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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.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Making Connections on the Coast

Moving to a new area can look formidable, especially in as diverse an area as the Crystal Coast. The question often comes up about making new friends and becoming a part of our community. One of the great things about Carteret County is that it really is a collection of small towns. We are not an area where it is hard to meet people. We have so many newcomers in our population that you will find people very open and willing to strike up a conversation over almost anything. Carteret County folks also are not allergic to looking at each other like is often the case in the big cities. Do not be surprised if someone actually makes eye contact and smiles at you. Many residents are so happy to be someplace where the weather is great that it is hard for them to stop smiling.
When we meet someone new, the conversation often starts out, "I just love living here, I do not miss all the snow and cold in the north." Almost everyone here has that common bond of not liking cold weather. Weather is a big part of our lives here so we talk about it in the grocery stores and wherever we happen to get together.

Since this is the South, one of the first places that people get together is in church. Churches here on the Crystal Coast come in all sizes and shapes. We happen to go to the Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church. We were surprised after we started going that once a month during the winter, the ladies host a "light lunch" after the Sunday service. The meal turns out to be a great place to meet residents and visitors. We have enjoyed taking part in it. I even joined the men's group which has turned out to be a great way to hear about interesting things.

There are some larger events hosted by churches. Saint Peters By-the-Sea Episcopal Church hosts an annual Loberfest. This year's edition is scheduled for Saturday September 13. Last year we really enjoyed both the Lobsters and the company. It turned out that one of our neighbors was a cook at the event.

Many of the Home Owners Associations throughout the county also host community picnics and meals throughout the year. Our subdivision, Bluewater Cove, usually has a Memorial Picnic, another one on the 4th of July and this year some of Saint Peters' Lobsters are finding their way to our end of summer event hamburger and hot dog event.

There are other great community events where you can meet people. This last weekend of August there is a crafts fair at the Beaufort Historic site. It is sponsored by Carteret Arts and Crafts Coalition.

Actually there is almost an unlimited number of ways to meet people here on the coast. The Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is always having events. They are wide ranging and cover everything from cooking to surf fishing and kayaking.

We have met a number of people on our regular hikes of Croatan Tideland Trails located in Cedar Point. There are always some nice dogs to visit with on the trails.

While people tend to stay themselves on the beaches, we often stop and talk to the surf fishermen or visit with the canine walkers who are always looking for another friend.

Sometimes when we want a different perspective of the beach, we will go to Bogue Inlet Pier and take advantage of the free admission that walkers get. It is always fun to see what is being caught.

We have also gone down to Morehead City for some of the fishing tournaments and watched the fish being weighed. We met a number of people when we went to Beaufort to have a look at Black Beard's cannon after it was raised from Beaufort Inlet.

As Labor Day draws to a close and the "crowds" thin out, it becomes easier and easier to make connections here on the Crystal Coast. Unless you are a fall fishermen, and they spend most of their time in boats or in the surf, being here on the shore during the fall usually means that you are a resident.

We still have some empty nest visitors and parents with pre-school age kids who come to catch some of our warm waters, but as the fall moves forward and the pumpkins start to show up, you'll find the crowds are mostly locals trying to renew connections with each other.

If you want to meet someone in Carteret County, and perhaps make a new lifelong friend, just put on your favorite tee shirt which is formal dress for fall events and head out to the nearest gathering of locals.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It Is All About the View

During the holidays last winter, I wrote the following. "Finding a beautiful scene and taking the time to enjoy it and perhaps share it is one of the great pleasures of my life." I am not alone in that thought since we have a lot of people looking for a particular view. Most people who come to the Crystal Coast have an image in their mind of place they would love to wake up to every morning. They might not be able to tell you exactly what it looks like, but when they see it, they usually know it quickly. You can always see it in their faces when the view that we have found for them matches the one in their mind's eye. Just how hard is it to find that right view here on the Crystal Coast?
One of the reasons that I live in Carteret County is the remarkable scenery. You find it everywhere from Down East to Cedar Point on the western side of the county. Many people who come to visit the Crystal Coast assume that you might be able to catch a glimpse of the great views from our main roads.

While you can see some of our fantastic water scenery from Highways 70, 58, and 24, the truth is that most of the really gorgeous spots are not along the main roads. They are tucked away in the many coves that dot our landscape. Actually the best scenery is only available to those willing to take a boat ride.

Still we have a tremendous variety of water views in Carteret County. You can be on the Intracoastal, the beach, the sounds, one of the many rivers, or even some of the man-made ponds that dot the countryside.

Make no mistakes, a water view, even just a tiny glimpse of the water is valued by the people living in Carteret County. For many folks buying a permanent water view from their bedroom or living room windows is just too expensive. So they choose to live in what we call water access communities. Those communities typically have a shared area that is on the water. It is not unusual for them to have a boat dock, swimming pool, and a clubhouse.

There are also as many types of water access communities as there are ways on the water to catch fish. Still water access communities provide an affordable way to enjoy the water in many communities. An unobstructed water view property can easily run you $200K. Of course that looks cheap compared to a true waterfront lot. Those often start at $400k and go up in price quickly.

