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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just How Much Beach Do You Need?

A few days ago I got a kick out of an article about people in Britain flocking to the beach. What really made me smile was the first picture in the story. It showed a beach scene by Brighton Pier, south of London. At least I think it was a beach since you cannot see the beach for the people. I had to think how lucky we are on the Crystal Coast. Even in July there is plenty of beach room here in Carteret County. It is just a matter of going for a walk until you find a spot that suits your fancy. Talking about crowded beaches here is a little like talking about traffic jams. It all depends on what you are used to seeing.
Our traffic jams rarely last more than a few minutes. Even on the Fourth July last year, it only took me five extra minutes to get from one end of the town of Emerald Isle to the other. That means we would be laughed off the Washington Beltway if we said that we were in a traffic jam.

When I am talking about our beaches, I certainly feel no need to do anything but tell the truth. We just do not have the dense development or crowds that would lead to a scene like the one on Brighton beach.

What we do have are miles of beaches with low density housing almost always within walking distance of the beach. There are plenty of beach access points, and these are just the ones in the town of Emerald Isle. On top of that we have some very convenient beach parking areas which make access easy even for those of us who live on the mainland. It is nice to be close to the beaches and to be able to enjoy those same beaches without feeding a parking meter or buying a beach tag.

There are four more options if you cannot find enough solitude on the beaches along Route 58 through Emerald Isle, Salter Path, Indian Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, and Atlantic Beach. First grab a ferry from Beaufort or Harkers Island and visit Cape Lookout. There are 56 miles of undeveloped beach there. You can read about one of my favorite day trips in my post, The Best Twenty Dollars You'll Ever Spend.

If Cape Lookout is a little far for your taste, try Shackleford Banks. You can catch a ferry from Beaufort or if you have a boat, it is an easy boat ride. We have even taken our skiff all the way from our home on the White Oak River to Shackleford Banks. It is a great trip if you pick the right day. This is a slide show we made of a trip to Shackleford in 2007.

The third choice for a more remote beach is to catch the ferry over to Hammocks Beach from Swansboro. That is about as close an uncrowded beach as you find with one exception.

Those who know this end of the sound well will know where this is headed. If you want a nice private beach, there are plenty of them around Bogue Inlet as you can see from the picture of this beautiful beach in Bogue Inlet. I can tell you it is my daughter's favorite beach, and all it takes is a few minutes in a skiff to get there.

After a couple of cloudy and drizzly days, we are slated to have an absolutely stunning Memorial Day holiday. There is a chance of afternoon thunderstorms on Saturday, but Sunday and Monday look like great days to find a beach that actually fits your personality and gives you that feeling of pure delight that I had on my first dip in the salt water this year. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Wonderful Saturday at the Beach

You know that summer is on the way when tomatoes start ripening, and the beach is a natural place to be on a Saturday. Late last week, the weekend forecast did not sound very promising, but after a great day on the river Friday, it just seemed natural that I spend part of Saturday on the beach. I was pleased when I awoke Saturday morning to blue skies and the idea that those thunderstorms were going to miss us. After doing my morning shores, I stuck a cooler in the back of the car and headed to beach. A couple of stops later, and I was was pulling into Third Street Beach.
I am usually willing to take the gamble that Third Street Beach will be uncrowded. My wife would rather go to beach where there is a faucet to wash your feet off when you exit the beach. I can rough it and wait until I get home to rinse off the sand.

Just in case the fish were biting, my fishing gear was in the back of the car along with a cold beverage in my ice filled cooler. I was surprised that more than just a few folks were fishing. After watching for several minutes, I decided a stroll along the beach would be more productive than feeding shrimp to fish.

It never ceases to amaze me how much beaches can change in such a short time. Not long ago Third Street had a shelf that you could sit upon while you enjoyed the waves. That is now gone, and the beach itself is a little steeper and less linear. There are more points and tiny coves. I think the beach is more interesting than it was. The changes have made it even more fun to walk along the beach and watch the waves.

