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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Enjoying Yourself on the Water

There are people who love being on the water, and others who would rather be on land. My wife is one of those land people. I have given up trying to convert her though I still manage to convince her to take a boat ride once in a while. She likes to joke that our skiff has two names, one for each side of the boat. One is "Living the Dream," and the other is "Glenda's Nightmare." She would prefer to not get her feet wet at the beach so her efforts to stay off the boat should come as no surprise. Perhaps having an astrological sign of Pisces has something to do with my love of the water. I cannot ever remember being afraid of the water, but over the years I have learned to be very respectful of the water. If you are a first time boater in Bogue Sound, you might find some of my tips and reminders useful.
First off, Bogue Sound, the areas around Bogue Inlet, and the White Oak River are very safe places to boat. The waters are rarely crowded except during a few holidays. Even then places like the White Oak River remain uncrowded.

One of the biggest challenges that lake boaters find when coming to the area is that there are places here which are not deep enough for every boat. We also have bodies of water like the White Oak River which have a number of oyster rocks. Having oyster rocks in the river means that the safest way of moving around the river at high speed is to stay in the marked channel. That is true when you are in the lower reaches of the river. The upper part of the river is safe if you avoid the spots with PVC pipes marking shallow areas. If you are heading south on the White Oak towards Swansboro, keep the green buoys to your right and the red ones to your left. If you are headed up river towards Stella, keep the red buoys on your right and the green on your left.

It is important to remember that there is plenty of water outside of marked channels in Bogue Sound and the White Oak where it is safe to explore at lower speeds. While it helps to have a depth finder, you can quickly tell the depth of the water by its color. Shallow water has a tan cast or lighter color to it compared to the deep blue or darker colors of the deeper waters. If you are moving slowly and paying attention, it is unlikely you will become very stuck. Flat bottomed skiffs get around better in really shallow water. If you do decide to visit one the tidal islands in Bogue Inlet, you can often guarantee an easier exit by nosing your boat ashore to drop off passengers and your anchor, and then backing back into deeper water once the anchor is secured. You can then pull yourself in, hop off the boat, and let the boat drift back into the deeper water. By doing that you are at less risk when the tide starts going out. Sometimes we will take a folding step stool in the boat if someone who might have trouble getting back on the boat is with us.

Speaking of tides, make sure you know when high and low tides are set to occur. You should also check the weather before you leave and make sure someone knows where you are headed and when you plan to be back. In the summertime, we try to be on our way back towards our dock by three PM since many days we see thunderstorms after that time.

Your boating will be a lot more fun if you keep well maintained equipment on board. While most boaters know you need a life preserver for each person, you should also be aware that they need to be in good shape with readable labels and no tears. You should have a floating throw cushion that is not stowed or tied to the boat. We also have a paddle and a long pole for pushing the boat around in shallow water. Of course an anchor with chain and fifty to one hundred feet of line is also a must. We have all our safety gear, including flares and lights, stowed in a waterproof bag. A Sea Tow membership card is also there.

We always carry an emergency radio, first aid kit, spare prop, some tools, bucket, towel, boat hook, and at least one cell phone.

If you get stopped for a safety check by the Coast Guard, it helps to have a picture id, your boat's registration, and your fishing license. I keep all those items in a water proof pouch.

While we have a GPS on board, I also carry charts of the area. Since the weather is often hot, we manage to always have a cooler filled with ice cold beverages. I stick with non-alcoholic beverages when I am boating. I have seen too many situations where unimpaired reflexes were required while boating.

I cannot think of a more enjoyable activity than going boating in Bogue Sound or Inlet. A little planning, plenty of sunscreen, and remembering to put the plug in the boat will ensure a happy trip.

If you have never had any boating training, I can highly recommend the Coast Guard Auxiliary courses. They are held regularly in Emerald Isle and Morehead City.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Six Shrimp Road To Enlightenment

We live in very busy times. Husband and wives sometimes have to make appointments in order to see each other. Here on the Crystal Coast things are different, but we still have our challenges. Recently I have been too busy to fish as much as I would like. I knew it was time to focus on the important things and get some balance back in my life. Too much work and not enough fishing can lead to serious problems. After a particularly hard day of working outside and taking care of real estate clients, I came upon the idea of "The Six Shrimp Road to Enlightenment."
First I headed to Clyde Phillips Seafood between the bridges on Highway 24 in Swansboro. I bought one and one half pounds of shrimp and had it packed in ice for the trip home. When I got home to Blueweater Cove, I carefully divided the shrimp into plastic sandwich bags containing six or eight shrimp. I then placed the bags in our freezer.

