday afternoons spent under shade trees sometimes eating watermelon or homemade peach ice cream. We played in the dark woods during the heat of summer.  Even today in midsummer, most of my grilling takes place in the evening because the grill is in the shade then.

We only have about six more weeks before the heat starts slipping away and this hot spell like all the others before it will like abate well before that.  We adjust to heat like this by doing most of our gardening early in the morning or late in the evening just before dark. Sustained heat like this does have some impact. Our late season tomato plants will likely be unsuccessful in setting fruit with nighttime temperatures remaining this high.  We might plant some to come in during the fall to compensate.  Fortunately we have had plenty of moisture, 14.25 inches since the beginning of June, so the heat just makes our cucumbers and centipede grass grow even faster.

As to the beach, it has been a long time since I have been a middle of the day beach person so by five or six PM when I usually arrive, things have already started to cool off. Most people that I see staying for a significant time on the beach bring their own shade with them. That is a little like the boats going out in the heat of the day. Many have bimini tops to keep folks from being fried. Since I am a fairly serious fisherman, we go out very early usually leaving the dock by 6AM and returning by 9AM so we miss the heat of the day.

Usually I recommend just one place when it is really hot and that is the ocean.  I have been known to suggest standing in the ocean and letting a wave hit you right between the shoulder blades. However, when I was at Third Street Beach this last week, the water seemed to have lost most of its coolness. Perhaps finding some shade is not such a bad idea since heat has been the main topic this month on my blog.  Warm nights are also perfect for late beach walks so it all works out in the end.

If  you are planning a summer vacation, now is the time to catch some pure summer beach time.  If you are visiting the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide can make for a great vacation.  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. There are some changes in the restaurant scene this year.

Our Week at the Beach the Emerald Isle Travel Guide Kindle version 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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Last Parking Place at Third Street

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seventhcandidatewaveofthedaywm

It has been an extraordinary spring with more than our fair share of spectacular weather. Today for the second time this week I felt compelled to head over to the beach. The waves seem to be calling me and given it was a Saturday, I was powerless to resist. While the seven and one half minutes to cross the bridge was a little longer than normal, I never complain. I actually go with the hopes that the traffic will stop at the top of the bridge so I can take pictures of Bogue Sound out the car window.  On a recent trip I got a shot of the Captain Phillips headed out for some shrimp.

The weather has been pleasantly cool but it has been windy at times. The second weekend in June is always the Swansboro Arts Festival. Those who know local traditions will confirm that the Saturday of the festival is usually one of the hottest days of summer. When heat comes to the Crystal Coast, water of some form is usually the answer and today the slightly cool beach waters were exactly what I needed.

Third Street is something of a hidden beach since there is no Third Street. You have to know to turn at Fifth Street or watch for one of the Town’s newly installed signs. My start to the beach was a little late since I was recovering from a late night return from a business trip. When I drove east along the beach by the Eastern Regional Access, there was a line to get in and they looked like they already had a crowd.

By the time I turned at Fifth Street and headed east on Ocean Drive, I was worried. As the tiny parking lot came into sight, I thought I was going to be out of luck, but luck was actually with me and there was just one spot left and it had my name on it.

Third Street is one of my favorite beaches for four reasons. One Bogue Banks Island is very narrow at Third Street so you really feel like you are on an island. You can even see Bogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean from the picnic table platform at Third Street.  Second the water is reasonably close to the parking area so while it is something of a drive, it is a a shorter hike to the water than many areas. Third the beach is never crowded because the parking lot is so small. Fourth sometimes I catch some fish from the beach. This time I left my rod at home because of the time of day and the desire to walk the beach.

You will notice a couple of things as you move from the platform with picnic table to the beach. One, there is no ramp like there is from the parking lot to the platform. This makes the actual beach inaccessible for our friends in wheel chairs which is unfortunate since there is only a short stretch of soft sand before the more solid sand that would easily support one of the EI beach wheelchairs. The second thing you will notice if you look to the right or west along the beach is a Bogue Banks water tower. It is about one half mile from the beach access point. It is a good landmark which is always handy on a beach hike.

