a freelance journal



The term waterman is used quite a bit.  In the tightly controlled clique that is the surf media it means someone they really like.  In the group of men and women who may be the subject of such lore it means seniority and guts.  In the group of men and woman who are watermen it means nothing.  Just some made-up term so that us folks can have something to write and we can have a model for product companies.  Still, we know it when we see it.  Men and women salted, crows lines at the corners of eyes from squinting against the sun and glare, a range of ability on or in the water, which along the east coast is a necessity as much as a convenience of the west coast.

Chris Tolhurst. Debating.

Let’s face it, there just ain’t all that much surf over here from day-to-day.  Still, there is plenty of ocean and plenty of fish.  Ask the Hobgoods or Malloys or Currens or…  In taking a note from the pages of those in the stories or those we know locally, A few guys I know have been in and on the water while we wait out the flat spells.

Ryan Tolhurst

April and May have been quiet for surf.  Though there has been some decent groundswell and clean winds, there have been far more days of nothing.  When it has been there my youngest brother has been on it, making up for lost time.

Ryan Tolhurst hooks a small one.

When it hasn’t been there he has still been on it-fishing. My other brother has been out in his own boat, drifting the rock walls and steering with his feet or skimming over sandbars and fishing low tide drum holes.  And we’ve gone together, chasing Spanish Mackerel, slaying Bluefish, and recently hoisting a few flatfish.

Ryan and Chris. Off the coast between swells

We put all this water time together and all three brothers and our father entered the Fisherman’s Post Spring Inshore Challenge.  Normally a flounder and trout tournament, this year’s dead period for trout chased out the division and ushered in the Drum division.  While we were in it for the flatties, some of our same spots hold good sized drum.  We ponied up the dough and entered, made things interesting on the boat with a friendly wager among us, and made ready.

Ryan Tolhurst. Sonny Days crew

Fred Tolhurst. Sonny Days crew and balladeer.

Chris Tolhurst. Sonny Days crew

Tournament fishing is tense.  As any captain will tell you, there is always the pressure to put your boat on the fish.  And, as any captain will tell you, there is the very real possibility of getting nothing, which is why the call it fishing, not “catching”.  Add in the limited time frame, 80 some odd boats all hunting the same thing you are, plus the money and you can be certain that words spoken on the boat are few.  This year the dawn greeted the fleet with an east wind, late rising tide, uncooperative bait and a slow bite.  Three years ago The Sonny Days placed third with a 4 lb fish.  The same weight won this year as well with 1st and third being separated by 1/100th of a pound.  At the captains party Dennis Durham, a local waterman and world-class flounder fisherman, barely made the board with a 2.77lb fish.

Weigh-in. Wrightsville Beach Marina

Chris Tolhurst makes for the boat after weigh-in.

This year The Sonny Days came in with a 2.34lb fish which fell for a peanut pogie 50 minutes before the deadline to weigh-in.  While the fish didn’t make the board, we did make the weigh-in and the party.  In fact, Sunday afternoon beer on the beach was courtesy of the boat wager for biggest fish.  Ryan took home the winnings for first fish and Chris took home the prize for most fish (2).  Ryan and Chris are timely, experienced and certain on the boat.  I am lucky to go to sea with them.  My father is as patient a teacher and soul as I could know.  I will always go to sea with him (he also knows a wide array of singing material; 1950’s television ads, folk songs, ballads, rock classics).  Though I couldn’t put them on the fish as well as I would have liked, I can say with certainty that they are all fine watermen.  Next year fellas.





Fisherman's Post Spring Inshore Challenge

Family and crew of Sonny Days.








Now, how about some damn surf.  sheesh.

Pleasure Island,NC


“and we’ll go to sea once more”

Normally you would be reading here for new swell stories or pictures of recent sessions.  There are some coming, but not today.  Today is different.  Today we go to sea once more.

In her three-year-old fancy, one of my daughter’s favorite games is to play “pirates” with her daddy.  In full disclosure-not something you get often from pirates-yes, I have a costume, complete with eye patch.  Our map is an early-reader children’s book which moves the reader through a series of “quests” in the hunt for treasure.  This is our map and we are constantly sailing for the island with the three trees.  We have no parrot (the pirate Queen is not a bird lover and neither be I), but ever the loyal first mate, Sonnydog is willing and an able hand as we make ready and drop canvas for far and distant shores.  I keep a small gold coin ever in my pocket as it was given to me by the pirate princess and it seems to possess a certain charm as I wade through days less adventurous and more adult.  The sea never seems far and islands of three trees or adventures immeasurable are that much closer.

Today we can escape again.  Pirates of the Caribbean and Captain Jack Sparrow return to the screen.  Ann Hornaday gave the film, its fans and its purpose its just due .  The scourge (or hero, depending) of our Carolina shores makes his debut in the storyline.  Despite his 27 stab wounds and 5 bullets, Blackbeard will breathe alongside Captain Sparrow for two hours.  For two hours there is no worry of the introspective, the advancement of man, yourself, your job or the fear of debt and responsibility.  We hang it all on a favorable breeze and go pirating. We are entertained.  “I think we have all reached a new place spiritually, ecumenically and grammatically” and now the only thing that remains is to stow your disbelief, make ready and “we’ll go to sea once more”

“Not just the Spanish Main, love. The entire ocean. The entire wo’ld. Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs but what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.” -Cpt. Sparrow

Pirate princesses are fierce.

dias quatro, cinco, seis et. al.

It’s been a while but the structure of the recent posts has been around “the notes'” trip to Republicá Dominicá.  This is the last.  Stay tuned for a photo special from March and April here along the Right coast…

Cabareté, DR-Days four, five and six passed in an even pace of relaxation, surf, siestas, dinners, and rested sleep.  After arrival at the Val-Maré, we were given the royal treatment by the condominium caretaker Alex and would later play around the ground with his son Alejandro.  Along a hill line just up the beach road from the break, the condos are surrounded by green fields, banana trees, palms, and green grasses.  The only visitors besides us were the cows or horses sneaking treats from Alejandro.  At first, the fixture of such a tall gringo kept Alejandro’s curiosity at bay, though it was not long before we were up to childhood mischief.  I was told to behave and Alejandro threatened with no swimming time so the wild roosters and chickens were free from our torment.  Time passed unnoticeably.  Mornings were spent at the beach; afternoons were spent at the pool or in the breeze and shade of the room, reading and napping, occasionally rising for cold beer; evenings were spent on the beach side of Cabareté, lounging under strings of lights stretched along palm trees and tables lit by candle.  Todos tranquillo.  Such an even mien hazes the memory.  Details seem rather fuzzy, as if on the edge of sleep, which is easily explained by the frequent siesta.  Yet there is certainly more.  There is a humming from within.  A steady gentle vibration which rises from inside and lays gently over all till the person knows this is what it means to be on Caribbean time.  That would be days four, five and six.  What follows are snippets of travel journal and pictures of each day-as best as I can remember.

