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Monday, December 28, 2009

The Holidays Are a Little Different

I spend a lot of time writing about how special the Crystal Coast is. From the early North Carolina spring to the lingering warmth of the late fall, there is no doubt that the Crystal Coast is a great place to spend time with your family and to make some great memories. My wife and I moved to the area just so our extended family would have lots of great reasons to visit us. It has worked out really well for us. We have had some amazing visits which will live on as special memories. All I have to do is close my eyes and think about Bogue Inlet in late June. In my mind's eye, I can get the water just the right shade. I can feel the heat and smell the ocean. We had a couple of wonderful days out in the Inlet in June that I will never forget. It is a pleasure to be able to flip your mind back to one of those memorable days when your current temperature is well below freezing. However, even I will admit that when it comes to the end of year holidays, who is with you is more important than where you are.
Over the last few years we have flipped around and tried holidays both at the beach and in the mountains. It turns out that as long as we can get all family members together, we end up being happy no matter which place we choose.

Of course even in the winter time, being at the beach can be a significant advantage. That would especially be the case this year. We actually hurried home this Christmas to our place on a mountain above Roanoke, Virginia. We managed to arrive about an hour before the snow began on Friday, December 18. It snowed for about twenty-four hours. When it was done we had twenty inches of snow.

Having spent many years in Canada, I am no stranger to moving snow. However, twenty inches of snow is a lot of snow even in Canada. It took me a while to make any progress on our driveway. Had I been on the coast, I could have gone for a nice hike after the rains and still gotten my exercise without nearly as many aching muscles.

Being snowed in for a few days is a nice change once in a while, but we worried a lot about our family making it safely to our house. It was over forty-eight hours after the snow stopped before we were plowed out. Our road was passable only after a chain equipped road grader made it up the hill where a standard truck snow plow had failed. We had wisely stocked up on food and emergency supplies before we got to the house so we were fine especially once our family members made it safely up our hill in Roanoke.

However, the plows ended up putting so much grit on our road that we have worried about our granddaughter who is only sixteen months old walking on it. Likely with the storm we would have been holed up with rain beating on the walls at the beach. However, you do not have to shovel rain, and rain is a whole lot warmer than snow. Also once the rain stops, you can go for a nice walk usually.

As I listen to the cold winds howling outside our mountain home tonight, part of me wishes we had managed to have our holiday on the coast this year. While we had great fun in spite of the weather, I could have used a little less weather. There have been some moments that I wished for some fifty and sixty degree temperatures where a nice hike could have given us some exercise and some family space.

As we wind down towards the new year, there is not really any doubt in my mind where I would rather spend most of my time. The Crystal Coast long ago won my heart. I am a realist though, and I will sacrifice location in order to be with family sometimes.

I am looking forward to the new year. We only have to get through January and February before the warm Carolina sun starts making its presence known. I can hardly wait, but for the moment I am going to transport myself to Bogue Inlet on a warm June afternoon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Our Main Street

I often tell people visiting the Crystal Coast to ignore the big roads if they are looking for our main street. I actually believe that the Intracoastal Waterway deserves that title. You certain get that impression if you take a boat ride on the Intracoastal. This time of year most of us are not on the water very much, but even during the cold season the Intracoastal Waterway means a lot to our area. There are very few days when I cross the bridge over to Emerald Isle when I do not see a sailboat or boat of some type making its way throught the water. In a large city a beltway often lets you get from one location to another quickly. The Intracoastal plays the same role for us. Many times you could pick your way carefully through some back channels and bypass the Intracoastal, but often it is easier and faster to just take the ICW where the channel is well marked.
As the weather gets colder in January and February, few boats venture out into the water. We still have a number of boats passing through the area. Most of them are heading south to warmer waters, but they often drop anchor and spend a day or two with us.

It is in January and February that I miss our main street the most. I will usually try to drop my skiff into the water at least once every other week. If I can find a nice day I will bundle up and ride out into the river. Sometimes I will even brave the cold and go down to Swansboro where the Intracoastal and the White Oak River meet.

If the weather isn't too cold, a ride like that is like a shot of spring tonic. It does not take much to start thinking about getting your gear ready for the spring season. Last year we had a long, cool spring, and it was April before we got on the water with the skiff. In the spring it is usually the winds that keep us at the dock.

As May and June get here, boat season rapidly takes hold. With warmer waters and usually more reasonable winds, the Intracoastal gets busy once again. We often come
down the White Oak River and head up the Intracoastal until we take the turn towards Bogue Inlet and the ocean.

There are days when even on that short trip, you will see a half dozen boats beached on the islands that line the Intracoastal. Sometimes we will slip into one of the creeks or inlets for fishing instead of going out Bogue Inlet.

While the Intracoastal seems like our main street to me, heading out Bogue Inlet always makes me feel like I am on an adventure. When we come back from the ocean and finally get to make the turn back onto the ICW, I feel like I am almost home.

I used to get the same feeling driving down Interstate 81 from Northern Virginia to Roanoke. Whenever I could see Tinker Mountain, I thought the trip was almost done.