Next I explained to my normally very supportive wife that I needed more beach time and more surf fishing time. I asked for patience while I embarked on "The Six Shrimp Road to Enlightenment." All my wife said was "Can I take a beach chair so I be comfortable while watching you reach enlightenment."

The next night after I had mowed the yard and finished the trimming, we headed off to the beach with my surf rod, surf tackle bucket, rod sand spike, and one of the sandwich bags of shrimp.

The shrimp was almost thawed by the time we reached Third Street beach. As soon as we were in the parking lot I bolted to the beach and finished rigging my rod. Then I carefully took one shrimp out, cut it in half and baited the hooks. Finally I waded into the surf up past my knees and cast my bait into the foamy waters.

I did remember to check to see what my wife was doing. She had headed down the beach for a walk. Her chair was directly behind me on the beach. I fished for several minutes without getting a bite and then finally I caught a spot. I was down to my last shrimp when I caught the spot. I quickly returned it to the surf. My trip had been a success.

When we went back to repeat the experience, luck was not with me.  After much effort, I assumed that the fish were not biting. It was something that I just had to accept since I was out of shrimp. We headed on back home. Though it was after 9 PM, I walked across the cul de sac to the neighborhood pool.

The water was warm, the breeze only a touch cooler. As I floated on my back in the pool and watched the palm trees blowing in the breeze, I felt all the tension drain away from me. Tonight was a night that my fate was not to catch a fish.

I know with this regular focus on a simple evening of surf fishing, I will reach fishing enlightenment.

On top of that I might catch the red drum that I have had in my sights for a while.

While this program has not been tested on ladies, I am sure it will work well on any ladies who enjoy fishing. My wife, however, is more likely to reach enlightenment in TJ Maxx or in her beach chair.

The important thing is to fish regularly and with focus. I have a tee shirt which has the following saying which it attributes to Thoreau. "Everyone should believe in something...I believe I will go fishing."

While I have not verified that Thoreau said this, it certainly shows a great deal of wisdom. With six shrimp in a sandwich bag, I am on the road to fishing enlightenment.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Falling In Love With the Crystal Coast

We live in such a wonderful area, I am never surprised when someone falls for the area. All it takes is finding a special spot or two that really sticks with you. I guess that everyone has their favorite spot here on the Crystal Coast. A lot of folks love Shackleford Banks. I know that I have one or two places near the top of my list. I actually cannot remember when I mentally picked my top places, but this week I got to watch my youngest daughter, Katie, who is in her twenties fall in love with a couple of spots here on the Crystal Coast. While she and her significant other, Alex, have visited here a few times, they always seemed rushed. This visit was different. First it was spontaneous. Second it was a vacation that they really needed. Last August Katie gave birth to our first granddaughter. Having a baby changed their lives just as it does everyone's. The last almost eleven months have been an intense introduction to being parents. So when they got to the beach this time and found an adoring grandmother willing to take care of their baby, they really appreciated their free time. They also fell in love with the area.
This visit almost seemed like the first time that they had really seen the Crystal Coast. Katie worked to get as much into a day as possible. It was like every minute was precious. Number one on her list was to find a beach where she could collect some shells. Number two was to get her tan back in shape.

The first choice for finding a beach was to head to Bogue Inlet in our skiff. Unfortunately I could not make the first trip, but they had little trouble finding a place to anchor and hunt for shells. Katie was really pleased with the shells she found while Alex fished from the boat.

The next day I joined the party. Katie was determined to go back to the same spot. We headed out Bogue Inlet and anchored in sight of the Point in something less that two feet of water with the stern of the boat in casting distance of some deeper water. I was pretty happy minding the boat since the tide was going out. Alex fished for a few minutes, and then volunteered to carry Katie's shell collection basket.

As they headed off in the distance I reminded them that we were in a spot that would certainly not have enough water to float the skiff in an hour. As they disappeared, I knew in my heart that they would not be back before I had to move the boat.

I had just enough luck fishing to keep my interest up. I caught a couple of small sharks and a couple of flounders. One of my flounders measured 14.5 inches which as any fishermen will know is just one half inch short of legal. The other flounder was closer to 13 inches.

I kept checking on Katie and Alex, but they finally were so far away from the boat that I could not see them. At the same time, the tide was going out a little faster than I calculated. As the water got to 1.5 feet I decided to move the skiff. I pulled the anchor and made it into some deeper water. I thought about anchoring, but I knew they would be back soon so I just circled around in the Inlet looking for good spots to mark for fishing. It was not long before I saw them coming. I nosed the skiff up into shallow water and picked up my passengers.