In a community which has shared water access, you can often find a lot for $100K and sometimes even slightly under that. You can still get your water view, you just might have to walk a little to see it.

We live in Bluewater Cove, a White Oak River water access community, and I often see families walking down to our dock area. It is pretty easy to enjoy our boardwalk and the views of the White Oak from it.

So what is sharing a magnificent view with your family worth? That is something that each person has to decide based on their income and needs. What I can tell you is that beautiful scenery does enrich your life. It makes for wonderful memories with loved ones.

I also know that if you want a water view, we can probably find one to suit you. Our track record is very good in getting people close enough to the water to enjoy it.

I am never surprised by how much I enjoy the view driving across the Cameron-Langston Bridge to Emerald Isle. Whenever I have a tough day, looking out across Bogue Sound even for a few seconds does me a world of good, and that view is free.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Picking Your Spot on the Crystal Coast

Once our beaches have captured your imagination, it is easy let your thoughts jump to a second home on the coast or perhaps retirement. Deciding whether Carteret County is the right spot or not takes a little different perspective than vacationing here. If you are really serious about making our piece of paradise your home or second home, you need to imagine yourself living here. Think about shopping, going to the post office, and visiting the grocery store when it isn't packed with other rental people.

One of the best ways to figure out if you really like our area is to come visit during the off season when the water is too cold to enjoy. When we were looking to move, we did that in March of 2005. We stayed at the Beaufort Inn and enjoyed their fireplace and hospitality, but we also managed to visit the nearly empty beaches.

It turned out that those beaches were fine for walking. Since then we have figured out that you can walk the beaches any month of the year as long as the wind isn't blowing.

Another good way to check out the area is to join us for some of our fall and spring festivals. Usually festivals during that time of the year are filled mostly with residents or people who have been residents.

This year's Swansboro Mullet Festival is October 11 and 12. In the spring we have the Swansboro Oyster Roast and the Emerald Saint Patrick's Day Festival. Beaufort even has a Community Thanksgiving feast scheduled this year on November 23.

Morehead City has the North Carolina Seafood Festival on October 3-5. It is one of the larger festivals that draws a lot of people from out of the area, but it is still a good way to get a feel for the Crystal Coast.

These are great opportunities to meet people and learn about the communities.

There are smaller more intimate events. The Episcopal Churches in Swansboro and Salter Path have lobster festivals in the fall. While they are focused on eating those lobsters, we had fun meeting people at the family style tables at both events. I'll post more information on the lobsters as soon as I track down the dates. They are usually two different Saturdays, one in September and the other in October. The lobsters are driven overnight from Maine.

When we were looking for local information, we often would strike up conversations with the shop keepers. Usually during off season they aren't as busy so they have time to talk. It is a good way to get local information such as which are the favorite dining spots of the locals.

Almost all of our restaurants are locally run. It you show up more than a couple times during a week, someone is likely to ask if you are a local or considering becoming one. Don't be shy, start asking questions. You'll often find the person only moved here a few years ago.

Once you have wandered the streets, found the local services, made sure the beaches are still accessible in off season, and figured out that all the restaurants are still open, what's the next best step?

If you have gotten this far and still like the area, you should approach one of Bluewater's Real Estate offices. While we agents tend to focus more on people who are buying in the short term, many work with clients over several months to find that right spot.

Most agents, myself included, will spend some time trying to understand your needs and answering your questions even if you aren't planning to buy in the next year or two. There are times when it makes sense to drive you around and show you some of our neighborhoods even if you aren't in the buying mode.

Those purely informational trips can really make a difference in how you understand the area. It is often very hard to find the desirable neighborhoods since the area's main roads usually have little to do with how to get there.

Recently I took a couple for a trip around the Cape Carteret-Swansboro area. I knew they were not going to buy for over a year, but I felt like they were serious about moving to our area. They were so pleased with the information that they got and the time my trip saved them that they bought me lunch. Of course they used lunch to get more information out of me, and I took them to one of the spots that is a favorite with locals. They even got introduced to the owner. It ended up being a fair trade.

Just be upfront with the real estate agent on your buying intentions, and you should have no problem finding someone to answer your questions. After all real estate agents are the experts on their areas. If you need a little guidance as to who might best be able to help, don't hesitate to ask for the Broker in Charge at the office. They can steer you in the right direction.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Living on a Coastal River

Most people from the interior of the continent have a very clear picture in their mind of what a river looks like. With many of our visitors coming from Virginia and North Carolina, it is not surprising that the wonders of our coastal rivers are mysteries to many of those visitors. Yet it is often those same bodies of water and their shores which provide some of the nicest places to live. Understanding what the rivers have to offer is an important part of learning about the Crystal Coast.
In the Swansboro-Emerald Isle area, the river which dominates most of our lives is the White Oak. While the White Oak is only thirty some miles long, in its lower reaches it is often over a mile wide.

The White Oak is also tidal which means water flows in and out of the river on a regular basis. In area where the temperatures are often in the nineties for a few weeks in the summer and the water is very shallow, that natural exchange of water is very important. It actually keeps the fish alive.