Saturday as you can see from the picture, the water and sky color were absolutely spectacular. It was a real treat to watch the sky and water change colors as clouds passed over. Far to the east up the beach, I could see some threatening clouds, but behind me to the north over Bogue Sound there was nothing but puffy white clouds and brilliant blue sky. To the south, just off shore, I could see a handful of boats trying to catch some fish.

It was so pleasant out walking in the damp sand as the waves rolled in that I walked farther down the beach than I usually do. My wife accuses me of doing nothing my dawdling on the beach since I am always taking pictures. This time I took a lot of shore bird pictures and still managed to get in a good beach walk.

My only mistake was a miscalculation on the sand temperature. By the time I got back to the bottom of the stairs leading off the beach, the sand had warmed enough to the point that I was hopping around trying to keep my feet from burning.

Another surprise was how few people I saw once I got away from the beach access point. Very few of the beach houses seemed to have anyone out on the beach taking advantage of the great weather.

I suspect a stroll down the beach this Memorial Day weekend will yield a lot more people out enjoying the sun, sand, and emerald colored waters. The first three days of this week look a little unsettled with a chance of wind and thunderstorms. However by Friday, the weather clears, and next week looks to be a fantastic week to open the beach season.

The temperatures are expected to be in the mid-seventies to low eighties with sunshine except a light morning rain on Saturday June 5. Next week will be a great week to renew your friendship with the beach.

There are all sorts of good things to enjoy. Fresh local blueberries are now available along with local shrimp right off of the boat. Our area hothouse tomatoes are especially tasty this year, and I had some very tasty softshell crabs from my grill this past weekend.

It is a perfect time to click on the Bluewater Rentals page and scroll down to see what specials are available.

I am sure you will not be disappointed with what is waiting for you on the beach.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Joy of Coastal Rivers

When I grew up in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, the woodland stretching for miles behind our home ended up being my childhood playground. While I really enjoyed playing in the forests, water was always the ultimate attraction. We damned small streams, rode our bikes to farm ponds, and begged to be taken to larger lakes where we could fish from the banks. Our only nearby river was the Yadkin which slides between Surry, Yadkin, and Forsyth Counties. In the early part of the nineteen hundreds my great grandfather even ran a ferry across the Yadkin. The beauty, size, and majesty of our North Carolina coastal rivers makes them hard to compare to interior rivers like the Yadkin. My backyard is now the White Oak River. I can only imagine how wonderful if might have to been to grow up with a huge river behind your home. I know how much fun I have as an adult with a river playground nearly two miles wide.
I often joke that water access is the key to happiness along the Crystal Coast. Great water access is one of the main reasons that my wife and I ended up in Carteret County. My personal goal was to be able to get to the water without leaving my property.

Being on the water is a dream of many fishermen. When we finally found a home on the water in Bluewater Cove, I knew that I would enjoy the waters of the area, but I had no idea how special living on the White Oak would be. A home on the water was just the first step in realizing a life long dream. Now that I have been here almost four years, I like to think having the White Oak River as my neighbor has been a big part of our happiness since moving to the Crystal Coast.

We were not here long before I ended up buying a kayak. That first fall I enjoyed many kayak trips into the White Oak River.

That same fall, I took the Coast Guard Auxiliary Safe Boating Course, and began stalking boating dealerships. By June we had purchased a boat. Having a skiff has been a wonderful learning experience, and it has given me a new appreciation of our coastal rivers.

In the years since we got our kayak and skiff, I have been on the river at daybreak and at dusk. I have caught fish, and more importantly I have taken others fishing, and they have caught fish. Many of those fish have come from the White Oak. Some of my most enjoyable times have been just holding a rod and enjoying the peace quiet of our coastal river.

And there have been a lot of evenings like Friday and Thursday of this week when I have either paddled out to enjoy the sunset or dropped the skiff in the water and idled out to the river to watch the sun disappear.

Of course there have been a lot of fishing days, and most of them like Friiday have been successful. Today I caught a 30" shark on the other side of the Intracoastal at Swansboro. Still the White Oak did not let us down.

We ran back up the river with the tide, and I caught a Red Drum 18 inches long in sight of Silver Creek Plantation. Then after dinner I dropped the skiff in the water and came back out on the river to watch the sun drop out of sight. I even managed a few casts in an attempt to chase down a school of fish that I had also caught sight of the night before.

Living along the river, you learn its moods. I think the White Oak is most beautiful early in the morning. There is sometimes a light fog then, but usually it burns off by ten o'clock. One of my favorite boat trips is this early morning one down the White Oak. I named it Mackerel Morning.

If you think the area's beaches are the only attraction, you are in for a surprise. If you take the time to get to know the White Oak or one of the other rivers, you might just make a friend for life. The White Oak has the added excitement of being tidal. With the tides, the current, the oyster beds, and the winds, there is a lot to learn about the river, but there are plenty of rewards in taking the time to learn the White Oak.

Living on the White Oak has been a dream come true for me. Ten minutes to the beach by car, and twenty minutes by boat to the Intracoastal makes for easy living especially when you have more stars for neighbors than people. While the path down the White Oak is the first part of a journey to some neat spots like Bogue Inlet, it is also my home waters now, and I am having lots of fun learning all the river's secrets.

Here are some recent pictures on the river and near the river's mouth at Swansboro.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some Crystal Coast Favorities

I often get requests for information about the Crystal Coast. Just tonight I answered an email from a couple from Great Britain who will be vacationing in the area this June. They were looking for my choices on places to eat some fresh fish. I gave them personal favorite fish restaurant, but as a year round resident with my feet firmly planted in the sand, I have no hesitation saying that the best fish you can get comes from my grill or frying pan. I love to catch my own fish and cook them within hours of being caught. When I cannot do that I will find something fresh off the boat at one of the local seafood markets. Of course eating fresh is not the only neat thing that you can do here on your visit to the Crystal Coast.
Coming from a larger city, we worried about finding enough to occupy us here in Carteret County. We were not very far into our first six months, and it was unanimous that the Crystal Coast has plenty of things to keep us busy. Over the last few years I have developed some favorite things which I never tire of doing.

The first is going for a beach walk. The biggest challenge is deciding which beach. Do we go to the windswept Point or to my favorite fishing beach, Third Street? Sometimes we just go to the beach access off Islander Drive. It is only ten minutes from our house. Often I walk with a camera, and my wife looks for unique tiny shells. As the fish start moving along the beach, you might see me with a fishing rod over my shoulder watching for some bluefish attacking schools of bait fish near the shore.

In the spring we also enjoy going for walks on the Tideland Trails at the Croatan National Forest access in Cedar Point. We often get to meet some friendly dogs, and after hiking into the protected area, we enjoy sitting on a bench and watching one of the isolated inlets.

When the winds and weather are right, I really enjoy both kayaking and boating. It is really hard to appreciate the Crystal Coast, Bogue Inlet, Bogue Sound, and the Intracoastal Waterway without getting in a boat. We are lucky in that all I have to do is slide my kayak into the water in my backyard and I can be in the middle of the White Oak River in ten to fifteen minutes depending on the wind. Where we live in Bluewater Cove, the White Oak is somewhere between one and two miles wide. It is filled with interesting oyster beds and lots of marine life.

Going for kayak ride in the Swansboro area is a really good way to sample the area waters. But if you have access to a skiff like I do, then you have truly found your way to paradise. From the early morning mists on the river and sound to the gorgeous sunsets, it is hard to beat this area's waters for fun. If you happen to love to fish, then you will probably want to move here after a trip or two out on the water. There is nothing that I enjoy more than pressing the down button on the key fob which controls the lift for my boat. Ten minutes from sliding off the lift, we will be in the Intracoastal at Swansboro.

