Taste of Summer in April

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It was only as the last weekend in March arrived that winter seemed to release its hold on the Crystal Coast. After a relatively warm February, we had serious visits back into winter-like weather.

We saw our first snowflakes in three or four years on March 12. On March 15 we began a series of three days when the temperatures fell into the mid to upper twenties. One day it only got into the mid-thirties and was so cold that some of my tomato plants that were hardening off inside the garage ended up with some damaged leaves.

Fortunately April has been a wonderful month so far. Sunshine, blue skies and warming temperatures have defined April 2017. Our grandchildren were on spring break the second week in April and it was a dandy with no precipitation, nearly perfect beach temperatures and no extreme wind.

The next week has been almost as nice with a couple of windy days and some clouds thrown in for variety. On April 21, we got to 84F by 11:30 AM. It feels summer-like outside and everyone has been enjoying outdoor activities. The winds continue to be more than the previous week and we are getting dry. The forecast for this weekend may solve the early dryness of our growing season.

Our garden plants which get water as needed are doing great. The Romaine lettuce, spinach, green onions and broccoli are some of the best we have ever grown.

Based on a few trips to Emerald Isle during Easter week, I would say that the tourist traffic was brisk. Food Lion was a bit of zoo at times when I ventured over.

This week we have enjoyed a few nights when the temperature stayed close to 70F which seems to be the magical number for warming the water up. The surf is already in the mid-sixties and the river is above 70F. Right on cue, someone in our neighborhood landed a short red drum. Our spring birds like the killdeer are also showing up.

I was out earlier in the spring in my kayak but since then my free time has coincided with the stronger winds so I have not made a second trip but I am more persistent than the winds so I will be back on the water soon. This is also the time of year when you will find the beach substantially cooler than inland areas. You certainly will not be cold but winds, cooler temperatures, and still chilly water can make a big difference if you get wet.

Certainly you can wade a little in the water but I would wait a little longer before getting seriously wet. It will not be long and the water will be really nice.  The Crystal Coast is as nice a family beach as you can find and early spring is a great time for a practice visit to line up your summer vacation.  Almost everything stays open all year on Emerald Isle.

If you are new to the area, do not forget to check out our books including, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is available in print or as a Kindle book.

Vestiges of Winter in the Marsh

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It has been over two months since I have written a post on my Crystal Coast Life website. It happens ever now and then that you just need a break from writing even if writing is something that you enjoy very much. If there is a good time for some time off from writing, it is winter and if there is a good place to restore yourself, it is the marshes along the North Carolina coast.  I am back now and refreshed from the break and hopeful that we are seeing the last vestiges of winter.

The winter of 2016-17 has been an easy one so far in the Raymond’s Gut marsh on the edges of the White Oak River. We had one serious cold spell from January 7 to Jan 10. We experienced 15F, the lowest temperature in our ten plus years on the Crystal Coast. Fortunately for those of us along the coast there was no frozen precipitation to go along with the very cold temperatures.

Winter brought our usual cast of characters including our most famous visitor, Frank 29X and a new friend, an otter who has been named Emmet. Frank 29X is a great egret born in Canada who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. He is a true snow bird with his trips south each winter. He has not missed a winter since 2012 and is somewhat famous in birding circles.  Emmet is a young river otter who seems to have developed a fondness for our marsh. There was one stretch when he was around for almost two weeks. I am guessing that Emmet is one of the otters that were born here in the marsh last year. The marsh did get iced over during our one cold spell but that is long gone and the duration of our cold spells is shorter and shorter as we get closer to spring.

As winter slowly releases us to spring, we can still expect some cold nights but often the brilliant North Carolina sun can make you forget about cold temperatures well before 10AM. Winter winds often linger and become spring breezes which given the length of time that it takes for the waters to warm up are only marginally warmer than the cold winter winds.  It does not take much to change the quiet inlet in the post picture to a wind whipped inlet.

Another part of winter that takes a long time to change is the reddish brown of our mostly centipede lawns. This area by our boardwalk is green in the summer but stays brown until April usually. While it is not unusual to see green grass in central North Carolina in early March, it takes much longer for our brown centipede lawns to turn green. If you see green grass at the coast early in the spring, it is likely that someone over-seeded their centipede yard with annual rye grass. We actually hope the centipede grass does not turn green until into April. A late March frost can turn a centipede yard brown and it has to start greening up all over.