Some rivers on the Carolina coast, like the Neuse, are not as fortunate as the White Oak. We often read about fish kills in the Neuse. While there is considerable discussion over the exact reasons why, we can say that having a tidal water exchange like the White Oak is a great protection again fish kills.

Though the White Oak is over a mile wide in places, it can be very shallow, sometimes only one or two feet deep. There is a well marked channel which we all follow to get to the Intracoastal Waterway which is our gateway to the ocean. There is plenty of water in the channel so navigating the White Oak even at low tide is not a problem as long as you pay attention.

The White Oak also has a number of large Oyster rocks which are sometimes just under the surface of the water. With these around it makes a lot of sense to travel very carefully outside of the marked channels on the lower White Oak.

It is not a bad idea to pick up one of the maps of the White Oak which are available at local boating stores. If you get a map, you will see that beyond Hancock point the marked channel disappears and generally there is enough water to keep you out of trouble.

Once you reach Stella and go under the railroad bridge, the river narrows and gets much deeper and becomes a winding river. It is fun to run the upper parts of the White Oak but some degree of caution is necessary because of the curves in the river. The vegetation along the river changes drastically as you proceed upriver. Eventually you see Cedar trees growing in the river. A few miles up river, the White Oak actually becomes a fresh water river.

Haywood Landing, a boat ramp and water access point in Croatan National Forest, is near that point.

Living on the river lets you see an ever changing natural world. We see White, Blue, and Green Herons around the river. In the winter we have Pelican for a while. The river is a huge nursery for small fish and shrimp.

It often seems that the river boils with life. Of course we catch a variety of fish in the river from Trout to Red Drum and Flounder. Last year I even anchored my boat just off the channel and caught a nice mess of Spots.

At other times the river is a place of great solitude. I often slip my kayak in the water and spend an hour or two alone on the river. The White Oak has very little traffic even on weekends so it is rare when you see more than a boat or two.

The river in the morning is often glassy smooth and sometimes we get a slight bit of fog on the water which makes everything look surreal The evening usually bring us a nice breeze from the water.

The White Oak keeps our temperatures cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It makes living where we live in Bluewater Cove more pleasant.

And when I need inspiration, I often find a spot where I can watch the sun set over the White Oak. There are no more beautiful sunset that the ones we have here.

It is a great experience to live on a river like the White Oak where the river is such a big part of our lives. That reminds me, its time to go check my crabpot. The White Oak just might provide me with dinner tonight.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Your Own Private Beach

One of the great pleasures of living on the Crystal Coast is having access to the wonderful beaches of the area. We live on the mainland just a few miles from Cape Carteret. We can easily be walking on the beach in under ten minutes. Going for a daily walk on the beach is something that a lot of permanent resident incorporate into their daily routine. Emerald Isle maintains two beach access points with lots of parking. On the other end of the beach strand near Altantic Beach, Fort Macon provides similar parking opportunities. The parking is free and except for a couple of months of the year, has more empty spaces than full ones. These are the standard beaches most people read about. What isn't so well know about the Crystal Coast is how easy it is to have your own private beach.
Even before we moved down here, we had been sampling the Carolina beaches for years. When we started seriously looking for property, one of the first things we did was take a large skiff ferry from Calico Jack's on Harkers Island to Cape Lookout. Once over there, we hooked up with a four wheel drive taxi which took us to point at Cape Lookout. That afternoon for four hours we enjoyed our first private beach where we wandered at leisure and waded the warm waters and took in the gorgeous scenery. If my memory serves me correctly that trip cost us twenty dollars per person in 2003. It is a wonderful trip that I often recommend to visitors who want to see the Outer Banks in their natural state.

Last summer just after we bought our first skiff, I hired Captain Jay Cusick of Morehead City to ride along with us on our first long boat trip. From our home on the shores of the White Oak River to Shackleford Banks, it took us about an hour and forty-five minutes to go from our dock to walking on the sand with the ponies. It was a great trip with some fantastic shells that my wife enjoyed. I even learned how to go fishing for Sand Dollars with my toes.

As last summer progressed, we found more low water beaches in Bogue Inlet. About two weeks ago, a friend and I went fishing on one of those beaches. We left our dock at about 8 am. Even with a stop for some bait shrimp at Clyde Phillips, we were wading ashore around 8:30. The spot we enjoyed was part way between the Point at Emerald Isle and Bear Island at Hammocks Beach. No one else was there, and as is often the case with fishermen and especially surf fisherman, we fished and enjoyed the scenery with a minimum amount of words.

The beach there in the shallows of Bogue Inlet was as pristine as you will find. There were no tracks of other humans and in fact at high tide our foot prints would also be gone.

A weekend trip to the beach is tradition with many locals on the Crystal Coast, but just don't be surprised if they pack their boat instead of their car.

Another great beach with lots of privacy is Hammocks Beach State Park near Swansboro. You can catch a pontoon ferry for a modest charge and enjoy plenty of private beach.

We often troll for Spanish Mackerel just off the shores of Hammocks Beach, and I have yet to see any crowding.

I would say see on the beach, but I probably won't unless you are following my skiff.