“28 Feb. ’11-Cabareté, DR. No idea on swell-east-ish at maybe 3-5′ @ 9 seconds, trade winds.  …the walk to the beach is easy, the hardest stretch being along the main road and near lawless, speeding, metal death…this place is schizophrenic.  Its temperament wavers from tranquillo to “man, I can’t wait to get the hell home.”… Surfed the famed Encuentro.  Funky and mediocre.  Had I been home I wouldn’t have gone, but the water would have been just above 50°F.  This was clear, blue and 75°, so I went.  Two waves worth mentioning.  Both rights near “Coco Pipe”.  Long walls and glassy till mid am…stories of the trade winds are true.  By 11 most everything is indistinguishable from blown chop.  We spent 50 pesos on a beach lounge chair attended by Mejuco and his dogs.  Dried off, walked home and relaxed in the shade by the pool.  Alejandro met us at the gate with a squirt gun for drowning ants.  Amy rolled her eyes and let me off the hook to play…rest of afternoon spent drinking cold beer, reading and napping-in no particular order.”

Alejandro. Behaved long enough to get his swim time.

lunch guests. Val-Maré Condos. Cabareté, DR


Average day in the tropics of the Domincan. Encuentro, DR.

Post trade wind soup. Dominican Republic

Surf Shacks. See Mejuco for chair or board rental. See his dog for fetch.

"the notes", laying into a turn without 10 lbs of rubber. Encuentro, DR

“29 Feb. ’11 Cabareté, DR. [corrected upon arrival home for an actual date existing on the calender-1 Mar. 11.  Que sera.].  Still no idea of swell.  Maybe 6′ @ 9 seconds?  …am surf was cleaner, little more solid in size, good sets. Head high and better.  No barrels at “Coco Pipe” so the name remains in doubt, but got a nice wave from a gypsy motorista cabbie.  Thanked him and that bought me a couple more.  Then he dropped in all over me.  Ah well, his house…walked east along the shore to Natura Cabana for lunch-a secluded little resort/spa built into the natural vegetation instead of gutting it.  Twice the beach disappears in lava rock and the trail wanders up through the tree line.  Discovered a wave all to ourselves which kept us from lunch.  No problema as lunch blends from breakfast and gently merges straight into dinner.  There is no time.  Walking home we write the names of our family in the sand and let the Atlantic carry it home, north to Carolina…walked the street of Cabareté for souvenirs for Abby before crossing through an alley for dinner on the strand.  In the street old white men pick up hefty Haitian prostitutes with 40 oz. beers.  On the strand are candle-lit tables, colored sun sails lit by hanging lamps and excellent meals-place is schizophrenic…interesting trip.  Beautiful and dirty, good surf and poor, kind and indifferent…I am ready to go home.  Not ready to put on a wetsuit.  Ready to see my daughter, my dog, my home…”¿

Old judge's tower between "Coco Pipe" and the left on the eastern edge of the beach.

Cabareté beach strand nightlife. One alley removed from hobbies and activities less endearing.

¿le gustaría un Guiness? Cabareté, DR.

undiscovered treasure in land of pirates.

Natura Cabana. Lunch...or somewhere near the middle of the day.

Walks in the Caribbean

Beach road traffic. Encuentro, DR.

Unknown. Working the right off the judge's tower. Encuentro, DR.

One expat stays too long at the dance. The shallow left on the eastern edge. Encuentro, DR

messages in sand waiting on tidal delivery home to Carolina norte.

“2 March ’11, Cabareté, DR-Miami, Fl International Airport.  2-4′ at some weaker period.  In the airport in Miami.  This am I was surfing small, clean and crystal clear waves…at first sight through the palapa the hope was a falling tide might make more face to ride.  Brought only the 6’4″ thruster.  Posted up under a palm and slept while tide fell.  Amy disappeared around head point in beach for a morning walk.  The local dogs followed her in some sort of innate sense of protection as they had adopted her the last two mornings, particularly the black lab that arrived by scooter every morning…woke up and the surf was still small.  Worked a deal to borrow a longboard.  Choosing the board was interesting.  Kid working the shack wasn’t too sure about loaning a board for free.  Quizzed on frequency of surf, how good, and, finally, tested with, ‘which board you want ride?’  Suddenly had flashbacks of adolescence…rounded 9’2” with no rocker, single fin, tons of weight.  Thing had been reattached in the middle and seemed to have added weight with the repair, but it was a solid stick.  Choice was approved and board granted.  Heavy was perfect for the glassy, Caribbean mush.  Rode well.  Even met the former owner in the water.  “Hey, that’s my old board.  Guevarra shaped it for me in Maui”  Good noserides and sweeping drives.  Ownere looked like he might give it another shot.  Not sure it can survive it…Amy returned in view with her dog pack.  Cold beer and rinsed and headed for the plane…sitting in the Miami airport we scarfed down big bacon cheeseburgers and a good old fashioned Budweiser.  Each little girl that passes brings me closer to home and my own little girl.  See you soon little one.  Thank you Sonny for watching the house and our girl.  Voy a mi casa y Carolina norte.”

Unknown. Encuentro, DR.

Unknown. Encuentro, DR.

Almost 12-o-clock according to this guy. Encuentro, DR.

Unknown. Encuentro, DR.

"the notes" walking home from lunch with a weather eye for more undiscovered treasure.

See Alex for a room and unwind by the pool. Encuentro, DR...just up the hill.

La Republicá Dominicá

dia tres

Bienvenido a Cabrete matey. Cuidado, alli es piratas.

After two days of celebrating my friend’s boda, relaxing with amigos old and new, and a hasty plan for a weekend in Vegas, it was time to move on.  For “the notes” this meant hiring out a taxi and riding some 6 hours to the north for 6 more days.  The wedding party said goodbye over coffee and caught taxi’s to the airport.  Their waves goodbye said, “yeah, we saw them climb into the cab and that was the last time we saw them.”  We asked the concierge about our taxi and got a increasingly familiar look.  The look is similar to being given the bill at a nice restaurant when you knew it would be big, but not really that big? Muddled shock.  Followed quickly by, “ay, that’s a long way.”  Heavy emphasis on the long and muddled shock.

Having done a fair amount of traveling at this point, neither Mrs. Notes nor I were all that concerned.  The biggest obstacle to overcome was the opportunity to relieve oneself.  Mrs. Notes has a bladder the size of a pea even when she is not 5 months pregnant. The continued look of shock to our requests for transport had me believing that an actual bano would be, shall we say, escasos.  There were other concerns as well, like taxi size relative to boards and the sorry state of my Spanish.  The taxi arrived-an Astro Van-with Gregory, Jose-Luiz, and Jared.  Ci, Jared.  No problemo, the boards and all the luggage fit in the van and the three drivers sat side by side in the front; leaving all kinds of room for us to sit together and stretch out.  In broken Spanish I explained my wife’s delicate position and even that was of no concern.  The only concern?  Jared.