There is another thing that always intrigues me about the Intracoastal. It is like an Interstate Highway. It is not just for local trips. It can take you far away. Our longest trip on the ICW was to Beaufort on our way to Shackleford Banks , but it really seemed like we had gone somewhere after we got home.

The next time you ride over the Intracoastal, take a quick look to see what is happening on our main street, and remember it will be a lot busier in just a few short month.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beaches Waiting For Some Visitors

I am finally willing to say that winter is here. This morning we had our first serious frost. I decided to let my tomato plant go so I did not cover it. There is a little life left in it, but I suspect it is time to pull it. On top of that, the western part of the state and the mountains of Virginia are on target to get a serious snow storm this weekend. Some places could get well over a foot of snow. Apparently there is another storm coming mid-week, so there is a good chance that a substantial portion of North Carolina and Virginia just might see a white Christmas. While all this is happening, our beaches are standing with open arms waiting for some visitors. If I had a choice in the matter I would be headed directly away from the predicted twenty inches of snow. There are plenty of things to do here on the beach which sound a lot better than pushing around snow. Curling up in front of a fireplace with a hot drink after a brisk walk on a winter beach is pretty hard to beat.
Since I will be headed right into this storm for Christmas, all my thoughts while moving snow around will likely be about warmer times here on the shore. Amazing as it might seem, I only have to think back to October 23 of this year when we had our last great fishing trip of the year.

If I do decide to stretch my memory, I can easily remember not only a perfect day on the beach but also some wonderful times out on the inlet. I remember the few days this summer when my youngest daughter fell in love with Bogue Inlet. Those few days were perfect days to be out on the water.

Come to think of it, this has been a really nice year at the beach with the exception of our rainy fall. While we have had plenty of heat, the answer to the heat was never far away and always inviting.

While I will be dealing with snow, I know that my sentence to the mountains of Virginia will not last long. It will only be a short time before I am back down on the coast hoping for one last fishing adventure before the year turns. Then I will be counting the days until I can take my kayak out for some spring fishing. I am willing to bet that I will get at least one more fishing trip in before mid-January, and that my first spring fishing adventure will be less than ninety days later.

The Crystal Coast is a great place to forget snowy weather. I know that I will be doing just that when we get back from the mountains. I am counting on this year's snow on the coast not treating us any worse than it did last year when it dropped by for a few hours. It made for beautiful scenery, but I was happy to see it disappear just as quickly as it came. Maybe we will not get any snow on the beach this year. Last year's was the first in six years.

With the knowledge that winter won't last very long after I get back to the coast, my visit to the mountains will be a perfect way to start getting in shape for mowing the yard later in the spring when we do get some beach visitors.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Taste of Winter

We have been dodging the winter bullet all fall. Today it caught up with us. We awoke to a temperature of 34. Fortunately there was no frost this morning, but it does not look like we will be so lucky on Saturday morning when the temperature could fall into the twenties. We got cold weather much earlier last year, so we really should not complain. It is December, and much of the country is still shoveling out from a huge snow storm. Still delaying winter is one of the things that we do best. However, when we were over in Beaufort this afternoon and I noticed the temperature was stuck in the mid-thirties, I had to admit that winter has found the Crystal Coast.
Actually today, when the morning started at thirty-four and our afternoon finished at thirty-seven, would be classified as a very cold winter day here in Carteret County. Most of our winter days have highs in the forties. There are not many days when we stay in the thirties. To make matters worse, we had a stiff breeze blowing all day.

I found out about the stiff breeze blowing when I tried to take a few photographs along the Beaufort waterfront. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I love to walk along the docks. Today they were empty, and I did not brave the winds for long.,

When we got home from our visit to Beaufort, I immediately turned on our gas fireplace logs. Thirty minutes to an hour of heat from those takes any chill off the day. We keep our home at 68F in the winter. Running the gas fireplace takes the temperature up to 70F. It also heats my upstairs office to 72F which makes for a nice evening of writing.

One of the ways to survive winter here on the coast is with hearty foods. One of my favorites on a cold night is clam chowder. Our family recipe for clam chowder will banish any thoughts of cold weather.

Tonight we got back too late to fix clam chowder, but we had some food almost as hardy, black eyed pea chili made with sausage. The chili was accompanied by some homemade cornbread. Homemade cornbread is another food guaranteed to help keep the cold away.

With a light fleece jacket, jeans instead of shorts, sneakers in place of sandals, some hearty food and a few minutes of the gas fireplace, we will get through winter. In fact it is nice to have a real shot of winter so that we know we can survive these cold temperatures.

Hopefully no one from the Midwest, Northeast, or Canada will read my complaints about our temperatures in the thirties. I have already heard enough grief from my Canada friends who got a foot of snow earlier in the week. The temperatures we had today would be a heat wave for them.

They were also unimpressed when I told them I had to pick all my green tomatoes yesterday.

