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Friday, December 31, 2010

Bare Feet on the Beach on New Year's Eve

Today we even made it into the mid-fifties here on the Southern Outer Banks.  It was a real treat after all the cold weather, and I think most of North Carolina figured out that we are going to have a warm weekend.

At least that the way it seemed at Lowe's Grocery in Cape Carteret this afternoon.  I have not seen the parking lot that full since the height of summer.  We had to look for a parking spot, and the grocery store was a zoo.

The bread row had been ravaged.  We only needed a few things so once we got our checked out, we decided that Emerald Isle needed investigating.  If lots of visitors made their way to the beach, changes to the recent deserted state of the island would be very obvious.

Traffic was noticeable on the bridge. Then based on our Lowe's parking experience, we were not surprised to see the Food Lion parking lot a lot more crowded that one would expect for a normal winter Friday.

As I continued along Emerald Drive, the traffic was much more noticeable than it has been over the holidays.  There was a steady stream of cars headed onto the island instead the deserted highway that we have seen for the last week.

We continued east along Highway 58 until we got to the Western Regional Access.  It was also not empty as it has been in recent days.  There were actually several cars in the parking lot and a few groups of people on the beach.

There was absolutely no wind, and it was warm in the bright sunshine.  The waves were calm, and there were a number of people walking along the beach.  We really enjoyed our time in the sun, and I even ventured down to the water.

What really surprised me was that I saw two groups of young walkers going barefooted on the beach. While the air might have been in the low fifties, the ocean water is still in the low forties with the result that the recently wet sand would not be much warmer.

This has been a cold stretch of weather. It is something that I would like to forget as soon as the warm February sun can find me.  This morning we awoke to an early morning temperature of just over 30F.  On New Year's Eve both in 2008 and even in 2009 which no one would class as a warm winter, our early morning temperatures were in the fifties.  We are making progress, but it still slow digging ourselves out of the freezer not that the area waters are chilled to the upper thirties.

The only consolation that I can offer is that much of the east coast including Florida has been in the same chest freezer that has kept the Crystal Coast frozen.  The number of record low temperatures in the last few days is amazing.  There were also 539 new snow fall records set last week.

At least with our snow gone, we will be able to bask in the sixties for the next couple of days.  It is a start on a better weather pattern.  Any day in the sixties is one less day of winter.

Based on the number of empty boat trailers at Wildlife Ramp in Cedar Point, we are not the only hopeful people around.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow Arrives in Time for Boxing Day

After listening on Christmas Day to snow reports from everyone to the west of us, we finally have a dusting of snow on Sunday morning, the day after Christmas.  Boxing Day is a  traditional holiday observed on the day after Christmas in a number of English speaking countries.  We were first introduced to Boxing Day in Maritime Canada where we lived for a number of years in the seventies and eighties.

The time after Christmas is always a time of reflection for me. Having a little snow on Boxing Day here on the Southern Outer Banks is just a good way to pull in some extra memories. Last year I wrote something of a season recap on December 4.

It is interesting to look back at that post and compare what I reported to this year.  Last winter was very cold, and this December has turned out to be very cold just as I predicted earlier in the month.  We have seen plenty of ice.  Even yesterday when I took our skiff out on the river on one of our rare warm days, our skiff ended up breaking some ice. I also found that the temperature of the White Oak River was down to 39.5F.

Considering our average high temperature in December is usually 58F while our low is normally 35F, this December has been very cold.  I believe we have had more days that did not reach 40F this December than we have had in the previous four winters combined.

Now here we are with a dusting of snow on the ground while our old stomping ground in a snow belt north of Frederiction, New Brunswick has bare ground for Christmas.

I do not really mind our coastal snow, we did not get enough to stick on the roads, and all of it will me.  All of the snow will melt quickly. Certainly it will gone by later in the week when our temperatures should be in the fifties.  I have even seen one forecast that has us in the sixties by the day after New Year's Day.

Of course that might be tempered by air flowing across all the new fallen snow to the north and west of us.  There is nothing like arctic chilled air to make you wish for that roaring fire in the fireplace.

I wish everyone to the north of us in path of the day after Christmas 2010 blizzard luck at coping with all the snow and cold.

I feel somewhat sorry for all the people about to be snowed in, but what can I say?  Some of us plan not to be snowed in and move to areas where snow is infrequent.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A heron congregation, it must be ugly on the river

This Saturday,  December 18, has been a wet one here on the Crystal Coast.

We have hardly stirred from the warmth of our house.  I did make two trips to the mail box which is a nice walk at our house.  I just wish the grass was as green now as it is in the linked summer picture.

During our recent cold snap, our roses froze, and the only thing left green in the yard are the wild onions that I have been unable to kill.  I think most of us humans have recovered from the unseasonably cold weather.  I remain uncertain about both our birds and our fish.

There have been enough reports of dead fish from the really cold days that I assume we did have some scattered fish kills.

We have also had reports of someone killing pelicans recently. I hope they catch the low-life responsible, and put him away for life. Pelicans harm no one and add tremendously to the beauty of the area.

Beyond that the herons and gulls have been especially active in the gut behind our home near the White Oak River.

This morning a small corner of the water behind us seemed to be especially popular.  I counted anywhere up to five white herons  and two great blue herons in a fairly confined space at one time.  A couple of sea gulls also kept circling but I never saw them land.  Not far from the herons, there were some returning merganser ducks which I managed to capture in pictures on Friday.

The herons were there when I got up for breakfast, and they stayed all day.  I did observe them successfully fishing so they were feeding.  There were a few squabbles over territory, but we see that all the time.  However, it is rare for our feathered friends to spend all day behind our house.

They usually will make a visit or two, and then sometime later in the day come back and spend the night in some of the sheltered trees around our marshes.

I don't know if the unusually cold water temperatures in the river have made the water behind our house a better feeding ground, or if it this is just a coincidence.

It was nice to have some feathered company on such a dreary day.  We did enjoy our visitors.

The day was made even a little worse by the news that Emerald Isle is considering charging for beach parking.  The plan is that parking at the Eastern or Western Regional lots will cost $5 or $10 per day, May through September and 8 AM to 5 PM.

That will certainly make beach walks a little less spontaneous. 

Hopefully the economy will turn around soon and before the fees are implemented. We can always hope for some increased tax revenues flowing in from island businesses if the recently reported trend for people to travel more continues.

I suspect the island businesses will be the big losers if the city does start charging for parking.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Icing Penalty for the Crystal Coast

When I wrote the post about a cold December,  I knew it was going to get cold this month.  I just had no idea that it was going to get this cold so quickly.

Yesterday we managed to make it up to 36F from our low of 23F.  Our normal low is 39F, and our average high temperature in December is normally 58F.  With those temperatures, the ice on the Gut leading to the White River has more than a skim of ice on it.

Tonight's predicted low of 23F will not help with the problem.  The good news is that we are going to make it up to the forties tomorrow and even the fifties on Friday.  We should manage to see the sixties on Sunday before we get hit by another wall of cold Canadian air.

When I ventured out to the grocery store tonight, there were only four cars there.  It is hard to believe only ten days ago, I was sorry that I had left home for my beach walk with changing into shorts.

I had been looking forward to a reasonable December which would make our two cold months, January and February, not so bad.  I know it is pretty silly to be complaining about the 34F temperature that I saw this evening on my drive to the grocery store.

However, you do adapt to your area's climate, and our area normally has a nice December.  So this cold weather is not what we are accustomed to feeling.  I guess this icing penalty is to make up for all those great days that we had during the fall.