The roller coaster weather that we have on the coast also keeps our area waters which were cooled by the winter’s cold temperatures from warming up quickly. Cool water temperatures are the most maddening vestiges of winter. The warm days of spring often tease us but experience has taught us that the beautiful waters of spring are often deadly cold. We might end up being lucky this year with the water temperatures already in the mid-fifties, but I am not counting on it yet.

All it takes is for the northern half of the country to be snow covered and for those cold north winds to sweep across the fields of snow to keep our spring damp and cool. Still we know that spring is drawing nearer by the day. We have already picked up almost an hour of daylight. Our daffodils have responded with beautiful blooms. And in what might be a surprise to many people our wagon train tomatoes are still producing ripe tomatoes. We already have tomato seeds planted and it will not be long before we are planting cold tolerant plants.

It will take a while for those last vestiges of winter, the brown centipede grass, the cold winds, and cold water to disappear but we are on the downward slope to better weather. We will soon be thinking about spring festivals and walks along the beach.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books are especially useful if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below.  The first newsletter of the new year is late but should be out late in the week after Valentine’s today. It will just in time to provide information on the first spring festivals.

Life by the Waters of the White Oak

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The White Oak River

The White Oak River

Another November has come and gone and somehow I am not surprised that once again the weather has been unpredictable but beautiful. That this fall has been yet another great coastal fall is undeniable.

The nearly perfect weather has been an interesting contrast to the cold weather of November 2014 when we saw temperatures drop to 24F and the high for one day only reach 42F. We got through November 2016 without a killing frost along the edges of Raymond’s Gut. The narrow channel of Raymond’s Gut runs behind our home and out to the White Oak River. It is a great place to garden, fish, and enjoy life.  That is especially true when we have more than our fair share of summer-like fall days that have been the gift of November 2016. Our temperatures were well into the seventies on this year’s first day of December.

Fall 2016 unlike last year has been dry since early October. Hurricane Matthew dumped three inches of rain on western Carteret County on October 8. In the almost eight weeks since then we have only received 1.72 inches of precipitation. November 2015 was much wetter. We got 7.1 inches of rain just on November 19, 2015. On December 2, 2015 our rain total since June 1 stood at 59.4 inches. This year with a total of just 40.2 inches precipitation since June 1, 2016, we are over nineteen inches behind last year’s total. No one is complaining. It is the first time in a while that we had a chance to thoroughly dry out.

Variable weather comes with living along the coast. When water is at your doorstep there are some benefits like later frosts and extended spring weather. Each year the waters are slow to cool in the fall and sometimes not so quick to warm in the spring. We are also on the doorstep of a huge weather machine that often spawns storms just off our coast. We sometimes either get brushed by storms or watch them spin up and head north to clobber New England or the Canadian Maritimes.

Life along the water has other benefits. The cast of characters that frequent our marsh is entertaining to say the least. An early morning walk along the marsh is hardly complete without seeing some kingfishers swooping along the surface of the water. Sometimes we watch them capture a meal and proceed to tenderize it by pounding it on a piling. It is not unusual to see loons and otters and of course lots of ducks from mallards to mergansers. Our most famous visitor is Frank 29X, the great egret from Canada, who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. If Frank makes it back this year, it will be his fifth straight year to visit Raymond’s Gut.

This photo album taken during the winter of 2013 provides lots of bird and creature pictures along with shots from my kayak trips. More water and some beach shots can be found in this fall 2014 album. With great Crystal Coast weather, the choice of what to do is only limited by your free hours. Now that we are into December my kayaking will be much more limited with few if any more trips to the center of the river as the water cools. December 1, would have been a great day for a beach hike but we were scheduled during our too-short December daylight hours.

A body of water like Raymond’s Gut which stretches from the White Oak into the marsh is like a watery game trail and those of us living by it have ringside seats. Beyond the gut there is the superhighway of the White Oak River where anything from bottle nosed dolphin to blue crabs and a shark is possible. It is hard to believe that I took our skiff down the river almost a week ago and I was still wearing my standard uniform of shorts.  On that trip we saw kingfishers, great egrets and a great blue heron.

We are blessed to live by waters that delight us with a new window into the natural world each day. If you ever have a chance to park yourself along the water for a few years or even months, do not miss the opportunity. It is a wonderful way to watch the seasons pass. We have seen things from our kitchen window that some folks will never have a chance to see.  How many people have seen a great egret stand down a great blue heron,  a great blue heron go ice skating or an otter eating fish like a Popsicle? You cannot ask for a better place to appreciate our natural world than the shores of a place like Raymond’s Gut.