Here are some pictures from our trip to Beaufort.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The In Between Season

Winter has arrived on the Crystal Coast. It is not like winter in most places. While I have had some frost on the windshield of my pickup truck. The frost has yet to get my tomato plants which are growing about ten feet from the truck. Our centipede yards have turned reddish brown, and Christmas decorations are starting to show up. Crab Pot Christmas trees are not very hard to find. A drive down the local highways in the evening will highlight some decorated trees on docks and boats. The first thing you see when you go into our real estate office is box for Toys for Tots. Everyone's schedule is beginning to fill up with all the holiday parties. Instead of more traffic, we have less traffic as many of our visitors have gone home for the holidays.
The fall fishing season has slowed due to storms, winds, and lots of rain. The days of driving across the Emerald Isle Bridge and counting thirty boats fishing for spots are just a memory. While you can still find some surf fishermen on the beach, their numbers are small compared to a month ago. Even the local produce stands have closed up for the winter. All the sweet potatoes have been sold or are in storage.

While things have slowed, we are not sleeping on one leg like the Willets in the picture. Almost all businesses are still open and welcoming customers. While meals might be rushed in cities during the holidays, now is a time on the coast that we often linger over lunch since there are no crowds waiting for our tables.

This is a peaceful time of year here on the coast as long as we do not have a nor'easter bearing down upon us. In the evenings we watch the news of blizzards working their way across the country. The months of watching for tropical storms are gone. The bitter cold and snow of the mid-west and northeast seems far away to us. Our waters are still warm enough to keep freezing temperatures at bay for another month or so.

All the small towns have their Christmas decorations up. I love the swans of Swansboro, but I also like the snowflakes of Cedar Point.

There really is no place to get into a serious holiday crowd like you might find waiting to turn from Chain Bridge Road into the Tyson's Mall in Northern Virginia. We just do not have enough people to create a serious crowd during the old season.

We even visited Walmart in Morehead City last evening. While there were plenty of people in the store, we did not have to hunt for a parking, and certainly we did not to stalk other shoppers going back to their car in hopes of getting their parking space.

As an area where small business dominate, we are well into the season of office parties which often are potluck meals here on the coast. There are plenty of seasonal festivities including parades to get us into the holiday spirit, but the difference is that the holiday is on island time. That means there will be no panic, and the holiday will happen as people get around to it.

It is actually a very pleasant way to have a holiday. There are far fewer stores to tempt one into over spending. The glitz of the holiday seems to be muted by the blues and greens of our waters. The beaches are still available for walking on warm afternoons. It is still a great way to wash away the pressures of daily life.

With luck we might even get in a boat ride or two on some warm days. Life goes on here and winter is no the overwhelming master that oftens shows up in the north.

We have had a great season on the coast, and we would love to have some company as the new year comes to the Crystal Coast.

There is plenty of room, so come on down and experience a coastal holiday vacation.

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."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Favorite Runway

Living on the Crystal Coast can be a life style change that renews your connection with both the natural world and people around you. Moving here can change your life dramatically. For me coming here has been a dream come true and an opportunity to remove the pressures of the corporate world while still having the opportunity to stay active and even busy. Like many people in today's modern economy, I spent far too much time in airplanes both in the air and on the runway. For years, I flew back and forth to California. I used to joke that I really did not care what airport I got to as long as I was less than a three hour drive from Roanoke, Virginia where we lived. In the winter I tried to make sure my cross country flights started in Pittsburgh with their heated runways or Charlotte with their almost snow free airport. I am proud to say that I have not been on an airport runway since November 2003. However, I do have a runway that I use sometimes two to three times a week.
My runway is the marked channel to the White Oak River that you see in the blog picture. It is my launch point for fishing, boating, and kayaking trips. This morning I was out there checking the river at 8:30 AM. I wanted to see if it was going to be a good fishing day.

Though it was stunningly beautiful when I went out, there was a strong breeze from the north once I got to the middle of the river. Winds that early in the morning made me think that we were likely to see deteriorating weather as the day moved forward. That turned out to be correct. We went from beautiful blue skies and a warm sun to heavy clouds, cooler temperatures, and no sunshine.

Fall weather is always something of a guessing game. It was only a week ago that we spent one of the best days ever on the water. The weather was spectacular and the fishing was just as good as the weather.

That runway into the White Oak River takes me from White Heron Lane in Bluewater Cove eventually to Swansboro, the Intracoastal Waterway, Bogue Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean. There can be adventures all along the way. On a quiet morning like we had last week, the trip out to the Inlet can be one of the most pleasurable rides on the water.

There can also be excitement coming back. It there is a storm bearing down on the White Oak , the ride back up the river can be exhilarating as you skim the wave tops while racing the thunderstorm back to the dock.

I would rather try to outrace a thunderstorm in our skiff than ride a puddle hopper down between thunderclouds only to be diverted to another airport. The transition from a corporate traveler to the pilot of a small skiff is a really nice proposition.

Many times I would hurry off to the airport only to get there and face a wait of hours in a room of people who would hardly look at each other. The nice thing about having my skiff on a boat lift behind the house is that I look out the back door to see if is raining. Then I check the computer for the tides and local radar. If I see nothing on the radar and it is not raining, I lower the skiff into the water, and I am off to the runway.

Last Friday, I had picked up ice and shrimp for a planned fishing trip. As my friend showed up at 12:30 PM, a few rain drops started falling. We walked inside to check the radar and sure enough, a surprise storm had formed off the coast and was moving through Bogue Inlet and up the White Oak. We had a nice chat while the rain was falling. He took the ice home and stuck it in the freezer. I cleaned the shrimp, and we ate them in shrimp and grits for dinner that night. Our chat in rain was a lot more fun than reading a magazine at the gate in an airport.

