Out Beyond the Beaches


Headed BackThe fall of 2012 will mark our sixth year of living on the Crystal Coast.  A lot has happened in those years.     My great infatuation with the area waters got a boost with a kayak that first fall. I am still enjoying the kayak and have some very fresh kayaking memories from being out on the river the third weekend in April.  The White Oak has turned out to be great river where I find some solitude and catch enough fish to keep me happy.

However, it is hard to live at the coast without wanting to taste more than just kayak waters.  In June of 2007, we got our first power boat.  Since I was new to power boating it took me a while to learn how to handle my skiff in the area’s waters which have been described as “a lot of water, spread mighty thin.”

While I didn’t pilot our boat out beyond the beaches that first summer,  I have managed to get out in the big water each summer since then.  It is a thrill that I enjoy whenever all the pieces manage to fall into place for an ocean trip.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the purchase of our Sundance skiff, I think we made a lot of right decisions on our path to becoming boaters and safely visiting the edges of the big water.  Taking the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s safety course and hiring someone for some initial training all helped.

Certainly the expert boaters who have been guest captains on my boat have also helped me gain experience.    While I enjoy boating by myself, I also find having a second person in the boat is always a good thing especially when heading out Bogue Inlet.

As the years slide by, being safe in our boat becomes more of an entrenched routine than something that I have to remember.  I never even leave the house to get in either our skiff or my kayak without my life suspenders.

When I am preparing for a trip in the skiff, I have a few bags that I load.  Most have emergency equipment or items that make me feeler safer.    I am a big fan of my Garmin GPS which I mount on the skiff before each trip.   The tracks that are saved on the Garmin are a wonderful road map to the area.  They make me feel a lot more comfortable while I am boating.

I also carry an emergency marine radio, my cell phone, a 12 volt charger for it, and my SeaTow membership card.

In spite of the focus on safety, getting out beyond the beaches is not for everyone.  When I take my wife out to Bogue Inlet, she makes it very clear that she has no intention of getting out in the waves of the ocean.   It doesn’t matter whether it is bathtub smooth day or not.  The ocean is just not for my wife, and she quickly lets me know when it is time to turn around.

And that is okay because I usually don’t have much trouble finding someone to go with me.  At the end of the first week of April 2012, when we were having a pretty good early spell of warm weather, Alex, one of my boating buddies got to visit for a couple of days.

I was definitely ready for him.  I had been doing some early fishing in preparation for his visit  When we got in the boat the first morning of his visit, he still didn’t have his fishing license, but I wanted to show him a great fishing hole that I had found.   After I got us out into the river, I let Alex pilot us down to Swansboro.  He grew up in a boat so I love to let him take the helm while I focus on taking pictures.  In Swansboro harbor I took over until we got over into the marshes on the other side of the Intracoastal waterway.

Then I asked Alex to take the controls while I climbed up on the bow platform as we drifted in the current.  I made one cast and immediately hooked a bluefish.   Since I was using very light tackle it took a little while to boat the fish, but the experience was enough to hook Alex on getting his license and coming back to try his luck in my honey hole.

Still that day we had some time left so we decided to head out to Bogue Inlet and test the ocean waters.  That first trip out to the Inlet each spring is always an exciting one.  I do regular walks at the Point on the east side of the Inlet so I am usually aware of some of the changes taking place, but until you take a boat out those waters, you really don’t know what you are facing.

Since it was still relatively cool that day, we got just far enough beyond the beaches to check some of the changes in our favorite fishing holes, and then headed back in towards the beaches.  When we turned and started heading back,  I snapped the picture at the top of the post.  There was nothing but ocean and waves behind us.

It didn’t take us very long to get back to the Intracoastal and then up the White Oak to Bluewater Cove.  With some luck as the waters warm, I’ll be back to check out those ocean-side fishing spots more thoroughly.  Just that one trip will make the next trip out there a lot easier.

The next morning, fishing was the only thing on our agenda.  We quickly got back to my spot with Alex and his new fishing license.  I put him up on the bow, and true to form a fish was hooked on the first cast.  Alex managed to hook five bluefish and put four of them in the cooler.  It wasn’t one of those unforgettable moments like the day with the bluefish that I enjoyed with my friend Dean, but it wasn’t bad for an hour of early spring fishing.

The bluefish got cleaned and made the trip back to be cooked near the shores of Lake Norman.  The first fresh fish of the season and that first trip into the ocean of the year are just appetizers that make us hunger for warmer days when we will find more fish and a magic day which we can spend out beyond the beaches.

Boating is a tradition here on the Southern Outer Banks, we’re lucky to live where the ocean is so accessible to so many of us.