Gregory and Jose-Luiz both had company yellow shirts on.  Jared sported fingerless black gloves, amber sunglasses, black pants, black leather jacket and a black fanny pack.  Full of?  Phones.  Broken ones, cracked ones, chipped and begging to die with each desperate incoming ring; flip phones, touch phones,and even an iPhone. In Bahia we stopped for a bathroom break, to check the parade of the national holiday and see the Basillica.  And unload Gregory.  Mrs. Notes insisted one of us stay with the van.  Probably wise but after a couple of brief chats we learned it was just Jared’s sense of style, and perhaps a dealing in stolen phones, that made us nervous.  Really he was quite a personable guy.  He had been hired by the Rio to sing almost 16 years ago and 4 years ago had opened his little tourista company.  All his calls were around setting up new drives and tours.  Still can’t say for certain about all the phones, but he was harmless enough.  He was overjoyed when a third of the way into our trip he lined up a transfer from Cabarete back down to a ferry for Santa Catalina island.  He would drive us six hours through the heart of Hispaniola and turn around and drive 8 back.  A hustler but one with a family to feed.

Eight hours was mind-numbing.  The roads are not so much a worry as the traffic.  We had our brief scare with car versus bovine, but the sight of a motorista (of which there are hundreds) driving along with a gas canister balanced on the back seat was a bit unnerving.  Worse than the guy we saw somewhere in the mountains painted silver, wearing blue jean shorts, a cowboy hat and boots and carrying a machete. Ci, blue jean shorts.  Short ones.  It’s this kind of thing that slows you down.  Through the plains in the middle Jose-Luiz opened up the van and we hummed along with little to no interruption in view.  One stop at the surreal Don Franschesca travel stop and its two seguridados accompanied by chihuahuas. Ci, chiuahuas.  Cleaner bathrooms than Bojangles and an array of hot plate lunches or candy bars and tourist gifts.

The mountains crept closer and to either side the flat stretch of land occasionally interrupted by a palm tree or small village.  In the small towns kids played baseball with little more than sticks, rocks, and some torn paper cups as bases.  Or they sat in small corrugated-metal houses peering out into the day from the cool darkness within.  While Sadie only experienced the trip via the occasional jolt from a brake check, she and her sister will travel again if for no other reason than to learn life and simplicity.

Several stops for directions and we made our way into Cabarete and the Hotel Kaoba.  The place is best described as a Dominican version of Tamarindo, CR.  It’s a backpacking stop for some, a world class kite boarding beach (hey, if you’re into that-from my notes it looks like as much work as SUP-ing, gracias pero no gracias), it’s a European family vacation, a Dominican vacation, a prostitute hot spot, a final resting place for ex-pats and just seedy enough in the daylight to give pause.  Jared helped drag our stuff into the lobby and vanished, a phone to each ear.

We stood in a lobby with two ex-pats complete with bad Hawaiin shirts, dog tags, and tank top undershirts draining the life from their eyes through the bottle in their hand.  A simple hello disappeared before ever being acknowledged.  A peak inside the moldy room and I knew we weren’t staying.  We asked the receptionist about a taxi and she got a number from the resident prostitute on late day shift.  All was well, this was the introduction to Jose, our personal chauffeur and ambassador to Cabarete for the rest of our stay.  He picked us up and drove us to several spots closer to Encuentro, the surf break, since we would be walking it and the town of Cabarete is actually a five to ten minute drive.  We settled on the Val-Mari condos on the crest of the hill above the break.  Up in the trade winds and surrounded by open pasture, no problems. Rum por favor.

Más a venir, especialmente la historia de las olas y photos.

Gracias por perder su tiempo.

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Siete Dias…dias uno y dos.


Bienvenidos Republica Dominicana

A trip planned as nine days became seven.  Not a one was left without some story or view of interest.  So, over the next several posts you can read some of the notes for the seven days spent on Hispaniola as well as check out some of the pictures.  Starting with the first…


While at UNCW I played ultimate frisbee for the university team, the Seamen.  This is how I met Boling.  From there things became increasingly feckless, away from the field anyway.  Like the time we visited Charlotte on the tab of my brother (then with the Carolina Panthers) and ended up knocking out another teammate with us on the trip with a well thrown spiral in the parking lot of my brother’s apartment complex somewhere just before dawn.  There was the challenge to eat the full American breakfast at 2002 College Ultimate Nationals.  Or perhaps the spitting shower-of-cheese incident in NY Pizza at 2am which first made it clear his fiance would be the perfect compliment to our friend.  She gave him the cheese to reload after his first volcanic blast.  For his bachelor weekend in Folly Beach, SC…well…I am relatively certain I was there.  On the field Boling’s play was dominant and my trust for my teammate was unfaltering.  He never gave reason to expect otherwise.

So, when he emailed to say he was having a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic there was no question.  We were going.  Sorting of funds revealed that the budget would be tight, but for Boling we would make it happen.  Like jumping in an unlocked car to drive the remaining four blocks back to the beach house from “downtown” Folly (there were no keys, fortunately, a fact which did not prevent Boling from the attempt or the immediate backing from a mutual friend-couldn’t let our man go to county alone.  “Uh Jill, we’ve lost Jon…”).  The Excellence at Punta Cana is an all-inclusive resort.  The attending members from families, the bachelor weekend and several graduating classes of Seamen players and their wives spent two and a half days making back the $300 nightly charge with Mammajuana (a spiced rum not a typo) and Presidenté beer.  The resort was beautiful and the ceremony classic and, given all other noted anecdotes, surprisingly classy.  Boling and his beautiful new bride Jill, as well as their families, were incredibly gracious and we counted ourselves lucky and honored to have been invited.  To “day one”.

Since there will be new addition to “the notes” soon, it only made sense to take our friend’s bodé and tag on a few extra days before the now mandatory Disney excursion (read, find surf and go there after).  The flights which were the most accommodating meant traveling through Miami.  Here at the notes, Miami is avoided like connecting through Philly-a guaranteed disaster-or the removal of your fingernails by tweezers.  There was the time “the notes” flew out of Miami when the travel bag was loosened by the cabbie and landed in the middle of I95 resulting in a near fatal stabbing with a broken fin.  Another exchange resulted in a detaining in TSA security for questioning the sanity of one line of passport checks despite three podiums and four more attendants simply watching the first-a specter with both feet in the grave.  Miraculously the little nod to the gods before boarding this time worked.  The travel bag, with all clothes-lucky since “beach chic” is different from naked- were actually waiting under the thatched roof of the arrival baggage claim.

