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Monday, August 31, 2009

The Crystal Coast, a Protected Harbor

We live in amazing times. Life has changed a lot since I was a youngster wandering the fields and forests of Lewisville, NC, in the fifties and sixties. Those days were probably the golden days of youth. We wandered far and wide with few restrictions. 
Today it is rare that families can feel safe about their children, but I like to think that the Crystal Coast is about as safe a place for families as you can find these days. I was reminded of that when a young middle school teenager knocked on our door in Bluewater Cove this afternoon. She was selling chocolate bars to raise funds to replace cheerleading outfits at Broad Creek Middle School. Apparently a broken water pipe rendered their uniforms useless. 
I can remember going around our neighborhood as a child selling everything from first aid kits to peanuts. My own children did the same in our neighborhood in Roanoke, VA, as they were growing up. A few years ago I noticed that when the youngster came to the door, there was always a parent in the background. 
It was a sign of the times. Today's teenage visitor was by herself. It was reassuring to know that at least our gated community is deemed safe. I actually think that there are some characteristics of the Crystal Coast that are even more important than gates in keeping our children safe.
First and foremost this is a family oriented area. Many people care enough about their families to move to our area which is on a small enough human scale that people actually know each other. If you live here and frequent the same spots for a few months, people will remember you and even start to smile at you when you show up. It does not take long before you are part of the community of year around residents.

We are not a faceless society here on the Crystal Coast. Almost everyone who works in our businesses, schools, and hospitals lives here in the community. That is not the case in many larger areas. In metro areas it is not unusual for people to have to live many miles away from their jobs.

Another important characteristic is that we are community that likes to get together to play. We have so many festivals where we come together to renew friendships that it is easy to keep track of each others' families. Even if you move to another subdivision, you will likely run into someone at least a few times each year. Our festivals our legendary. The Swansboro Mullet Festival is coming up in October, then there will be Halloween at the Aquarium, and it will not be long before it is time for the old fashioned Christmas Parade in Emerald Isle or one of the holiday parades in the other towns.

Getting together also works on the subdivision level. Our homeowners association sponsors parties at Halloween, Christmas, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and this year we are having an end of summer fish fry. We even have a golf cart parade for the Fourth of July.

Then there are our second families, the churches of the area. Not only do they hold events for their congregations, but they also do events for the general community. We are days away from the Episcopal Lobster festivals. I believe the first one is usually at Saint Peters by the Sea in Swansboro, followed by the one at St. Francis by the Sea in Salter Path. Our church, Cape Carteret Presbyterian, just held an end of the season dinner and music program especially for visitors. We had great food, music, and fellowship.

Even the business people of the area get together and talk regularly. We recently had an event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and a number of businesses at Cannonsgate. When you get together this often, it is inevitable that you end up recognizing people and talking to them.

There are other reasons the Crystal Coast is a relatively safe harbor in today's challenging world. We are a small town environment surrounded by lots of natural beauty. We have mostly people who have chosen to live here because they love the area. Often in making that decision they have given up making lots of money and chosen to be where they and their families can be happy.

People here on the Crystal Coast enjoy the out of doors, and nightlife is not such a big deal here. Sometimes turning in early at night because you are worn out from fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking, biking or walking the beaches is the best way to stay out of trouble.

One way or the other, it is nice to be anchored in one of those protected harbors.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A World of Foamy Water

The red flags were flying yesterday on the beach. Hurricane Bill passed us by but managed to mess up the swimming for a few days. While it is a little inconvenient to stay out of the water on a beach vacation, it is a whole lot better than an evacuation. 
In the end what we got out of Bill was not worth any complaints. We watched with interest as Bill headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we lived for a couple of years. I got a kick out of the local newspapers covering the arrival of Bill. Maritimers in Canada and the US are noted for their ability to handle almost any situation with complete calm. 
One local Nova Scotian was interviewed and asked how he felt about the approaching storm. He said that he was much better prepared than he was for the last storm. He had purchased a manual can opener so he no longer had to worry about the power going out. I think Halifax escaped Bill with lots of rain and some wind. Here on the Crystal Coast, we ended up with a lot of foamy waters.
When we first walked on the beach last evening we could tell immediately that there had been some changes and some high water. The sand was wet almost to the steps of Third Street Beach. Also the small sand bench that is often on the beach had been replaced by a gently sloping beach.

