A November to Remember

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Last Sunday in November Beach Crowd

Last Sunday in November Beach Crowd

There are perhaps a number of reasons to remember this past November. One of the most poignant for me is that this is the first month in the last eleven years that I did not have the time to write a single post for the web.

I did find a few times when I could enjoy the Crystal Coast with my skiff, kayak, and through the camera on my son’s drone. Even with the challenges that have kept me mostly off the water, it has been a wonderful month.

Looking back a year, it is hard to believe how different the weather has been in 2015. Last year I was writing about unusual cold. That November was memorable mostly for how cold it got.

This year it is hard to write about our weather without mentioning the unusually heavy precipitation that has fallen since June 1, 2015. Currently our rainfall total since then stands at 59.40 inches. In just a few hours on the afternoon of November 19, we received 7.1 inches of rain. That downpour of rain is typical of some of the storms we have seen this summer except it was even more intense. Over six inches fell in just three hours. We had a sheet of water four inches deep flowing down our street.

With all the rain, fishing in the White Oak River has not been a way to get fish into the pan. While the water temperature was holding at sixty degree Fahrenheit the last weekend in November, it will likely drop into the fifties by the first weekend of December. That is hard to believe given that our high temperature on December 2 was 77F. However, high temperatures after Wednesday when we saw the 77F are not going to get out the fifties until the weekend. Low temperatures are also going to dip into the upper thirties. The river water will get colder fast. The last hope for fish might be finding some trout. Last weekend I tried the river and found no trout in the usual places but I remain hopeful.

Still it was stunningly beautiful out on the river in my kayak. I was even lucky enough to paddle by a couple of otters swimming in golden water. Fortunately November has been a great month for gardening. We only had one frost and were able to protect our tomatoes and lettuce from any damage. Our buttercrunch lettuce crop has been the best ever and we finished our fall 2015 harvest of green beans on November 23 just before the one frost that found us. We are starting to get a few tomatoes. A December tomato is a rarity even here on the North Carolina coast.

November is special for photographers because the area’s waters have a habit of turning golden during the month. It seems to be a regular occurrence and I enjoy capturing the spectacular scenes like the ones with the otters. Even more fun has been seeing the area through the lens of my son’s drone. Last year he was down for a few days and only experimented a little during that Christmas.

Mostly those shots got me excited for his next trip.  Seeing our area from 100 to 250 above the ground is not something that is easy to do in our land of no hills. Fortunately the drone and pilot were here for a week this Thanksgiving.  It gave us time for a major effort to photograph some of my favorite spots. He got some great shots of the White Oak, Raymond’s Gut, the Point, and even Bogue Sound. He also did a panoramic movie of the Point.

While I did not have as much leisure time as I would have liked this past month, it is hard to complain when there is plenty of great weather and I have enjoyed some of it from the kayak and on the beach. The picture at the top of the post was taken from Bogue Inlet Pier on Sunday, November 29. It looks like I was not the only person enjoying November. There were a number of surfers on the other side of the pier.

It has been another great fall and you can read about our equally nice but wet summer at my SOBX Coastal Paradise site.  Early fall is covered in this post.

Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out sometime in early December.

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Great Drying Weather

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Pine trees along Raymond's Gut

Pine trees along Raymond’s Gut

It has been over thirty-two years since I cut a field of hay. Even now when a great stretch of perfect drying weather hits, I have the itch to knock down a field of grass and start making hay. The smell of grass turning into hay is something you never forget.

It turns out the same kind of weather is very effective for drying out our over-saturated ground. After the rain that devastated South Carolina and drenched Eastern North Carolina, some great drying weather is very welcome even if I have no hay to make.

We had a wet summer but the rain came in such intense short bursts that we also had a very nice summer for finding your own beach. Such was not the case with our early October storm. It stole our blue skies and hid the sun from us for a few days.

Our yards were too wet to walk on much less mow. Farmers’ crops were stuck in the fields and everything that could hold water was full of it. High water was everywhere.

