Monday, January 30, 2006

Tiki Time!

It was Tiki Time at Chefette Nanette’s Sunday night, with a nice send-off for Sandy Feet and her upcoming voyage to Hawaii. That’s Ms. Feets in her grass skirt with all the correct tourist accoutrements, including Tiki Punch with electric blue Curacao.

Now the “ceremonial table” was my idea, with pineapple, small bananas, and can-o-Spam, and Nanette provided a huge roasty ham wrapped in real banana leaves, all in high Luau style. We even had some 1960’s vinyl records featuring Annette and all that.

It was a perfect day, about 80. It coincided with the Lunar New Year and some very high tides. A good time was had by all. Hau 'oli Makahiki Hou! Happy New Year, and bon voyage, Sandy.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Humping Seaplanes?

Here is an email I sent to some important folks on South Padre Island (SPI). It basically lambastes a part of the Town ordinances. Then I got to looking at other parts of the ordinances and stopped laughing, it was so bad. But let's stay on the lighter side. The issue is waves from boats on the bayside. Let 'er rip:

* * *

At issue today is how the no wake ordinance (SPI §12-15) is the dumbest crock of hooey ever written. It was handed out again at the BATF last meeting. That’s right, I said hooey. The silly ordinance should be completely deleted and replaced. It is not worth the paper it was printed on - maybe 7 cents at most.

The errant ordinance starts off by saying it is regulating no-wake zones in SPI limits but does not say where the “limits” are, which from what I can tell is one or two arms of channels up by Fiesta Isles. Those two or three “no wake” signs nailed to the GLO channel markers on [the main bayside] Tompkins Channel are illegal as heck, by the way. You can make all the wakes you want there. Not nice but you can.

Then the silly thing tries, in rather a feeble attempt, to define “no wake.” This is hysterical. First it says that if a boat is operating “on a plane” it is probably having a big wake (silly boys). I don’t think they mean airplanes, or that a boat is humping an airplane, or maybe an airboat in heat, although one is not completely sure. We think they mean hydroplaning hulls, maybe. Sexy, high-maintenance, expensive ones.

The ordinance then helpfully adds that a boat is on a plane if it “travels on top of the water.” Holy smokes, we’ve ruled out most of the airplanes and submarines I guess! It’s not too good if you’re hydroplaning and end up underwater, I can tell you that. Back to square one. We’re lost! Seaplanes?

We finally get to the meat of the ordinance, which says something about maintaining “slow speed/minimum wake,” whatever that is, one or the other, but then craps out by saying that if you do “more than a minimum wake” you can be nailed for up to 500 bucks.

Let’s see here, I checked about 20 boats and the true minimum wake was when they were tied up to the dock. I could see some ½ inch wakes from just the tide flowing by but I think that would be OK. There was no mention of adequate steerage headway or anything like that.

Why don’t we fix this ugly old turkey and just say the controlled speed is 5 MPH? It all goes to show, you have to know how to write an ordinance without hoping people would figure out what it means, using all this wonderful legal help like the humping seaplanes and all that Mickey Mouse. And don't forget the hooey.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Dune Status - Week One

Lori and I inspected the dune projects between Iverness and Bahia Mar today and we were impressed, even for just one week since we planted them. The strong south and north winds have definitely deposited some sand where we wanted it, already. Some notes –

Hay bales were the most impressive, some with large dunes around them. On the downside, some were being undercut or were starting to topple over because of the intense winds. We think they have a short half-life.

Christmas trees were good to fair depending on location, with a few almost being nearly covered by the sand (all had some branches sticking out). These dunes were much lower than the hay bales which were stacked 3-high, so they did pretty much as expected.

Snow fencing was interesting because none of them “grew” dunes at their feet – the small dunes called coppice dunes were growing in between the rows of fencing. The dunes were very wide even though small (by contrast, all the hay bale dunes were very short and narrow). We did not explore north of the Bahia Mar.

One thing I did notice was that several properties had wind and water erosion so bad the underside of their foundations was visible. That is not a good thing, in my mind. More work needs to be done. Oh, and a lesson we learned was that the dune-starters have to be about 20 feet apart so the beach tractors can get in between them.

Pictures to follow when we get some sunshine!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Offshore Fishing IFQ

The federal government has horribly mismanaged the offshore fishing near South Padre Island, Texas. The regional headquarters of the NOAA fisheries office is in Florida, which is nothing like the western Gulf near our neck of the woods. The only new idea the NMFS has had is for an 'individual fishing quota' or IFQ that would eliminate fishing derbies and allow a better management of the species, like red snapper.

But you know how computers work and I did some Google and found that there were 'community development quotas' (CDQ) in addition. My mind started thinking that if something like that could be organized and run locally, the entire lower coast from below Corupus Christi to the border could be managed by, heck why not, real local fishermen.

I know, the CDQ idea was meant for Indian fishing tribes, moreso on the Pacific coast. Heck, some of the indians on the CDQ still get to catch a few whales every year (not that we'd even want one). But the fishery laws and regulations allow for a CDQ without having to be a tribe.

So why not take over a good part of the Gulf, maybe out to the 100-fathom curve? Why not work with the State of Texas to coordinate federal quotas with in-state ones? If you think about it, the amount of coastline and acreage is similar to many entire states on the East Coast.

I guarantee it would work because if the area was over-fished, none of the mousquito fleet (as we call them down here) would be making any money. So it would be in their (and our) best interests to conserve hook and line fishing and market it when it is needed, not when the government says it is mandated or prohibited.

In an interesting twist, I would encourage government auditors and biologists to help make the thing work. Transparency would be essential. Simply stated, we need to stand up for our rights or the government and transient boats from Florida are going to eat our lunch - literally. I feel like the President today: bring 'em on.

OK, not that far but you get the idea.

Friday, January 20, 2006


No, I don’t mean that I have a gay camera – I call it a “bino-cam” because it resembles a pair of binoculars. It is made by Bushnell, regarded highly in the trade, but I’m still having problems as you can see. How did the Earth get so tilted like that, and why is our bird here so fuzzy?

Oh and yes, any idea about what kind of bird it might be would be nice, although this is the best of six pictures. It looks like a cross between a giant duck and a Peregrine Falcon. He (or she) has been sitting there all morning.

The bino-cam was Lori’s Christmas present to me, so I’m going to work on those little settings some more. There’s a little LCD panel and – having a senior moment here – I needed a magnifying lens just to see what it says. About the only thing that looks intuitive is a display that says “EEK.”

But the horizon, even tilted, was fuzzy today because of the 30-knot winds that stirred up a whole bunch of sand and smoke and dust. Half of it seems to get right in my eyes and blow right up my nose. But with 70-degree temperatures, I’m not complaining.

And, not a bad picture for about 200 feet to our mystery bird here.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ride My Pony on My Boat

Just like ole Lyle Lovett says, “I wanna ride my pony on my boat.” Yeah, he’s one of my favorite musicians and I don’t know about the pony but I do know about the boat. The only problem is that I’ve got to build it first. You probably need to be 70 years old and have built these for 30 years to do it right, but here I go.

This here is a 1910 plan drawing of a North Carolina spritsail skiff (courtesy of the North Carolina Maritime Museum). The “sprit” is the diagonal pole holding up the highest edge of the sail, from whence it gets name. It looks like a flat-bottom boat but actually has a slight V-bottom, which is why it is also called a “deadrise skiff.” I’m not sure about deadrise skiffs down here near South Padre but I sure bet there’s some local history there.

It’s the hull that worries me though – I might even use it with an outboard for a while before cutting and rigging sails. She’s about 20 feet six inches long, big for a starter-kit. Why on Earth would I even attempt this? Well, because it’s a challenge. Second, my Dad had one when I was a kid and I loved it. We sailed the mighty Atlantic, anchored her on Block Island every summer, used her for a lobsterboat, and most of us kids learned how to swim by jumping off her. Third, the boat was designed for shallow waters like for oystering, so it would be great down here on South Padre Island; it maybe draws 6-9 inches. Finally, it’s because nobody else has one down here, so I’m looking for the “wow” factor.

At first I wanted to build something real easy, with ready-to-cut patterns and be done in like three or five weekends and have a nice surf dory. Sure, I may have to lay out the boat on a huge piece of construction paper, consult lots of family and friends, and maybe go on Prozac, but I have a plan. It’s sitting in the shipping tube right here in my living room.

It lurks, clawing at my mind. One fine day she will swim …

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Thammy Gotta Code!

Well blow me down if I didn’t get a cold, which hopefully will leave without complications. I call it the “Austin crud” because I got it a day after my good friends visited, although one can never be sure. At least we don’t have cedar pollen on top of everything else. Yup, cedar pollen, that’s a big reason why we moved down here.

But I shouldn’t whine and moan too much, since it’s just a silly cold. I can hardly think straight, which is possibly a good idea for a while. My wife is emptying out half the medicine cabinet and I don’t really want anything except soup, and maybe something with chile or hot peppers in it (what happened to my sense of smell and taste?). She looks disapprovingly, like I was completely bonkers. “Here take this now.” I simply smile. What was that old saying, feed the flu and starve a fever … see, I really can’t think!

Well, if you see me wandering around the Island bare-ass nekked, you’ll know what’s happening. It is NOT a senior moment, folks.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Indian Giver

As you know I rarely wax political and I sound fake when I do, but some recent media articles about the Jack Abramoff debacle caught my attention. Several Indian tribes were quoted as being quite upset that every politician in Washington is unloading any lobby money connected to Jack Abramoff, including donations to charities and … back to the Indian tribes. This is quite upsetting to Native American Indians, who gave the money with the expectation something would be done in return. To throw that money away really gets their craw, doubly.

I entitled this blog “Indian Giver” which is not very fitting although most people know what it means. Few people know that several of its meanings (see Wikipedia) are really all about white people, not Indians, and how strangely white people act when they get mad money. I mean, to get almost 800 bucks an hour to lobby votes and projects is impressive, and to screw everyone in the process was quite a feat. But Jack Abramoff was no Indian Giver. No, it was the people who accepted the lobby booty, and most of the time it was perfectly legal booty – and will be until the bribery laws are changed.

Not many people know that the Indian reservations are “sovereign nations” within the United States. The laws are rather tangled from years of changes and abuse, but in theory each sovereign nation is answerable only to the Federal government. So when a sovereign nation gives a prominent lobbyist with direct ties to the White House gives millions of dollars in lobbying fees, it expected that the money would be put to good use, such as to better their tribe, bring in more jobs, and so forth.

So sure, Jack Abramoff was slime-scum of the Earth, and screwed the Indian sovereign nations at every possible occasion. However, the funds handed out from Jack Abramoff were mostly legal and should have been used for beneficial and not dumped like Boston Tea Party into the drink (another stupid historical thing).

It is embarrassing how some people react to such politics and dump tainted money. It is horrible insulting to others, so it seems.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A Foggy New Years

The winter fog rolled in the last few days, usually right at sunset and then left the next day after the sun burned it off. Every once in a while a cool front comes through and blasts the air clean and the process starts over again. Not too many people know that winter fogs are common down here in South Padre Island, since in the summer it is always clear and ninety degrees.

At least it isn’t sea smoke. Sea smoke is when the air is so cold that water evaporating turns into ice crystals – it is more common in arctic conditions but can occasionally be found as low as Delaware Bay here on the US East Coast.

A large ship came into the Port of Brownsville and you know how sound carries in a fog, it sounded like it was right in my driveway. I tried to take some photographs but everything looked like gray pea soup – I guess I don’t have the talent or an expensive camera, one.

It’s funny how the mind remembers sounds like that. I was instantly transported to Block Island, where there were at least three very loud foghorns. While the Northeast does get heavy fog other times of the year, the summertime “pea soup” is more common. So those Block Island sounds were running in my mind, like the higher squeal of the Old Harbor foghorn versus the thundering low resonance of Southeast Point.

My ship sounded its horn again, one second on and 30 seconds off, and I was transported back, feeling like I really missed those forlorn sounds that help people find their way back to safety.