Travels, photographs and adventures with Pat McGrath Avery and Joyce Faulkner
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Port of Brownsville Tour
Despite the cold wind that blew through layered clothing and winter coats, nearly a full load of passengers filed onto the 70-foot excursion boat Fish Tales to visit the Port of Brownsville. Those of us at the front of the line captured the best seats - inside the Captain's Cabin on the upper deck.
Out of the wind, we breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for the 45- minute ride to the Port - give or take a few minutes. As we headed up the channel, the clouds broke away and blue skies appeared. We stopped and waited to pass through a swing bridge on the 3000-mile long Intercoastal Waterway. We passed pelicans, loons, and a couple of fishermen braving the cold.
The blue in the sky deepened and presented great photo opportunities. The boats and oil drilling rigs in the Port loomed on the horizon but at 17 or so miles away, my camera wouldn't pick up much.
Captain Noe Lopez informed us at the beginning of the cruise that, by order of Homeland Security, we couldn't take pictures once we entered the Port. My goal was to take as many photos as possible before we reached that point.
The captain filled us in on fish in the bay, the history of the Port of Brownsville and the dredging of the channel that will start next month. Peppered with jokes and stories, he provided a running dialogue about life on and in the Laguna Madre Bay. The photo on the right shows some of the shrimp boats moored along the Intercoastal Waterway. At one time more than 1100 shrimp boats fished out of the Port Isabel/Brownsville area. Today it's down to about 90 boats.
The Port of Brownsville is one of three approved salvage facilities for US Navy ships. The USS Saipan arrived a couple of months ago for dismantling. I wrote an article about the Saipan and I wanted to capture some photos before she was nothing but bits of steel and scrap. The photo at the left below shows what the Saipan looks like partially dismantled.
According to the Co-Captain, Paul Hopper, the salvage company grinds up the steel before shipping it to China. Huge hills of ground steel, working cranes, tugs and small boats lined the channel. Men worked on the shore and the drilling rigs. At one time, the salvage company employed about 1000 people; now it's down to about 400.
As we headed home, clouds took away the blue sky and the wind picked up. However, we saw dolphins and speckled trout jumping, Roseate Spoonbills flying, and a lot of other birds I couldn't identify.
First Mate Jaime Garcia took the wheel and provided us another running commentary on life in the area, including great places to buy shrimp, eat dinner and enjoy the views.
Captain Noe has worked on the Laguna Madre Bay for about sixteen years. The Dolphin Docks, located on the right of the Queen Isabella Causeway as you leave Port Isabel, offers Gulf and bay-fishing and dolphin-watching trips, the Port of Brownsville tours, bay cruises and more.
The Port of Brownsville Tour is four-hour trip and the crew presents passengers with plenty of firsthand knowledge of life in this fascinating part of the Gulf Coast.