Then the weather completely turned around. The skies cleared, the sun came out, and the wind started blowing. The relative humidity dropped and things started drying out. We even had a good dose of Indian summer before we got a shot of Canadian cold air across our bow.

As hard as it is to believe I had to water our green beans and tomatoes on October 20. Yes, fall gardening can very successful here. This year we are expecting to harvest some green beans in early November and with a little luck we might also have some Umberto tomatoes not long after that.

That is life on the Crystal Coast, we can have weeks of great weather then some bad weather and before we know it we are back into the fantastic weather.

Even during the amazing rain event that almost washed away South Carolina, we got a break. Saturday, October 3, was a beautiful day here. I went kayaking in the high water and my neighbor went fishing in his skiff. I kayaked in places that are impossible to reach during most of the year. Someone just a few days earlier had asked me about a lot that is for sale nearby.

It is a large river front lot and I often walk on the marsh edge of it during the winter. I told the people looking at it to make certain that they checked it out during high water. Sure enough that Saturday with all the high water and our flooded inlet, I was two thirds of the way up in the lot in my kayak.

In the end the high water receded, our tides became normal and we got the great fall weather that is often the norm here on the Crystal Coast. Now we have not seen in rain in over two weeks and there is no in forecast for the next week.

The waters have cleared and there was even a flounder blitz at the pier this week. The story is that over 40 keepers were caught in one morning and one weighed in at nearly six pounds.

I cannot claim any success like that, but I did get a two pound flounder not long ago and I expect to soon be out in the kayak chasing drum and flounder. Great weather like this should be bottled and brought out in February when we really need it.

The picture in the linked post looks great but I took an even better one on October 20, 2015. Great weather in the fall is a tradition that seems to be well entrenched on the Crystal Coast.

There is more information about our summer at my SOBX Coastal Paradise site.

Our most recent email newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, September 4, and can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out before the end of October.

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August Is Not the End Of Beach Season

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August 25, Third Street Beach, Emerald Isle, NC

August 25, Third Street Beach, Emerald Isle, NC

Labor Day weekend is within sight and already many tourists are gone from our beach area. With children back in school, many families have disappeared from our shores.  While it is nice to have smaller crowds on our beaches and in our stores, it is a little sad to see so few people on the beaches just as the best part of the beach season arrives.

While there are never any guarantees with weather other than it can always surprise you, fall on the North Carolina coast is usually a very special time. While many will argue that fall is a season of the mountains, I have to disagree and believe that Fall Belong To The Southern Coast.

I love the beach anytime of the year but much of the summer the beach can be harsh if you want to avoid the heat and the sun that seems to burn a hole right through the ozone. Our summer trips to the beach tend to be late in the evening or early morning if I am fishing. When fall rolls around, mid-day becomes a real possibility.  Even noon can be a very nice time to be at the beach in the fall.

While fall will still bring lots of warm days and more humidity than most of us like, the real heat and humidity start going away around the middle of September. We’re left with warm salt water and pleasant temperatures which often last into November and sometimes even into December.

We have fewer people, generally better weather, and the warm is still warm. It is hard not to like this time of year and then there is always the icing on the cake, the fish usually start biting in the fall and there are some festivals to keep us entertained.

I really enjoy hiking the beaches in the fall. In the spring the cold waters can take some of the pleasantness away from a beach hike but the warm breezes off the water in the fall are just the opposite.

Then there are the local oysters that come in during the fall. Of course the shrimp have had all summer to grow so they are also at their peak.

With still warm sands, water temperatures in the eighties, fewer people, fish biting, and some local seafood at its peak, it is hard to ask for more.

It is also a great time to go boating, the summer thunderstorms start to die down and the area’s waters are perfect for boating or kayaking.

If you have never been to a beach in the fall, you really owe it to yourself to visit during the season that is universally loved by all of us who live here. It just might give you a different perspective on life at the beach.

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

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 five-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. Later in the fall we revise the guide each year and all year long 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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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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