We will survive because the sun warms this area up sometime in late February no matter what.  That is only a couple of months away.  I will spend some time deciding which tomato plants that I am going to grow this year, and writing about our scenic area.  We eventually hope to write a travel guide about the Crystal Coast.

I manage to never be bored.  As the air begins to warm, we will take some walks on the Croatan TrailsSome of these pictures were taken there last February.

I am sure we will manage some winter beach walks just like last year, and by March we will regularly be on the beach.

Every winter, we also make trips to the Maritime Museum, the Aquarium, and the Core Sound Museum.

We have also been know to do a little winter fishing.  There is plenty to do here on the Crystal Coast in the winter, and this winter my wife has announced plans to revamp her clam chowder recipe.  I expect to be the official taster.

With all this on tap, I am not going to lose any sleep over a minor icing event.  I expect to see some open water by tomorrow afternoon.  If it happens, my spirits will go up even more.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Cruel December on tap for the Crystal Coast?


It must be time to hibernate.  After Tuesday's high temperature of 76F and a Wednesday morning wake-up temperature of 68F, fresh chilled Canadian air seems to have found its way to the Southern Outer Banks.  Still it has been a fall to remember.  The weather until now has been great.

I still find it hard to believe that we were able to be on the water so late in the fall without any heavy coats.   From my reading of the December forecasts, it looks like we might pay dearly for all that nice weather.

Of course with December arriving, the number of people visiting has dwindled, and even some of our permanent residents are off traveling for the holidays.  When we visited Trattoria in Swansboro for lunch yesterday, we were the only people there eating at just after 1 PM.  Today we had lunch at Andy's in the Emerald Plantation Shopping Center just before 2 PM.  Once again we were the only folks enjoying the food.

Tuesday afternoon when we pulled into the Western Regional Beach Access to show some clients one of our beach accesses, there were no other cars parked there.  Yesterday afternoon when the winds were starting to blow and the temperatures were starting to drop, there were only three other cars besides us.

Normally December is not a bad month for us.  The folks at Weather.com have the average daily high temperature for the western part of Carteret County pegged at 58F.  Looking at the fifteen day forecast from Accuweather, there is only one day in the next fifteen when we will be at or above the average high temperature.  Nine of the days have us at a high temperature below 50F.  There are also nine evenings when our low temperatures will be in the upper twenties.  That is serious winter weather for the Crystal Coast.  Even in January our average low temperature is 35F.

Of course things could be infinitely worse, much of Virginia and parts of North Carolina are going to see some snow this weekend.  There is also a chance that almost all of Virginia and areas north of there plus half of North Carolina, and the northern parts of Georgia and South Carolina will have a white Christmas.  That is not normal, and as someone born in the south, I feel qualified to say that.

The only silver lining to this cold weather is that long term winter forecast from Accuweather is "not much winter."  Considering how much snow that I shoveled in the Virginia mountains last winter, I could use a break.  Pictures from my first efforts to clear the big December storm to when I finally got a driveway open provide a good idea of how much snow I moved last year.  It was an impressive storm, and I hope that I don't see another one like it for a while.

That snowy winter of 2009 is one of the reasons that my love for living on the Crystal Coast has gotten stronger.  Snow rarely visits the Southern Outer Banks, and even when it comes, it almost never needs shoveling.  For those in Buffalo and other areas suffering under a blanket of snow that requires snow blowers, my sympathies go out to you. My seventeen years in a Canadian snow belt and twenty years in the Virginia mountains have given me an understanding of your frozen pain.  However, I have seen the warmth of the Carolina sun, and I can tell you that there are better ways to spend your winter than shoveling snow.

Once we get through this extraordinary cold of the next couple of weeks, I plan to come out of hibernation.  Until then I will plan my activities accordingly and wear lots more clothing than we are accustomed to using here on the coast.

Stay warm, spring is not that far away.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Some different fall colors

While fall along the coast does not have the magnificent canopy of colors that you often see in the fall in the mountains of North Carolina.  We do have get some fall colors that are unique to the area.

I find that the clear fall skies and bright sun often combine for an unbeatable show of color.  The picture at the top of the post was taken on the White Oak River on November 19 just after sunset.

The colors out on the river that evening were so stunning that it was hard to stop snapping pictures, and head back to my dock.  As you can see from the album that I posted the colors were really amazing.

The river isn't the only source of wonderful colors in fall along the Southern Outer Banks.  You also find some amazing displays of beauty on Bogue Sound and even on the beaches at sunset the light can be spectacular.
 
I also really enjoy the fall colors of the marshes.  We just took a wonderful cruise through the marshes courtesy of Hammocks Beach State Park which was collecting Toys for Tots.  The golden color of the marsh grasses against the backdrop of blue skies and beautiful waters is hard to beat.

We do get some color in our trees, and late in the evening when the sun is shining on them or even reflected in the water, you can almost imagine yourself in the mountainsSome maples stand out even in our pine dominated forests.  Bradford pear trees also put on a colorful show here on the coast, and I even enjoy the contrast of dark berries against the yellow-orange color of crape myrtles as they prepare for winter.

Still it is hard to beat a nice sunset on the river for fall color.  It puts a very colorful exclamation point on the day as it draws to a close.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kayaking on the White Oak River

Almost everyone has been pleased with our recent weather here on the Southern Outer Banks.  We might quibble a little with the high surf that has made surf fishing difficult for a few days, but blue skies and temperatures in the mid-sixties are hard to beat in the middle of November. Saturday afternoon was a nearly perfect day. Sunday there was not a cloud in the sky, so there was no reason to expect anything but nice weather for an outdoor adventure.

After church and our grilled lunch, I briefly thought about leaning back in my easy chair and watching some football, but the weather was just too good to waste it on football.  I decided that it would be a great time to go kayaking.  Our home is right on Raymond's Gut which leads out to the White Oak.  Saturday's boat ride in our skiff had taken care of my longing for flying across the water, so I was ready for some paddling.

We have a grassy area behind our bulkhead, and that is where I slide my kayak into the water. It is a little slope so when I am ready to exit the water, I usually have my wife pull my kayak in with our pickup truck.  That way I don't get in trouble for wet or dirty clothes.

The water Sunday afternoon was creating some beautiful reflections of the blue sky so it was also a good time for some photographs.  I loaded my trout rod, a couple of cameras, life vest,  floating bag with cell phone into my kayak and headed out just after 2 PM.

The coast has been experiencing some very high tides, and one of the first things that I wanted to do was investigate an area in the marsh grass that I can only get into when the tides are very high.  I did not have any trouble getting in there Sunday afternoon, and as I suspected I found our great blue heron hiding back there.  Of course he saw me before I saw him.  I got a couple of pictures, but neither of them is good enough for public consumption.

It is a neat spot back in there.  I love the gnarly old live oaks that surround the area.  After checking out the blue heron's lair, I fished a little out in the channel before I paddled out to the river.

I made it out the Red Sixteen Buoy which is the buoy which marks the spot where on our trips back up the river that we turn to go back to Bluewater Cove.  I did "check in" with Foursquare at Red Sixteen.   I fully expect to continue being the mayor of Red Sixteen on Foursquare.  It will be a hard spot for someone to dislodge me, especially with winter coming.

The picture at the top of the post was taken just beyond Red Sixteen looking towards Swansboro.  I did a little fishing out in the river, but the current and winds were strong enough that each time I made a cast, I ended up having to paddle for five minutes to get back to where I started.