Here is a map of the trip that Alex I took out beyond the beaches that first week of April 2012.  This a picture of the Point at Emerald Isle as we headed out.  Finally this is the view as you make your way out to the big water.

Water at Our Doorstep

Jones Island Beach

Jones Island Beach

Most people living along the Southern Outer Banks came here because of the water.  Even a casual visitor soon figures out that we have more types of water than the average spot.

I am pretty ecumenical when it comes to water.  I like to enjoy it all whether it is a mountain stream, the White Oak River, Bogue Sound, or the Atlantic Ocean.

However, there is no question that some water is easier to enjoy than other water.  When we moved to western Carteret County, one of the reasons behind the move was access to water.

While “access to water” seems like a simple concept, it is more complex than it might appear, and I have even called it a puzzle. Solving the puzzle is well worth the effort.

My wife and I wanted to be able to see water and to live right on the water.  While getting a spot on the Intracoastal Waterway or the beach can be very expensive, finding a place on a tidal river can be a reasonable proposition.

After looking at a variety of places up and down the east coast, we chose a spot on a gut of water leading to the White  Oak River.  The White Oak is a relatively short river with no cities right on the river.  Much of the thirty odd miles of the White Oak flows through some of the most undeveloped land in Carteret County.

While the lower part of the White Oak is two miles wide in places and has a few subdivisions along it’s shores, the upper part of the river is much narrower, wilder,  and deeper.  You don’t have to go far up river for it to shrink to under thirty feet wide and to deepen to sixteen feet.  At the same time the shores of the upper river have huge stands of marsh grass which eventually transition to giant bald cypress trees growing right in the river.

But that is not all that is neat about the White Oak.  Just three miles down river from where we live, the White Oak joins Bogue Sound at the town of Swansboro.  While much of the White Oak now flows down the Intracoastal Waterway behind Bear Island, part of it still heads out Bogue Inlet in the Atlantic Ocean.

What all of that means is that if I lower the lift behind our house and put my skiff in the water, I can be in the Intracoastal Waterway in about ten minutes.  With a climate that often has some relatively mild days even in a harsh winter like this past one, I manage to use my skiff twelve months out of the year.  This year I even used it as an icebreaker when the gut behind our house froze for a few days.

Of course there are things that I would rather do with our skiff than go out and break ice. I much prefer a day like Wednesday, May 11, when I left the dock in early afternoon and only rode three or four minutes down the river before anchoring and fishing for a few hours.  It was a warm afternoon, and I was almost alone on the river.  I fished as long as I wanted to and then headed back to the dock.  While I only caught one croaker, I know there will be better days of fishing.  That time on the river was a special kind of relaxation.

We have had some great days fishing in Bogue Inlet and off the beaches of Bear Island and Hammocks Beach State Park.  It only takes another ten minutes from Swansboro to make it to Bogue Inlet where the ocean and the sound meet.

But being able to take a skiff up or down the river is only part of the equation.  It is just as easy if not easier to slip my kayak into the water and paddle down to Jones Island like I did on Thursday, May 12.   Jones Island is now part of Hammocks Beach State park, and it is a great paddling destination from our Bluewater Cove subdivision.    My Thursday trip to the Island was about 4.7 miles and took an hour and thirty minutes.  The beach pictured in the post is the beach on the back of Jones Island.

While kayaking and boating might be enough for some folks, there is even more here on the Crystal Coast.  We are fortunate to have miles of beaches where you can walk as far as your legs can carry you. It takes just over ten minutes by car to get to the nearest public parking at Emerald Isle’s Western Regional Access.

From the WRA and other beach access points, there are miles of beaches to explore on Emerald Isle.  This year I have given myself a personal challenge to walk all the beaches within the town limits of Emerald Isle.  I now have just two miles of beach left to cover. I have had a wonderful spring of beach hikes often between three and four miles each.  Walking on the beach is a wonderful way to clear your head and put things in perspective.

With boating, kayaking, and walking on the beach at my doorstep, it would seem that most water needs are covered, but we are fortunate to have the neighborhood pool just across the cul de sac from our home.  There are many warm days when a dip in the pool is just enough to take the edge off the heat, and if that doesn’t work my favorite technique is to head to the beach and let an ocean wave catch me right between the shoulder blades.  That will cure almost any hot day problems.

With such a selection of water at our doorstep, it should come as no surprise that we have a hard time leaving home.  Having “access to water” along the Crystal Coast has re-defined my life and made for a wonderful experience the year round.

I start each morning by walking out on our dock and then doing a walk around the neighborhood’s boardwalk.  It is a great way to start a day, and if I am given a choice, watching the sun slide into the horizon from the White Oak River is my favorite way of ending the day.

I feel blessed to have so much water at my doorstep. If you are looking for more information on the area, try my Emerald Isle Travel Guide.