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Monday, November 30, 2009

Is the Crystal Coast a Good Home?

Though this question could be considered an easy pitch, I am going to treat it seriously and try to look at the positives and negatives of living here on the Crystal Coast. My wife and I have been living here a little over three years, so the experience of switching from almost city living in the mountains to small town living on the coast is still fresh in our minds. We have also lived in the DC Metro area and in Canada, both in a city, Halifax, and in what most would call a wilderness. That gives us a pretty broad perspective on living conditions. When we made our move to the Crystal Coast, it was after three years of looking and a lot of consideration. So far we are very pleased with our move, but what made us happy in our move might not work for you in your move.
In picking our new home one of the primary driving factors was access to water and actually a view of the water. We once lived high on a hill over looking Halifax harbor and enjoyed seeing the water immensely. Our thoughts were that if we were going to move to the coast and give up our panoramic view of the Blue Ridge mountains, that we wanted to see some water.

That turned out to be one of the hardest requirements to fill, but the Crystal Coast turned out to have some of the most reasonably priced water views and communities with water access. When you start looking at real estate in Carteret County, you will soon hear the term "water access community." It simply means a community where there is some sort of deeded access to the water. It can be as simple as a point of land where you stand and look at the water or it can include a boat ramp and day dock among other things.

My dream was to actually have a house on the water and to have my skiff on a lift behind the house so I could easily go fishing without having to worry about using a trailer to launch my boat each time. There are many homes in Carteret County with lifts, but most of the owners know that they have special waterfront properties.

We also had to reconcile my dream of a boat with my wife's desire to walk on the beach without a lot of trouble. We looked at a number of homes very close to the beach, but at the time we were looking it was very hard to find a home with a water view that was also close to the beach without paying a lot more than we wanted to pay. Also by living over on the beach, we had to give up the boat on a lift unless we found a soundfront home we could afford.

So we ended up in Bluewater Cove, a small subdivision on the White Oak River about ten minutes from the beaches of Emerald Isle. We got our dock and lift behind the house.

Living in Bluewater Cove puts us in close proximity to Cape Carteret, Cedar Point, and Swansboro along with Emerald Isle. Any additional shopping we tend to do in Morehead City which is only twenty minutes away. Jacksonville and Target are thirty minutes from us, and New Bern is forty-five minutes.

We were looking for an area where we could be active with hiking, biking, and walking. We were not looking for night life or lots of shopping. We did want modern services that stayed open all year with some choice in where we might shop and go out to eat.

We also wanted a friendly and safe environment where we could find a nice church and make friends. Finally we wanted to locate in a safe area of reasonable growth, not a place cut off from the rest of the world.

So how has our move to the Crystal Coast matched our desires? In general we have found exactly what we hoped to find and more.

From the fresh seafood shops to the small family owned restaurants, we have been surprised by how quickly people end up treating you like a local. We also found a great small church where we are very happy. Our subdivision continues to be a great place to live, and a place which I believe will weather this real estate storm very well.

We heard from many about the tourist traffic. As someone who regularly fought the Washington beltway, I can honestly say the traffic here is really not a big issue. It might be inconvenient for a few days during the summer, but it is never like it is in a big city.

Having to share our grocery stores with tourists during July and August means making a few adjustments to when we shop, but it is a small price to pay for the revenues that tourism brings to our local businesses. I believe we have far better services in the area because of tourists so I am thankful for them and pleased that almost all our local business stay open the whole year.

As to night life, there are places to go here in the evening, but Ballyhoo's Sport Bar is about as exciting as we get. Having night life in the area was not part of our equation when we were looking, and that has not changed.

Shopping has turned out to be a non-issue, but that perhaps has something to do with our age, and the fact that we do not shop a lot except for our granddaughter these days. Still Morehead City continues to grow and has added a number of shops including Best Buy and Panera Bread since we moved here.

I am somewhat disappointed in the local movie theater on Emerald Isle as we used to go to the movies at least once a month before moving. Now it is very rare when we go. There are other nicer theaters in the area, but the drive is more than we consider worthwhile for a movie.

We are pleased to see more medical facilities in the area with the announcement of a radiology clinic to be built in Cedar Point in the coming year. We had to use the emergency medical services once, and we were very pleased with their speed response.