There were only a couple of distant fishing boats on the river so it was relatively quiet as is usually the case.  I finally gave up on the fish and started making movies.  I have a friend who is unable to kayak so I thought he might enjoy the feeling of a movie instead of just static shots.

Before I knew it, time had slipped by, and it was four PM.  My wife was due to take our cat to the vet for some medicine before 5 PM so I focused on paddling myself back to the dock.  I found my wife waiting for me by our pickup.  She had gotten carried away with the good weather and was cleaning out my pickup.  Hopefully I will still be able to find everything when I need it.

The water was so high, it didn't take much of a tug to get me onshore.  I had a great time, got some exercise, and managed to relax a little.  That is hard to beat.

I posted three short YouTube videos, Kayaking on the White Oak, Bluewater Cove, and Headed Home.

You get a real feel for being in a large coastal river with the first one, Kayaking on the White Oak.  The Bluewater Cove one is just my kayak riding the currents and wind back into the main body of Raymond's Gut.  My favorite YouTube one out of this batch is the final one, Headed Home.  I did some fancy paddling with one hand in that video.

I hope the weather stays this way for a while.  I would love to get some more kayaking in before it gets too chilly to sit in a kayak.   If you have never been out on a coastal river in kayak it is well worth trying. Where I do most of my kayaking, the White Oak is nearly two miles wide.  If it is your first trip, you might want to wait for a calmer day.  Sometimes there is hardly even a ripple in the water.  I really enjoy sunset kayak trips on the White Oak.  Early in the morning and just before sunset are the best times to catch calm waters.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Quiet on the river

When I got up this morning, it was cool and windy.  Twenty-four hours certainly made a difference in the temperature.  My blue jeans added some welcome warmth as I wandered out to the get the morning newspaper.

Sunday night, October 31, I took a boat ride on the river in my standard summer uniform of shorts and tee shirt.  I was a little cool coming back up river at just under thirty miles per hour, but when I was idling around waiting for the sun to get behind the trees, I was fine.

While it warmed up nicely the next day, it was still somewhat cooler than Halloween evening.  I spent most of the day after Halloween catching up with things after our recent trip to Virginia.  Each time I come back from Northern Virginia, I am reminded that I made a conscious choice to live somewhere that traffic does not come close to gridlock on a regular basis.

We were at Tyson's Corner Shopping Center on Friday afternoon before Halloween.  My wife wanted to drive by the apartment that I shared with our grown children for a couple of years.  It is just north of Tyson's Corner on Route 123 which seems to have grown to about twelve lanes.  It was about 4 PM when we drove by our old spot, and it was clear than the southbound lanes of Route 123 were not moving.  I remembered a back way over to the Toll Road so we escaped unharmed though we did have to get off of the Toll Road an exit early because of everyone rubber necking an accident.

We hung around the Northern Virginia area until about 2 PM on Saturday and then headed back to North Carolina.  It wasn't long before we were in stop and go traffic on Interstate 95 for about 20 minutes just north of Fredericksburg, but that was our only hitch on the trip home.  We stopped for breaks a couple of times and once for gas.    Even with that, we passed through the intersection of Routes 24 and 58 near the Emerald Isle Bridge at 8:10 PM, just a few minutes over six hours after we left Reston, Va.

While we love visiting our children in Northern Virginia, we have no desire to live in a spot where you avoid going out on weekends for fear of traffic.  While we might skip visiting the grocery stores here on the Crystal Coast for a few hours on each of about six or seven weekends during the summer, most of the time we go wherever we want, whenever we decide that we need to go.

I had also forgotten how small the parking spaces are in Northern Virginia.  Here on the Southern Outer Banks our parking is designed for big trucks, and we even make accommodation for those pulling boats.

Of course if you need to buy something, there is hardly any place better than Northern Virginia.  The malls in the area have almost any store known to mankind.  Actually the women have heard of almost all the stores, and like most men, I am clueless about most of them.  I did enjoy LL Beans, Levengers, and of course the Apple Store.  I was amazed but not surprised that the Apple Store has done away with cash registers.  The employees have a gadget that swipes your credit card, and then they can email your receipt to your smart phone.

Besides shopping, Northern Virginia has some very nice restaurants.  We managed to eat at Sweet Water Grille, Coastal Flats, and Chicken Out which was one of the places I would often run by after work when I was working out of the Reston, Virginia Apple office.  I also got to make a trip to Whole Foods which is my favorite grocery store.  Where else can you find an ostrich egg when you need one?

Every place has its pluses and minuses, but at this stage in our lives, the Southern Outer Banks is the right spot for us.  Being able to drop a boat in the water for a sunset cruise and be back at the house in ten or fifteen minutes is not that unusual here on the coast.  It is a great way to soothe your soul, and I use it often.

A just-before-dusk trip on the water is how I got the picture in this post. The evening after Halloween I had to wear blue jeans and take a jacket, but it was still nice out on the water.  In fact it was even more peaceful than it was the previous night. Of course the light is always a little different, and I got some great photos.

The feeling of peace and quiet that you get on an uncrowded. wide coastal river at sunset is hard to duplicate when you get near major populations centers.  Access to water is one of the main reasons that we are here on the Southern Outer Banks. Of course a climate favorable taking boat rides in November is pretty good reason in its own right.

Boat gridlock is also not something we worry about on the White Oak River or out in Bogue Inlet. And we have some mighty fine small, family owned restaurants just around the corner even if they are mostly local secrets.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Perhaps A Great October Day At The Beach On Tap

I would have to say that the weather forecast for this coming Wednesday looks great. While my Latin is a little rusty, I believe it would be a great day to "Carpe Litus" or seize the beach.  To see the weather folks calling for a high of 81F and a low of 70F with partly cloudy skies on October 27 is something that should excite us all.

While we have enjoyed a mild fall, and the predictions are for a mild winter, an eighty degree beach day at the end of October calls for some sort of celebration or at least a long walk on the beach.

In fact I am organizing my week around trying to enjoy some of that warmth on this coming Wednesday.  We recently made a trip to the Virginia mountains.   I left the coast in my usual uniform of shorts, tee shirt, and sandals.  We were fine all through North Carolina, but I knew that we were in a different world when I got out to put gas in the car in Martinsville, Va.  The temperature had dropped to fifty four degrees.

The next morning I was running around turning on the furnace, and before we went out on some errands, I had changed to blue jeans, long sleeved tee shirt, and sneakers.  Two days later the morning temperature had dropped to 35F, and I was wearing a sweat shirt.

With that fresh in my memory, I plan to soak up all the warmth that I can in the remaining days of October. On Monday, October 17, we had a great walk on the beach in early afternoon.  There were plenty of people out there enjoying the late fall warmth.  I am hoping for as good or better day on October 27.

Later in the week of October 17, it was warm enough for a boat ride in shorts and tee shirt.  With the water still holding close to seventy degrees, we can hope for an extended warm period that might ease our transition into the winter months.

We never know what winter is going to bring or any other season for that matter.  However, what we know is that the Coast is warmer than the Mountains and Piedmont in the winter. The South is also almost certainly warmer than the North during the winter, though last winter was pretty close.

As they say the devil is in the details.  I have yet to have need of a down coat here on the coast.  My winter shoes are tennis shoes, and I only keep gloves in the car for our frequent trips back to the Virginia Mountains.  There are no snow shovels on our coastal property.

We have seen some ice on the "Gut" which run out to the White Oak. That water behind the house get a skim of ice a few times each winter.  Usually it melts by nine AM, but we did have one stretch last winter where the ice held on in places for a few days.  There were rumors of an unusually cold winter back in the late eighties when the river froze over, but I never saw any pictures to confirm it.