So, the first and second day?  Well, I could bore you with tales of the limbo, Bo the friendly pooh bear and Iraq War gunner with seriously nice style, the complete upheaval of one wing of the resort resulting in non-wedding party guests dancing on their balconies surrounding the reception.  There was also the snorkeling trip aboard a catamaran with Captain Valentino and his apron slogan “I may be shy, but I have a giant penis”.  In the last case I would be lying since one look at the transfer pangas was enough for “the notes” to slip off and sleep it off under a palm-thatched beach hut.  However, if you’re a reader here then you’re not interested in such trifles.  You’re here for the surf and the travelogue. If you’ve travelled for surf then you know the on-time and ding-free arrival of your boards, especially when connecting through Miami, is a story.  But just to tempt…

Punta Cana is resort filled and beautiful.  Clean and well-kept for its target audience, the only danger  may be the airport transport.  The roads are actually better than say, Costa Rica, but the bravado of the drivers and their complete disregard for any sort of driving regulation often leaves the front seat passenger to close their eyes and wonder how bad this will hurt.  Before leaving there were numerous warnings, “don’t leave the resort”.  The transport to the resort would prove such advice unwarranted.  Other than nearly blasting into a cow broadside around a blind turn, there was not even the danger one might find on the DC Metro.  Third world yes, but no different from any others labeled such, excepting only the piratical hangover still present in the characters of some of the Dominican people and Hispaniola’s norms and morés.  Excellence at Punta Cana even has a rolling wave reminiscent of Poipu Beach in Kauai if you want to cool off or work off a (several) Presidenté. While the rest of the days feature the stories of travel and surf, this one covers the first and the second and is really just to honor my friend and his new life with his now better half. Without them there would be no others and “the notes” would have still been stuck at work and in a 4/3 wetsuit with booties and gloves.

One last piece of advice…while staying at Excellence at Punta Cana be certain you do not draw a full sip of hot coffee before turning on channel vente-uno.  What you will see will really scramble your head at 7:30am.  Cuidado amigo.

Thank you Jon and Jill.  Congratulations.

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To Start the Heater.

“Day had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray.”

There has been a lot of interest in the surf media lately regarding the vast stretches of coastline, fingers of rock, and unchecked reefs in the unexplored, great cold north.  It’s been kicked around here at “the notes” to try just such an expedition.  Such notions have been acted on before.

“In the gold rush of the Yukon 70,000 people left to reap their prize.  40,000 returned.  Without exception, the one thing they had not prepared for was the cold.”

The recent swell activity came on the heels of one of the southeast’s worst ice and snow in recent memory.  It would appear that the same has been true for the other side of the continent and of course the winter swells responsible for hundreds of shipwrecks and countless lost lives that are winter in the Outer Banks have been pumping.  Without exception, the one thing which the media glosses over is the cold.  Every guy that schleps their laptop or puts pen to paper on their return addresses the idea, but little more.  Not in the true sense of cold.  Not in its significances.

At 43 degrees the Atlantic delivered its lessons of heat and cold in the form of clean, head high surf.  The prevailing offshore wind cooled the registered 32 degree air temperature to something far colder and more painful.

“Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe.”

“It was nine o’clock. There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun. This fact did not worry the man. He was used to the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must pass…

At the man’s heels trotted a dog, a big native [lab], the proper [cold weather hunting companion], [black]-coated and without any visible or temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf. The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment.”

The phone rang mid-morning.  A great pall seemed settled over the lower Cape Fear.  Plans were made for the hour or two which could be tolerated at temperatures below man’s normal limits.  The range, which despite incredible advancement in layered suits of rubber, affects the soul hearty enough, or foolish enough, to attempt to brave its slow, dense and deathly medium in varying degrees of pain and denial.  Sonny opted to stay on the warmth of the couch.  He only raised his head as the gear was loaded into the truck.  His instinct told him this was no time for going to the sea.  No such voice of reason spoke to “the notes” or his brother.  After all, all a man really needs is his own two hands and a level head and he can survive the cold.

“The extremities were the first to feel its absence. His wet feet froze the faster, and his exposed fingers numbed the faster, though they had not yet begun to freeze.”

Then the chill seems gone.  It’s not cold.  The surf is good.  All is well.  The toes have stopped feeling and the drive to paddle hard enough to get in the wave early seems only vaguely necessary.  It is much easier to simply sit inside and take the late drop.  One hold down on the inside does not seem so bad.  The second hurts, but the surf is good and the next wave will be ridden as you see it in your mind instead of as a stiff, slow and near hypothermic body.

“It struck him as curious that he could run at all on feet so frozen that he could not feel them when they struck the earth and took the weight of his body. He seemed to himself to skim along above the surface, and to have no connection with the earth. Somewhere he had once seen a winged Mercury, and he wondered if Mercury felt as he felt when skimming over the earth.”

To turn and paddle flushes the suit with water anew and the eagerness to paddle as necessary seems dull, vague, and the mind wanders.  The echo of pain returning to the hands and toes despite modern advancement allows for a reflection on the poor drowned souls who must have flung themselves overboard in the vain hope to reach land from their wreck on Diamond, Frying Pan or Cape Fear shoals.  Such an incredible pain must have entered the body.  A fear, cold and certain.  Now, there is only the wait for the last wave.  Just one more before the big toes are totally devoid of sensation and offer no balance as you try to round off a bottom turn, only to discover that you’ve placed your feet in a horrible position to begin with.  The last wave will satisfy and there will be the warmth of the heater and the shower back at the house beyond.

“Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was very cold and that he had never experienced such cold.”

The body shakes uncontrollably and you must find shelter or risk loss of consciousness.  To wait so long on the last wave was foolish indeed.  It did arrive, as it always will, but the extensions of your body are frozen somewhere out on the end of your core and the pitch over the falls was not surprising but elicits curses anew and you think, well, maybe one more. Turning to face the lineup you have no ability to duck the oncoming sets and find yourself washed ashore.  What is surprising is the terrible cold as no there is no water protecting the suit from the wind and it cuts through the damp neoprene with a icy quickness.  Your hands and feet are hopelessly frozen by the time you reach the truck.  Your fingers will neither clutch nor grasp the key.  Attempting to remove the suit is forgotten over the desire for the heater to become nuclear in intensity.  Visible confirmation that your feet are still attached to you will have to wait till home and shower, which seems thousands of miles away.

Such was the risk by a duo out on the north end of Carolina Beach.  It was good surf that had been absent for quite a while.   The pain in the hands upon warming in the truck was excruciating and hands were beaten on legs and groans were audible as blood rushed into partially frozen fingers.

The swelling and cracking of your appendages in the hot shower confirms the notion that for “the notes”, there will be no such expedition to the great cold north.  Not for this hombre. Mis dias están al sur de la frontera por favor.

Surfing. Better than the mall.

And, perhaps, it is even better than the merry-go-round.  After all that thing gives a serious queasy feeling if forced to ride on the top level and, what is more, you deserve it for being in the mall this close to Christmas.  So any time you are able to steal in the water is cherished indeed.  As evidenced by the recent post count, there has been little surf to speak of.  What has been around has been fun, but has needed a little luck, a little groveling for the time, and a little more rubber.  The last swell or two right before Thanksgiving was done in water hovering right around 60 degrees.  If the sun was right or the wind quiet then you could steal an hour or two without the booties.  Now, at 53 degrees, the heavy rubber comes out and the boots are dug out of their storage spot and have begun their stink anew.