I am also very excited about the award that Croatan High School got last year as one of the top high schools in the country. I think education is a priority in Carteret County.

Beyond those things, we have found the area to be a place where the ocean and waters of the river easily become part of your life. When I started as a novice boater in 2007, I had no idea that I would feel so comfortable on the water in such a short time. Between kayaking on the White Oak and fishing in our skiff in Bogue Inlet and off the beaches, I have had a wonderful time on the water. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a new hobby that will bring great rewards and take you to some of the most beautiful places on earth.

And on top of that as I am writing, I can look out my office window and see the water whenever I want.

It has been a great move for us, we have gotten warmer weather and escaped the snow and ice. I am now eating fresh tomatoes the first week in June each year. I will not complain about the strawberries in March and April or the easy access to fresh shrimp and other fresh seafood right off the boat. I absolutely love not wearing a coat most of the "winter."

I am hoping for some more economic growth in the area, but as far as I can tell, that is pretty consistent across most of the country. It will come, the area has too much to offer for it not to happen.

So if you are looking for a scenic place to live and can work from anywhere, the Crystal Coast is once of the nicest water paradises that I have seen. We still have room for you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Going Home To the Beach

Lots of people go to the beach for a vacation or a holiday. When those of us who live along the Crystal Coast head back to the beach, we are actually going home. While we often enjoy the holidays at the beach, this year we headed off to our other home in the mountains of Virginia. The holidays often help us understand that the people in our lives are more important than anything else. Yet when it is time to for everyone to head home, it is inevitable to start transitioning your thoughts from one place to another. Going home means getting back to your regular routine. When you have been gone several days, there is always some excitement about seeing what has changed. When the beach is home, and you head for home, it turns out to be a pretty special journey.
Thanksgiving for us this year was in Roanoke, Virginia which is a nice city along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southwest Virginia. Our second home there is on the side of a mountain at something over fifteen hundred feet above sea level. The views are great, but I always feel a little isolated up on the mountain.

So as I think about heading home to the beach, one of the first things that comes to mind is that going for a walk will involve a whole lot less dedication that walking our hill in Roanoke. As we head for the beach, we gradually leave the Blue Ridge Mountains, drive across the Piedmont, and eventually hit the coastal plan near Interstate 95. We go from a very three dimensional world where being on a mountain lets you see for miles to a world where even hills are few and far between.

That turns out to be a relief for me. While I have walked our hill many times, it never got really easy, and in winter there were times when it was pretty treacherous. As we head to the beach I know we are leaving behind snow and ice which might trap us on our hill during the winter.

People often associate winds with the beach, but in our case we live tucked away a few miles inland, and we often miss the worst of the winds. That turns out to not be the case up on the mountain. During Thanksgiving we had winds for three days. There were gusts to thirty or thirty five miles per hour. Wind is something you get when you live on the top of a ridge in the mountains.

Heading towards the beach also means warmer temperatures and most likely less wind. We will be able to get back outside and enjoy a few walks. Of course we are leaving all the shopping that a city has to offer just as Christmas is about to roll around once again. That turns out to not be a huge issue. Much of our shopping has moved online over the years, and even as that has happened, Morehead City has become a much more well endowed shopping area. I am not one to worry about shopping very much anyway, so there is no remorse in leaving behind a few extra big box stores.

While our Thanksgiving meals focused on turkey and ham, now that we are once again headed home, I can start hoping for some seafood. The fruits of the sea are one of the great pleasures of having a home along the coast. Dropping by a fish market means you are likely going to enjoy some great sea food. It might just be time for some clam chowder.

Finally as we head back to the coast, we will be watching our family members spread out to their homes just as we drive back to check in with our coastal friends. I am looking forward to catching up with folks we see everyday on the coast. Carteret County is a warm and friendly place and that makes it an easy place to call home.

I also cannot wait to stand on my dock and look out towards the river. If the warm weather holds this week, I just might go for a boat ride. I hope we can get in a beach walk and maybe a little surf fishing. Of course I will have to slide all this in between my work.