I do know that I shoveled a lot of snow in Virginia last winter, and I have yet to shovel any snow in North Carolina.  We did miss the brief snow storm last winter on the coast, but I was told the snow melted off the driveways before anyone had time to consider shoveling it.  That was a stark contrast to the situation of our friends who live near Pulaski, Va. and had snow on their long country driveway for over six weeks.

I will take that eighty degree weather on Wednesday, enjoy it, and use the memories of it to fend off those first cool days of the coastal winter.  I am hoping that the long range forecasts are correct, and that most of this winter's snows will be from New Jersey to the north.  At least they have the equipment to handle it.

We are much better equipped to handle visitors on the beach than we are to take care of snow on the beach.

Let us hope any snow we see this year on the beach is just a dusting.

4ENUHNX5T9P5

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Southern Outer Banks Fall on the Water

One of the reasons that we moved to the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina was to enjoy the area's beautiful waters.

Before our move, our investigations covered a lot of territory, but we eventually narrowed our search to Carteret County for some good reasons.  The area met our needs and offered us the opportunity to be on the water at a reasonable price.

I spent our first winter here examining our boating options.  In early summer 2007 we bought a boat, and we have been enjoying the area's waters ever since.

We actually don't take many long trips mostly because there is plenty of water to enjoy within a few minutes of our house.  Part of my dream was to be in a place where it was possible to continue working but be able to grab a few minutes on the water when the weather conditions are right.

The nice thing is that we can boat most of the year.  While an early summer morning trip out Bogue Inlet is a definite delight, there is nothing wrong with a quick trip like I took with a couple of neighbors on Tuesday October 19, 2010.

We all had some chores to do in the morning so it was noon before we pulled away from the dock behind our home in Bluewater Cove.

The boating weather was less than perfect because of some surprise winds, but it was warm and already almost eighty degrees.  We have enjoyed great fall weather this year so having a warm day in late October was just continuing a pattern.

We spent about three and one half hours on the water and really enjoyed ourselves.  Of course we were still all dressed in the uniform of the coast, shorts and tee shirts.

With a beautiful coastal river at my back door, the ICW only ten minutes from my dock, and Bogue Inlet less than twenty minutes from the house, there is plenty to explore.  We sometimes wander the waters behind Bear Island-Hammocks beach.  The Point near Emerald Isle is one of our favorite haunts.

A couple of times each summer I venture out on the river to catch a sunrise.  It is not unusual for me to go out three or four times in a week just to catch a sunset on the White Oak River.

If it sounds like being on the water is a big part of our life, that is no accident.

Of course the best time of year on land or water here on the Southern Outer Banks is fall.

Sometimes that last gasp of summer seems to stretch for too long, but this year fall came as expected

One of the reasons the best of seasons is fall is that it is a time when you can fully enjoy the waters of the Crystal Coast with no crowds unless you happen to run into a school of spots that have been found by the fishermen.  Also there is no lingering August humidity to cause heat problems during the day.

Fall makes for some memorable afternoons on the water here along the Southern Outer Banks.  If you have never visited us in the fall check out my Swansboro, Emerald Isle, or Beaufort travel guides.

There are still some weeks to enjoy a visit before Jack Frost finds us.  The fifteen day forecast shows only one day where the evening temperature drops to 39F.  Eleven of the days have temperatures in the seventies, and I see at least one day has a forecast that we will make the eighties.

Come on down and enjoy our fall and find out how much fun you can have on the water is this time of year.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday at the Dock

There are a lot of pleasures that come with living here on North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks.

One of them happens to be the friendly people than inhabit our shores.  This past week was a really busy one for me.  I was juggling a number of things including home repair, yard maintenance, changes to the listing of our home in Virginia, modifying websites, showing property, monitoring repairs on a client's property, putting the finishing touches on the software for our new small business, and getting ready for a presentation on social networking at our local board of Realtors®.

On top of that I took delivery of my new I5 iMac and got it up and working at full speed while dealing with a problem with our boat.  Certainly having friends and neighbors to lean on made all of this much easier.  Having your boat not running is a crisis in a world where boats are part of life and the fall fishing season is just around the corner.  A fishing buddy took the problem of fixing the boat off my hands.

I was able to focus on the other items on my plate.  By yesterday afternoon around 4 PM everything was done except putting the center console back in place on the boat.  I did not do much other than hold it up at an angle while Brian, my fishing buddy, put the sealant under the edge of the console and around the screws.

Still it was nice to see it finished and reflect back on all the accomplishments from the previous week.  My presentation on Social Networking went very well.  I even recovered from the jammed copier at work which kept me from doing flyers exactly as I had wanted.

Standing in front of crowd with my MacBook hooked to a projector put me back into the world that I lived in for so long at Apple and later as a consultant for the National Lambda Rail.  Over the years, I have presented to some very high level folks whose names I will avoid dropping.  It is safe to say that I thrive in front of a group.  Doing presentations became second nature while at Apple.  I even had to fly out to Cupertino to do a few.

While I really enjoyed doing the Social Networking Presentation, it occurred to me as we were sitting on the dock yesterday "helping" with the final touches that would bring our skiff back to life, I would really love to stand up before a group and talk about our Southern Outer Banks or what is often called the Crystal Coast.

Like most of my presentations, I would start with some history, possibly discussing how the area developed with close ties to the land and sea.  I might even mention the 56th Annual Mullet Festival which was last weekend in Swansboro.  The festival tradition is alive and well here on the Crystal Coast.

Then I would likely talk about the present.  While like most areas, we would like to see a stronger economy, we did not boom as much as some areas south of here, so when things deflated we did not have as far to go.  We still have at most a handful of homes in financial trouble.  On top of that our area has seen many new businesses in the last three or four years.  Construction has started on a new Hampton Inn in Swansboro, and there was an announcement that Dunkin Donuts will build in Cedar Point.

At the same time Emerald Isle has extended its bike paths and improved the accessibility of their beaches. Both of the big regional beach accesses have handicapped accessible platforms for viewing the beach and ramps which make it easier for all of us older folks to enjoy the beaches.

The area has also seen a number of small locally owned restaurants open and thrive.  I really enjoy ChowdaHeads on Emerald Isle and Nicky's of Swansboro located between the White Oak River bridges.

When you add that to the Best Buy, TJ Maxx, Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks, Harris Tweeter, and Panera Bread that have been built in Morehead City over the last few years, you get the picture of slow but steady growth.

In my real estate world I can feel some slight hint of recovery.  Three homes have sold in our small subdivision of Bluewater Cove.

While there are some resale homes available, there is only one brand new home left on the market in our subdivision. Steady growth looks really good when you compare it to some of the areas of the country which have not done so well.

Last weekend I hosted a client from California.  Her stories of the economic troubles of their California Valley made Carteret County sound pretty good.

A lot of what appeals to me about this area is the mix between the old and the new.  We can have a wonderful place like  Clyde Phillips Seafood at the same time construction is starting on a new concrete pier on Emerald Isle.  We can enjoy a wonderful small restaurant like the Fairway in Cape Carteret or the food and tradition at T&W's Oyster House while knowing that there is a brand new Olive Garden twenty minutes away.

I can shop in a modern Harris Teeter or Lowe's Grocery store and stop on my way home at Winberry's Produce Stand  for whatever local delights I might find including Bogue Sound Watermelons in October.

