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.

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The Tail of the Blizzard

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Bogue Sound Sunset

Bogue Sound Sunset

The beautiful sunset picture of Bogue Sound was taken the day before the storm which eventually became the blizzard that has swallowed Northern Virginia, New York and other parts of the east coast.

No one here along the Southern Outer Banks asked for this to be a birthplace for big storms but it sometimes happens. Usually we get some wind and rain from them and that is the last we hear of them. This storm, Jonah, seems to have higher aspirations. We are going to be hearing about it for a while.

If you have been in a few blizzards, you learn that they usually have a tail which you can sort of see in this picture. As they get wound up and tighter, the tail usually becomes shorter and the winds become higher. Sometimes the tail will drag through some drastically colder air as it has done with this storm.

Yesterday we were close to 50F and this morning the temperature dropped so quickly that the raindrops froze instantly on my car. That is not normal for the Crystal Coast, but then again our weather can be a riddle that is hard to decode.

What kind of weather you get from a big, developing storm usually depends on how the storm tracks relative to your location. Usually the coast of North Carolina which as I said can be a spawning ground for storms gets a pass but sometimes we also get whacked. Fortunately our snow normally melts by noon. I doubt the two to three feet of snow dumped by Jonah on the east will melt anytime soon. We will feel the chill of the winds blowing across those fields of snow.

When we lived in Nova Scotia, we were in a perfect location to get a taste of all parts of a winter storm. We often went from rain and attendant mud to blizzard conditions and frozen ruts in what was mud. Sometimes we went back to ice pellets or rain only to finish with a coating of snow with howling winds.

Our life in New Brunswick had a few of those storms with multiple personalities but we were much more likely to be on the snow side of the storm. We were just far enough inland and high enough in elevation to catch most of the coastal storms as all snow.

After we moved to the mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia, we got more storms with sleet or freezing rain than snow but we did get a few epic storms like the December 19-20, 2009 storm. It was perfect igloo making snow but it was also the devil to move.

As long as you are healthy and the power is on, there is something nice about a storm. At our home in Tay Creek we did not worry very much about snow storms.

Most of our heat came from a wood stove and our woodshed was connected to the house. Our water came from a spring which was gravity-fed to the house. It was so cold in the winter that we unplugged our freezers which were in the woodshed. We had chickens and the trick was to collect their eggs before they froze. I gave the chickens water each morning by bringing them a shovel full of snow. I also milked a Guernsey cow which gave around three gallons of milk a day. It was a long walk to the barn in the winter but the milk was well worth it. My wife, Glenda, would often bake eight to ten loaves of her bread at a time. With milk, eggs, and bread taken care of and a freezer or two full of beef, there was no rush to drive to the supermarket which was over twenty miles away.

The only worry when the power went off was whether or not one of the big diesel tractors would start so I could take one of the one ton round bales out to the cows. They wintered in the woods a mile from the house so I had to keep the road cleaned of snow but I had the right equipment to do it.

In the ten years that we farmed, I only missed one day taking them a big bale of hay and I had managed to take them two the day before the storm.

While we often hunkered down and enjoyed a good winter storm, there were plenty of people who chose to go out and drive in weather so bad that no one should drive in it. I cannot even remember the number of times someone would knock on my door late at night and beg me to pull them out of ditch. I would put my snowsuit on and crank up a big tractor and after a bumpy ride on the ring chain equipped tractor, crawl under their car in the snow to find a place to hook my big logging chain. I would always refuse their pleas to just hook it to the bumper because I knew as soon as the chain tightened from the 16,000 pound tractor, the bumper would fly off. There were a couple of cars so badly stuck that I had to tell the owners to call a wrecker. I could have pulled their axle out but the rest of the car would have stayed there.

As the cold air behind this blizzard of 2016 is drawn across the Crystal Coast, we will complain because the air is a lot colder than we feel in a normal winter. Still we did not have to shovel the 2.25 inches of rain that we got and I for one am happy about that. I am happy to not be waiting for the snow plow on the mountain above Roanoke.

Here on the coast we thankfully only have another three or four weeks to go before the back of winter is broken. That’s fine with me, my tomato seeds came in today’s mail and I am looking forward to getting some seeds started.

With a fairly normal spring it will not be long before we are thinking about being out on the water again. Before we know it will be spring festival season and beach season will be just around the corner. Winter is not hard to survive on the Crystal Coast and that will be especially true if we can slide through another winter without snow.

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 February.

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 are coming.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Winter in the Cove

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Raymond's Gut, January 9, 2016

Raymond’s Gut, January 9, 2016

It is a little strange to think about winter when the temperature is hovering around 67F on January 10, 2016. However, I know better than to pretend that winter will not find us. We all know that the good run of warm weather this year has to end sometime.

As hard as it is to believe, we are still getting a few cherry tomatoes from our garden and some sugar snap peas. I managed to cover the last tomato plant and protect it from the one short spell of cold air that found our cozy spot near the White Oak River. The sugar snap peas made it through without any help like some of our petunias and roses that are still blooming.

It is not unusual to have some nice January weather on the North Carolina coast. We generally get pretty spoiled and complain about how miserable we are if we get some cold days. Our cold days get us little sympathy from our New England and Canadian friends. I almost hesitate to say it, but we consider it a cold day if we do not make it to fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

I can appreciate their feelings since I have endured my fair share of winter weather on a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia and in the heart of a snow belt north of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada. Winter is a totally different beast in Canada than it is on the Southern Outer Banks.

