Taste of Summer in April


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.

Fall Waters

White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

The colors and the light have changed as we have moved into the fall season. While it is a subtle change, it is still very noticeable especially to photographers.

While we keep hearing that the weather is changing, the slightest taste of fall usually gets overwhelmed by the powerful sun that owns the North Carolina coast during September. The humidity leaves for brief periods then you open your door during midday and it feels like summer all over again.

It is still great beach weather and the water temperature remains close to 80F. Even as September draws to a close, my last hike at the Point on September 8, is still a fresh memory. The pictures that I took remind me of just how beautiful our beaches are here on the Crystal Coast. When you walk over on the Point, you enter a different world. While beach driving started September 15, I got my most recent hike in before the trucks started hitting the beach.  That meant that I had the far reaches of the beach almost to myself.

The hike which is shown on this map was a little over two miles. In the fall I try hike down to what is called Bird Island but I ran out of time, daylight, and energy on September 8. I am hoping to get back to the Point the first week in October. The highs are supposed to be in the low eighties or upper seventies. That will be perfect weather for hiking the beaches.

The weather folks keep promising us a front that is going to drop down and sweep out all the humidity. It seems to never quite make it to the Crystal Coast and now we have to keep our eye on Tropical Storm Mathew which has the possibility of swinging up the east coast and bringing more tropical air over us.

We have learned from past experiences to keep our eyes on the water. The last year or so, many areas, some not even on the coast (see Cedar Rapids, Iowa) are getting caught in torrential non-tropical storms that move slowly across the country. Last year areas of South Carolina were swamped. We were luckily only on the edge of that storm. Even with our area not in the bullseye, the storm gave us high waters and put an end to good weather for a while. Recently, Bertie County, which is north of the Crystal Coast, got nearly twenty inches of rain over three days. It caused severe flooding. Now as I write this Washington, DC is under a flood watch and might get eight inches of rain in two to three days.

The good news is that even in years like last year we usually do get a great stretch of weather.  In the fall as the tropics settle down, we get to really enjoy the area. Fall is without a doubt my favorite time on the Southern Outer Banks. The fish are biting, the crowds have dispersed, and the humidity is a lot lower. On top of that the water is still warm.

I managed to get out in my kayak last weekend. That is where I took the picture at the beginning of the post. It was great to be on the water. The previous time that I went out, I felt like the frog in a pot of gradually heating water. I was out very early in the morning but as the heat of the day caught up with me, there was no relief since the water was still in the upper eighties. Fortunately those water temperatures are gone and a kayak ride is back to being a very pleasant experience.

If you have the flexibility to visit this time of year, just watch the weather and pick your time carefully to really enjoy the treats of the Crystal Coast. As you can see from the beach pictures, there is plenty of room for visitors.

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 before Halloween.

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A Beach Of Your Own

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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The Riddle of Coastal Weather

Bogue Inlet

Bogue Inlet

I had to resist a title like, Coastal Weather Depends On Where You Are and When You Are There.  It is actually not a bad summary of the situation we face on a daily basis.  You can drive the 100 or so miles from Winston-Salem to Raleigh and only see the mean July temperature go from 87F to 89F.  Drive another 120 miles to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and you will find the mean temperature, and in July it can be mean and hot, will still be stuck on 89F.

Yet you only have to go another nineteen miles to Swansboro to watch the July mean temperature drop four degrees to 85F .  Then things start to get really interesting but there is little data that you can put your hands on to show the local coastal weather quirks we know so well.

You cannot live very long in coastal North Carolina before it dawns on you that the water and how much of it is around you has more to do with your daily temperatures than just about anything else.  We often escape almost all of the early spring hot spells because our water is still cool.  When fall comes we can sometimes wade in the surf into early November.   In the spring it can be positively chilly over on Emerald Isle by the ocean but it can be very toasty and warm over on the mainland by some of the marshes that absorb that wonderful North Carolina spring sunshine faster than the Atlantic Ocean.

That is just the start.  We have more types of water than Canadians have of snow.  Shallow marsh waters with a dark bottom like those around my house warm very quickly but they also cool off very quickly.  Deep waters with a sandy bottom stay cool longer.  Areas through which the tide draws lots of water see a real mixing action of water and temperatures.