There will still be some warm days here on the coast, so come for a visit and enjoy the weather while it holds winter at bay.  For each warm day you can enjoy, you banish one day of winter and life seems just a little bit brighter.  Turning our backs on winter is a favorite game for those of us who live here.  We like to cheat winter as much as we can.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books make great Christmas presents especially if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

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Nearly Perfect Weather

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decemberblueswm

After two rainy but still nice summers, we have enjoyed a stretch of remarkable dry weather. In the last twenty-six days we have only gotten two tenths of an inch of rain. Before that we measured 38.5 inches of rain since June 1 or a little over 2.1 inches per week during the whole summer. Even that pales to 2015 when our rain total by early October was 43.25 inches or 2.4 inches per week.

Even as the light rain comes down early on the morning of November 4, the expectation is that it will clear this morning after minimal precipitation.  Then there will be another week of dry weather for everyone to enjoy.

Fall of 2015 ended up being great but so far this year’s fall weather has been even better. I suspect it has surpassed almost everyone’s dreams. While it was summer-like and almost too warm for a while, the last week of weather was perfect.  The fall gardens which were doing well early have recovered from Mathew and we are even catching fish which puts everyone on the Crystal Coast in a good mood.

I have been out on the river twice in the last five days and both times have been a joy. Saturday I brought home a nice black drum and a speckled sea trout eighteen inches long. I also returned to the river two fifteen to sixteen inch red drum. Thursday, November 3, I did not even get in my kayak until 4:45 PM and after twenty minutes of paddling I dropped anchor. I caught another sixteen inch red drum on my first cast. In a few minutes, I caught another slightly shorter one and on my way in, I caught one that was close to twenty inches. The net in the picture with the drum is sixteen inches across. Of course I caught the drum in my favorite spot out on the oyster rocks in the White Oak River. The only reason I stopped fishing was that I was running out of daylight.

Most of us living here on the coast move here to be close to the water. Still the great weather, abundance of blue skies and sunshine are also factors. Some folks come for the beach and there are others who come for either boating, kayaking, fishing or all of the above. I often joke that we should bottle our fall weather on the coast and bring it out in February during our short winter. The reality is that usually we get enough nice weather that it is not too hard to survive until spring warmth finds us.  Nice weather in October and into November is not unusual. We even get shorts weather sometimes in December. I usually find some warm weather for a January beach hike and some January boating. It does not take much magic winter warmth to get us through the sometimes icy end of winter.

Thoughts cold weather are still a long time off if you live here on the North Carolina coast. We have plenty of time to enjoy the beach before the winter winds. My more recent long hike over on the Point at Emerald Isle was October 20. The water was crystal clear and the air was summer-like.  Crystal clear waters are part of the heritage of the Crystal Coast. Waters like I saw on my last hike give credence to the area’s nickname.

If you have made it this far in the article, you likely have figured out that the best part of the beach season is far from over.  If you find the time, do your body and soul a favor and plan a fall trip to the Crystal Coast. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is perfect for fishing or even sticking your toes into it. There will still be some warm days, so enjoy them like those of us who live here do.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter early in November.

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Matthew’s Winds and Water

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egrettakeoffwmPardon us for flapping our wings a little.  Matthew has come and gone from the east coast. The Crystal Coast area did very well.  However, the effects of the storm are still being felt inland on the North Carolina coastal plain. Historic flooding will take place in a few localities during this second week in October.  Even Interstate 95 is still closed three days after Mathew left the area.  There are still power outages as far north as Virginia Beach.  South along the coasts that stretch from here to through Florida, people are cleaning up after a strong storm that did a tremendous amount of damage.

As with every storm there are lessons to be learned. The first is that we all need to be humble before storms like Matthew. The closest you can come to outsmarting a storm is being well prepared and if necessary, getting far out of its way.

No matter how many storms you have endured, a big one coming up the coast makes everyone who has any sense nervous. Personally I obsess over the track even with my knowledge that the size of the wind field and rain shield can can turn even a near miss into an almost direct hit and cause great damage.