This year Third Street is a gently sloping beach but storms have been known to cut a shelf into the beach. Fortunately the sand tends to come back fairly quickly. It is easy to get a good taste of the Atlantic Ocean at Third Street.

My Saturday trip was such a success that I repeated it the next day. I got there earlier and there were at least three parking spots when I arrived on Sunday which made me happy since I had tried the Station Street Parking lot on Coast Guard Road with the hopes of a Point Hike. At 10:30 AM there were already two cars waiting for an open parking spot there so I quickly headed up to Third Street.  The Point can be mighty popular during peak hours.

On Saturday, I waded down to the water tower since the water felt so good. On Sunday I walked up to the town line between Emerald Isle and Salter Path and then made my way a little ways west of the water tower, spending plenty of time in the water. Both days were nearly perfect beach days and the colors in the water were mesmerizing.

People were enjoying themselves all along the beach, but I did see a parent trying to encourage a toddler to try the water. Fortunately the toddler had more sense than the adult who was encouraging the toddler to wade in a place I would not have chosen. Most people pay little attention to where they plop down on the beach. I encourage people to read the water a little before they choose where to swim or wade.

Before you even let your children get in, you should wade out until the water is up to your knees and face the shore and feel how hard the current is in the place you have chosen. If it feels like it is going to pull you off your feet, you should find another spot. The toddler rightfully ran away from a spot that looks like this. It is a spot that because of its shape concentrates the outflow of a lot of water in a small area. I always look for broad, flat areas like this where the outflow of the water is spread over the same area as in incoming water.

Just a little forethought can make for some wonderful memories on Emerald Isle’s beautiful beaches. This is an online photo album of mostly wave pictures that I took on my two hikes at Third Street this second weekend in June 2016.  I think you will find the waves very inviting.

It is time for summer vacations and if you are coming to the Crystal Coast, do not forget our travel guide. Even if you have been here a number of times, I might have some secrets to share. We have a lot of changes in the restaurant scene.  Our Kindle version is $3.99  and includes extras such as 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.  If you buy one of the paperbacks, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sell them and they are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our next news letter will be out before just before July 4.

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The Winds of March

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bouguesoundwm

It is the time of the year when the winds rule North Carolina’s coastal counties including where I live along the Crystal Coast.

The winds that we get in March and April are no surprise. In fact it would be much more surprising if there were no winds in spring. The bigger the temperature differential between the water and the land, the stronger our daily dose of wind will be.

The land warms more easily than the water. That means as the air over land warms it rises. Conversely the air over the water cools and falls towards the surface of the water. Of course the rising air over the lands sucks the falling air over the water towards the land.  It is like a conveyor belt for wind. The conveyor belt reverses at night and the winds go towards the water.  When the water and land have greatly different temperatures, the effect is magnified and we have strong winds.

Understanding the scientific reason for our winds does not make the river any less choppy. I have taken a couple of new-to-our-area boaters down the river recently. Because I went out on the river at 10:30 AM and came back around 1 PM, I can testify to the midday warmth having a great impact on the winds on the White Oak River. The river became noticeably more choppy the closer we got to noon as the air temperature warmed. Very early in the morning, the river was much calmer.

In spite of the winds, it was nice on the river, but those of us who love the water will say that even when we have almost frozen our fingers off.  Thankfully this early March trip required no gloves.  I managed to survive in shorts and short-sleeved tee shirt. I am glad that I stayed out of the water since it was still a bone-chilling 54F.

As much as I love the water, I will not put myself as risk by kayaking in 54F water. The enticing look of the water has little to do with its temperature. Besides the ride in a kayak in water as choppy as we had today can be damp and pretty challenging. The wind has been blowing straight into our inlet during daylight for the last two or three days. Just the paddling against the wind would wear you down. There will be plenty of calm mornings for kayaking. I will never forget one early spring day when I moved out of the channel to let a neighbor by with his skiff.  The wind was really challenging me  and he offered to throw me a rope and tow me out to the river.  I declined mostly because I knew if I was working very hard going out, the trip back in would be an easy ride with the breeze at my back.