Going home to the coast is just like going home anywhere except it seems better because we have all those wonderful things that make our area such a great spot to vacation.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Already Missing the Ocean

Even a land of beautiful beaches and blue skies has to have a run of less than stellar weather once in a while. That has been the case here on the Crystal Coast for the last couple of weeks. November weather has been warm so we have enjoyed a few remarkable days on the beach and on the water, but the clouds, rain, and winds have mostly kept us at the dock. 
The November warmth reminds me that some of our fishing trips this fall have been spectacular. I had no idea I would enjoy a boat so much in the fall. Yet it has been several days since I have been out in the ocean with the boat, and I really miss seeing the open water and the beaches in the distance. From seeing the stirred up water at the Point yesterday, 
I suspect it is a good thing that I have stayed at the dock. However, I do know that I missed a couple of stellar water days between the last two storms. Work sometimes gets in the way. With our recent weather, it is a good time to reflect on the Crystal Coast, its seasons and weather.
While this has been a wonderful fall as far as temperature goes, we have had some recent rain that has been unusual in its intensity.

In just a couple of rainy days in November, one from Ida, the hurricane turned nor'easter, and another from a thunderstorm that came up the White Oak one evening, I have recorded over seventeen inches of rain at our place in Bluewater Cove.

Fortunately that much rain really does not bother our subdivision or the homes in it. A culvert washed out on one of the state roads, and they quickly have replaced it with an even larger one. Even with the high tides, the White Oak did not get up over our dock, so I can take some comfort in knowing that torrential downpours are not much of a threat.

These rains have been unusual in a year of mostly nice weather.

We had some really gorgeous weather this spring, summer, and fall. We hardly watered our yard which considering four storms including the recent ones delivered over thirty inches of rain is no surprise. It was a great gardening season with timely deluges. We had tomatoes from the first week of June until late August, and now we are seeing a handful of fall tomatoes.

Fishing was a lot of fun this summer and fall season. We caught more fish than we did in our first two seasons here. With this year's experience, I am looking forward to catching even more next year. In 2009, the river, the sound, the inlet, and the ocean became real refuges for me. They were places where I could completely escape the business of the day, and I managed to really enjoy those days that I could get out on the water.

These recent storms have not dampened my love for the area. In a funny way they have reaffirmed our decision to move to this area. We are unlikely to get much more than a foot of rain in one day. So I have already seen that much, and we have lived to tell the tale. The rain did not harm us, so we can feel fairly confident about where we live.

Some places were not as lucky. The combination of high tides and torrential rains over the two storms flooded a number of areas off Coast Guard Road in Emerald Isle. While the flood water has been just an inconvenience, it is one that most of us would rather avoid. Emerald Isle continues to work on permanent solutions, but sometimes Mother Nature can throw more at you than is possible to handle in a short time.

The good news for Emerald Isle is that the beaches seem to have escaped Ida unscathed. While the Northern Outer Banks, Virginia, and areas further north had terrible beach erosion, Emerald Isle missed that punch. A number of homes were lost in Nags Head, Duck, and on Hatteras Island. Compared to losing homes, some minor flooding just is not a huge worry.

It is fair to summarize this year by saying we have been blessed with good weather with the exception of some minor flooding from rains. Our tourist season has been a successful one. While the real estate market has not recovered, many homes, including some of my favorites, have sold recently.

At last report I think the shrimp season was a reasonable one, and as recreational fishermen we caught some fish, played in the waves, and walked on the beaches when we were not out on the water. With that I have few complaints.

It has been a year of surprises. Earlier in the year, we even saw a dusting of snow which is about as much as I want to see.

It was the first snow in six years here on the Southern Outer Banks. Between the cold of the snow and the torrential rains that we have seen in November, a lot of us have enjoyed what this beautiful area has to offer. We have savored as much of the daylight as our bodies could take. The beauty of the area has been good for our souls.

Looking back there is lots to be thankful for as we go into this Thanksgiving week. There is no doubt in my mind that I am thankful to be living where I am living. I have found many really good friends here on the Crystal Coast.

I am happy the salt water has really gotten into my blood, and I will look forward to my next trip to Bogue Inlet. I hope I can do it before winter comes.

