Saturday, August 16, 2014

August Auguries

Gray day calm.
August is summer all worn out. Greens are dull and the creek water syrupy brown. Days are tired and nights still. Seagulls perch atop pilings with beaks agape in the heat, listless and irritable if disturbed.

August is summer all worn out, but too early to see the audacious yellows, golds and reds of autumn. August is much like the colorless gray of deep winter despite full-leafed forests. Dry faded cornstalks rattle in the breeze under burning suns. Farm roads and crop rows cloud with dust.

August can be a confused month. Last week was a prelude to fall with pleasantly warm days and coolish nights. Yet next week brings August's stubborn grip on the worst of summer with highs in the 90s and lows in the not-so-low mid-70s -- humidity and afternoon thunderstorms assured.

August is a month we must endure. We cannot reach the seasonal shift of September without crossing from July into August. The promise of relief from summer's heat urges a sort of patience; we have no choice. Hurricane season continues to build with the warming tropical latitudes, and storms spin off the Sahara past the Cape Verde islands. We can  only watch and wait; we have no choice.

The yellow "X" marks a storm coming off Africa. In a little
more than a week, it can be a hurricane off the coast of the US.
(Graphic from National Hurricane Center this date.)

There are no pterodactyls (pelicans) soaring on the wind and few seagulls. Even the ospreys are quiet. No dolphins frolic in the creek, no doubt keeping to the deeper cooler waters of the sound and ocean. We see few fish except for several schools of bait fish --menhaden and trout -- constantly ruffling the cove. The deer hide in deep shade in the surrounding woods.

In the crab trap, baited with the remnants of grilled chicken breast, I hauled up four crabs and a pinfish. The humble pinfish sparkles with a fine, bold tracing of yellow accenting the panels of iridescent blue on a field of silver. Yes, it is a small and bony fish, but the firm white meat is very flavorful. I released them all.

The shrimpers seem to be doing well. On Wednesday morning, after only two full days of trawling, several boats returned to port. They only stop trawling when full.

Time to cool in the pool. Cheers.

Storm across river.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Summer Rain and Sandy Beaches

It has rained much of the last three days. Rain showers, downpours, thunderstorms, light drizzle, blowing sideways squalls of rain. Sufficient variety to avoid boredom. But it has been a lot of rain. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Bertha has moved into the Caribbean and is predicted to become a hurricane by mid-week. The current forecast track leads her halfway between North Carolina and Bermuda, safely at sea for those of us along the coast.

Standing on the porch of the clubhouse with an open view of the river, we watched a parade of more than a dozen trawlers pouring out of the harbor and Adams Creek Sunday afternoon. They cannot legally fish between sunset Friday and 1700 Sunday, so they were queuing up for 1700. Some would get a jump on the others by dropping small try nets alongside the hull in a search for where the shrimp had moved since the end of last week. The try nets are small enough to be difficult to see from a distance or a plane, so the early birds are unlikely to be caught.

Unlike the forty-fifty feet wide catch nets, the try nets are only about eight feet across. The trawler will pull the try net for thirty minutes, then check it. If there are fewer than ten shrimp, they keep searching. If there are about thirty, they have found a good place to trawl. If the net comes up with fifty or more, they have found a mother lode of bugs and mark the area on GPS, move a short distance to distract other trawlers, but remain close enough to have the catch nets pulling across the marked area as soon as it is 1700.

We like fresh shrimp, and the river provides. However, trawlers in the river (as elsewhere) catch more than shrimp as the large nets are dragged for miles. They catch whatever is in the river and cannot outrun the net. The by-catch is dumped after the shrimp are sorted. Many trawlers dump their “trash” fish near where the Pamlico River merges with Pamlico Sound. It has become a place where tarpon are found, no doubt feasting on the easy and abundant variety of seafood left by the trawlers. There is a better and more sustainable way. Sadly, as with so many fisheries, the sustainable practices will be discussed most seriously after it is too late for the fish stocks to recover.

Upstream, last week I made my first visit to Pine Cliff Recreation Area near the Cherry Branch ferry terminal.  There is a fine, narrow sandy beach stretching along the southern shore of the Neuse between copper water and the pine forest. A few junipers accent the margin between water and woods. A small black and tannic fresh water creek sneaks from the woods and ripples its way across the sand to join the briny river.

The day was clear and bright, the water blue as the sky. White sails of Lightnings from Camp Seagull floated downwind. A fresh northerly spackled the river with whitecaps as ferries paced back and forth. Broad forks in the sand marked the track of a great blue heron beside the fresh water creek. On the beach, flotsam of mussels, tiny crab shells and clumps of gray marl creased with fossils. Wavelets crumbled to the sand while the underbrush and pines whispered in the steady breeze. Overhead, the shadow of a gull and the roar of a jet from nearby Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station.

I will return there. Fair winds. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Celestial Weekend

Katkandu headsail.

Last weekend, Capt. Mark hosted a sunset sail with the dock gang aboard Katkandu. With a light breeze and a headsail, we sauntered across the river and back, quiet and relaxed under wide blue skies.

John, Mark and BillS on Katkandu.

Soon after our return to the marina, a Thunder Moon emerged from behind clouds over South River, a bold rose colored orb hovering above the Neuse. As the sun melted into the western horizon and darkness settled over the river, the moon turned a brilliant orange with craters, impact rays, warts and all visible (through binoculars or telephoto lens).

Moonrise over the Neuse...

....and later in full darkness, a burned orange. Photo by Ben Casey.
See Ben's Gallery and more at

The following day around lunch time, our eyes peered northward, low on the horizon, in hope of seeing an unmanned Cygnus rocket roaring into space from NASA's Wallops Island, Virginia facility with a payload of supplies for the ISS. The rocket was projected to pass our view at about two minutes after launch. The river was crowded with boats also watching. But the low haze, light as it was, blocked our collective view. We watched and watched the time slip past. At ten minutes post-launch, the rocket had reached space and clearly escaped any possibility of anyone on earth seeing it. Oh well. Better to have tried etc....

As an historical note, Grace reminded all of us via that NASA used to bring a tracking trailer to Dolphin Point, just east of WPM, to track rockets launched from Wallops Island.

I tend to focus on the natural world immediately surrounding us here on the water. I am constantly scanning the horizon, searching the surface or peering into the thickly translucent brown waters of the creek, watchful for any glimpse of marine life, whether otter, pelican, dolphin, mullet or jellyfish. However, with little light pollution and a vast empty sky reaching far up, down and over the river, we enjoy seeing planets, stars, the dusty cloud of the Milky Way as well as passing satellites and the frequent, speedy orbit of the ISS (that I have yet to spot during daylight).

There is much about which to marvel. Sometimes we just need to look up.