What follows is a random collection of shots taken in the last few swells.  Apologies for the shaky focus as most of them are snapped at the very same time as the photographer is racing to jump into a full suit of rubber in the anxiety created by a small window of daylight, wind and responsibilities begged off.  In short, chaotic and childish at best.  In these swells we had barrels, noseriding, and fun.  It also saw the end of long, trusted soldier.  Rest in peace trusted Bill Stewart.  Thy time was cherished.

The down time in between has been spent chasing trout and finally putting together the newest Wall of Fame page featuring Jeremy Robinson of CB Surf Shop.  Be sure to check it out.  And, in the spirit of bragging on solid surfing and good guys, Bo Raynor was recently featured in Transworld Surf Magazine.  It was only yesterday where he lumbered after his two brothers (exceptionally talented surfers and nice young men in their own right) and was not much more than 2 feet or more of runny nose.  While little Bo-bo may not remember, “the notes” does and it is brought to the attention of you readers because before long it may be the only way left to keep that little man in check.  “the notes” sure won’t be doing it from the water.  Like all the Raynor boys, Bo is humble, kind, genuine and talented.  He and his brothers are on the surf any time and any place it’s good.  It shows.  A recent string of top places and contest wins as well as an ESA All-Star selection earned Bo a spot with Billabong and he isn’t looking back.  Bo and his brothers are beginning to follow the trail made by their father.  They exude the simple life of being a surfer and loving the gift it is.  They are good surfers and good men.  Here at “the notes” we have nothing but love for Bo and cherish watching him go after his dreams in and out of the water.  Good on ya Bo.

Bo Raynor. The Cove at Fort Fisher. Photo: Robbie Johnson of Surf Carolina Magazine

Something about the Holidays

At the risk of jinxing a good thing, I submit the following.  I wrote this article for Chris McQuiston at Local Sessions and it ran in their recent session. Four or five good photos ran with it (thank you Chris), but the beauty of having your own blog…you can run all the photos you want without fear of advertising.

There is something about the holidays.  Particularly surf on the holidays.   It seems as if it arrives just in time.  The year’s little troubles and taxes that you pay have been steadily building like the plate of turkey you piled up on Thanksgiving.  Not enough by itself to make you drool on yourself on the couch, but added all together is sure to create one unholy smell if you can sneak into a room free of company (or a chair with a dog nearby).  The holidays, however, are a break from those troubles.  They’re the reason you go back for seconds when the first plate alone was probably enough to slow your heart.  The surf on the holidays are that time when a sick indulgence is necessary and oh so rewarding.

Some spots along the east see families pass on the sled, opting instead for a little more rubber and a little more foam to float it.  The line up seems to clear in direct proportion to the wind-chill and water temp.  The camaraderie in the water is palpable.  It becomes a weird little frozen family.  Grins are returned and, when it gets truly solid, waves are even traded and shared.  Wave selection becomes that much more crucial since a hold down on the inside or a blown drop means you’re that much closer to hypothermic shutdown and the end of your other worldly get-away.  A simple duck dive might be something you think twice about.  Hoots are cheered from land and the whistles reach your ear in the thin cold as you drop along the face of the wave.  The guy on the shoulder might even claim it for you with both arms—there is enough room in there during this season—but they are probably scratching and clawing, heaving in breaths to make it back outside, grinning from one ear to the other.  The wave seems to move with extra push and a little heavier, thicker, more hollow and louder—or maybe it’s simply the echo in your hood.

We have waited all year and now have no work, no heavy responsibility except to make it to the store before it closes for gifts you’ve promised or egg nog.  Without work to bunge things up, the small window of clean swell is open just a little wider and the western hammer of a wind that will blow it flat is only feared for possible night arrival.  There are the promises of warm meals and age appropriate drinks when you’re warm and dry.  Without a hassle for a take off you challenge the best the swell can throw.

It might be only 40 minutes before the wait between sets slows your reaction and your drops become later and your ability returns to the days you started with a few extra pounds of rubber—maybe ham too—you’re toting around.  If it’s small and the wind is calm, you surf like a grom and if you’re a grom, you’re in heaven.  There is no school, no homework and those oldest in the line up that seem to steal the wave you wanted are not to be found.  It truly is a feeling of family and big or small, a surf on the last or first day of the year is not quite like the others.   Days around Christmas that bring waves seem the best gift and the fact that a family is in the water and on shore makes your grin that much bigger, even if you stopped feeling your face long ago.

Deep in January you reach a point where even a little wind cuts through the rubber with a damp cold that freezes the brain and cripples the hands.  Trying to get the key in the lock or ignition is an act of futility and you can’t remember where you hid it in the first place.  It doesn’t really matter since the truck takes so long to heat that you’re home and using every last drop of scalding water from the tank just to keep the shakes down.  Never mind the rapid swelling and cracking of your hands.  Climbing out of your suit becomes an exercise in ridiculousness.  Your body has stopped listening to your brain or has at least grown lazy in response. There are places in the world without winter holiday surf where this is referred to as hypothermia.  Down here we call it stoke.  If there is still swell, you figure out a way to dry your wetsuit as much as possible without adding to the growing stench of digesting dinners and you put your booties someplace that the nose of another fellow human will never run afoul because in the dark blue of morning, you’re going out.  Or, maybe you’ll wait for midday and the promise of a little sun.  After all, there is no rush, it’s a holiday.

Ryan Tolhurst-Headed for the Thanksgiving feast.

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Shredding gets its due

the one that started it all at "the notes".

My daughter was almost a year old and I was taking her for a walk around the block when we passed two of the local youth skating a curb. Nothing fancy.  The ground was all chopped up and the curb had been swept via tennis shoe and previous attempts at grinding the length of it but was chunky, broken concrete at best.  Before lingering too long and drawing the attention of the kids’ mother to the fact that some guy pushing a stroller with a beer in the holder (why do they put it there if you aren’t supposed to use it?) was staring at her kids longingly, I was reminded of Mike McGill.  One whole summer the neighborhood had manicured lawnsat the sweat of “the notes” for the $110 needed for a complete skate set-up.  Not just any old skate.  No, this was to be a first foray into a much larger world.  This was the Powell Peralta Mike McGill set-up with Tracker trucks and blue Hosoi Rocket wheels, Swiss bearings.  As soon as it arrived from Eastern Skate Supply, courtesy the back of Thrasher Magazine, I ripped it open, cut the grip tape into some hideously ugly design and hit the neighborhood.  Several others followed.  Powell fell out of style, World Industries began its rise and Rodney Mullen blew minds with what was possible.  Commercial appeal stepped down a notch and companies went back to targeting an edgier notion of skating.  Still, it was the kid out there leaving skin on pavement at the heart of it.  Like the two in front of me.  Just skating.   Perhaps the classic exchange from the 80’s cult classic Thrashin’ (click anything in blue to check clips and pics in this post) sums it up the best:

Christy: “What do you thrash?”