As is my custom in presentations, I would try to shed some light on the future.  I would probably start with a discussion about how I think the 158,000 acres of the Croatan National Forest and the 56 miles of the Cape Lookout National Seashore give us lots of hope for the future.

I might point to the 1778 Ringware home in Swansboro as a point of hope that the past and future can continue to co-exist here on the Crystal Coast.   The rebirth of Beaufort would likely get a bullet or two in my presentation.  The ongoing efforts to protect the wonderful White Oak River would also get a slide.

My talk would include some mention of the protections now in place to prevent out of control development like you see when you cross the border into South Carolina on your way to Myrtle Beach.  I suspect that I would mention the wonderful reputation and national awards that have come to the Carteret County Schools.

I would probably close with a recommendation that people visit the site which I maintain to showcase information and pictures about the area.  As my parting shot I would suggest that the only way to appreciate the area is to visit it.

I would then show this picture from last weekend and let it speak for itself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Swansboro's 56th Annual Mullet Festival

We live in Carteret County, but we definitely consider Swansboro part of our home turf.  I always think of it as a more down to earth Beaufort.  Swansboro has some homes from the 1700s, but it is also a place where real people live.  It is a living and breathing city that has few pretensions, but lots of friendly people.

I also cannot think of Swansboro without thinking about the two bridges over the White Oak River which separate the town from Carteret County.  I go under one of those bridges at least six or eight times each week this time of year.   My number of trips is always a round number.  At least I hope it remains that way since I pass under the bridge on my way out of the White Oak and back under the bridge on my way home headed back up the White Oak.

Some years I have worked in a booth at the Mullet Festival, but this year our company decided to pass so I was free to wander the streets and booths.  I am not a big buyer of crafts and fair items, but I love to look and take pictures.  My wife loves to wander through the booths.  Since there is plenty of football later in the year, I was content to let her have all the time she wanted at the festival.

Eventually it warmed up so much in the sun that she was ready to head back to the car and home.  We were lucky because one of people who attend our church let us park in their driveway so we would not have to walk so far.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, especially those eating the featured Mullet dinners.  I enjoyed the antique cars as much as anything.    I was especially pleased to see that Spill the Beans is also a bakery in addition to being a place for coffee.  They are located in the same building as the Ice House Restaurant which is down by the water just off Front Street.

For some reason our booths always seemed to be either by the bandstand where we had a hard time understanding anyone asking us a question or in one of the few areas of Swansboro which do not get a breeze.  If we had gotten a booth like the one Spill the Beans had with a view of the water and a breeze right off the water, I might have been a more willing volunteer for booth duty.

I have posted lots more pictures of the 2010 Swansboro Mullet Festival at my Picasa Web Albums site.

On our way home we stopped at Winberry's for some sweet potatoes, but we ended up taking a watermelon home instead.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Some Episcopalian Lobsters

This was our fourth annual trip up to Salter Path to enjoy some fresh cooked lobsters.  Saint Francis by the Sea is the site of the annual Lobster-fest. The church sold 840 lobsters back in 2007 on the Saturday of our first visit.

The 2010 event managed to cook and serve 1100 lobsters.  Obviously the event is growing in popularity.  We timed it just right this year arriving just before 1 PM.  As we were handing in our tickets, we heard the staff turn away a couple because they had already sold out of lobsters.

Besides dining in, you can get your lobsters live or cooked to take home.  We have alway enjoyed being served our lobsters in the church sanctuary.   It is very pleasant place to have a meal, and we always meet someone nice and have an enjoyable conversation to go with our meal.

This most recent trip was no exception.  We met a couple from Cedar Point who know my friend, Ed, who was born in Cedar Point and has lived there all his life.

After your tickets are collected in the upstairs sanctuary, you are given a plate and an opportunity to pick up your sides, potato salad, cole slaw, and a roll.  In addition to that you have a choice of some lovely homemade desserts.  Then you take a seat at one of the tables and wait for your lobsters to show up.

The event is very well organized.  We only waited a couple of minutes for our lobsters to be handed out by the smiling staff.  It took me about a minute to do the preliminary cracking for my wife's lobster, and then I was off to the races with my own lobster.

Actually I took my time eating my lobster.  I only have one a year now, and I want to make certain that I enjoy it.  This one was perfectly cooked, and the sides were all delicious.  I did stay focused on the lobster.  As I was sucking the last bit out of the tiny legs, I noticed that I had forgotten to even have a drink of my iced tea.

Our timing was near perfect.  When we finally got back outside, folks were lined up waiting for parking places.  We had walked right in and eaten our lobsters.  It was like we had called ahead and placed our orders.  I believe each of our meals was $22.  I don't see enough lobsters these days to be an expert, but I would guess these were around 1.5 pounds each.  It was a good meal well worth the money, and the drive.

It is always a treat to see so many lobsters in one place.

We have a little special history with lobsters. On my first date with my wife back in 1973, I cooked her a lobster meal.  Thirty-seven years later, I am still cracking lobster claws for her.  I pretty sure that she could handle it herself, but helping her with her lobster is good way to bring some memories of that first date.

Assuming Saint Francis holds the event again in 2011, we will be back.

After leaving the church parking lot we drove through Salter Path, and I stopped to take a picture of the tractors and boats in place for the annual mullet blow.

Later after showing a couple of houses, I took some friends for a boat ride to Swansboro Harbor.  It was the best way to visit the Mullet Festival of Saturday.  With some luck we might actually walk the booths late on Sunday afternoon after the crowds have cleared.

Speaking of cleared, the water in the White Oak is stick a little different color from all the rain.  Perhaps we will see some changes soon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Some reflections on Coastal Life


Last week was a tough week in Eastern North Carolina. Right on the Crystal Coast, we fared much better than some folks. Our patch of ground along the White Oak River came through the torrential rains in good shape.

Swansboro officially reported 21.35 inches of rain last Thursday. The government precipitation maps show us at 20 inches. My own simple weather station recorded 20.25 inches of rain in one 24 hour period.

In spite of that, our area escaped a lot of serious damage. Areas to the north and west of us are having a tough time. The last I heard the New River will not crest until this Thursday.

When weather deals an area a serious blow, and you happen to escape personally, about all you can do is be thankful for your luck. Man will never conquer Mother Nature so we just have to be prepared for what comes.

We have lived on mountains and in the wilderness. I have seen melting snow blow a 24 ft long 36" culvert out of the ground in Canada. I have watched as the normally peaceful Roanoke River has spilled over its banks and closed highways in Roanoke, Virginia. I once even drove in the wake of a tractor trailer along the banks of the mighty St. John River in New Brunswick, Canada.

While I am in awe of the power of water, I am also appreciative of the great beauty and peace that water can bring to us. Our neighborhood was having an end of summer party last Saturday night, and I noticed that we were heading for a beautiful sunset.

It took me less than ten minutes to walk back to my house and have my skiff headed out the Inlet so I could take some pictures. The whole ride probably did not last twenty minutes.

However, the beauty that I saw and photographed might last a lifetime or more. Time on the water can be really special. Perhaps those moments mean even more at a time when we have been reminded of the power of water.

The pictures that I took Saturday evening and the ones I snapped this morning remind me of just how important water is to my state of mind.

In a world which is often so busy that people have little time to appreciate its natural beauty, I am thankful that I live in a place where being on the water is so easy. With water at my backdoor, I feel like I have an escape valve which lets me maintain my sanity.