My daughter seemed like she was in heaven. She had found lots of shells in their walk of about one mile. She was so excited to have been in such a special place. We headed back to home while making plans for our next trip.

The next day they spent most of their time at the Bluewater Cove pool while I did some boat maintenance with the help of a friend who replaced my seized up bilge pump. Having to miss a day on the water seemed to make Friday, the last day of their visit, even more special.

I could not believe it when she wanted to take her dogs for a run Friday morning at the long Cedar Point Croatan Trail. Even early that morning you could cut the humidity with a knife. She came back refreshed, but the dogs were exhausted.

After a quick dip in the pool, Katie and Alex were again ready to head out to the Inlet. I suggested that we go out the Inlet and cut back towards Swansboro and anchor just off the popular stretch of beach there. Katie decided she wanted her own beach so we went a little farther towards Swansboro and found some sand emerging from the water as the tide went out.

We managed to anchor the skiff at a cut with a nice current so I could fish while Katie and Alex wandered the newly emerged beach. I think it was love at first sight. It is pretty hard to resist a place as magical as Bogue Inlet. When you can be there on a sunny warm day, it is easy to think that you have found the most magical place on earth.

Fishing was about the same as the day before. I caught a couple of small flounders and a small shark. There was more entertainment since there was a dog having fun on the almost adjoining beach. We had paid attention to the weather and wanted to be back at our dock well before the predicted four PM line of storms. We headed home at about 3:30 for the 15 minute ride back to Bluewater Cove.

As we helped my daughter pack for the trip home Friday evening, she was already planning her next trip to visit her special places. I doubt that I can guess which one is at the top of her list, but they are all pretty special in my book. She was also talking about a visit to the Aquarium and Beaufort. She has a serious case of Crystal Coast love.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another Type of Walk on the Beach

While we always enjoy getting some sand between our toes as we walk down the area beaches, once in a while our walk "over on the beach" is actually down main street in Emerald Isle. That was the case this evening. We waited until 7:30 PM before we even left home. In just a few minutes we had parked at the empty parking lot of Mike's Restaurant and were marveling at the crowds at the Island's three ice cream shops. Dairy Queen, Sweet Spot, and Ben & Jerry's were all packed. As we walked east along Emerald Drive, we noticed Jordan's Seafood also had a very good crowd. Walking the streets of Emerald Isle brought back memories of beach trips many years ago. It was always in the evening when things really sprang to life. While much has changed since the days of Pavilions and teenagers dancing late into the night, a beach town like Emerald Isle is still magical in the evening.
It is hard to say what sets the mood, the warm breezes, laughter in the air, or the colorful neon lights. There are a lot of things that combine to make a beach evening magical. Weather is a big part of it. There is nothing more fun than cruising the main drag in a convertible on a warm summer evening with sea breezes to keep you cool.

We had only been walking five minutes when we saw our first convertible. It was a red one, with a young couple up front, and three younger teenage girls riding in the back seat. My wife immediately wondered how long it had taken the three teenagers to get ready for their ride.My guess was that the back seat of the convertible represented at least a full day's work on hair and makeup. Based on the looks on their faces, they were definitely having fun.

On our walk I think we saw about every mode of land transportation that you could see but roller blades. We saw street legal golf carts, bikes, skate boards, strollers, and plenty of people just walking.

As we made our way east, we saw that Kathyrn's Martini Bar and Bistro had a big crowd. We also noticed that Circle Pizza would soon be in town. One of the new shops, in a strip of shops on the south side of Emerald Drive just before the town complex, will be their home.

We took some time to look at the plants down by the Emerald Isle government buildings. In doing that we managed to get out of the breeze, and the still warm eighty degrees was beginning to feel very warm.

We turned and headed west back towards town and the ocean breezes. We got to meet a dog on the way back. When we got to our car, we noticed the ice cream shops were still busy thirty five minutes after we had started.

Fortunately we had replenished our Jelly Belly supply the other day so we did not have to challenge the crowds at Sweet Spot. We needed to stop by Food Lion for some cream cheese to go with our bagels that we had gotten early in the day on our trip to Wilmington. Food Lion was hoping, but we sneaked in and managed to grab one of the automatic checkout machines for a quick getaway.

We then headed to the BP gas station just before the bridge. As I was fueling our vehicle, I could hear the go carts zooming around the track across the road. The sound was mixed with laughter. We had driven past a miniature golf course on our way to the gas station. It was also a beehive of activity.