Corey: “What do you got?”

Nothing was safe.  “See that stump over there?  I could throw a boneless off that for sure.”  Then came the ollie and things got slightly more complicated.  All new combinations became possible.  For us it was all about the ramp.  We skated ramps we had a hand in building, others we snuck onto by way of white lies to property-owning grandmothers (“Sure, I know Jerry.  Yes, Ma’am, he said anytime.”), there were the ones at the local YMCA tennis courts (if we had the $3 and a ride), there were half-built houses that mysteriously saw their leftovers disappear in the night and ramps appeared in rarely trodden woods, or the mega ramp that “the notes Sr” built and we added additions till it occupied 1/3 of the driveway (much to the chagrin of our neighbors I am sure).  All of these were far from perfect.  Very few of us understood classic carpentry rules like the rule of  three-four-five for squaring or how to draw a radial line.  Mostly we tried to find scraps of wood that seemed equal in length-“yea man, looks the same to me…”- and relatively free of rot.  Then we skated them till they fell apart.

When my neighbor’s kid started up the saw one Saturday, I strolled over just to see what was up and be available should any appendages need to be placed on ice.  What I found was three or four kids slapping together a shifty quarter pipe out of particle board, random squares of plywood and odd bits of 2×4.  I was in.  Since then we have recovered it once (though the particle board sides are threatening more and more with every rain and I think the kid’s dad wishes I would stop rebuilding the thing) and added some metal at the bottom to prevent “the lift”, when the lip separates from the driveway just enough that it is still skateable for a while.  How do you know when it’s not?  You won’t really.  It’ll be made clear when you try to rolling up but find yourself hurtled through the air and slammed into the wall of the ramp.  That’s “the lift”.  A small price to pay to shred that new skate.  In fact, that is shredding.  It means falling.  Probably hard.  Usually due to the fact that your chosen spot is far from stable and less than imperfect.  People that ride motorcycles know that it’s not a question of “if” they will lay the bike down, only “when”.

Steve Still paying the shred tax and thinking of convienent excuses to tell his boss and his wife...

Same thing if you’re gonna shred.  Not “if” you’ll lose the skin from your palms, elbows, and knees but “when”.  Not “if” your brother visiting in town on break from football scholarship will sprain his ankle, but when and how badly.  Pretty bad.  To be fair it was a tight space for a kick flip.

Home of "skate night" and the Thorton's. All apologies to his neighbors...

Recently we used to gather for “skate night” at a friend’s ramp to work off a little stress.  The ramp is tight and a bit bumpy in the transition but it’s a small price to pay.   Now it’s been broken down and rebuilt by other enterprising youth eager to shred (the owner said the whole thing was gone in a morning, probably nice to remove the wood for a ramp and not need a lookout).  So it’s back to the neighbors.  Yeah, there are weird looks from folks as they drive by and see a 30-something grown man sweating and shredding but there is nothing like throwin’ on the shoes after mowing the lawn, popping a cold beer and gettin’ to it.

Where is all this going?  Well, as an explanation to my neighbors for why that guy is out there when their son isn’t even home and, simply, this…

Skating for 99% of us means dealing with sketchy conditions at best.  Broken chunks of concrete, rotting ramps, poorly constructed design, shifty support beams, and midnight “supply” runs.  For most of us it was never the Animal Chin Ramp or the perfect parks we saw in the mags.  Occasionally you could find some but mostly you made due.  The XGames changed all that.  Kinda like the ollie.  Now there are pre-formed ramps and ready-made skate parks that can be placed anywhere.  The sport as sold by ESPN is not just a far cry from what is available to most, it’s a scream from the other side of the known universe.  That’s not to say big market media hadn’t tried to sell it already.  Thrashin’ was out and partnered with Rad-same movie, switch the skate for a bike-or even The North Shoresurfing’s chance in the limelight, all the fringe means of fun that might earn a corporate buck or bring in sponsor dollars were covered.  Even these were still so bad they were cool.  It was like Hollywood gave directorial control and a six pack to some kid  and said, “go ahead.  Go shred.”  I mean Thrashin’ had the Chili Peppers before they went all pretentious and “Under the Bridge”.

Then they copied it repetitively without letting it develop.  Ala all three versions.

Recently pro skating has been more receptive to matching the experience we know as skating.  There is the Maloof Money Cup and the Vans Downtown Showdown where the obstacles are built to resemble actual conditions.  Sometimes even modeling a famous set of stairs or bank. Still, it’s not really it.  No “lift” or random square of rotting plywood.  This year the XGames has done itself a favor.  It has embraced the video and web savvy target audience and acknowledged real skating.  It’s started a $50,000 1st prize to the winning film clip of real skaters in real conditions as voted by the same savvy shredders.  That’s not to say Chaz Ortiz isn’t real because the contest site is like the body parts of the Real Housewives of the OC. He is for real. Kid’s a freak.  Pretty sure he knows sorcery to be so consistent and smooth but the obstacles he’s riding on have been genetically altered.  Like Ryan Sheckler’s teeth.  This new thing is different.  Not that it’s never been done, but not on this stage by such a media power notorious for over-hyping and flooding the mass market with the “sure bet”.  This is just a tad bit off their normal mainstream approach.  How better to judge a street contest then out on the street?  The possibilities for obstacles just became endless.  The contest area has no bounds.  “What do you got” indeed.  Hopefully this is a format that gets a fair run.  If the media machine can give us the same movie three times and really only change the equipment, certainly they can let this play out and see where it goes.  You get to see great skating and have a say in the result.  Check out the contest and see what you think.  Then go check out the curb around the corner.  I bet with a little wax you could easily grind the whole thing.

Never stop rolling.

One You Won’t Read and Finally…

no stress. every inch captured for as long as there are micro processors...

