Friday, February 29, 2008

Scow Schooners of Texas

Back in the 1800's the scow schooner became quite famous in the US as a boat that could handle the very shallow waters of the back bays of harbors such as Port Arthur, Galveston, Matagorda, and possibly even SPI. I have not found any specific documentation of them being here but will ask the local historians. They were log-planked completely flat on bottom so if the did hit a sandbar, they would just wait for high tide and move on. Centerboards were used as portable keels that went up and down.

The above picture was a scow schooner in Galveston Bay. It is obviously lightering cotton, hay, or some heavy load for a large ship. At one time there were reported to be many working the Texas coast because the big ships sometimes needed so much water they had to anchor outside in the Gulf - there was always a wicked sandbar to contend with in the sea channel. I wish I knew more about them but they look cool.

The above picture is the Alma of San Francisco, which is still sailing today thanks to conservation efforts. It is reported to be one of the fastest schooner barges ever built. At the heyday in San Francisco about 400 were involved in lightering, coaling, and garbage operations (urk!). They are tremendously stable and even when I was there in the 30-knot breeze, the Alma didn't even tip over a bit.

The folks in Galveston are building one and I thought gee, why not us?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Good day for a small wind turbine!

As I paid my last respects today in winds that were gusting to 48 MPH, I thought "gee, if I had even a small windmill I'd be doing great! " Here's a really cool new design from Helix Wind in the picture and the sure looks like less of a bird hazard than the usual salad-shooter technology with propellers. An HEB distribution warehouse somewhere in the Valley was also looking at a big one. The residential ones are more like 2 kW but hey, that's plenty for me.

I have no idea if our local zoning codes outlaw them or not - anyone have a clue? The only thing I'd worry about is taking it down in a hurricane. It sure would be nice to sit here working and blogging away, knowing I had some happy little green electrons jumping around.

Maybe Amazing Walter can help me make an artistic one of a similar design. I remember when I was a kid there was a sculptor who made ones that pumped pond water when the wind blew, and when the wind blew really hard this sculpture-man thing could pee 50 feet into the air! Come on I was just a kid then. The sculptor built quite a few in the Westbrook and Old Saybrook areas of Connecticut in case you want to check up on my sanity. I want some clean electrons folks, no need for alarm just yet.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Of Dirty Crocs and a Dying Dog

Shiffra our 14 Y.O. humane society mix dog told me she didn't want any pictures today. I had realized I don't have any pictures of her happy, after a few old computers went kaflooey. She is a cross between a cow-dog and a German Shepard mutt I am most sure. Well she herded everything including Lori and I, so I figure she had a little cow dog in there.

I took a picture of some our Croc shoes we cleaned today, as at least mine were pretty smelly and gross. I had no idea that if you cleaned some fish and then mowed the yard they could be such a tragedy. I have no idea what Shiffra would think because she can barely do more than keep her ears up, she loves hearing Lori so much. I don't think she would mind the shoes in the least.

Dang, almost had her on a big boogie board, a real sponger. Shiffra still is her name.

Update: By 9:30 she had passed and all is OK now except the puppy is very confused. We aired out the house real good because death has a particular smell. It is OK now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fish Friday

Well my inshore red snapper trip crashed today but I went to the jetties, and no game fish out there except people catching bait with bait: nada signor. Then I stopped at various places in the area and noted that if there was some kind of recession, the Winter Texans are down here jam packed and amazingly, for lack of fish, very happy. I cruised the old haunts and came to Sea Ranch were I took this picture.

This is not only where we brought in all the cold-stunned turtles a couple years ago, but where I have memories of doing a radical 360 slip on the slimy concrete during that ordeal - Crocs are not good ramp shoes apparently. But as I gazed out I saw many familiar boats, the greyhounds, battle wagons, and sailboats of the Texas Weekend Recreational Navy.

On the left is a very large Hatteras and behind that are at least a dozen shorter Bertrams. The boat in the center is a "playboy" boat because it has no fishing accoutrement such as a tuna tower or fly poles. Obviously, none of them were out fishing today and even the Osprey docks were quiet.

Some party boats were parked by the long jetties in hopes of some kind of fish elusive nibble, although from what I saw the fish were "tourist trout" of doubtable edibility or fighting potential. I did spot a bay dolphin or two and considered myself very lucky, so I went home.

Thank goodness Lori brought home a pound of wild shrimp.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Explanation and Apology

Due to unpopular demand, I have taken some heat for my comments regarding "grumpy old people" and rightly so. I must explain, but first let me apologize to the good people, residents, and visitors in advance: I am sorry.

Shortly after we moved down here there was a very contested election which ended up as basically a mud-slinging festival. In one corner was Rick Ridolfi, a man I really like and did support, and in the other corner were challengers backed by what was called the Laguna Madre Business Association, something like that. It was horrible, with personal attacks on Rick and his wife, Gloria; he was even accused of grabbing his crotch while speaking in front of another woman.