It was great to see all of the activity in Emerald Isle. Out in the country over by the White Oak where we live, there are no neon lights to add color to the nights.

We are supposed to see lots of heat this weekend. I am glad we got our stroll on the pavement done before the heat. Very warm temperatures are supposed to blanket the area this weekend. That will require some beach walks with a bathing suit.

It will good be be wading along the shore this weekend. Lots of places in the US are wondering when they are going to see summer weather. Finding summer, warm water and warm temperatures has not been a problem along the Crystal Coast this summer.

Even the areas vegetables are at their summer peak. About the only things not in the stands would be Bogue Sound watermelons and new crop sweet potatoes. If you are over on the beach this weekend, do not forget that Winberry's has a fine vegetable stand in Cedar Point. If you are headed west, it is just after Redferns nursery. The local corn and tomatoes are pretty hard to beat. Also this weekend marks the annual Blueberry Festival in Burgaw.

Based on the heat forecasts, I think I will pass on heading inland to any festival. The interior of North Carolina is set to cook. Burgaw is supposed to be ninety-nine degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday. I am guessing some places will hit one hundred. It will be a good time to be near the water.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Answer To the Heat Is Nearby

Summer's early warmth has covered the Crystal Coast as the June days tick away. We are used to the heat. This is the South, not New England or Atlantic Canada. We actually like the warm temperatures because they bring up the temperatures of our coastal waters to the point where fish are active and swimmers do not turn blue. This time of year, the heat is very easy to handle since the night time temperatures are still cooling into the seventies. It is during those few weeks mostly in late summer when the temperatures sometimes stay in the eighties at night that we sometimes dream of a Canadian cold front. But right now you will find very few residents complaining about the warm temperatures near the beaches. One of the reasons is that all you have to do is go a few miles inland, and you will feel the full force of the summer heat.
The Crystal Coast's temperatures are moderated by the temperature of the waters around us. In the spring, we stay cooler than the inland areas of North Carolina until our waters warm. Most of the summer, water temperature and breezes protect us from the worst of the heat.

On a number of trips I have left here with the temperature at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In the short trip to Jacksonville, we will often see the temperature rise into the nineties, and sometimes by the time we hit Raleigh, it is over one hundred degrees.

The solution to the heat on the coast is the water. It you are on an island in Bogue Inlet surrounded by water, I can guarantee you will be in a more pleasant climate than any mall parking lot in the eastern two thirds of North Carolina.

If you are jumping waves in the 80 degree water along Emerald Isle's beaches, I suspect you are far more comfortable than you would be walking the streets of any of North Carolina's small towns.

Yesterday when I kayaked out on the White Oak River, it was pretty warm at my house just before noon. Even with the exercise of paddling out into the river, I had cooled down by the time I was in the middle of the river. I stayed in the river enjoying the breeze and trying to outwit some fish for a long time. Only when I paddled back and hit a section of our inlet protected from the wind did I finally feel the heat once again.

The heat does change routines a little here. Getting up early is well worth it. The air is fresh and cooler than it will be at any other time in the day. Southern gardeners have done their work in early morning hours since the South was settled. The other really nice time of day starts about thirty minutes before sunset and goes to thirty minutes after sunset. It is actually one of my favorite times to be on the beach. You can almost alway count on nice breezes at that time in the evening.

Heat at the beach is to be welcomed and enjoyed. Take off as many clothes as possible, or go straight to your bathing suit when you get here. Get wet as many times as you can in a given day, This is not Northern Virginia or Raleigh where you have to wear a coat and tie. A bathing suit is our uniform of choice here on the coast.

As you get really warm try to concentrate all the heat at the top of your back between your shoulder blades. Then bravely walk into the ocean water until it is waist deep and turn your back to the waves. If one does not hit you squarely in the back and completely drain the heat from your body, bend your knees a little so the waves will not have to work so hard.

I guarantee a warm body which gets a wave in the middle of the back will really appreciate the difference between hot and cool.

Swimming pools south of Maine are not acceptable substitutes for draining the heat from your body.