Beyond that, those cool runs during the winter when I take my skiff down the White Oak to keep my motor in shape will have to hold me until spring.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Summer Afternoons In November

As we pulled into the garden store in Cedar Point, I was not surprised to see their large electronic thermometer reading 77 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon, November 16. I had started working in the yard earlier in the afternoon and quickly figured out that I had to shed my blue jeans for some shorts. 
We are over half way through November, and we have yet to see a frost. I still have high hopes that the handful of green tomatoes growing between our house and dock will ripen. I have already gotten three ripe tomatoes off the plants so I am tickled at the possibility of perhaps getting a December tomato once again. While the news has been full of Ida and all her damage, 
Here on the Crystal Coast life during and after the storm has been fine. Even with Ida, it is hard to complain about this fall's weather.
We recently made a trip to the mountains, but we arrived home in time for most of Ida's rain. Before it was all over with, we managed to pick up another half inch of rain for a storm total of twelve inches.

What was surprising is how little that much rain impacted us even though we are in a lunar period of high tides. Emerald Isle did get some flooding along Coast Guard Road. Out our way along the White Oak River, the shoulder of one road washed away. The road was down to one lane for twenty-four hours.

Other than that, we got a lot of rain, and it quickly made its way to holding areas and eventually to the river, sound, and ocean. We did not have dangerous winds or exceptionally high surf.

I did see a number of surfers out enjoying themselves near Bogue Inlet Pier, but I got the feeling that they would have enjoyed some larger and more frequent waves.

The one complaint that everyone had was that our blue skies were hidden for days. I think we are all blue addicts here along the coast. Three or four days of dark weather are unusual so when we have to endure it, we start watching the skies and looking for any hint of blue.

Fortunately Sunday came along, and we got a nice dose of blue skies and really warm temperatures. Our oldest daughter made the 6.5 hour trip from the Washington, DC area to visit us. She got here just in time for a perfect beach walk and a nice Sunday afternoon boat ride to Swansboro.

I got some great shore bird pictures of the Willets doing their one leg resting stance. The beach was absolutely perfect for walking. My unscientific assessment of the beach has led me to guess that my favorite beach on Emerald Isle might actually have picked up some sand from this storm.

A nice long fall season, is just one of the many reasons that we moved to Carteret County. From the looks of the weather for the next few days, there is still plenty of time to come down for a visit or if you are looking for a Thanksgiving with a different twist, the Crystal Coast is a great spot to do enjoy the holidays at the beach. The Emerald Isle Christmas Parade is even scheduled the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sparkling Waters

I sometimes wonder what the Crystal Coast would be like if our waters were beautiful but inaccessible. I suspect that is a holdover from living along the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. It was an equally scenic area, but boating was not for amateurs since the tides could be well over twenty feet. 
Actually you even had to be careful about walking along the beaches. That high point of land that you could walk to at low tide could easily become an island at high tide. Fortunately we do not have to deal with huge tides here along the Crystal Coast. 
We have some high tides and some very low tides but the range is still around a couple of feet. Actually the potential for boating in a relatively safe area was one of the many reasons that we ended up moving to the Crystal Coast. 
I had a lifelong dream to have a powerboat and to be able to fish from it whenever my mood and the weather allowed. The sparkling waters of the Crystal Coast allowed me to do that.
The picture at the top of the post is looking across the Intracoastal Waterway from Cedar Point to the sparkling waters of Bogue Inlet. Turning between the buoys and heading out Bogue Inlet is one of the thrills that we have in boating in the area. Making that turn means you are leaving behind the relatively calm water of Bogue Sound and heading towards potentially more exciting waters.

Finding a place where it is safe to boat is more than just finding some water where you can boat. Even as we made plans to become new boaters, I doubt that we appreciated all that makes the Crystal Coast a great boating area.

First off we have relatively easy access to the water in Carteret County, and the access is getting even better. Recent improvements in Beaufort, Cape Carteret, and at the Wildlife Resources Ramp in Cedar Point make getting a boat into the water easier than it has been in several years. There are also plans on the board for a large launch facility on Emerald Isle. When you combine all the public access with the communities that have boat ramps and the fee based launch areas, getting your boat into the water is not a big challenge here on the coast.

Of course before you put your boat into the water, it helps to have some education. The Coast Guard Auxillary's Boating Safety Course is offered regularly in the area. I took advantage of the course even before I bought our boat. The course is certainly well worth the one day's time. Knowing the basic rules of the waterways helps tremendously in staying safe.