Honestly folks, I didn't want to bring up such negativity but those were and still are the facts. I retaliated by calling them all a bunch of grumpy old [expletive deleted]. It was too much for what I thought was my idea of paradise, laid back people, and beautiful beaches. The business coalition was able to elect several to the Board of Alderman in a crushing blow to Mr. Ridolfi, for reasons I cannot fathom today. It was evident that Islanders believed all the mud-slinging, lies, rumors, half-truths, meanness, and invented failures.

To make it worse, we ended up with a BOA having a majority of votes that seemed quite receptive to whatever the developers wanted in the way of special variances, larger buildings, exceptions here and there, and ways to profit more from the construction and condo industry. It became clear as night and day what was happening. The group that was somewhat behind Rick Ridolfi went ballistic ... rather grumpy if you get my drift. You can still see some of these folks, who are not necessarily old (although many had pro-retirement sentiments), over at Jason's SPI Forum. But I called both camps "grumpy old people" because they didn't like it - I wanted a more moderate approach to Island matters.

It didn't work.

Both camps jumped on me like Richard Simmons chasing after ladies trying to get them to exercise. I started withdrawing from Island politics about then in complete frustration. Thank goodness I did not agree to run for the BOA or anything stupid like that. These days I just want to enjoy the Island, not make any enemies, and start saving for a nest egg after a bunch of large expenses like moving down here, having kids in college and needing money, and stuff like that. I literally can't afford to be negative and cause a ruckus.

So I won't use the phrase again but you know why it is a sore spot in my conscience. Again I'm sorry; I like everyone from little babies to those 80 year olds with those cool historical tales - don't think they didn't have fun back in the old days! I really don't know any "bummer" people that I've met down here.

Not a single one.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sea Fog 2.13

You really can't take a good picture of sea fog but that's what we had today, and a good 'un. Midday you could see the stuff lined up right at the surf-line at the beach. Then it moved back in at dusk. Wow, this was better than what they call "Nantucket Pea soup." Anyway it was foggy most all day. Still is.

But ... there were those outlines of the palm trees and no matter how scruffy they look during the day, look fantastic at night. Back-lit in the fog. In the shadows. Hey I just opened the door and the palms are there but I can't see the water tower 1/4 mile away. There should be a bright red aviation warning light on the top of the water tank and ... goners, even used glasses this time, not visible. No zoobie (aren't new words fun?).

My old bloggy profile says "onward through the fog" but maybe a bad idea when the stuff is so thick you can cut it with a butter knife. Please don't go onward, whoa Trigger! Down boy.

But SPI always amazes you, five minutes later I check outside and there was a break in the clouds and this giant moon was there ... the giant water tower zoob was back, and the wind had freshened up one notch, nice. OK, fog's still there but let's go onward, slowly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Society Against Grumps

After divorcing myself from a particularly ugly forum exchange yesterday I suddenly feel the freedom of not having to deal with grumpy people anymore. It was quite inspirational. Apparently I said something bad somewhere and that means I am a bad, bad, dog. So to save my sanity (with for goodness sake no Sean Hannity), I went back to happy and decided we needed an army to patrol the Island against angry people. I'll call it the Society Against Grumps for now while waiting on a better acronym.

South Padre is supposed to be a happy place and to heck with all this contention and negativity. Instead of troops of elderly retired people checking for "bad behavior" let's parade the streets and beaches with clowns, bicycles, strolling musicians, buskers, surfers carrying banners, and merry maids throwing flower pedals. We've done it before and will do it again. The funny thing is that even the grumpy people think it is fun.

In these gloomy, horrible times of wars, economy, and elections, it is time to get a break every now and then to have some fun, help others have fun, and Unlitter.

Monday, February 18, 2008

An Esoteric Hot Tub, Aye?

If you can't read the sign on the bottom it says "Heated Pool & Esoteric Hot Tub." I know La Internatcional is an OK place and have stayed there a time or two, but esoteric? I mean, if you jump in the pool will freaks like Timothy Leery, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Joyce, and a Chupacabra materialize all the sudden? Yikes!

Heavy Weed Floated In

Wow what a difference a day makes here on South Padre. Yesterday I walked the dog here and the beach was clean except for some old marsh grass fragments that washed up from the Rio or Mexico, very light. Today there is a few hundred tons of Sargasso seaweed that came in overnight on the northeast winds, Some of the piles by the water were over a foot deep.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Good Saturday

I didn't get to all the events last night and today, but the happiness factor was very good. Ditter Dog was a success and Rob over at Surf Riders reports that his fest raised enough money for not only one but TWO college scholarships. Lots of other stuff going on but no fishing because the wind was 25 to 35, with a maximum gust I saw of 48 MPH.