Then you have to factor in the wind.  The wind cools the water. The difference in temperature on a part of the river where it is two miles wide and in a sheltered inlet will either start you thawing or bring sweat to your brow depending on the time of year.  The areas where the winds cannot blow across the open waters stay warmer most of the year.  The change is even more dramatic the closer you get to the ocean.

Just to make things even more interesting, if we get a lot of rain and it is cool rain from thunderstorms, it can quickly change the temperature of the rivers and sometimes even their salinity which matters a lot when it comes to fishing.  Then if the rain comes from a tropical air mass, it can feel like we are walking around in rain direct from Florida.

There are some rules to living on the coast in the summer.  If you want to enjoy the outside world in July and August, do it early and be home by 8:30 AM before it starts getting warm.  If you want to go to the beach and cannot go early, you will find that it is wonderful in the late afternoon and early evening.

We find it also helps if we keep our heat pumps set on eighty degrees.  It makes the transition to the outside much easier.  When you come inside, you do not feel like you have walked into a meat locker.  You know it is really summer here when you can take a comfortable shower without using any hot water.  Even the ground warms up pretty quickly and our water pipes are barely buried.

If you cannot hit those times of the day when it is nice outside, you need to be careful because the heat can suck the life out of you.  Again that depends on where you are.   If you are up the White Oak River where the river is twenty-five feet wide and the water  has six foot high marsh grass on both sides, finding a breeze is going to be very difficult.

Those are the times when you head for Bogue Inlet where the water is cooler and there is almost always a breeze.  That is a picture of Bogue Inlet at the top of the post.  Of course if it is a cold day, it can be mighty cold over at Bogue Inlet.  Depending on the direction of the wind, you might want to hide behind Bear Island or Huggins Island.  Then there is the difference between being in a skiff and a kayak.  If the water is very cold or very warm, you will notice it more in the kayak.  However, when we have a hot day in the spring and the river is still sixty degrees, you can be sure that it will feel colder than sixty degrees when you take a trip down the river especially in an open skiff at 30 MPH.

I was out on the river late in the evening on July 17, 2013.  The water temperature was in the upper eighties.  There was little wind and I could feel the heat radiating from the river.   The next morning after a night with clear skies,  the river was much cooler and a trip down it was much nicer.

Then there are some mysteries to coastal weather.  I often wonder why Ocracoke Island is warmer early in the morning than most other places on the coast in the summer.  It is surrounded by water and the water cannot be warmer than our water.  I do not know the answer.

The variety in coastal weather is just part of what makes life on the coast interesting.  Our hot weather usually does not last more than a few weeks and I will trade that anytime for the moderate weather that we have in the winter.

Whenever I do not like the weather, I either just wait until it changes or drive a few miles to find something different. It is the coastal way.


Escaping The Crowds

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

The Beach At The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

We have all headed off to our favorite vacation destination and gotten caught in traffic on the way or found more people than we expected when we arrived at our spot.  Most of us vacation to get away from crowds and finding a crowd in paradise is not a good way to start.  Yet it easy to end up right in the middle of a mass of humanity especially on a popular beach.

I started seriously escaping the crowds well before I graduated from college and headed off to live along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy.  Life in Cambridge, Massachusetts was enough to send me searching for a different world, but that is another story.

However those sixteen years we lived in Canada’s Maritimes might be responsible for my love of open space and spectacular scenery.  The beauty and relative solitude you can find on the coast certainly kept us coming to North Carolina’s Outer Banks after we moved back to the states and lived on the side of a mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia.

Over the twenty years that we lived in Roanoke, we had a number of great beach vacations.   One of the elements of a great beach vacation listed in the linked article is getting enough distance between you and civilization.   Both children and adults need to disconnect in order to renew themselves.  Sometimes it is hard to do.   We found a world away from lots of people and technology in several spots, but as is often the case, the world kept discovering our spots not very long after we began enjoying them.

Children eventually do not want to go to the beach with their parents anyway. They also grow up and move out.  So in 2006 long after the children were gone and after three years of looking for the right spot, I convinced my wife that we should try living at the beach for a few years.   We are still here on the North Carolina coast just a few miles away from the beautiful beaches of Emerald Isle.