After getting my training, I spent the whole first winter talking to boat dealers and local boaters. There is no shortage of boat dealers along the Crystal Coast. I often joke that our area has more boat dealers than car dealers. While talking to boat dealers was fun, most of them were more interested in selling me their particular boat than in helping me find the right type of boat. I talked to a lot of neighbors and determined that for our uses, a skiff of twenty feet in length would work best.

A couple of key needs drove our choice. Number one, we wanted to be able to beach our boat easily on the low water beaches in Bogue Inlet. Secondly the boats primary use would be fishing in relatively shallow waters including the White Oak River.

We settled on a Sundance skiff almost twenty feet long. It has a slight vee hull in the front to help on turns. It has turned out to be an extremely versatile boat both in shallow water and off the beaches of Emerald Isle.

After we got our boat in the summer of 2007, I hired a local captain to spend a few hours with us giving us some good hands on instruction. It was well worth the money, and we even booked him to ride with us on our first long excursion to Shackleford Banks.

Now over two years later, I have spent a lot of time at the helm of our boat. I had my doubts whether a kayaker could become a power boater, but I have come to enjoy each type of watercraft for the special times that they provide me on the water.

Getting out on the skiff is one of those immediate pleasures. Living on the water in Bluewater Cove with our skiff on a lift makes water access as simple as pressing a button. Kayaking takes a little more planning, effort, and attention to the wind, but I have a great time every time that I go.

While the fishing trips and days on the water are wonderful, even more special are short trips like the one my wife and I took to watch the sunset on the White Oak the other day.

In the end, there is a lot more than just the sparkling waters that make this a great place to boat, live, and visit. We certainly have the beautiful waters and a great climate unless you are trying to go boating November 11 and 12.

We also have the boating infrastructure that makes boating fun. From the Coast Guard doing boat checks to friendly local boaters on the waters, you will not be out there alone. If there are problems, both Sea Tow and are represented in the area.

This is just a great area if you are looking for a spot to become a boater and create some wonderful memories for your whole family.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fine Carolina Weather This November

I am not having any trouble dealing with this stretch of fine weather. I am not even going to complain about the air conditioning running on Halloween evening. 
If you live on the Carolina coast, you have to be prepared to take the heat whenever it is served up. Anyone, who avoided coming to the coast this week because of weather worries, missed a wonderful week of weather. 
Here it is the fourth of November, and I have already been out on the water twice. Both times it was like being out in the summer time. Today, our cat had to give up his perch in my office window because he got too hot. This is nearly perfect weather because it is cool at night and warm during the day. My late season tomatoes are even ripening. 
The only problem with the last couple of weeks of weather is that it is so summer-like that my wife has had me cleaning windows and vinyl on our home. Even not counting our two front porches, we have a lot of spindles to clean. However, that is a small price to pay for being able to wear shorts to work in November.
There are only two times of the year that I feel guilty for living on the Crystal Coast. One is November and the other is mid-March to mid-April. November is a time of crisp mornings in most of North Carolina. In early November the leaves are at their peak, and people are starting to think about the holidays.

As we like to say, "Life is different here." That certainly rings true here along the water in November. The holidays have only entered the minds of event planners. The rest of us coastal dwellers are trying to capture as much good weather as possible and bottle it and the memories of it for January and February.

With clear blue skies and autumn heat still coming from the sun, no one is thinking about the cold weather holidays. Fishermen are still trying to have one more magical day on the water. Home owners like me are finishing up their outside chores while getting wet is still a way to cool off instead of become chilled.

Our yards have quit growing so they are in winter maintenance mode. We have hardly any leaves to rake, the logical thing is to walk the beaches while they are still warm and enjoy Bogue Inlet while winter is still a distant thought.

I hate to even contrast this to my days in Canada. This time of year we were madly running around the farm trying to get everything that we needed for the winter months under cover. I am not surprised that our farm in Tay Creek, NB is scheduled for its first serious snow of the year this Friday.

Even in the Virginia mountains, fall is a lot different. While the beautiful leaves are truly a treat, having to mow my bluegrass yard into December has never been fun. Then there are all the leaves to clean up.

You do get dragged into that holiday season faster when you are away from the coast. It is almost as if the warm sunshine, blue skies and beautiful weather combine to distract us frm the marketing season at hand.

As long as I can spend afternoons on the water, I am all for distraction, warmth, and blue skies.

Come visit, the deals right now are great. Better yet, just move on down, and get a personal taste of why "Life is different here."