While the days and weeks before winter in Canada are usually a mad rush to get everything done before a deep snow suspends daily activities, waiting for winter to come is usually an exciting time on the coast. The months before winter are some of the best on the Carolina coast. We fish, boat, and hike the beaches. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is often still warm. This winter I saw people in the surf in early December and my daughter and I took a holiday ride down the river after Christmas. I wore shorts and a t-shirt.

Even if the winter turns harsh we will likely only have six or seven weeks weeks of cold weather left.  While it is possible that Raymond’s Gut could freeze over like it did in 2014, it is more likely that we will stay on the weather roller coaster to spring.  That will give us brief periods of cold weather broken up by short spells of ever warming weather as the North Carolina winter sunshine gets its strength back.

Wintering here on the coast can give you a little climatic whiplash, but I would rather have it that way than continual cold or no cold at all. A little taste of winter is fine. However, I did not move to the beach for snow so I am always happy to get to that time in February when I can say that winter’s back is broken.

Maybe I had too many long walks to the barn in the winter to have any desire for yet another snowstorm. The first winter we lived in Tay Creek back in the early seventies, we recorded twenty-three feet of snow. That year the snow came before November 1, and stayed on the ground well into May. On top of that we had just moved from Nova Scotia where my wife had gotten more than a taste of a September snow just after we got married the previous year.

Winter is not so bad at the coast and even now I can almost taste spring. Once again our Canadian great egret friend, Frank 29X, seems to have decided to spend some of the winter with us. Actually he has been in our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, since December 29.  He was behind our home on January 8 and came back to gobble up some fish from the marsh behind our house as we had our lunch on January 9.   The truth is that I would rather have a Canadian great egret as company than a Canadian winter.

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 February.

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Holiday White Oak River Rides

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December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

It is not unusual for me to be out on the river during December, January or even February. However, it is a little different to be headed down river with the boat up on plane on December 27 and to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

On our Christmas boat ride last year on December 26, 2014 my daughter, Erin, and I found the water temperature just under 53F. It does not take anyone long to figure out that the air temperature close to the surface on a big river is pretty close to the water temperature. In December and January we can see some cool water temperatures. On January 4, 2014, the river water was at 43.5F.

What cold water in the river means is that you can have close to 80F air temperatures like we enjoyed on December 27, 2015 but still have a cold ride on the river if the water is down below fifty degrees especially when you add the 20 to 30 MPH wind chill from the moving air of a skiff riding on top of the water.

That was not the case on December 26, 2015. Because my GPS unit is broken I could not tell the exact water temperature in the White Oak like previous years, but I could guess that it was somewhere in the upper sixties. Based on other reliable reports and how comfortable we were riding down the river in shorts and t-shirts, the water had to be close to 70F.

Since the air temperature was very warm at almost 80F around our home just off the river, our December 27 boat ride was even refreshing. That happens to be the whole point of boat rides. You do not get a boat to be miserable riding around in it.

I have written much about the White Oak River, and I get very close to it since I also kayak the river and walk its shores. I find that being close to the river and its marshes lets the peace of nature find me. It is the best way to unwind from the tensions of modern life. Among the many choices here, kayaking is perhaps my favorite way of unwinding. My wife fails to understand how being in a kayak just twelve feet long in the middle of a choppy tidal river close to two miles wide could possibly be relaxing but I guarantee that it is.

December kayaking is even more special and if the weather and water temperature holds, I might even get in some January kayaking which is indeed a rare treat. Our waters can briefly freeze over in January and it takes a long time for them to warm. Once the water gets below fifty Fahrenheit, my only trips out on the river are in our skiff since cold water can be deadly if you flip your kayak. Usually the water warms to kayaking temperatures about the time that the strawberries ripen which is sometime from the end of March until the middle of April. That means that normally there is no kayaking for me in January, February or March. I have to make do with a few warm days, lots of marsh walks, some chilly boat rides down the river, and a few magical winter beach walks.

However, each morning sunny or not, I usually manage to walk our neighborhood boardwalk. It gives me a chance to check out the visitors in our marsh.

This year it has not been cold or stormy enough yet for the big birds to need to visit the sheltered area of Raymond’s Gut where we live. It is a little bit of win-lose situation. If our winter is warm, we have fewer marsh visitors and the bird feeder goes begging. A cold winter means there is a big bird around every corner.

Winter will find us soon enough though it is going to be tough to let go of the Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and spring onions that we are still enjoying as the New Year draws close. You do not often pick a tomato for a sandwich like we did on Christmas Day 2015 even in coastal North Carolina.

Wintering at the coast is a pleasant adventure and there are always some surprises to keep us on our toes. Just maybe the cold weather will help us get another visit by our famous egret, Frank 29X. That would almost make the cold weather worth it.


Update December 29

There was great excitement in the marsh around Raymond’s Gut this morning.  Frank 29X did show up for a visit.  This is now four straight years that Frank 29X has visited us during December.  It is a long flight from the Ontario marshes where he spends the summer. It was not surprising that we saw Frank 29X on a very windy day and that he was chasing fish in a marsh spot that I call  Where The Egrets and Herons Go To Hide.  You can get a good perspective of Frank 29X’s foraging spot by checking out this photo shot from a drone this past Thanksgiving.


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 hopefully around New Year’s Day.

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