The wind does not just slow down the beginning of boating season, it also can make walking on the beach a good way to exfoliate some of the skin on our ankles.  When the wind is up to 15 MPH it tempers my desire to go for a long hike over the Point on Emerald Isle.  As you can see from this YouTube video, the blowing sand at the Point can be formidable.

Back when I was newbie to gardening on the Crystal Coast, I remember having to buy bales of pine straw to protect my tender tomato plants from the wind.  I have gotten better at growing strong tomato plants but the wind never diminishes for very long until summer when the temperatures between land and sea equalize.  The wind is not all bad.  It keep us cooler when summer comes early to North Carolina’s coastal plain.  We get to turn off our heat pumps and enjoy open windows until the pine pollen explodes.

Wind, low water, and cooler temperatures than what our inland brethren enjoy are all part of the signatures of spring here on the coast as we ride the temperature curve to summer.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in late April

It will not be long before it is time to make vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99 and Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page paperback version for $24.95.

Updates to our travel guide are coming. Our target date for the new 2016 versions is the end of March.

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Glassy Water Dreams

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A Calm Day on the White Oak River

A Calm Day on the White Oak River

February can be a teaser of a month and sometimes a very cruel mistress for those of us in love with the water. It is hard to say where February 2016 falls in that scale, but it has not been one of those months when it is easy to fantasize that our waters are ready for boating.

Whatever warmth we have enjoyed has been more than balanced by cold temperatures and rain which almost make spring seem like a fantasy. On the Crystal Coast by this time of year, winter is usually on the run. At least this year, we have gotten through the winter without Raymond’s Gut being completely iced over like we were in January 2014. I also did not have to use my skiff as an ice breaker like I have in the past.

I was disappointed when I dropped my skiff in the water for a late winter test this last week of February. I found the water temperature a cool 49.8F. While it could have been colder, the fisherman, boater, and kayaker in me was hoping for warmer water. It is one of the challenges of this time of year. The water looks enticing but it can be dangerously cold. Between the cold water and the shallow tides of early spring, reality sets in quickly for most of us boaters in the spring. It only takes a few minutes on the river to remind you that even if the air temperature on land is 65F, the air just above that 49.8F water will be pretty close to 50F and that is without the breeze from running down the river at 30MPH.

Beautiful sunsets like the one I used in this post help but as much as I like sunsets, I would rather be dreaming of warm water. Certainly our February marsh diversions are far better than a blizzard or storm up north.  Still time on the water is so close that we can taste it and it almost hurts.

With the water and weather teasing us we have to enjoy what we have which includes a fair number of winter visitors to the marsh. That means otters and our standard fare of great blue herons, great egrets, kingfishers, pelicans, cormorants, grebes and even some random ducks that have escaped to live another day.

While sneaking up on ducks is good entertainment, it is easy to confess that I really want warm temperatures that stay around long enough to start that sometimes long spring process of warming our waters. I say long process but often the waters here warm quickly. That is especially true in our shallow, dark-bottomed marsh which can sometimes warm very fast once we get to March. I have joked about charging for the warmer marsh waters that we send down the river.

Even with our still cold water, our soil which has had something of break from the intense rainfall of January and early February (over thirteen inches) has warmed enough to allow planting of lettuce, onion sets, spinach, and other other cool weather crops.

It is a good start towards spring and I will soon start thinking about a late winter hike over on the Point to see what changes winter has brought. Usually a hike on the beach will make me remember that it does matter where you live and the place where I live lets me say that I am living my dream here in a Coastal Paradise.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in March.

Vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach should be on the horizon.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99 and Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page paperback version for $24.95.

Updates to our travel guide are coming. Our target date for the new 2016 versions is the April.  New versions are always free to Kindle purchasers and Kindle books work on anything including iPads and iPhones.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter