Escape from Winter - 2012 travel blog

South Padre

immigration check

eat shrimp!

shrimp boat


dismantling a ship

building an oil rig

salvage piles

Port Isabel

need a ladder?

how about some rope?

or a chain?

When we attended the International Travel Show (around here international means Mexico), a friendly representative from Brownsville, the largest city in this area, had discount tickets for a boat tour of the Port of Brownsville. There’s nothing geezers like better than a discount and our past visits to Brownsville had left us less than impressed, but to us a port is part of a cruise. We love to cruise! In a flash the credit card was swiped.

If we had opened a map, we would have realized that the Port of Brownsville is only tangentially related to Brownsville itself. It is at the end of an eighteen mile shipping channel dug from the Padre Island area toward the city of Brownsville. The trip began at South Padre, a touristy area teeming with great campgrounds and beach houses. On a beautiful day we wish we were camped here, but experience has taught us that being on the ocean in January often means fog and damp winds.

Off and on as we sailed pods of dolphins circled the boat sending some of us into a photo frenzy. People would rush from one side of the boat to the other looking for the sleek creatures, making me wonder if our boat would tip over. Perhaps the recent news from the Costa Concordia has me worrying a bit too much. Most of the channel went through sand dunes teeming with sea birds. This area is also teeming with border patrol agents. Two boatfuls of agents boarded a shrimp boat checking for whatever La Migra checks for. Next we came to the harbor where all the shrimp boats dock. This industry is closely regulated and the shrimpers are permitted to fish at the moment, so most of the boats were out to sea. Those that we could see were in a sad state of repair. The industry has been adversely affected by shrimp farms which have pretty much taken over the market. In the last fifty years the size of the fleet has shrunk 90%.

We passed two oil rigs that were being built in the port from scratch. It would be fun to watch these goliaths get towed out through the channel we sailed through today. The main industry taking place in the port is the dismantling of old ships. Even though the port looked trashy and industrial, it was the epitome of recycling. First workers go through the ships removing anything left behind that could still be of use. Then the infrastructure is taken apart in small chunks and the iron pieces are ground and piled up to be trucked to manufacturing sites and made into something new. Most of the ships we saw were built shortly after World War II. Our captain said the hospital ship being dismantled was used during the Viet Nam War. If old ships don't go through a deconstruction process like this, they sit tied up in forgotten harbors rusting away and being eye sores, before they finally sink.

The captain also talked with great excitement about a nearby salvage store open to the public where the items removed from the ships were for sale. As you might imagine the yard was full of old anchors, chains, port holes, etc. as well as things like old VCR’s and stereos that entertained the sailors when they were not on duty. It was like a yard sale for giants. If we had been in the market for a raft or life boat, we would have had countless choices.

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