Moving to the Crystal Coast is a chance to be part of a community that loves the water and enjoys being outside. While we sometimes might get a little tired waiting for the wind to die down, it is still not like missing your plane on a Friday trip home.

This is a world where the tides, the winds, the sky, and the sunshine often define the schedule of events. Most people figure out how to have their lives flexible enough to enjoy some of the special times that we often find here on the coast.

The next time you are stuck in an airport, remember that on our runway we only slow down for bottle nosed dolphins and schools of fish.

If you want to try our runway on for size, there are two new homes available in Bluewater Cove. Call us to arrange a visit, the only interview you might have would be with the resident white herons.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Memorable Afternoon on the Water

We made the move to the coast a little over three years ago. Our move was one of choice. I wanted to get back to a place where we could see the water like we could in our first home on the shore of the Bay of Fundy In Nova Scotia when we lived there in the seventies. The sea and its powerful moods had brought a new view of life to us in those days. I still have wonderful memories from those days, and I wanted to be in another truly scenic place where it would be possible once again to be under the influence of the ocean. Unlike long ago, I wanted a place where the water was warm and inviting, and where I could safely boat and create a whole new set of memories. I wanted to spend time on the water that would give me dreams of fish of all types and water in colors that can barely be captured. The Crystal Coast ended up being the spot, and this past Thursday, October 22, ended up being one of those days which I will get to enjoy over and over.
Thursday's morning sky was full of puffy white clouds. The temperature was cool, but there was no wind. This was to be my first chance this fall to hit the water when by all reports the fishing was really good. People were reporting decent catches from the fleet of boats going after the fall spots, Other boats were reporting good catches of puppy drum, trout, and blue fish. The surf and pier fishermen were also doing well.

I had one meeting at our church to do some training for the church secretary who was kindly taking over maintenance of the church website. After that I made a stop at Dudley's Marina to replenish my gear, picked up some shrimp for bait, and stopped by the ice machine on the way home. At 12:30 PM my fishing partner called to say he was home from work and would be over in a few minutes. Just before 1 PM we pulled away from the dock and headed out towards the White Oak River.

Surprisingly the river was still glassy smooth at 1 PM. Usually by that time of day we have a little breeze. We went slowly by two boats fishing not far from what we consider our private White Oak hole, and then I brought the boat up on plane for the trip to Swansboro.

Even when you live on the river, there are a limited number of days when the water is so smooth that the boat literally glides across it. Thursday afternoon was just such a day. The trip to Swansboro was so smooth that I was able to take a series of slides from my center console mounted camera. That the pictures are so clear gives you a very good idea of just how smooth the river was on Thursday. It was pretty close to amazing. I have had rides like it before, but they are usually around sunrise. The other nice thing about the trip on Thursday was that it was warm with the temperatures in the mid-seventies. We were dressed just as we were when we fished in the summer.

Getting to the Swansboro bridges from Bluewater Cove takes about ten minutes. I usually throttle back and go through Swansboro harbor relatively slowly. This time of year, you almost have no choice since you have to thread your way through the flotilla of spot fishing boats.

It was not long before we turned up the Intracoastal and cruised through what I like to think of as Cedar Point's main street. You briefly slow in the no-wake zone at the Wildlife Resources Ramp, but it is only a few minutes before you are turning and heading out Bogue Inlet. We passed a string of boats anchored along the eastern edge of the marshes that line the Inlet. That is also a favorite spot for fishing.

Soon we were making the last turn to the east where the Point at Emerald Isle is straight off your bow. After that you turn and head pretty much straight out into the ocean. It was this area about one half mile to one mile off the beaches that we wanted to fish. We first chose to fish on the west side of the channel and had very little luck so we moved farther out and fished on the east side of the channel.

From our position we had a good look at the Corps of Engineers' dredge that was working about another mile out. We had started bottom fishing with double hooked rigs. I had shrimp on one hook and artificial blood worm on the other hook. We were in about seven feet of water just off a hole that I had seen on the deepfinder, but we were getting no bites. Just then my partner, Dean, spotted some bluefish feeding on the surface. I grabbed the rod that I keep rigged with a Gotcha plug and put the plug in position to come back through the feeding zone. I immediately hooked a very nice bluefish. It was large enough that we needed to net it to get it inside the boat. As soon as Dean got rigged with a plug and cast into the feeding zone, he also hooked a bluefish. We landed eight nice bluefish in about fifteen minutes. Including a double where I had the distinct pleasure of unhooking two bluefish from one Gotcha plug. We decided that was enough fish to take home. We started throwing back everything that we caught.

We managed to hook and bring to the boat about thirty bluefish from that hole. We then moved on and tried to fish a wave zone for some red drum, but the water was so clear we decided the fish could see us and were staying away.