In the next couple of days there will be all kinds of coverage on the Reef/Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest.  There will be photos galore of solid surfers making sloppy conditions look excellent.  Despite what you may have already read, the surf wasn’t worth its hype. But hey, you have the media machine ready to sell you the sport and what would it be if they were honest?  Who comes to watch a contest held in knee to waist-high (being generous here) small period swell?  Mothers and fathers of the groms entered,that’s who.  Perhaps a few masters candidates hanging out in the shadows hoping that some wave which they haven’t seen since March may suddenly show up for their afternoon heat.  Beyond that, no one. Admit it. When you have been at contests with such conditions, who did you see?  Exactly. However, the Reef Pro-Am comes on the tails of the long running Record Bar Pro-Am and is now one of the few well-attended and high paying pro surfing events on the east coast. The event promoters have worked very hard to make it that way.  Having the support of a local ASP pro may have started the credibility, but now it functions on its own as evidenced by web, print, and beach coverage.  In Malibu’s Surf Shop along the boardwalk of Ocean City Maryland “the notes” found a flyer advertising the event.  Maryland.  What may have started as a self-promotion is now an honest event.  Solid competition despite the mid-July doldrums or maybe due to them saw a pay out list of plenty of recognizable names, some local, some coastal, and some global.  Check the results here.    When you have Ben Bourgeois and Heath Walker finishing second and third to a local, that’s some good competition.  Mike Losness was fighting for a $175 pay for goodness sakes.  Barely enough to cover a down payment for any self-respecting Aussie’s bar tab.  But you can read all about the names and faces that make such an event happen. You’ll have the photos and the onslaught of media promotion and merchandise.  You’ll have the “behind-the-scenes” from guys that know all the hand shakes and wear the contemporary clothes.  What you won’t read  or see in any of those articles is the name Danny Wrenn. Why? Who the hell is Danny Wrenn you ask?  No one.  He’s me. He’s you.  He is the story and the reason for the east coast surf contest in July.

A local charter captain, Danny Wrenn, entered the Reef/Sweetwater Pro-Am on a whim.  It was his first contest ever. Not a bad time to pony up and give it a go. Pretty gutsy.  Couple hundred people on the beach, pros from all over the world, all your family and friends watching.  Simply trying not to trip over your own leash would generate enough lactic acid to taste.  Now, add to the fact that you are older than the top ranked contestant in your heat by almost thirty years.  No worries.  For two heats Danny Wrenn hung in there with some of the best longboarders along the east coast.  For thirty minutes he caught as many waves as he could and enjoyed every one of them, even the one with the stink eye of the 13-year-old trying to psyche him out.  The grin on his face two days later told the story.  The thrill of the crowd, the risk of personal persona, the athleticism, and the rush when the horn blows, just the uncertainty of it all funneling into a half hour of all out activity.  While Captain Wrenn made just two heats, it was two heats on one of the biggest stages available on the east coast in his own back yard with everyone watching.  That is the east coast surf contest.  It may not have the visual thrill of Pipe, the perfection of J-Bay, or the consistency of Trestles but it has every bit of the adventure.  For two heats it gave the guy in the line-up next to you a chance to feel the adrenaline and experience the rush.  To all those that ponied up, well done.

a little relief from the Bermuda hammer

And finally, it has been business as usual at the North End.  “The Mayor” of the North End has had the flags up and the rest of the extended family has been out enjoying our little home away from home.  There has even been a little bit of surf to celebrate.  Very little, but in July here in southeastern NC it’ll do.  There may even be a little more on the way.  One can only hope.  Here’s to it.


The picture of patience...

As I watched my brother’s dog hawk my daughter’s snack with the soft, tender, lovable approach that labs use to win their treats and mastery of us, it occurred to me that patience is absolutely necessary in July at the beach.  First, it’s hot.  Very.  The kind of heat and humidity that appears like a white hazy cloud and makes you bow your head in order to stand its searing weight.  Second, it’s crowded with tourists.  Really crowded.  To the point where any out-of-state plate is suspect for causing a good traffic jam.  Third, the surf is flat.  Very flat.  The kind of flat that makes fishing wrecks along the coast possible without fear of jarring  your skeleton loose through your nose on the return trip.

Recently all “the notes” brothers  and “the notes” Sr. went out along the Cape Fear coast to do just that.  Fish wrecks, not snort skeletons.  Everyone fought honest fish and the take was pretty solid, including a long and under-gunned fight with an over slot sized red drum.  After downing ridiculous portions of flounder and rice there has been mostly laying about and working off some of the cholesterol.

Not pictured...3ft shark, over-slot drum. Also not pictured...several rays and toad fish. bastards.

While the surf seems to be tempting as it rises above thigh high here in the middle of the month, it is still a tough sell to trade in favors and call off work for some wobbly, 5 second period wave.  However, the alternative is to stay dry for the month. So we search and go any way.  Furtively driving up this block and down the next we are on the lookout. Checking the next little street just past the corner market because I think the sand is starting to shoal up better right there.  In that spirit there is a new addition to  the Wall of Fame.  Summer appropriate as we slog our way through July and eye the tropics and coast of Africa.  Check it out here, on the Wall of Fame page or by using its page link directly (on the right under “note pages”).  Keep a weather eye on the charts and happy hunting.

Captain's take.


Conditions can look great on forecasts but be completely different in the water. Fortunately this is not the same swell.

The days and hours leading up to the arrival of new swell are rivaled by little else.  Like Kaiser Sosa, you need only whisper its arrival “and like that, [it] is gone”.  You are left with only the promise of what might have been and the swell report that changed so unfavorably overnight now looking you in the face as if it had told you all efforts to clear your calendar and call in favors were futile from the very beginning.  Too bad birthdays are not the same.  As far as just disappearing anyway.  There is no warning or forecast.  You just sort of stumble along till someone reminds you that “your birthday is Wednesday”.  Crap.  This year was different though.  There was cake.  Two of them.  One chocolate chip cookie and one double fudge, chocolate heart attack special.  In fact, as things go, the time around the 34th birthday here at “the notes” was not so bad.   Just before June really started laying on equatorial type heat, there was a solid Nor’easterly swell which broke on a local barrier island as well as it has in a long time.  Since the camera is still somewhere in California or crossing the country, “the notes” only had to negotiate a strong head wind aboard the Sonny Days and then surf without guilt.  And it was worth it.  The outer shoals of the island were breaking at head high to 3 feet overhead.

The crew of the Sonny Days

When “the notes” made its home on Whiskey Creek, a solid Nor’easter was easy to note since the sea buoy would ring and the direction of the wind carried it back up the creek and into the still neighborhood.  I told my brother that once as we sat around his fire drinking beer.  He thought that was the kind of thing I should write about-there ya go man.  Now, down here on the river it takes the right conditions and wind and you can still hear the buoy at this end of the barrier island.  Before this swell rolled in the buoy could be heard all day.  A faint reminder to get my plate clean and have the boat at the ready.  Sitting in the line-up, the sets would show on the shoal, toss around some of the SUPs or longboards and then slide back under water.  From there you only had to wait as it jacked up over the inside bar. Clear blue-green water and solid overhead and clean surf.

The old launch before it was idiot proof. The same knowledge can get you past the idiots still managing to foul up the idiot proof ramp. Ryan Tolhurst and "A Little Therapy"

My brother joined me for the third evening and we ditched work leaving from the trusted old dock.  By then the swell had dropped and the crowd increased but we stayed till the last light disappeared and the crowd dwindled back to school or to jobs.  We rode home in silent exhausted satisfaction.