When we have visitors, we almost always take them to Beaufort. Walking the docks and seeing the fantastic boats tied up there is always a treat. We rarely leave Beaufort without visiting the the Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Museums are not high on the list of things to do for my son who turned thirty-one this year, but he loves the Maritime Museum. I have never taken anyone there who did not enjoy their visit. After the Museum we will often take a drive down Front Street and enjoy the full effect of all the beautifully restored historic homes.

Sometimes if we manage to get to Beaufort early enough, we will head on up to Harker's Island to experience a little of Down East as the area east of Beaufort is known. One of the best things that I have ever done is to catch a ferry from Harker's Island over to Cape Lookout and then catch a 4WD taxi to the point at Cape Lookout. The last time I did it the whole trip only cost twenty dollars for a magical afternoon enjoying the beach the way it used to be.

When we head back to the Cape Carteret area we often go home by the beach. Sometimes Fort Macon is just too hard to resist. While there, I especially like to watch the Hatteras style boats coming in from the fishing grounds when one of the area's tournaments is in progress. On our way home from Atlantic Beach, we usually make a stop at the Iron Steamer access point, and if the spirit moves us, we will walk out the boardwalk at the Roosevelt Natural Area in Salter Path to enjoy another view of the beach.

My choice after that is to cross the bridge from Emerald Isle just as the sun is setting into Bogue Sound. Sometimes I might skip the sunset for a sunset walk on Bogue Inlet Pier.

The biggest challenge on the Crystal Coast is getting everything into twenty four hours. That is why so many former visitors decide to make the area their permanent residence. It is the only way to really enjoy all the wonderful places and things to do along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks.

The Crystal Coast is even more special because if for some strange reason you become tired of the beach, you can be in the mountains of North Carolina or Virginia in a few hours. How many places can you swim in warm saltwater in the morning, and after a few hours driving inland watch the sun setting over the mountains? This is a magical spot, and we are blessed to be living here along the coast.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Crystal Coast, More Than a Vacation

Most of us, who have moved to the Crystal Coast in the last twenty years, started coming here to enjoy the beaches and have a relaxing vacation. While those who were born and raised here might argue that the area has always been a great spot to live, it is only in the last couple of decades that the area has become popular as a place for folks from away to have a year around home. My wife and are almost four years into our adventure as Crystal Coast residents. We recently had friends visit us, and then go visit some other friends in Myrtle Beach. The husband called this morning to thank us for our hospitality. He went on to say what a magical place our home was. As I told him when they were visiting, I have literally seen hundreds of homes since we bought our place. I have yet to find one that I would rather have.
In a world of crowds, noise, pollution, and rushing, we live on a peaceful cul de sac in Bluewater Cove. Our home has two front porches, a back porch with a wonderful view of the river, a dock with boat lift, and the neighborhood swimming pool is on the other side of the cul de sac. Our home is a peaceful spot on the water. The whole neighborhood is a nice place to live.

Some of that peace comes from living in a nice subdivision like Bluewater Cove, a lot of what makes our home nice has to do with Carteret County. Croatan National Forest stretches through much of Carteret and surrounding counties. At the other end of the county, we have the Cape Lookout National Seashore. In between we have lots of accessible beach, Morehead City and Beaufort.

Within those spots we are fortunate to have the Maritime Museum, Fort Macon, the Aquarium, and the wonderful trails at the Croatan access point in Cedar Point. All of this is spread out along Bogue Sound.

Then there are all the family run restaurants which offer some great local seafood. Even going to the grocery store is not a chore. Except for the six week or so when tourists are around in the summer, we often choose to go to the Food Lion in Emerald Isle. Some about riding across the bridge and checking who is fishing makes shopping a little easier for me. The grocery like the other ones in the area is a little more laid back than one you might find in Raleigh, Charlotte, or Northern Virginia. Most of the year, our shopping experience is a very peaceful one.

Even when our population swells in the summertime, we just make some small adjustments. We do our grocery shopping from Monday through Thursday, and typically avoid island restaurants during the main dining hours.