Sometimes, however, being on the water is just not enough. You have to completely lose yourself in the sounds and noise of the water. I can accomplish that with a beach walk which is easy to find about ten minutes from our home.

Whatever it is that is special about seeing water is something that I cherish. Maybe it is because I am a Pisces or perhaps my mother just spent too much time on the beach. Whatever it is, I cam going to continue to enjoy it as long as I can.

It looks like this week we will be a great one for enjoying the water on the Crystal Coast

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wandering the Streets of Beaufort


I cannot remember a month in the last four years when I did not cross over the drawbridge to Beaufort at least once.

We even like to go visit Beaufort during the winter. Walking down the boardwalk along the docks is always a pleasure. The only time I ever got cold in Beaufort was watching a December Flotilla at night.

I have been very hot in Beaufort a couple of times. There is almost always a breeze blowing in Beaufort except there are some August days when the wind cannot seem to find the streets of Beaufort.

So if there is a month that I would skip going to Beaufort, it would be August. Unfortunately, this August not only did I get to visit Beaufort, I ended up there three days in a row.

It is just now four years since we made the move to the Southern Outer Banks, and I guess my residency has caught up with me. I got called for jury duty.

Not only did I get called for jury duty, I got selected to be on the jury, and eventually ended up being the foreman.

I actually do not mind doing my civic duty, but doing jury duty in Beaufort comes with a few special challenges. The first is that there are no reserved parking spots for jurors. That means even if you come forty-five minutes early, you will end with a pretty good hike to the courthouse.

I ended up parking down Broad Street beyond Beaufort Ice Company. In the four years living here, I have managed to acclimate myself to the summer temperatures. However, staying cool in eastern North Carolina in August requires wearing shorts and tee shirts.

Being called for jury duty seemed to suggest that perhaps I should dress in what we used to call “business casual.” So I put on long tan pants and a short sleeved collared shirt. When I got to Superior Court which happens to be on the second floor of the old Courthouse, I found that most people were dressed similarly.

Only one gentleman was dressed in a suit and tie, and he managed to go home and change before the end of the day.

How I was so lucky to be picked as a juror out of the seventy people in the room, I will never know, but at least I am excused for the next two years.

Our second day there was Wednesday. We ended up having a lunch break, and I managed to make my way down to Beaufort Grocery. I had a nice roast beef sandwich for lunch and got back to the Courthouse in plenty of time to go for a longer walk.

I strolled down a few streets in Beaufort and eventually made my way back to the live oaks around the Courthouse. It was then that I figured out that I had gotten pretty hot in a nearly windless Beaufort with a strong sun beating down on the streets.

It was not hot like I have been in Washington, DC walking through the tunnel to the Pentagon in a wool suit at the height of summer, but I was warm nonetheless.

Before we left on Wednesday the bailiff warned us that there were 375 cases on the docket the next day which would make parking even more of a challenge.

I managed to get to the Courthouse at 8:45 AM for our 9:30 AM case. I still ended up parking down beyond the ice company. However, I did not mind the walk because I had decided that shorts were appropriate for jury duty. I figured the least I could do to render a fair verdict was to keep myself comfortable.

Since there was a lot of time before the trial I wandered down to the Old Burying Grounds and took some pictures for a friend who loves old cemeteries. I posted the Old Burying Ground pictures on my Picasa Web Albums site. I had hoped to wander around inside the Burying Grounds, but for some unknown reason the gates were still locked at 9 AM even though the sign indicated that they opened at 8 AM.

There are always some new shops in Beaufort, but I did not get a chance to investigate the couple that I noticed. We got sent to the jury room just before noon on Thursday. Before we could sit down, one fellow announced that he had made up his mind, and there was nothing we could say to change it. His statement immediately hardened everyone’s position. We ended up a hung jury and went home before lunch.

I did make enough trips to Beaufort this week to come up with a couple of interesting facts. One is that it consistently takes 35 minutes to get to Beaufort from our home in Bluewater Cove near Cape Carteret and the White Oak River.

The first twenty minutes of the trip gets you to the intersection of Highways 24 & 70. That part of the trip is around 18 miles. Most of the shopping we do is in that general area. That’s right where the Harris Teeter grocery store is located, and we come there for a few things we cannot find at Lowe’s or Food Lion near Cape Carteret.

From that intersection it is less than eight miles to Beaufort, but that part of the journey takes 15 minutes one way or the other. I tried both Arendell and Bridges St. The time to get to Beaufort was so close I could not make a call.

I am looking forward to getting back to Beaufort when I don’t have to worry about jury duty. I think if I am ever called to serve again, I might come by boat and solve the parking problem.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Still Time To Make Summer Memories


It is August the first, and the summer of 2010 is slipping away from us. Like most folks I have been so busy that sitting back and really enjoying summer has been a challenge. However, I am a hard core summer person, so you can be sure I have already created a few indelible memories that can keep me warm through the winter. Even more important is that there is still plenty of time left to have some fun and create some more of those memories that last well beyond the winter. I can still remember the boating trip from last summer when my youngest daughter finally fell in love with the Crystal Coast. An even older memory is our trip to Cape Lookout five years ago. Once you start the process of digging up memories, they tend to flow freely. The Cape Lookout trip reminded me of a wonderful fishing trip to Beaufort in the fall of 2005. Making memories that last is easy in a place like the Crystal Coast.
With so many wonderful things to do here at the beach, it is sometimes hard to choose. A good rule of thumb is that if you have never tired something before, you will likely remember your first attempt much more vividly than you will remember doing what you have always done.

A few weeks ago I took some friends out in our boat. It was a holiday weekend so I thought that we would just go for a short ride on the White Oak River. When I figured out that my friends had never been up the river beyond Stella, I decided that they needed to see the river above the point where all the homes disappear. We made it up the river ten miles beyond Stella. By the time we came back down the river and took a run down to the Intracoastal and then home to Bluewater Cove, we had gone about thirty-eight miles. From the comments from my friends, I suspect they will remember that ride for a long time.

Of course we have made lots of special memories with our granddaughter who will turn two next weekend. She had her first birthday party here on the coast last summer. Then there was the time we took her to the beach for the first time. I can still see her standing in the waves with her grandmother holding one hand and her aunt holding her other. We will be creating a whole new set of memories when we host her second birthday party next weekend.

Some memories are priceless like the time one of our daughter's visiting dogs got a little too close to a fiddler crab. The dog weighs nearly one hundred pounds. The crab latched onto the dog's lip. That caused the dog to run towards my daughter who could only see this creature of the deep dangling from her dog's lip. Our daughter started screaming and running from her dog. The faster she ran, the harder her dog tried to catch her. Fortunately her older sister tackled the dog and removed the crab. By the time the crab was removed, we were all doubled over with laughter.

There is plenty of room on the beach to write your own memories in the sand. You can create a memory in an afternoon. Your memories can be anything from a group kayak trip to a leisurely ride over to Hammocks Beach on the state's pontoon boat. Even a family outing to play miniature golf or walk the docks in Beaufort can turn into a memory makes you smile each time it slides into your consciousness.

The important thing is to seize the opportunity to make some wonderful summer memories while there is still time left. The summer of 2010 will only roll around once for us, and even now there are just a few weeks left before it will be time to create some of those fall fishing memories for this year.

Now that I am thinking about fishing, my mind is pulling up my first fishing trip on the Point with my Uncle Austin. I think it was the summer of 1968 or 1969. We did not catch much beyond a horseshoe crab and one bluefish, but I am pretty sure that was the trip that sealed my fate and eventually made a Crystal Coast resident out of me.