However, the most obvious difference was the water. It had been whipped around so much that in places six inches of foam floated on the waves. I thought it felt neat until a larger than normal wave managed to soak most of my shorts.

Somehow it felt like our favorite beach had been transformed for a time into a beach with waves of foam. The waves seemed to be breaking a little farther from shore than normal which seemed to mean that the water got crashed into the sand multiple times before reaching the shore. Perhaps that action is what created all the foam.

It was also very still on the beach with almost no wind. The firm sand made for really great walking. However, it appears that all of our shells have temporarily been transported to another time zone. There were almost no shells on the beach. If past experience is any guide, they will be back.

Our little piece of favorite beach which is just about as far east as you can get before driving out of the town of Emerald Isle was also one of the few places last evening with any blue sky. Back down the beach towards the town of Emerald Isle the sky was especially dark. We could also see dark clouds across Bogue Sound and storm clouds to the east of us. Only the ocean water to the South seem to lay claim to some blue sky.

It was just another one of those cases where we managed to find some blue sky for our evening out. The calm water made it easy to lose oneself on the beach. We will get to see enough rough surf over the year. It was a treat to walk in the foamy waters of the Atlantic even for one August evening. The nice light and foamy waters caused my camera to go wild, and I ended up posting four pages of photos that I selected out of the three hundred that I took.

As we headed back to Emerald Isle, the rain caught us, and our drive back to Bluewater Cove required the windshield wipers the whole drive back to Bluewaterr Cove.

Still even a drive in the rain was a small price to pay for a magical evening and a miss by a hurricane.

Friday, August 21, 2009

You Cannot See September from Here

With a little more than a week of August left, it is natural to think that summer is sliding away, and September is just around the corner. Depending on where you hale from, September can be a real harbinger of winter. 
The first year we lived in Nova Scotia, we got over a foot of snow in the middle of September. The power was out for a week. Some recent visitors to the island from Montana have told me that they are already seeing temperatures in the high thirties at night. 
Last week when I was in the Virginia mountains, I even saw a few leaves changing. In most places September does mean much cooler evenings and a return to normal day time temperatures. Here on the Crystal Coast our average low temperature at night changes very little during September. 
Even our daytime highs only start to moderate after the middle of September. Weather is challenging to predict as anyone who has seen this year unfold, but those are the long term trends here on the coast.
September on the Crystal Coast, when it comes to weather, is pretty much a continuation of August. As we walk the beaches there is little thought of cooler weather until we can see October.

Our weather is one of the neat things about living here on the Crystal Coast. Cateret County is over one half water, and those large bodies of water tend to keep our temperatures from changing very rapidly., In the spring we often will go through much of June without serious hot weather because the waters around us have not warmed.

In the fall the warm ocean waters keep us from feeling any chill until well into the fall. I personally like our warmth. After years in Canada, it feels pretty good to wear shorts until December.

As the summer winds down, August is one of the last months where we enjoy a wide selection of local produce, but that is pretty much the case in much of North Carolina. My good friend, Sally, who lives in Massachusetts, has seen a tomato-less summer. It is just the opposite for us. My wife will hardly eat a homegrown tomato because she has seen so many on her plate this year. I might even have to secretly plant my fall tomato crop. When we lived in Canada, September was probably one of the biggest garden months.

One might think that we would see a big September drop in visitors. Fortunately the drop we see is not something for concern. We have this whole set of visitors who have just been patiently waiting for September before they come to the beach. We get a lot of parents whose children are still too young for school. Then we see some older travelers who just like to avoid peak seasons. Sometimes they are on the way to Florida. Finally fall brings us our fishermen who wait all year for this magical time.

It is really very relaxing to have an extra month to transition into fall. It gives us more time to think about the important things in life such as which is the best shelling beach or which restaurant serves the best grouper sandwich.

It is a little easier to get into local restaurants during September, and the grocery stores are no longer out of bounds on the weekend, but from where I sit, September just looks a lot like August with younger kids to me .

I am pretty sure my feet will not be able to tell the difference in water temperature along the shore as September arrives. I am counting on blue skies and fluffy clouds for months to come. There might not be any as interesting as the one I saw this morning, but we will have some wonderful summer days in September before we see October on the horizon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sound, Ocean, Or River?

We get lots of people who say that they want to live on or near the water. Since Carteret County is over one half water and no place is very far from the water, you can generally meet that requirement by just becoming a Carteret County resident. 
Still it is a big decision as to what water meets your needs. One of the first divisions that pops up is between beach and boat people. While it is easy to love both, usually in the end, one or the other has to give. Usually the only way to have a boat at your home if your home is on the beach is to park it in the driveway. 
Our big waters, the ocean, sound, and rivers each have their advantages. It often depends on your personality as to where you will be the happiest. Of course your wallet often has something to say about the location that best fits your budget.
Just about everyone knows that our beachfront property is the most expensive in the area, but that is sometimes tempered by the fact that it also provides the strongest stream of revenue if you are planning on renting your home part of the time.

The oceanfront property also is the highest maintenance property that we have since they are usually the most exposed to weather and especially the winds.

Normally the beach homes you find are a somewhat smaller house if you consider the same amount of dollars will buy more home on the mainland.

When we were weighing whether to live on the beach or not, we found homes that were sixty to seventy percent larger on the mainland which cost the same as beach homes back several rows from the water.

Still there is nothing like being able to walk out your door and be on the beach. It is a rare privilege, and one that many have figured out how to afford.

The next most expensive water property would be sound front property which is divided in sound front on the island and sound front on the mainland. Being on the sound is very desirable especially if you are just a few minutes to Bogue Inlet.

While it might appear that being on the sound poses less danger, it is still possible to get substantial flooding along the sound. The water in the sound is often the same color as the ocean and usually has a nice sandy bottom. Many people have modified their docks along to the sound so that the flooring can be dumped into the water before a storm. Without flooring, docks can much more easily survive the flooding that might come with a storm.

The least expensive water to own is on a river. Just as the North River is a popular spot over by Beaufort, the White Oak River has a number of communities not far from Emerald Isle.

My wife and I actually live on the White Oak River in Bluewater Cove. We chose the community because it was designed as a boating community with great access to the Intracoastal Waterway. While we have to drive ten minutes to get to a beach, I can have my boat in the water in less than five minutes. Ten minutes later, I am exiting the White Oak River and turning into the Intracoastal Waterway.

With being on the river, we got a little more protection from storms and still found a community close to the beach. While the White Oak is a blackwater river with a bottom that is either silt or oyster shells. It is very clear and clean since there is no city dumping pollution into it. By living on the White Oak, we also have the choice of boating on the river when the sound and Intracoastal are crowded during the summer. Few tourists will venture up the White Oak since it requires following a marked channel.

Finding the right spot on the Crystal Coast is all about trade offs. Once you have seen a few properties, you will know whether the beach, sound, or river make the most sense for you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Place Where Memories Grow

Three years ago when we bought our home on the Crystal Coast, one of the key reasons was to have a family retreat where we could build some wonderful new memories. 
Our family has enjoyed many wonderful beach trips over the years. It just seemed natural that we should try to find a beach place that could create memories year round. As we looked up and down the east coast, we found that a lot of places were one dimensional. 
There might be beautiful scenery, but the communities nearby were not places that seemed to have much to get excited about except the changing of the seasons. 
Then we rediscovered Carteret County where I had fished as a teenager many years ago. It had the beautiful scenery, but it also seemed to be filled with people trying hard to squeeze as much fun as possible out of every day. 
There seemed to be a festival every month. We ended up in a wonderful community built by Bluewaer Builders on the shores of the White Oak River. Coming to Bluewater Cove has turned out to be a great decision.
We wanted to be on the water so we could have a boat and lift. We were able to do that in Bluewater Cove. Getting a lift took us a while but with Bluewater's great ramp and on site boat storage, we were fine for the first few months without our lift.

We did not want just a boating community, and we found out quickly that Bluewater was far more that just a great place to have as home base for your boat. It was also a great community with a pool and clubhouse at the center of it.

While our kids used to struggle to find something to do in our home town of Roanoke, Virginia, here on the coast the biggest problem is getting everything in during a short stay. From fishing to boating to just relaxing on the beach, it seemed that people were having a great time.

These last few days we had two of our daughters here along with one significant other and our granddaughter who came down to celebrate her first birthday at the beach.

From the ease of doing last minute shopping for the birthday girl to running out for fresh corn from Winberry's farm stand this afternoon, the Crystal Coast seems to have the modern conveniences that you need to keep young and old adults happy.

My youngest daughter started every morning with a run down Lowrey Lane which is the new section of Bluewater Cove called the Oaks. Two or three times she told me what a pleasure it was doing her run down the traffic free road which is shaded by tall pines and Live Oaks as it parallels Raymond's Gut which connects us to the White Oak River.

After the run, she would head for the swimming pool just across the cul de sac from our home.

In addition to the birthday party for our granddaughter, Nicole. We also got to take her to the beach twice.

When I thought about buying a place to create some great memories, little did I dream that we would get to enjoy our granddaughter's first birthday and take her on her first beach walk.

There is no doubt in my mind that our lives are richer for having moved to the Crystal Coast. As I see in my mind's eye our granddaughter's amazement as the cool salt water washes up on her legs.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It Is All About the Water

When I was a real estate agent, it was never surprising to hear from people that they wanted to live on the water.  Even though I have given up real estate, I still get inquiries from people wanting to live on the water.

There is something universal that draws us to the water. I have been attracted to water for as long as I can remember. 
I know the symptoms well. In my case, I need to see the water soon after I get up each morning. For me that means a walk out on the dock behind my house or walking across the street to the Bluewater Cove boardwalk which traces the edge of Raymond's Gut as it flows into the White Oak River. 
That first look at the water each morning certainly does not cure me for the day, it normally just starts me thinking about how I can get on or in the water sometime during the day. Occasionally I have to make to do with no more than a trip across the bridge to Emerald Isle. 
Other times I am lucky and can take the boat or kayak out in the river or over to the Inlet. Sometimes I manage to go surf fishing, and then there are those late night swims which I enjoy so much. The water is one of the reasons we came to Carteret County. Figuring out how to get close to it is often the challenge aspiring residents face first.
When someone says that they want to be on or near the water, the natural response from someone in Carteret County is to say, "You have to be more specific than that, there is a lot of different kinds of water in this county."

That turns out to be the honest truth. We have kayak water, skiff water, big boat water, and of course we have modifiers like ocean, sound, and river. Then just for fun we can add marsh, Intracoastal, and canal.

Prices for waterfront property have come down considerably in the last few years, but it is still challenging to find inexpensive waterfront property that has access to good water and is suitable for homes.

One of the ways that many of us have solved the problem of being on or near the water is by finding a home in a water access community. Homes in water access communities often have deeded access to the water and enjoy a common area on the water. Some communities like Bluewater Cove have pools, docks, and boat ramps.

I have learned that having a number of people use an access point to a river is actually a good thing. Having more boats travel out an channel like Raymond's Gut at Bluewater Cove means that it has to be dredged less often. So it is often with a sense of duty that I drop my skiff into the water and ride out into the White Oak River just to help keep our channel clean.

There are a number of water access communities across Carteret County. Over on Emerald Isle we actually have beach access communities. There the communities often share beach access and other amenities like a pool. There are also communities on the sound which offer access to water.

There were a number of reasons why we chose Bluewater Cove, but the most important one was being near the water. As I said it is still all about the water.