I follow the hurricanes headed toward us with as many tools as I can find. There are plenty of good online tools today.  I use Storm Pulse mostly and add data that I pick up from the National Weather Service. Even when a storm looks like it might miss us, we go forward with preparations until we are well out of the cone of uncertainty. There are so many factors for a particular location that it is unlikely any weather forecaster can provide exactly the right advice for our specific location. A lot of the knowledge you need to survive comes from living through some storms.  The factors vary from the timing of the tides to wind directions and how protected a location is from wind coming from a certain angle. The direction of hurricane winds change as the storm moves through an area. Of course we all live in fear of being just to the right of a strong hurricane’s track.

Hurricane Matthew’s track came within about 50 miles of our location just off the White Oak River. The White Oak is a big wide river as you can see from this drone picture taken near our home. Home looks a long way off when you are in the middle of the a huge river in your tiny kayak. Raymond’s Gut which is our water route to the White Oak curves back a little as  it gets to our house.  The geography of Raymond’s Gut and how it intersects the river offers us some protection from storms.

There are some other good things about being on a big wide, coastal river that is not far from the ocean. Our location just three miles up river from the mouth at Swansboro means that heavy rains do not have far to flow. The White Oak River with a length of only 36 miles does not drain a tremendous area which is also a good thing when it comes to flooding. Our river is also tidal so when the tide turns some water, usually two feet of it, disappears.

We are lucky to have the very well treed Bogue Banks between us and the Atlantic Ocean. There is no way to be perfectly secure on the coast when it comes to hurricanes, but we have found our current location has been a safe haven over the last ten plus years. We stayed through all of Hurricane Irene and its punishing wind and rains. Hurricane Sandy was not much of an event here. Hurricane Matthew brought us very manageable winds and only two inches of rain. In the fall of 2015 we lived through some of the epic rains that almost swamped South Carolina. In September 2010, we even survived a strange summer downpour that dropped over 20 inches of rain on us in eight hours. None of those events brought water even close to the homes in our neighborhood. Our home is only 25 feet from the water and thankfully the water has never even gotten over our bulkhead

While the flooding water from Hurricane Matthew looks impressive covering our boardwalk, the water was gone four hours later as the tide dropped. This picture taken the next morning shows how quickly things were back to normal.

Part of staying sane with a hurricane coming is to be prepared.  We got cash from the ATM on Wednesday and filled both cars with gas.  The same day I took our skiff down the river to make sure it was working.  I started our generator last Thursday.  We got some extra water and canned food.  We checked our emergency radio, all batteries and flashlights.  On Friday before the rains, we moved lots of things inside or tied them down.  On Saturday I raised the boat on the lift to high water stage and got a couple of coolers of ice. We were ready to fill our 5 gallon water jug if things started looking bad.  When power starts flickering, our routine is to put items that we might need the next day in the cooler so we won’t have to open the fridge.  If the power is off for several hours, we put the generator out on the patio and power a few things in the house including the refrigerator.  Both our phones were fully charged and we talked about the papers that we needed to take with us if we decided to leave.

We were ready for Matthew but fortunately we got to spend a comfortable night at home in spite of some pretty serious and noisy winds very early Sunday morning.  We never lost power and during our trip our for lunch in Morehead City we only saw a couple of power trucks working.  Atlantic Beach lost power but Emerald Isle did not. A measure of the few power incidents in our area is that we saw a TV truck filming the one broken pole we noticed in Cedar Point.  Some of our “good luck” is due to the giant power poles used by Carteret-Craven Electric and their efforts to keep our power right of ways free of dangerous limbs and trees.

You cannot hide from Hurricanes, but you can pay attention to history and pick a place that has survived a few storms. I know that just because we have not been hit directly does not mean that we will not get a storm with a perfect track to cause us damage. I remain hopefully that being a few miles inland with a very big tidal drain beside us means that we are relatively safe.  Even so we always wrestle with the stay or go problem.  Hurricane Matthew confirms what we have seen before.  If you do leave, you are likely to have a hard time getting back because of inland flooding.  Still if a Category three storm looks like it is headed to our area, we will likely head for the hills.

If you can find some roads that are not flooded, this is a great time of year to visit. There are certainly no crowds. By the middle of October most of the flooding should be gone.  Just watch the weather and pick some nice days to really enjoy the fall treat of visiting the Crystal Coast. I took this beach picture Sunday afternoon, just after Hurricane Matthew had passed the Crystal Coast.

You can check out the Town of Emerald Isle Report on Matthew for another perspective of Matthew’s impacts.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter out around Halloween.

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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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