Then we made the fateful decision to fish on the west side of the Inlet just off Hammocks Beach. I had rigged up my trout rod with a new lure in case I saw any more feeding fish. We were back bottom fishing when once again we saw some blues feeding. I put my new lure right in the middle of them and three fish dived on the lure. I hooked one of them and brought it to the boat. I did exactly the same thing on twenty straight casts. The lure was a bluefish magnet. By this time I had caught all the bluefish I wanted. My partner had been catching them also, but not on every cast. So I passed over my magic lure and sure enough, Dean started catching a fish every cast. We had a grand old time. I had bluefish dancing on the surface. Then there were bluefish diving as hard as they could, and most of the time my trout rod was bent almost double.

Finally it slowed to a fish on every third cast. We lost count of the fish at around seventy. It was one of those days that fishermen live for and never forget. We had been in one of the most beautiful spots on the east coast, and we had caught fish until we were tired of catching fish. The potential of having a day like that is one of the reasons I moved to the Crystal Coast. The fact that we could have that experience less than twenty minutes from my home dock is just amazing.

After getting back to the dock, I filleted the bluefish, skinned them, and cut away the dark meat so Dean and his wife would have some unforgettable fresh fish. According to all reports they loved the fried bluefish.

I was ready to go again today in search of red drum with another friend, and just as we were getting ready to put our gear on the skiff, a storm came in from the ocean. It appeared to follow the channel through Bogue Inlet and then come right up the White Oak. I was not heart broken at missing fishing today, I still had plenty of memories to savor from yesterday. Some memories will carry you for a long time. I am certain that yesterday's memories have some long legs..

I put up a couple of slide shows. One set of pictures takes you down the White Oak up the Intracoastal and out Bogue Inlet to ocean and back to Swansboro. The other show is from Swansboro back up the White Oak to Bluewater Cove. If you click on a picture you will get a larger version.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue Skies and Blue Water

It is nice to be back to normal weather here on the Crystal Coast. We have seen our high temperatures swing from 84F on October 10 to 52F on Oct 18 so seeing temperatures back in the seventies is a real treat. With a forecast that shows highs in the seventies for the foreseeable future, we can focus on being outside and enjoying the area once again. For me that means finding some time to get back on the water. Fall water can be very inviting as the above picture snapped today in Cape Carteret shows. There are few things that are more enjoyable than spending a fall day on the water with the warm Carolina sun keeping away any thoughts of frosty temperatures. While being on the water defines fall for me, there are many other signs of fall along the Southern Outer Banks.
Many would argue that the biggest change that fall brings is the influx of fishermen who go surf fishing on our beaches. I would agree that a beach full of four wheel drive trucks with rod carriers and fishermen is a good indication of fall. Seeing trucks on the beach only happens in the October through April time so finding them there the first time after summer is proof positive that fall is here.

Another sign of fall along the coast would be fresh local oysters in our restaurants. They are a fall tradition that goes back many years. While most of the oysters these days are consumed steamed or fried instead of raw, the presence of local oysters is definitely a good sign that fall is here.

It does not take much driving up the beach road to figure out another sure sign of fall. That would the annual sales at the beach stores. Fall is the time when many of the stores try to move their remaining merchandise at a substantial discount. If you like to do bargain hunting, fall on the coast is a good time to do it.

Halloween decorations, especially lots of pumpkins, start showing up in fall, but we have a very unique decoration that starts making its appearance in some stores as early as October. It is those wonderful Crab Pot Christmas trees that are so popular along the Crystal Coast. I think everyone who has ever visited us when the trees are on display has gone home with one of the trees.

While we do not get the tremendous burst of fall colors seen in the mountains of North Carolina, you will see some color here on the coast in the fall. Often the Virginia creeper vines in the trees will turn red, and we also have a few other trees that provide us with a dose of color.

Fall is also the time that our centipede yards start going dormant. They often turn brown and then red. That works out well since if we mow our yards fewer times that translates into more time for fishing. Just at we start focusing on fishing, the farmers start collecting their crops. Combines in the corn field are the first signs that the growing season is winding down. Usually the soybeans and then cotton are harvested next. My years of farming taught me that it is hard to be a farmer and a fisherman at the same time..

Of all the signs of fall that I enjoy, probably the one that means the most to me are the boats gathered around the bridge to Emerald Isle. It sometimes looks like the fishing fleet goes all the way to Swansboro and a good distance up Bogue Sound towards Morehead City. Only in the fall do you see the gathering of the boats to catch spots. While those boats in the Intracoastal are chasing spots, many other boats are after red drum, trout, bluefish, and flounder. Fall is fishing here on the coast, and being out on the water in a boat is one of the best ways to enjoy the season.

With all this great weather, I expect to be on the water the next couple of days. I will be one of the dozens of Sundance skiffs with Yamaha motors anchored someplace along our shores testing my luck with our local fish. If things go right, I might even have some very fresh fish for dinner Thursday night. Whether I catch fish or not, I plan to have a great day and reconnect with the water. I will see you out there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Already Missing the Ocean

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.

et 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.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Fall Weather Rollercoaster

The standing weather joke here on the beaches is if you do not like the weather, hang around for another five minutes while it changes. While I would say that I am all for change when it is raining, I have to argue that we have plenty of great weather here on the Crystal Coast. While there are never guarantees on the weather, we do not see many days when it rains all day. We do see a fair number of days when we have to "endure" blue skies and nice temperatures. We tend to forget those when we run into a rainy spell. While you can never have enough great days like we had this Wednesday, I suspect that we all can use a rainy day now and then to catch up with our paper work. Of course if you are a dedicated fisherman, good weather is a relative term which depends on how well the fish are biting.
Last week even with working a few days, we managed three great afternoons on the water. There are not many places where water access, fish availability, and weather cooperate as well as they do here along the Crystal Coast.

If you can find a way off from work, you can be fishing somewhere in a matter of minutes. I had a couple of brook trout streams on my farm when I lived in Canada. Getting to the fish here is far easier than it was in Canada. I also lived in Roanoke, Virginia which has a trout stream running through the city. Fishing in Bogue Inlet is easier than that was.

While our weather does change a lot, our fishing waters are often close enough that we can fish, and if the weather starts looking questionable, it is only ten minutes to our home dock and safety.

Where most areas force you to drive for miles to get to fishing water, here in Carteret County no one is very far away from the water. If you are lucky enough to live in Cape Carteret or any of the many water access communities, getting your boat into the water is no big deal.

There also area a number of county residents who have managed to snare spots along the water where their boats are on lifts. If you really love to fish and want to do it at a moment's notice, there is no better way to do it. Since my skiff is right behind our house, it takes me less than ten minutes to load the skiff and do a check before we head out on the water.

It the weather is good, and I want to go fishing, fishing usually happens as long as I am not scheduled to work.

It is a pretty simple equation if you live down here, you do not spend hours on the road getting here. You also get the advantage of waiting for the good weather days to go fishing.

It turns out that with the drop in real estate prices, you can find a home in a water access subdivision for much less than you might imagine. If you have ever thought about having a second home where you could access the beaches and fish until your heart is content, now would be a good time to start looking.

I knew that I loved the area when we moved here, but I had no idea how comfortable I would feel living here and fishing the waters of Bogue Inlet and the White Oak. We almost always catch something, and even when we catch very little, we are fishing in one of the most beautiful areas on the east coast. Especially if you get one of those great weather days, it is a time you will probably never forget.

Every once in a while down here, you strike it rich fishing and have one of those once in lifetime fishing days.

As I am driving real estate clients around, I tell them that the only way that they can see the main street of the Crystal Coast is to get out on the Intracoastal Waterway. I can assure you that Cape Carteret and Cedar Point look very different from the water than they do from Highway 24. We are water communities with fishing at our fingertips.

The other thing that really impresses me about the area is that if you get tired of fishing in a boat or the weather is not right, you have the option of surf fishing or fishing from the pier.

I even fish from my kayak when I want to fish some marshy areas where it is hard to take the skiff. The nice thing about fishing here is that you can define your own success. To me the other day, it was catching just enough spots for a dinner with my wife. To a fellow from Kentucky that I met at Captain Sam's Shrimp Market, it was catching 291 spots from their boat this past Tuesday.

It you love to fish and want to be able fish more and do it in a safe area with a sustainable fishery, the Crystal Coast is a pretty good spot to consider.

Even with the fall roller coaster of weather, people usually get their quota of fishing in each year.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Secret Summer Season

While most of the country is looking at winter in their rear view mirror, here along the shores of Bogue Sound, we are still enjoying what can only be called summer in October. It happens to be one of those things that is a whole lot easier to catch if you live here instead of just come here as a regular visitor. Even the best weather forecasters have a hard time predicting it until all of the sudden we are enjoying temperatures in the mid to upper eighties. A good portion of the end of last week could be called summer weather. Many of us made the most of it, disappearing for whole afternoons to enjoy the warmth on the water. I know that I had a couple of great days of fishing and fun on the water. I missed Saturday, the last of this recent stretch of summer. Sometimes even those of us who deliberately go without a watch on our wrist get caught and have to work.
One of the secrets to our weather is that we live next to a massive amount of water which once it warms up is very reluctant to cool down. That warm water makes fall a real treat here on the Southern Outer Banks, especially for those of us who are residents.

The weather in October and November can be tricky. We cooled off this Sunday, and it was overcast all day today, but our temperatures are still in the sixties and seventies which is not very hard to take considering parts of the west never made it past twenty degrees Fahrenheit this weekend. Staying that cold is easy to do if you have two feet of snow on the ground like they do in the mountains of Montana.

For many of us, this great fall weather is why we live here. It is really almost a perfect situation living along the coast. North Carolina is such a varied state that it you want to look at some fall leaves and mountains, all you do is get in your car and drive six hours. There are plenty of colorful leaves to see and lots of fall festivals. This being the south even in the mountains the peak color of the fall leaves does not happen until sometime between the third week in October and the first week of November.

After a quick trip to the chill of the NC or VA mountains, you can come back to the coast, take your blue jeans off and put your shorts back on, and if you are lucky, enjoy some of that summer in October. There are many of us living on the coast who sneak off to the mountains on a regular basis. My theory is that it makes me appreciate the coast even more when I come back.

This is a time of year on the coast when there is so much happening that you just hope that you can keep these days of great weather coming. Just this weekend we had Saint Francis by the Sea Lobster Festival and the Swansboro Mullet Festival. If you looked a little farther away you would have noticed Mumfest in New Bern, but we have never been able to drag ourselves away from our local events.

On top of all the festivals, this is the season to fish and because of where we live fishing is in the air and is not optional. In spite of heavy surf I fished in the surf once earlier in the week and then managed to fish from the skiff for two afternoons when the weather really got nice. We were not alone, and we did catch fish. The fewest boats were counted early in the week when there were only around five on each side of the bridge. On Saturday when we crossed the bridge to Emerald Isle at noon, my wife counted forty boats just on one side of the bridge.

Everyone was having a good time on the water except the barge pilots who had to convince all the boats anchored in the Intracoastal to move out of their way.

In addition to boating, lots of people were walking on the beach, and yesterday we even saw a game of beach volleyball going on at the Western Regional Access.

So now you know the secret of the Crystal Coast. The reason we do not mind sharing the beaches in the summer is that we have kept the best season, fall, to ourselves. Our fall weather is one of the great reasons why so many people fall in love with the area and end up living here.

If you have caught the bug for living here, rest easy. It does not take long to become a local, especially in the fall when you cannot hide among the visitors. Even the most hardened city dweller usually becomes friendly after walking on one of our beaches a few times.

If you cannot join us as a local, come for a fall visit, you might get lucky and snag one of those summer in October or November weeks. If not, the fish will surely be biting.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Endless Sand, Ocean, and Sky

If you have passed by a television this week, you might have caught some of the PBS National Park series. Wilderness has been a big part of my life. Just as many Americans, I first experienced it in our National Parks.. I spent a lot of years after college chasing wilderness and enjoying living far from real civilization. Much of the show about National Parks is inevitably about the west. We are very fortunate in North Carolina to have our fair share of National Parks. I have camped from the Smokies to Ocracoke Island. There is not much that is nicer than falling asleep in a tent under a cloudless sky full of stars that you hardly knew existed. The exhaustion that comes from enjoying the beaches and trails of the parks makes sleep come easily and somehow burns the memories deeply into your soul. Yet my greatest pleasure is being able to taste the wilderness without facing the challenges.
The great thing about the Crystal Coast is that you do not have to work very hard to find yourself nearly out of sight of civilization. Yesterday as we went out Bogue Inlet and turned down towards Hammocks beach, it was not hard to think of a wilder time.

The beach near us had several pelicans and a few other sea birds but no humans. Once in a while we could see a boat in the distance, but as is sometimes the case, we were where no one else had decided to come.

That happens often on the Crystal Coast. It was that way this summer when my daughter found an island to herself in the Inlet.

The ability to spread out and enjoy the area without someone right on top of you is one of the great things about the Crystal Coast.

Last night after we returned to our dock, I went inside and convinced my wife to go for a short sunset cruise. We dropped the boat back in the water and in less than five mintes were back out in the White Oak watching the sun drop behind the clouds.

As far as I could tell we were the only boat on the river. It was dark enough that I could only see the outline of the trees on shore. As the sun went down, we had the world of the White Oak River to ourselves. I could easily imagine that the sunset looked very little different five hundred years earlier before white men set foot on these shores.

It is a special treat to get up in the morning and look out over trees, blue sky and water and know that where we live is about as wild as it can get and still be within an area which boasts four grocery stores and a Lowe's Home Improvement store.

One of the reasons we came here was that we wanted a place that would never be Myrtle Beach. I wanted to live within a short drive of Cape Lookout which preserves the Outer Banks as they were before men started building sand castles.

Having Croatan National Forest and the White Oak River covering my back is a benefit that I am just starting to appreciate. With my kayak, I can be in another world in less than five minutes of paddling. That is not a bad way to live.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time To Respect the Ocean

We were really lucky with Hurricane Bill. It did not get anywhere near us. However Bill gave us some serious waves and decided to modify the Point at Emerald Isle, If you check the pictures linked in my post, "The Ramp to Nowhere," you might just wonder what would have happened if Bill had paid us a visit. 
While Bill moved a lot of sand around on the Point, two years ago just after I bought my permit to drive on the beach, the same ramp was even in worse shape. Water was lapping at the foot of it. This past winter so much sand came back, that I heard talk of a parking area on the Point for four wheel drive vehicles. It is the nature of the ocean to change things.
Bogue Inlet which borders the Point at Emerald Isle is a very unique spot. It is not static real estate. The strong currents and shifting sands never seem to be satisfied. There is always a new cut or sandbar popping up.

While it means that a printed chart of Bogue Inlet can be near worthless, it does not mean that Bogue Inlet is unnavigable. Actually Bogue Inlet is very well marked and assuming you are not trying to boat during a storm, you should not have any trouble as long as you take your time.

While I would not choose to do it myself, I have even seen kayakers out in the roughest part of Bogue Inlet. The currents are very strong where the ocean waters meet the waters of the sound.

Of course that very spot is where the fishing is often great. Even with a couple of experienced boaters, maintaining your position can be a challenge.