Sometimes we might not get back to an Island restaurant until fall when the fishermen replace the tourists. Almost without fail, we are welcomed back by waitresses that remember us.

The water and temperatures will soon be warm enough for me to sometimes sneak out on the river early in the morning or late in the evening. The river is so peaceful then that it is easy to imagine that civilization is far away. And if I want civilization to disappear even more, I can either head up the White Oak River beyond Stella where it easily feels like another time and place, perhaps even when there were few people living in the area. Or I can head down the river, and out Bogue Inlet into the ocean where I can only tiny strips of land.

Even when I drive to work, I go through a golf course, lots of corn and soybean fields, and forest.

All the while I know the beaches are calling me, and I know that when I am knee deep in salt water most of my troubles disappear especially if I have a fishing rod in my hands.

The Crystal Coast is a great place to visit and have a wonderful vacation. However, it is also a fantastic place to call home. For some more thoughts on living here visit this site.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Knee Deep In Salt Water

Saturday, May 1, was a magnificent spring beach day. When I got up in the morning, I knew the air felt different. It was my lucky day. My boat ended up being my office. I took a client up the White Oak river from Bluewater Cove to River Oaks Plantation. He had been wanting to take the trip since February, and I kept telling him to wait for some decent weather. Today was more than decent weather, it was wonderful weather for being on the beach. It was a little windy for a serious boat ride, but it was fine for the short trip that we took up the river. After my boat trip, some lunch, and few more yard chores, we headed off to the beach.
The temperature when we left the house in Bluewater Cove was about eight-five degrees Fahrenheit. When I glanced at it over on the shore, it was seventy eight degrees. The big surprise was that the island was filled with a strong showing of visitors this first weekend in May.

Traffic was not bad through Emerald Isle at 3:30 PM, but Jordan's Seafood already had a good crowd. We had planned to go to the the Eastern Regional Access but when we got there, it was packed. We decided to go on up the beach to the Third Street Beach Access to see if we could fine a less crowded spot.

Luck was with us, there were only two cars in the small parking lot. We walked up the ramp to the beach acces, and my wife said that it would be nice to see a different beach than Third Street. When we got up to the small observation deck, it was pretty obvious that the beach was far different than any other of the many times that we have visited. The water was so low that you could see the shallow trough of water just off the shore.

Being the brave soul that I am, I waded through the waters which got just above my knees. When I climbed up on the small sandbar, I knew that it was the right spot to take some pictures I was so excited about getting a few new photos that I hardly felt the sixty-five degree water, After the first thirty seconds it was refreshing and not even cold.

On a hot summer day, word of a great shallow swimming area for children like we saw at Third Street on Saturday would quickly travel the length of the Island. I saw dozens of young children frolicking in something very similar at the Point off Inlet drive last summer, Today I took several shots including one of a A Ruddy Turnstone.

As the water started coming up on my little island, I decided to wander back to the shore. I stopped on the shore to take some more photos, and a bikini clad lady walking along the beach stopped to compliment me on my tee-shirt which suggests that life is better if you quit your job and get a tan.

The beach walker turned out to be from Denver, North Carolina. It was her first trip to Emerald Isle. She had already fallen in love with our beaches. She seemed pleased that we were not another Myrtle Beach and that our night life consists of walking the beaches.

After our wonderful visit to the beach, we drove back to the Food Lion at Emerald Plantation. There we picked up some strip steaks that were on sale, Our next trip was to visit a friend who had offered us a second batch of fresh lettuce from his garden.

With all our errands done, we headed home where my wife fixed a salad while I grilled our steaks. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful day. I suspect that I will never forget wading across that trough of cool ocean waters to the small island of sand. It was almost too beautiful. I posted a few of the pictures just to keep the memories of the day fresh.

I also did a YouTube movie of a surfer with a kite. We really enjoyed watching the surfer. He did a great job staying upright. After thirty minutes of being pulled up and down the beach, he came ashore. I suspect his Saturday night's sleep was very sound.