Remember, getting hot makes you appreciate getting cool.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Place To Be With the Elements

Early this morning we had some rain, and as the day moved through its hours, the winds picked up until early this afternoon we were getting a very stiff breeze. If I had planned a fishing trip I would have been a little disappointed. But fishing had never been in the cards for today so the winds were something to enjoy during a very warm week. In fact we also had winds late Thursday afternoon. The clouds and wind absolutely rescued me. My yard needed mowing, but mowing when the temperature is near ninety is something that I try to avoid. Thursday's winds and clouds made mowing the yard a fairly pleasant experience. Today was different. I needed to smell the ocean and get away from civilization. So I headed over to the Point at Emerald Isle.
It is one of my favorite places especially when I need to feel the power of the ocean and lose myself in the vastness of the landscape. Today's visit did not disappoint. As you can see from these slides, the landscape could easily overwhelm you.

Most of the horizon at the point just melts into the sea or the sky. Many times it is hard to tell which. Even if a person or two is walking on the Point, they end up being lost in the landscape.

While the breezes were mild today on my walk, often in the winter the Point can be a bitterly cold place with non stop winds off the cold waters.

Today the winds were strong, but the air was warm. I only got to take a few shots before the fine wind driven mist had coated one lens. That actually did not bother me since I had come more to recharge my spirit than to try to capture the moment with cameras.

I did not stay long, but I did lose myself in the sounds of the waves and winds. For some reason I could not hear the buoy today, but that was fine. Waves and wind will wash civilization from you pretty quickly.

The scene on the Point was a stark contrast to my visit yesterday to Grand Villas where I snapped this shot of the beach from their eight floor.

The broad flat expanse of sand and water at the Point is about as far away from a high rise condominium building as you will get.

I am just thankful that I am close enough to such a special space that I can count it as being in my back yard. If you have never been, it is well worth the trip. Just head out Coast Guard Road.

Park in the parking lot at the corner of Station Drive and Coast Guard Road. Continue walking on Coast Guard Road until it runs into Inlet Drive. Turn right there and head for the water. The very pleasant walk is about four tenths of a mile. You can go out of one of the beach accesses on Inlet Drive and walk to the Point by the beach.

In the unique landscape of the Point, it is easy to imagine what it might have been like on the Crystal Coast long ago. It is nice to have a spot where that still works.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Soaking Up the Warmth

For those folks weary of cool temperatures, the warmth is here at the beach. The pictures in my post are almost always taken the same day that I write the post. Today's picture is no exception. It was snapped this afternoon at the Eastern Regional Access in Emerald Isle. I thought it was a perfect picture for a nice warm beach day. A broader view of the beach would have shown people relaxing in all the ways that are normal for a beach. Young children were playing in the surf, sunbathers were stretched out on beach towels, surf fishermen were wading in the water, and a number of people were relaxing with a favorite book in their beach chairs. It was a summer beach day with the sun and air warm enough to perhaps tempt even the timid to get into the water.
I love weather like this. After a cool, windy spring, it is time to soak up some of the heat of summer. While that is true in the case of those of us who live near the beach, it is especially true for some of our visitors.

I have some clients who are visiting the Crystal Coast for the first time. They have come from the mountains of Montana where snow has been seen in the last couple of weeks. In fact I checked the early morning temperature at their hometown this morning, it was in the mid-forties. I am glad that they could wake up this morning on Bogue Sound to temperatures in the mid-seventies.

As I stroll to the mail box to pick up our newspaper each morning, I am always excited to experience that time of the day when the air is still cool, but at the same time, you can almost feel the temperature rising as the sun gets higher in the sky. Wednesday will likely be one of those days when the temperature gets over 80 degrees before ten or eleven o'clock in the morning. Those are not good days to mow your during your lunch break.

Those are the days to be on, near, or in the water. It is either that or find some shade and cool breezes off the water. Otherwise you end up in an air conditioned space all day. This morning after some early weeding of our flower beds, I relaxed on our front porch. The sun was still at the back of the house, and the breeze was coming off the water. It was very pleasant, and normal for this time of year. I stayed there as long as I could get way with it, just enjoying the warmth and the breeze.

While even this early in the year, the inland temperatures often soar into the nineties with little relief other than air conditioners. Here on the coast, the cooler-than-land water saves the day in June and even part of July. By late July, the water has warmed and finding cool sea breezes is a lot more difficult.

Today was a day that we could rejoice in the heat, beautiful waters, great breezes, and blue skies. It was one of those picture perfect days that keeps people coming back to the beach to make memories. It was a great day for visitors to defrost all those body parts that suffered so much this past winter.

On our first trip with our children to the North Carolina coast in the eighties when we were living in Canada, my wife got out of the car at a fast food restaurant just on the edge of the coastal plain one July day hot enough to melt asphalt. She announced that for the first time in years, she was completely warm.

There is something to be said for Carolina heat, it makes memories of the winter melt away quickly.