Then the Bermuda high steamrolled in with its 11o degree heat and the surf has all but disappeared. A few mornings on summer time shapes or longboards have kept us sane but basically its been a good time to go fish.  Some good trout and a couple solid flounder made it to the boat as a recently-turned-12 Sonny joined “the notes” for a birthday fishing excursion.  On top of that there was the birthday loot.  My daughter gave me a pirate costume for rescuing her when she is a princess.  My parents gave a similar gift, a costume, pirate playing cards and a pirate themed painting.  Either Jimmy Buffet is right and I’m just discovering it too late or my family believes I’ve taken a wrong career path and are encouraging a change.  Hopefully there will be rum.  It is said to embolden the spirit when rescuing princesses.  The eye patch stayed at home for the fishing since the squinting was giving me a headache and makes tying and baiting hooks while at sea a bit precarious.  Good thing too as it might have encumbered the fight with the shark we caught (check the video below.  All apologies to Hemingway and Hans Zimmer).  Really not a bad birthday.

The view on the ride home. Southeast NC. Not too bad.

Now we roll into July.  In the spirit of new changes, the site now has a new look.  Let me know what you think.  The pages for the wall of fame can be found at the top (more additions coming soon).  And, hopefully, you will find a little more regular posting here at the notes (next up a late, but heartfelt, follow-up on the UNCW surf team, perhaps an interview or two.  And if the camera ever returns from the left coast, more pics.  For a review on the Digital Wunderland  Ding Repair DVD by yours truly, grab a copy of the new ESM.) But not this weekend.  On the same weekend that everyone in the country from the midwest and east is driving to the coast, Mrs “the notes” has us travelling to visit friends in Ocean City Md.  What? Traffic worries no pirate.  Avast ye minivan-lubbers or I’ll run you through.  Arr.


Wall of Fame

Check out another new addition to the “Wall of Fame” entitled “Shark Island”.  Either click the hyperlinks here or check out the “pages” menu on the right.  Keep checking back for a post on Memorial Day Weekend (thanks to our Service Men and Woman) and the opening of Tourist season as well as some swell report on the most recent Nor’easter and subtropical low system which was kind enough to spin some waves this way.  It was much needed.  Thanks for reading!

Home on the Range

The possibilities out on the sand are quite open.  On the weekend it may just be watching that car load of pasty white visitors driving their Oldsmobile up onto the sand, well past the hard support of the pavement and burying the car to the level of the hood.  Some mornings there is only the phosphorescent white of the wave as it laps against the shore in the inky black of morning.  Then, other mornings, after the fog has lifted, you see the swell rolling in and think that the beach is not such a bad place to make your home.  It’s been quiet here on the range and the regular hands wait the chance to work off some stress in some honest swell.  Till then you can check the new “wall of fame” page with the first entry “rain barrel”. Enjoy.

O lay my spurs upon my breast, my rope and old saddle tree, and while the boys are lowering me to rest, go turn my horses free. -Teddy Blue "We Pointed Them North"

First Mate, the Mad Fish and a New Season

First Mate Sonny

It started little by little.  Each time Sonny came with me we went a little further out on the shelf.  Actually it started well back when the first boat arrived.

The first boat, the Mad Fish aptly named for the bottle wine to celebrate its maiden voyage, was smuggled down to Wilmington from the north in pieces.  It traveled some 600 miles from a lake in Pennsylvania to taste salt water in the Intracoastal Waterway.  Finally getting the trailer, boat, motor, registration, titles and all conceivable “to-do’s” out of the way the small 9 foot pop-rivet Sears v hull row-boat made its maiden voyage.

I took my wife Amy, my parents and our dog Sonny from the Wrightsville Beach boat ramp to Masonboro as a pleasure cruise.  The Mad Fish was under gunned with the old 9.9hp Evinrude pushing that much weight (4 people, 1 dog, 2 coolers, and three chairs).  The next day she was christened after the trip was declared a success.  All clothes were dry.

In fact, our intrepid little crew made it back with only one incident.  Sonny abandoned ship at the first sign of rocking from a large Hatteras that cruised by.  After the flailing, thrashing and awkward heave back in the boat, he has never bailed on me again.  Although, when in a tight spot – there have been a few – he does give me a look as if to say, “alright, but if it does go down, I’m out of here man.”  He rides in the wind at the bow but ever on the lookout, wary of my seamanship.  When he gets back behind the console, that’s when I know that “things have begun to go badly” as they say.

Several boats later and adventures big and small, expected and not, we made our first trip to big water. The Sonny Days we named after our long-suffering and loyal first mate and since the days aboard her are the dog days we live for.  For the first time in open water I chose a good offshore breeze and calm seas.  The boat ramp was clear.  Only a few worn crab boats and the men working.  Heading out the channel, the sun was far below the ocean line and its light just began to touch the sky above.  The surface was a slick dark glass that changed from the swallowing of color to morning blue, teal and then blue and crisp.  Out that far you feel very small and tend to talk to yourself as if others can hear.  Sometimes you just think you have been talking.  That first morning, and others since, I startled my first mate and myself when I actually did speak aloud.  You’re used to having others there to hear.  Now just silence and the dog listen.  That is if anything you thought you said was actually out loud.  Cut the engine and feel the silence settle in as the hum of the engine dies away.  It’s big, quiet, piercing and blue.  With any luck, the next sound is the singing of line and reel as you hook that first catch.

April has been warming up the water and with it the fishing.  One or two little evening attempts had netted only a small flounder and one bluefish.  This weekend would be the last chance.  There has been no surf to speak of and we’ve all had our heads down, grinding away at work.  Saturday morning looked favorable, but as it is when you work like that, you’re bound to blow off steam.  With both brothers in town, we met at the bar for a drink and to make plans for fishing the next morning.  They continued on with their planning at a few more pubs while “the notes” called it an evening.

In the dark hour that is neither morning nor night, Sonny and I loaded the boat and headed out the Cape Fear River to catch bait before gathering my brothers at the dock and heading out to the ocean.  The 3/4 moon shown a full silver light on the water.  The spoil area and sandbars that plague the Cape Fear stayed in the shadows however, so when my brother called to say they had planned too hard and too long and would not be fishing, “the notes” was wading around working The Sonny Days off a shoal and putting off thoughts of alligators.  Sonny was behind the console waiting for the situation to improve.

We managed to work free and fished for trout along the islands in the river till the sun made the horizon, joining the moon in a mix of silver and orange.  A light zephyr kept the surface smooth and I turned the boat for open water.  We fished a reef or two with little result.  Just as the tide neared full we found schools of menhaden beset by frenzied bluefish on some shoals.  With 10 oz. line on a light graphite rod armed with a casting jig, Sonny and I fought and landed several good bluefish.

April Catch

The Sonny Days made one last waypoint before the wind came up and the chop increased. A glance from Sonny and a full ice box, we called it a day.  Back at home the catch was cleaned and rested brothers were called over for a family fish fry.  Fresh made salsa, chips, beans and flour tortilla shells and more fish than we could comfortably eat.  Here is to a season of the same.  Fair winds, calm seas-wishes seconded by the first mate-and tight lines.

–Chris, glad you’re here…