Both the memory and the reality are pretty nice on that one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Land and Waters That Stretch the Mind

After many years of travel, your mind has wonderful images of beautiful places that you have visited. I have been lucky to have traveled to many scenic spots around the globe. From Alaska to New Zealand to Switzerland and Germany's Bavaria, I have enjoyed many postcard perfect scenes. Beyond that I lived on the shore in Nova Scotia and more recently on the side of a mountain in Virginia. From our Nova Scotia home I used to watch the sun set over the Bay of Fundy. From our Virginia home, I could roll out of bed and capture the sun as it climbed above the mountains surrounding downtown Roanoke. All of those places have left me with wonderful memories, vivid images, and thousands of pictures. As wonderful as all those places are, my mind ends up being a blank slate when I get out on the water here along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks. It is nearly impossible to describe the beauty of this area in words. Only photography offers the chance to share some of the beauty with people who are unable to actually make a boat trip.
I often talk about the wonders of living along the water. Here along the Crystal Coast a water view is highly prized. Yet as wonderful as it to live by the water, the appreciation of the water and the beauty of the surrounding land deepens greatly when you are actually out on the water.

Something truly special happens when you make a turn, and you see nothing but sky, water, and amazing marshes filling the horizon. It is almost like the scenery just washes over my mind's eye and clears out any old images.

Understanding that you can be swallowed up by the beautiful scenery around you explains one of the great mysteries of being out on the water. Often we go out and find a spot to fish and enjoy the beauty around us only to discover that time has little relevance for us. What we thought was an hour, possibly was actually three or four hours.

If we are lucky enough to have escaped any cell phone calls, then it is very easy to suffer time dis-orientation. We have no idea what time is, and sometimes we end up forgetting even when we left. Fortunately hunger usually shakes us back to reality, but it is truly amazing how our area's scenic beauty can lull you almost into another dimension.

What is even more fun is that the images from the water stick with you. I can easily remember many wonderful water trips while I have a hard time recalling any of my road trips even though I have driven around the United States three times. It is almost like the best images from my water adventures are burned into my brain. I can flip through almost at will. Time hardly seems to dim them. I remember the water on a trip that I called Mackerel Morning almost as clearly as it was two weeks ago instead of over two years ago.

As good as the pictures might be, there are times when you can only appreciate the true beauty of the moment by being there. The wind on your face, the smells of ocean water, and the warmth of the sun all contribute to special moments. While our minds can record those feelings, it is the rare photograph that can do justice to one of those special moments.

Even this evening, I spent a long time deciding what picture could best capture a sampling of the beauty of this area. I came close to picking a special ocean wave or perhaps a view of Bogue Sound from the Emerald Isle Bridge, but in the end I went with this recent shot taken as we turned towards Bear Island from the Intracoastal Waterway.

It highlights the expansiveness that often captures our eyes and imagination. The clouds, the water, and the marshes are all part of the equation that ends up equaling scenic beauty that pulls many of us to choose the Crystal Coast as our permanent homes.

We are the really lucky ones. We wake up to the beauty of this area every day. It is literally on our doorsteps. I know that I am not the only resident who can lose himself by enjoying just a few hours on the water.

The good news is that many of those wonderful views that have so enchanted me are very accessible by boat. Some can even be seen while riding the pontoon ferry over to Hammocks Beach State Park. We live in area where kayaking and boating are a big part of life so it is not very hard to find a boat ride in Carteret County.

Now is a great time to visit.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Enjoying Your Beach Visit

Sometimes getting across the bridge at check-in for your beach vacation can be a challenge. With a short window on both Saturday and Sunday for people to pick up their keys, traffic can get backed up at the bridge. The good news is that we rarely see other traffic problems after the weekend. Our peak traffic season only last a few weeks. As we get away from the Fourth of July, traffic decreases, but even later in the season, there are some challenges. With that in mind, I have some simple suggestions that might make your visit more pleasurable. Some are gleaned from what our family used to do before we became permanent residents. Others are based on applying the local knowledge which you develop as a resident. In the end just a little planning and some minor changes can make a huge difference in maximizing your beach time and having the most fun possible.
One of the easiest ways to reduce first day stress is to pack a cooler with enough food at least for the first evening meal and breakfast of the next day. In the Emerald Isle area there are four grocery stores. There are three more in Morehead City and another in Atlantic Beach. Even with that many stores, most grocery stores in the area get very crowded on Saturday and Sunday, both in afternoons and the evenings.

While our stores are generally very good at moving people through, if you have a huge cart full of stuff, you can expect to wait some length of time to check out if you shop on Saturday or Sunday later than the morning. If you make that same large shopping trip on Monday morning, you likely will breeze through the checkout. Bringing some food and basics with you can greatly smooth your entry into beach life.

You do not have to completely avoid the grocery stores on the weekend, you just have to pick your battle. I am actually a pro at going to the grocery stores on Saturday and Sunday during the visitor season. My first secret is to never get more than what will fit in one of those small hand baskets. Then the real key to getting in and out of the store quickly is to use the automated check out systems. Usually the attendant will use their affinity card if you are trying to save on the specials and do not have one of the cards. However, you do not need one of the cards to use the automated machines.

You can also save a trip to the grocery store by stopping at one of the local produce stands. Winberry's in Cedar Point is one of my favorites. A stop there, and then at one of the local fish markets is a good way to come up with ingredients for dinner without hitting the grocery store.

Almost no one comes to the beach without eating out a few times. The problem is that most people want to eat out at the same time. Hence the few restaurants over near the beaches can get crowded at the most popular times. There are two solutions to this challenge. One is to pick a time that is enough out of the ordinary to let you beat the crowds. The other is to try some of the very good restaurants over on the mainland or lesser known island ones.

Sometimes the choice when trying to dine out is an hour wait in line, or twelve to fifteen minutes in the car. I have been both at Jordan's in Emerald Isle and the Crab Shack in Salter Path when the waits were well over an hour. Both times we got in the car and drove to T&W's Oyster House up Highway 58. My humble opinion is that their fried seafood is as good or better than the two island based restaurants. It is also a very big restaurant, and it is unusual not to be seated almost immediately.

I offer up this list of restaurants as suggestions to making dining out a little easier. Many of them are on the mainland, some are less well known island restaurants. All are ones where I have enjoyed good food. Since I created that list, Nicky's has opened between the bridges in Swansboro. I have enjoyed some really nice seafood there. Even more exciting is that it did not come out of the deep fryer. However, just to prove that I am impartial when it comes to cooking seafood, their fried clam strip appetizer is also a favorite of mine.

Another suggestion for saving time and money is to use the automated free standing ice machines instead of making a trip to the grocery store. I am a big fan of getting my ice in the cooler without having a plastic bag which ends up in the landfill. The automated ice machines give me more ice, twenty pounds instead of sixteen, when I do not ask for the ice in a bag.

If your accommodations on the beach still require you to drive to get to the beach, you might find the Western Regional Access crowded at times. There are other places you can go to avoid the crowds. Most days there will be fewer people at the Eastern Regional Access about eight miles farther down the beach.

If you want even less people and want to be very close to the beach, Third Street Beach is a good choice if you can get along without a restroom and water to wash your feet. I sometimes find it almost deserted. There is also a great beach access with parking at the Roosevelt Natural Area in the Salter Path area.

If someone in the family is willing to do a little walking, you can sample some of the best beaches on Emerald Isle like I did recently on a nearly perfect Crystal Coast day. Just use the CAMA access points on Inlet Drive and park in the small parking lot on Coast Guard Road. It is easy to drop the family and gear at one of the access points and circle the block back to the parking area. The walk back to the beach is five to ten minutes.

