A Beach Of Your Own

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Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

We all have times when something clicks and a special moment is created. Sometimes it plants a seed in us that changes the way we think about the world.

I have been blessed to wash my feet in a lot of salt water around the world. While I cannot go back to the exact moment when the sand got stuck permanently between my toes, I suspect it was a moment much like what is shown in this picture of my granddaughter walking on a beach in Emerald Isle.

When poppa lives at the beach and has a home next door to a swimming pool, you get plenty of beach and water time. Even so rarely does a seven year old get that perfect moment on a beach like our granddaughter did the other day.

She has never visited a truly crowded beach, but I also doubt that she has ever experienced an empty one on a perfect warm August evening. However, I will wager that particular August evening on the beach might be etched in her memory. There is something about an empty beach that stretches to the horizon that captures the imagination of even the youngest of us.

What better place to run with abandon and splash through the waves until your heart is content? Our world has far too few places where you can run and play without a care.

I feel fortunate to live in a little piece of paradise where circumstances have prevented the area from getting overdeveloped. Somehow I doubt that you could get that same sense of freedom and closeness to the ocean along a crowded boardwalk with highrise condos as a backdrop. It might be exciting but it would not be the same.

Not everyone loves an open and empty beach, but walking on one always leaves me a little better prepared for tomorrow and gives me hope that just maybe we will not destroy all the special places before the next generation can share them with their children.

Maybe because I grew up on the uncrowded beaches of North Carolina, I am stuck with needing that empty beach to the horizon to be happy. Maybe that is the reason that I have no need of shopping complexes just off the beach, I would much rather have some nice sandbars and a slough full of fish.

If you have never taken your children on a walk down a quiet beach in the dark, make certain you plan for that to happen before they grow up. I still have wonderful memories of walking those dark beaches along Nags Head. I would imagine people behind the soft house lights and even let my mind wander to what might be shadowing us out just beyond the waves. There is definitely magic on a beach at night. The soft summer evening breezes and warm saltwater on your feet create memories that stay with you all your life.

Some of us are so changed that we are drawn to keep coming back over and over to those empty beaches. I think I might have felt shortchanged with life if I had not learned to love real beaches and keep some sand between my toes.  Come visit the Emerald Isle area, it is not hard to fall in love with our beaches.

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

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.

The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We do a revised version each year and provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year.

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Kayaking Our Big Tidal River

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glassywhiteoakriverwm

Looking north up the White Oak River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Close to Home Crystal Coast Fourth

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Sunset at the Point

Sunset at the Point

For many years quiet Fourth of July celebrations were the rule for our family. We were Americans living in a very rural part of Canada. Fourth of July events would have required a drive across the border into Maine.

Somehow the Fourth has always been about being close to home and Maine was never our home so we stayed in Tay Creek and enjoyed the holiday on our own. The holiday parades of my youth in Lewisville and East Bend, North Carolina, are still alive as memories and I know East Bend continues with the tradition. As with most small town parades, sometimes there are more people in the parade than watching it.

It is not hard to find a Fourth of July event here on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. The whole world seems to come our way to enjoy the Fourth of July and the towns respond with lots of fireworks. This is no surprise since this happens to be the peak of the beach season.

Peak of the season means we typically have some crowds but not to the degree that you likely would find in more developed areas. Since most of us who live here are spoiled by having the area to ourselves for most of the year, Fourth of July means that most residents tend to stay home during all the traffic and hoopla.

As I started this post on the night of July 4, fireworks were going off all around us. We live three miles up the White Oak River from Swansboro and it seems to be an area tradition for the subdivisions on the river to have some fireworks. This year our subdivision on Raymond’s Gut decided not to have a Fourth of July party. There is so much happening in the area this weekend, it is hard to build enthusiasm for another party.

Sometimes we get creative and try to enjoy the celebrations without getting caught in the crowds. A couple of years ago, a neighbor and I took my boat and his family out on the river to watch the fireworks. It was a nice experience and there was almost no boat traffic but it was not so nice that I have tried to repeat it.

Our first summer here, eight years ago, we actually went over to Emerald Isle and found a side street where we could park and watch the beach fireworks. The normally ten to fifteen minute trip home from the beach took such a long time that we have not attempted watching the island fireworks since then.

As I wrote in an earlier article, “…it is no accident that a local would write a Fourth of July beach article and feature a picture with no beach in sight. The weekend around the Fourth of July is the least likely time for those of us who live here to go over to the beach.” We invited another family in the subdivision to have dinner with us one July 4. They made the mistake of going to the beach that day in Salter Path. A thirty minute return trip turned into three hour journey.

Normally I will at least sneak out on the White Oak in my kayak on July 4, but I just had cataract surgery on my right eye so I am not supposed to get wet or sweat for a while. When I kayak on water that is 84F in almost 90F heat and very high humidity, it is difficult to not instantly sweat. The result is that for 2015 I had to give up my tradition of kayaking on the Fourth.

Summer boating is also very popular here but the weekend of July 4, is not the best time to boat as the boat traffic is very impressive for an area where sometimes I do not even see another boat when I am out in mine. A couple of times I have taken our skiff down the river and into the marshes early on the morning of the Fourth just to see what the traffic looks like.

Boating on the Fourth of July is never as quiet or uncrowded in the harbor and on the Intracoastal as it is the rest of year. This trip which I take regularly is my favorite but I would only try it on July 4, if could I get back to our dock by 8:00 AM.

Even a quick trip to Swansboro like that could also involve getting wet, so this year I just followed the doctor’s orders and just stayed at home and counted my blessings. After all I enjoyed that same boat ride and visited the marshes on Wednesday before July Fourth when there was only a handful of boats around the harbor.

A neighbor who did take his boat over to Bear Island on July 4, 2015, told me that the area was packed with boats. It was also so windy that there was little fun to be found. He confirmed that I did not miss anything by staying home. Holidays are often hypnotic enough to draw sensible people who are trying to escape crowds into a huge crowd.

While our crowds are nothing like they are in many areas, they are a challenge for those of us who moved here for the peace and quiet that is life on the Crystal Coast for ten months out of the year.

Fortunately one of the benefits of living here is that you can easily make the decision that there will be better times to enjoy the area’s beauty than the weekend which draws the most people to our waters each year.

This made me think about how lucky we are to live in a place where people will drive hours and fight considerable traffic and crowds just to spend a week where we get to live all year.

While our visitors barely get to taste life here on the coast, we get to live it to the fullest twelve months of the year. Almost everyone who lives here agrees that the best time is the fall. One neighbor was talking to me the other night. He started out, “Well I sure do not want to wish away our summer weather, but I am certainly looking forward to fall.”

In 2014 we had a wonderful fall. Our falls are so nice that it is not unusual to have weather so nice here on the coast that you wish that you could bottle it. With that in mind, I picked a picture of a sunset on the beach in early September for this post.

Just thinking about being on the beach might help me get beyond the heat and the crowds. I just read an article which said your body cannot tell the difference between visualizing something and actually being there. Of course I do not believe that and will be back on the beach as soon as I get a chance. We have some beaches that touch you each time that you visit and another visit is always just around the corner.

Our most recent newsletter went out the end of May and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out before the middle of July.

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

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Warm Coastal Winds

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Warm winds & oyster rock on the White Oak River

Warm winds & oyster rock on the White Oak River

The weather has been as hot as it ever gets here on the Southern Outer Banks. I am thankful the warm weather has come with warm breezes.

Some might say that summer has embraced us with a vengeance. I would probably say that mother nature has given us several real Southern days and we should enjoy them as best as we can because summer will be gone far too soon.

It is not unusual for it to get hot here along Carteret County’s Crystal Coast. It is a Southern coastal plain and cool summer weather is pretty rare. Thunderstorms are much more common and often even welcome. This much warm weather coming this early in June just adds more mystery to the riddle of coastal weather. There is little sense in trying to understand our weather since it is going to change before we figure it out anyway.

Complaining about the heat after a cold winter just seems wrong. I moved to the coast for warmth not cool summers. I am just pleased that we have received more than enough moisture to keep our yards and gardens from cooking. It has been great weather for growing tomatoes and beans. The hot weather and great vegetables have helped us prepare some classic Southern meals for our table. The local corn, our homegrown beans and tomatoes have let us feast like true Southerners.

One of the things which happens when it gets very warm is that most of our outdoor time is either very early or very late in the day. Those are my favorite times of day anyway.  The light is at its best for landscape photography. The middle of the day is often too humid to survive unless you are in some cool water which get hard to find as summer rolls along.

Being outside at night when a warm wind is blowing brings back lots of wonderful summer memories. My mother used to pack as many of her nieces as possible into her old Ford and head to the beach for a couple of weeks each summer. I course was packed in there with her teenage nieces who were around ten years older than me. We never stayed in any place fancy but the evenings along the boardwalk were especially magical in those days before television.

There always seemed to be a warm breeze with music floating on it. While it is rare that I hear music in the evening in our quiet subdivision nestled between corn fields, pine forests, the river, and a golf course, I do often feel the warm breeze and smell the ocean.  A recent night when it was still 80F at 9PM with a 15-20 MPH breeze found us at the neighborhood pool.  The only light came from the stars, moon and the underwater lights in the pool. It was one of those magical nights that grandparents get to have along the Crystal Coast.  Our almost seven year old granddaughter swam like a dolphin while her younger brother dipped his toes into pool water for the first time.

The warmth coming off the water is welcome most of the year. I might get tired of it by August, but in June I can still remember the cold of winter and appreciate the warmth of summer.

The breezes are even nicer when you get to enjoy them from a boat out on the White Oak River. Being on the river on a warm summer night and tasting the salt air on the breeze is almost as good as walking under the moonlight on a beach with the salt water touching your toes.

All that is more is possible here on the Crystal Coast where we never make our shrimp and grits with anything but local shrimp and a warm coastal breeze is possible almost anytime of the day or night.  While warm breezes that make you feel like you are at the beach are common, late evening thunderstorms are even more common. We have seen some amazing storms recently and our June rain total is up to 7.4 inches with a week still to go.

If you are already here and need a little more information about our piece of paradise, this link is a good starting point and subscribing to our newsletter is a great next step that will keep you up to date with what is happening in the area that stretches from Swansboro through Morehead  City, Beaufort and Down East up to Cedar Island.

Our most recent newsletter went out the end of May and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out by the end of June.

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

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

A Beach That Touches Everyone

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Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

I am truly blessed to live along North Carolina’s coast. The water of Raymond’s Gut is only twenty-five feet from our home. The journey to the White Oak River and through Bogue Sound out to the Atlantic ocean is not a long one as you can see from this map.

The river is only part of life on the water. We live about fifteen minutes by car on a good day from some of the most stunning beaches on the east coast. Living by the White Oak gives us access to many special places that are among some of the most unique places on the North Carolina coast.

However, one of my favorite spots is the Point, now a huge expanse of sand at the end of the Bogue Banks barrier island. Because the sand keeps moving, you never know what you will find until you get there. The Point almost disappeared in the fall of 2007. That same month I took this picture of a huge expanse water beginning at the foot of the vehicle ramp and covering all of the Point. Almost eight years later there is now three tenths of a mile of sand to walk before you reach the water.  The map shows me walking on water, but lots of people will attest to all the sand and it is clear that even Google cannot keep up with the Point.

The area around the Point is close to the heart of many locals. I am no newcomer to the Point. I first fished it in the summer of 1969 when I was a sophomore in college. The only way to get there then was to cross over the bridge at Morehead City and go by four wheel drive down the beach. I cannot remember how far we went by road before we got on the beach forty-six years ago, but I know it was a long haul of several miles down the beach. I still remember standing there by the water with a fishing pole in hand. The Point was a special place even back then.

I wish I knew back in 1969 what it took me until to 2006 to understand. Life is better at the coast. If I could have wrapped by head around that piece of wisdom, I might have saved myself a lot of miles. If I had just found a way to live at the beach back then, my life might have been very different. I would have missed a lot of snow from our years in Canada.

Likely I would never have built a herd of two hundred Angus here in Carteret County like we did in the Canadian Maritimes, but I am sure I would have figured out how to get my hands dirty in Carteret’s rock free soil. It is hard to say how much our lives might have changed if we had followed a different path. Still I am pleased  with all the times in the last nine years  that I have wiggled my toes in the sand at the Point. I head over there whenever there are a couple of hours when work can be put on the back burner for the more important things in life.

I have written over and over about how special the Point is and every time that I think that I have said all that can be said, I take another hike and find some more reasons to be in love with the Point.

My most recent trip over to the Point was on the stunningly beautiful early summer day of Sunday, June 7, 2015. I went late in the day hoping that perhaps the Station Street parking lot might have an empty space. When I got there, it was clear that the day was such a nice beach day that people were still enjoying the sand and surf even at 5 PM. Fortunately after waiting about ten minutes, I got a spot and headed off on my hike.

I planned on doing my short hike which is a little over two miles instead of the long one which can between four and five miles. It was a great time to hike as it was very close to low tide and the sun was low enough to be comfortable.

As always, I marveled at how much the beach has changed. It is humbling to see the power of wind, sand, and surf. But it also reassuring to walk a place like the Point. I have seen it big and small over the last four decades, and it has endured through all the storms that mother nature has thrown at it.  The Point is still that same wonderful, almost wild beach that I remember from my first visit. Your cannot say that about many places.  The changes in some of my favorite spots on the northern Outer Banks in the last forty years are hard to fathom.  We are lucky Point is just hard enough to hike that few people go beyond the easily accessed areas near the boardwalks.

I hope the Point stays almost wild and endures for at least another few decades.  It is a true treasure that is just a little over six hours (assuming there is no gridlock) from  Washington, DC.

While you might not be lucky enough to be close enough to hike the Point today, I can take you there virtually with some carefully chosen pictures from my June 7, 2015 hike.

If you are here and need a little more information about our piece of paradise, this link is a good starting point and subscribing to our newsletter is a great next step that will keep you up to date with what is happening in the area that stretches from Swansboro through Morehead  City, Beaufort and Down East up to Cedar Island.

Our most recent newsletter went out the end of May and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out by the end of June.

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

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Memorial Day On The River

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White Oak River near Bluewater Cove

White Oak River near Bluewater Cove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter