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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Boating Life

Two years ago if you had told me that I would take my boat for a spin down the river on Sunday morning before going to church, I would have said that you were out of your mind. Today I did it just like I would have taken the car and run to the convenience store. Many people like me come to Carteret County without a lifetime of boating experience. At first the vast areas of water seem almost too large to comprehend. Then it is like anything else, you gradually become familiar with the water, and it is no longer so mysterious and challenging. Our journey from non-boaters to boaters really wasn't that complex. We took our time and took advantage of local resources so that we could be safe boaters and enjoy the wonderful water along the Crystal Coast.

One of the first things we did when we moved to the Crystal Coast was to buy a kayak. I did not feel ready for a power boat, and I was pretty comfortable in a kayak having had one for years when we lived near Roanoke, Virginia.

I will have to admit that the first time I paddled out into the White Oak River, I was a little overwhelmed. It is probably something over a mile wide where I do most of my paddling. Yet even with that size it did not take me long to be comfortable with the river and the tides. While the winds and tides can move you rather quickly, I have never had any trouble paddling to where I want to go. I pay careful attention to the weather. That is one of the rules that holds for kayaking and power boating. There are times when the White Oak is whipped up by wind, and it is just not worth paddling.

During our first fall here, I enrolled in Coast Guard Auxiliary first time boater's course. It lasted about six hours and was a good introduction. I spent the rest of the winter talking to boaters and visiting boat dealers. I had decided before the hunt even began that we would likely not go farther in the ocean than cruising up and down the beaches.

That narrowed our boat search down considerably. Then when I decided that beaching the boat on the low tide beaches in the area would be something the whole family could enjoy, a skiff became the natural choice.

It has really been a good choice for us. It's a lightweight boat which turns out to be a good thing since CAMA would only give us permission for a two pole lift behind our home. Still it is a comfortable boat which allowed us last year to enjoy an afternoon trip to Shackleford Banks which is over thirty miles away.

The water behind our house is not very wide, but I have gotten very good at turning our boat around on a dime. Piloting your boat is like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get.

One of the things I worked at learning on our boat was the GPS system. Once I got familiar with it, I took the boat out and marked all the buoys on the channel to Swansboro on my GPS. That turned out to be helpful earlier this spring when one of the buoys was missing.

I have gotten much more comfortable with the river. This morning when I took the boat down the river, I did not even bother putting the GPS on the boat. It was high tide, and I know the river well enough now that I could probably make it all the way even with a marker missing.

Today I knew I wasn't going far, and I had heard from another boater that all the buoys were in place. The river turned out to be beautiful and glassy smooth this morning. It was a nice quick ride in preparation for some more extensive boating and fishing this coming week.

Boating is part of life here on the Crystal Coast. In an another year, I just might be going to dinner in Swansboro with our boat. One of our neighbors does it once in a while. I suspect that I will figure it out as I get more experienced.

One thing is pretty clear, having a boat is one of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of the Crystal Coast. If I can figure it out, almost anyone can.

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