There are lots of wonderful things to do at the beach. Just learning a little about the local area will greatly expand your options and perhaps save you some time when things get crowded on the beach.

You might even run into a special treat like a Bogue Sound watermelon if you get off the beaten path. Vacations have changed over the years, but when summer is in full swing, you can still have great fun here at the beach. Some planning and hints from us locals can make it even easier to have that fun.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Heat Is On

Those of you who like me complained about last winter's cold temperatures are going to get another chance to soak up some extreme warmth over the next few days. This weekend we will see some temperatures over at the beach in the low to mid nineties. That is about as hot as it normally gets around here. In fact in the few years that we have been living here along the Southern Outer Banks, we have only seen temperatures that high a few times. You know that it is going to be a hot spell when the nighttime temperatures barely get below eighty. It is usually August before that happens, but this has been a very warm summer so far in many places. The only good news about the heat is that this spell is only going to last a few days. To help matters even more, our temperatures have been reasonable for the past few days. We even had a mostly rainy day on Sunday. Our recent weather will help us get over this hot spell.
First, since we are just now going into a new hot spell, the area waters have cooled back to a reasonable level. The unofficial surf temperature reading Tuesday morning was 81 degrees Fahrenheit. As I can tell you from my wading around in the ocean waters Tuesday afternoon, 81 degrees is very pleasant temperature, but it will still cool you off. I suspect we have the winds to thank for keeping the waters a little cooler than they might be.

Of course the winds have made playing in the ocean a little more challenging. Most people I saw playing in the surf today were staying close to shore. That is always a good plan when the surf is stirred up, and the winds are blowing. Still it is nice to have a world of waves when it gets this hot.

We will only be blessed with cooling winds for another day. Starting Thursday the predictions are for much lighter winds which will come at the same time as the hotter temperatures.

The only real ways to escape the heat when it gets this hot are to get in the water or be on the water and anchored where you can get a good sea breeze. Aside from that, it will be a good time to stay in the air conditioning during the heat of the day.

Those of us who live here adjust our lives for the heat. If we want to work outside, we do it early in the morning. If you can finish a chore by 8:30 AM, you will face a lot less stress than if you finish just before noon. On a hot day, if I want to go to the beach, I usually go after 5 PM when the worst of the heat is over.

By Thursday afternoon, you can expect the sand on the beaches to have warmed up enough to require either sandals or some fancy dancing to get to the water. It really is amazing what water can do for you. Often after mowing our yard, I will take a shower and by the end of the shower, I have practically turned any hot water off. In the summertime, our water comes out of the faucets fairly warm.

After the quick shower has cooled me, I will often walk across the cul de sac and take advantage of the swimming pool that we have in Bluewater Cove. With the recent cooling, the pool is very pleasant temperature. A quick dip in the pool is a great way to cool your body further.

That usually works except in August. Then I have been known to get in the car and head straight to the beach. I consider the ultimate cooling experience to be an ocean wave hitting me right in the middle of my back. I can almost guarantee that will take the heat right out of your body.

Summer is one of those things that we long for in winter. Then sometimes the reality of the heat is a little intense. I actually have adjusted fairly well to the heat considering I lived in Canada for many years. There in Atlantic Canada our home did not even have air conditioning and a jump in the ocean waters would likely turn you blue.

One of my tricks for hot weather is that I often have a cooler full of ice in my car. Twenty pounds of ice makes a big difference when you need a cold drink or have some groceries in the car. The thought of it just makes me feel cooler. Of course another great cooling secret is to enjoy an ice cold piece of a Bogue Sound watermelon.

I do take some consolation from the fact that starting just a few miles inland, temperatures will be much higher than ours here along the coast. While the heat in Emerald Isle will likely peak at 93 or 94 degrees on Saturday and Sunday, Raleigh is supposed to hit 98 on Wednesday and face three straight days of 99 degrees after that. That is seriously hot.

I am thankful for whatever cooling Bogue Sound and the ocean might provide over the next few days. It will be a time when making some intelligent decisions about when to be outside will be important. Likely the more of your body you have in the water, the more comfortable you will be. Still there are lots of great things to do at the beach even in the heat.

It will also be a good time to think back to February when we had some snow all over the area. At least the picture of the snow will provide some mental relief. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Betting on Beach Weather

Our family has a long tradition of beach vacations. I am told that my first trip to the beach happened when I was less than a year old. Many beach trips in the early years were for two weeks. While two week vacations were the rule in the fifties and sixties, I know that one of the reasons we came to the beach for two weeks was to outsmart the weather. Usually we would get a rainy day or two. Sometimes a break from the beach was welcome since youthful exuberance occasionally wore down the best of us. Still two weeks almost always gave us plenty of great weather. I can only remember one really rainy vacation at the beach, and it was one which was only a week long. It was also after I had become the paying adult. We were staying on the sound in Duck. The whole crew was there including a couple of grandmothers and our Labrador Retriever. Even with the challenging weather and lots of family, we managed to have some great fun.
Yesterday the rains started late in the afternoon. Today they were much earlier. Still when I went over to the Eastern Regional Beach Access, there were four cars in the parking lot. Also people were in the water enjoying the ocean.

While playing in the ocean in the rain is not my idea of fun, I suspect that I might have done some of that in my earlier years. With today's beach houses, entertaining yourself is not much of a problem. However, hanging around the house on a rainy day is just not my idea of fun.

There are actually some pretty neat things you can do here on the Crystal Coast when the weather is not perfect. The Maritime Museum in Beaufort is one of my favorite places to go when it is too hot, windy, or wet for quality beach time. It happens to be one of the few museums in the world that excite my son. He really loves poking around in the Maritime Museum, and I never tire of going there.

Of course one of the most popular things to do when the weather does not cooperate is to visit the NC Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. Fortunately I live here, so I can go in February on a sunny day when fewer people are trying to see the fish. It is a great spot, but expect to have plenty of company on a rainy or very hot day.

There are also a couple of smaller museums, one at Hammocks Beach and the Core Sound Museum up on Harker's Island. I think both are interesting museums and worth visiting. There is also the History Place in Morehead City.

And if museums cannot be sold to the ones needing entertainment, there is always MAC Daddy's in Cape Carteret. There is plenty of bowling there and lots of games.

Of course if you are from a large city, we cannot match the huge city stores of your hometown. However, both Swansboro and Beaufort have some interesting shops in a setting where you can easily duck out of the rain from one store to the next. You can take a break and have lunch in town.

You will often hear the saying that if you do not like the weather, just wait a few hours, and it will change. That is a fairly accurate description of our weather. Getting a complete washout day in the summer is rare. At our place near the White Oak River, we only had one quick rain in the month of June. The total amount of rain for the month was about one quarter of an inch.

Of course we are making up for it in July. With today's rains, we are over six inches for the month. This time of year it is fairly standard for us to have blue skies in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon. You should get out on the beach early and be prepared for any afternoon surprises.

While you are out there on the beach, be mindful that it is better to miss some time in the water than it is to risk being in the water when it is unsafe. The same thing goes for boating. If we locals are not out on the water, there is probably a really good reason. Our world of waves can be a challenging spot even with all its scenic beauty.

The good news is that the forecast for the rest of the week, which takes us well into the second half of July, has more sunshine than anything else. I hope everyone gets a chance to enjoy some blue skies, emerald water, and nice beach breezes.