Carteret County where we live is often called the Crystal Coast.  If you are not familiar with the area, this is a link to a map.  Our area actually wrote the book on escaping crowds.  With the 158,000 acres of the Croatan National Forest at our back, the 56 miles of Cape Lookout National Seashore on one flank, and Camp Lejeune protecting the other flank, there is little to worry about except wind and waves on our south facing beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.  We are just enough off the beaten path and the Interstates to keep from getting overcrowded even during the tourist season.

Still the whole concept of feeling crowded is an individual one.  What is crowded to me might seem a little desolate to some folks.  But with the many miles I hike along the beaches each year, I feel comfortable in offering some advice as to how to find a beach where you will feel uncrowded even during a holiday weekend.

Any beach even a popular one like Nags Head can be uncrowded if you hit it at the right time like we did when I snapped this picture from Jennette’s Pier in early June.  I will not be making the day trip to Nag’s Head on the Fourth of July to prove my point, but I suspect there will be a lot more people on the beach than there was in my picture.

Surprisingly it is very easy to find plenty of space on the beach.  All you have to do is use your legs and walk a little.  This picture was taken near the westernmost part of the Point at Emerald Isle.  It is looking east up the beach towards the town of Emerald Isle.

I consider the area crowded even when I see a few people like those in this picture.  Both pictures of the Point area were taken just after 4 PM on July 2, 2013 which would have to classed as pretty near the peak of our season.

So why is such a spectacular beach so uncrowded?  Actually there is a section that is fairly crowded for our beaches. Still the number of people is not even close to what you see on most beaches.  It has a few people on it just because it happens to be closer to the public access points and there are a handful of oceanfront homes just north of the beach.

The easiest way to enjoy these uncrowded beaches is to rent one of those handful of homes along the beach.  If your budget like mine cannot handle that, you can still get to the beaches if you put some effort into it.  I rarely have to give up on my regular hikes there and it is all in the timing.  There is only one public parking lot in the area.  It is at the intersection of Station Street and Coast Guard Road.

Unfortunately it only has 16 spaces so you either need to get there early in the day or come later in the afternoon when people are starting to leave.  I prefer to walk late in the day so I usually can find a spot if the tides are cooperating.  I prefer to walk on a falling tide.

Once you get a parking spot, you still have a hike to the beach as you can see from the map of my most recent hike.   The most direct hike to the least crowded part of the Point is straight out Inlet Drive through the vehicle access at the end of the street.  It is still a hike of eight tenths of mile just to the southern edge of that part of the beach.

The least crowded portion of the beach is great if you want to enjoy privacy and just relax in the sun.  It is not so great for playing in the waves.  The water in that section is fairly deep with strong currents close to shore so if enjoying the waves is important, you are better off heading for the section marked in light blue on my map.  A hike of about seven tenths of a mile will put you in that section of the beach.  I like to call the whole area where people are scarce The Point Beyond The Yellow House.

Actually there is not a lot of mystery to the name.  It just signifies that you are on the part of the Point without any houses directly at your back.  The last house is also a yellow house.  That is the simple explanation for why there are fewer people on the beach there. People tend to walk straight out from their houses to the beach.  If there are no houses, there are fewer people.  The only exception to the rule is from September 15 to April 30 when people are allowed to drived on the beach if they have a proper permit.

No matter where you play along the beaches, you need to remember the ocean is not a swimming pool. That is especially true at a place like the Point where the ocean currents meet the currents from Bogue Sound.  You always need to be especially  careful when playing in the ocean.  I don’t recommend swimming in the ocean because of rip currents, but it is even important to play close attention when jumping waves. Rip currents are very dangerous.

One other bit of caution is worth mentioning.  You will notice my hike which is marked in dark blue looks like I am walking on water.  That is actually not the case.  Google just has a hard time keeping up with Mother Nature’s movement of the sand.  You can read about mapping places like the Point at my RWW web article, How To Walk On Water With Google Maps or if you want to read about sand movement on the Point, try this article,  Sand Keeps Moving.

It you want the full details of enjoying the beach, try our Kindle book, “A Week At The Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide.”  It is only $4.99.  With printable maps, lots of pictures, recipes, and a list of good restaurants, it is a deal.

If you cannot visit the Point, enjoy this G+ slide show of the beach at the Point that I took on my hike on July 2, 2013.  You can also see the pictures positioned on a map at this link.