The Point is great magnet for beach goers. It is a little bit of a hike to get to the CAMA accesses nearest the Point. However, I do not mind the extra walking. It is worth a little effort since the other beaches get much heavier traffic than the Point. That means the Point is usually cleaner with fewer people.

It is also a special spot. No place on the island is a better example of where the water meets ti sky. Enjoy the Point, it is a special place.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Last Folks Off the Beach

There is no question that I really enjoy walking the beaches of the Southern Outer Banks. It is a particular passion of mine to spend some regular time walking along the beach just where the waves wash up over my ankles. Three times a week is adequate beach walking. Less than that can have an impact on my work and my sleep. 
Most people if they walk a beach and let the sound of the surf and the smell of the salt water take charge of their senses, can lose their thoughts on the beach. The beach is a wonderful cure for whatever is giving you trouble. 
The problem can disappear for a few important moments while the surf and sand take charge of your body. It is often at these times when you can see things with the most clarity. While walking the beach works at all times of the day, there is something special about being on the beach as the sun starts to drop.
I actually think the harder it is to find time and good beach weather together, the more vigilant I become in adjusting things so we can have our beach time.

By design we often leave for the beach this time of year around 5 PM. By the time 6 PM rolls around, the light is getting just right for photographs. Once in a while the tides, light, and fish combine to make an especially nice evening.

A golden sun on a beach is hard to beat. There are times when the sun drops that the winds will pick up speed and then when the sun is gone, the winds die down.

Even the shore birds are calmer as the sun starts setting. Some of them even start bedding down. From these photos that I took on the beach yesterday evening you can get a nice feeling of the peacefulness of an evening beach.

Especially in the fall, after most people have gone back to their shore side homes, it is not much of a challenge to find a beach where you can watch the lights go out with only the shore birds as company.

That is exactly what happened to us yesterday. We were greeted by blue skies and the moon over the water. You can see the moon if you look closely at the photograph

By the time we left the beach everyone but the birds were gone. I know that I came off the beach feeling a real sense of peace.

My wife and I hardly spoke for the first few miles on our way back home. I suspect that neither of us wanted to destroy the moment that had been created by being the last to leave the beach that evening.

We thought about going back today, but unfortunately the winds are visiting us, so we will have to wait a day or two for the right conditions.

With the beach as part of our backyard, we know that it will be there tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Carpe Beach Diem

Even if you did not take Latin, you have probably heard the poet Horace's phrase, "Carpe Diem." which roughly translated means seize the day. Well here on the Crystal Coast when it gets to September with October showing up in a few days, we know that it is time to seize whatever beach days are remaining. This Thursday was one of those days. It was a very busy day for me since I had a real estate closing and a couple of other meetings. In spite of that I had it in my mind that I was going to make it to the beach. The weather and the skies were just too perfect to ignore. So after we had finished sticking a sold sign in the yard of my very happy client, we came home, changed clothes, loaded my fishing rod, and my wife's beach chair and headed off to the beach.
There was really no debate since we both needed some relaxing time on the beach. We knew from being there on Sunday that the water was still warm. There was no mistaking the warm beach weather that descended on this week. It cried out for a trip to the beach.

My wife has one requirement for a beach that I try to get her to ignore. She wants to be able to wash her feet with water when she gets off the beach. I view that as a nicety, but as something that can easily be given up for other beach characteristics.

I value fishing structure or sandbars. I also like beaches with few people so I do not have to worry about my fishing bothering their activities. Since I was also on a mission to catch a bluefish with my spinning rod, my wife let win and go to my favorite beach which is the one at Third Street.

It only took us fifteen to twenty minutes to get to Third Street beach which is roughly eight miles down the beach after you get across the Emerald Isle bridge. There was only one car in the parking lot, and it was a young couple from Rhode Island. They were far too busy with each other to even notice our presence on the beach.

My wife set her chair up on the edge of a small drop off in the beach. I took up my position in the surf, and we both unwound. She watched the birds and the bluefish jumping just out of my casting range. I concentrated on getting my shiny lure as close to the jumping bluefish as physically possible.

Of course I took breaks to take pictures and to enjoy the beauty of the scenery around us. It was a perfect evening on the beach. The warm salt water washing up on my legs made me feel like I was out on the beach on a summer night.

It was about as magical as a time on the beach could be. About fifteen minutes before sunset I switched to my favorite lure, and in a few more casts landed a nice bluefish which I quickly returned to the ocean. I did not need to catch anything for the evening to be a memorable one, but I certainly will remember that bluefish in the context of that spectacular evening.

As we drove home into the setting sun, we both agreed that we need to seize each and every fall beach day. We were planning another one today. I managed to get my yard mowed and trimmed by about 1 PM. By the time I had gotten cleaned up, and we had finished lunch it was after 2 PM. I needed a little rest to recover from mowing in the heat of the day, but I ended up taking a couple of calls relating to another closing coming up early next week.

We were just getting ready to leave a little after 3 PM when the skies opened up. We ended up with a torrential downpour which delivered over an inch and one half of rain in just a few minutes. Light rain continued until after dark and stole our beach evening.

Rest assured we are ready to grab the next great beach evening. It is hard to beat getting a great photograph, catching a fish, and having fun with your wife on the beach.

We will be ready when the beach is ready.