For folks who don't know, we have three seasons down here on SPI: weather, no weather, and the chance of a Cat3 hurricane. For over six months a year we have 85 to 95 degree temperatures and sunshine, nice but boring if you're a weatherman. The rest of the year we have weather. We have not had a hurricane in many, many years.

More people are here these days although it is hard to day more or less than in previous years. The winter has been especially bad up in Minnesota and those northern tier states ... our neighbor said at one time it was -40 F up yonder, no wonder a few are down here. Things seem to being coming to life in what is a nice winter down here. The huisache has started to pop little yellow flower balls, forecasting an early spring. Soon those plants will be covered in gold and then the yucca and mesquite will start blooming. Allergies are already here if you didn't start sneezing already.

For you policy wonks, the comprehensive planning committee is about to revolt and go home right as the May local elections start happening, probably a bad combination but few seem to care except some elderly folks still having "visions." I drink a bunch of beer but visions, that takes something really good. It's like blah-blah-blah who cares, so what the old folks are into the Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test now. This is a very strange town, ya know.

Almost as surprising as anything is what is not happening on the sand spit we call South Padre Island. No big development up north other than the ugliest condo tower I have ever seen, up from the Convention Center and The Shores. No progress on a second causeway because the state agency says it lost all the money on the way to the bank.

The really big news was that down by Saturn and Gulf Boulevard, the Town put in a drainage ditch across the road (Neptune Circle access, which always floods). This ditch was worse than the border fence and looked like it could cause some serious damage to even a big pickup truck. So today the barricades went back up and they're doing another experiment we ain't figured out yet. When I get the inside word I'll pass it along. I never did get to get airborne off the last version so I'm kinda bummed out.

Haven't been way up north on the beaches this year but I', sure them Winter Texans got it all packed down right nice - some of them have duelies ya know. A little more rain coulld help because the more you go north towards Mansfield Cut, the more sugar sand there is. Sugar sand don't pack down but these old-timers seem to get through it fine. If I can stand getting in the water, some Florida pompano are to he had - even Earnest Hemingway would agree than pompano rocks for good tasting fish.

Less Spring Breakers are on the local Internet boards and forums than ever, and no telling if this year's mild riot is the same or much smaller than last year. It seems like a lot of kids didn't like the combat zone mentality down here, like they hired special Ops to kick butt on anybody below the age of 25. I wish I could find that picture I took when the town had cyclone fencing down all of lower Padre Boulevard ... it looked like the DMZ in Vietnam or something. Welcome, uh, kiddos.

The fishing really sucks down here as compared to other years but them Winter Texans are always happy. Ain't no flounder tho', I mean what's up with that? I haven't seen an honest bucket o' local blue crabs in years. The trout are small and few. You can cruise for redfish but often you have to cover tens of miles and most are out at sea now. Some big black drum are being caught along the ship channels, nice ones, perhaps a sign of early spring. The offshore has been rough, and the window of opportunity to get offshore is usually once or twice a month in the winter.

But know what? I forgot to fish today and walk a mile on the beach and shame, shame, shame. Lord, please don't make me take up golf because I was a bad boy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sandy Feet's Walk of Fame

Word on the sandbar is that Sandy Feet was nominated for the Walk of Fame that includes notables like the Turtle Lady Ila Loescher. I say it is time, after all these years, to recognize Lucinda for all the great things she has done.

Al Gore didn't invent the internet and Sandy Feet didn't either but she was the first to market our Island using computers with her sacred Macs and Apples. Not only that, with Amazing Walter she invented Sand Castle Days, which has an interesting history dating back to 1989. Nobody has sold this Island for so long and so hard as Sandy Feet, other than some very good real estate agents.

Sometimes we need to celebrate our locals as really making a town or city what it is, and each town should recognize the people who somehow added a good reputation, and almost become legendary. Camden Maine has "Cappy" the schooner captain. Austin has Leslie the cross-dresser to keep Austin weird. One town in Colorado recognizes "Bob the Bridge" because I guess they were tired of the locals and really liked their bridge. We were and still are blessed with Sandy Feet, professional sculpture artist.

As William Blake the poet might say, the soul of a city is equally important as it's inns, taverns, and economy. You can't measure the soul of a city but Sandy Feet shines here pretty darn good. 'Nuff sed.

Happy Valentines Day, girl!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Time to Water the Plants

I was setting a plant or two in the backyard and noticed that even two and a half feet down, the soil was pure powder, completely dry. So I filled each hole with water, which took a while to drain, and then top-watered really good, including some of the other plants. I hadn't seen it that dry in several years, as I guess we were blessed with heavy winter rains last year.

True, I did see we hadn't had much rain except for an inch or so here and there since last October, and it has been 60 days since a good rain. An article in today's local Harlingen paper said that the farmers cannot plant dry-land cotton at all unless it rains. It makes sense now, after all that digging today.

Hopefully we'll get some needed rain on Tuesday with the next front but the last update from the weather geeks is only a 30% chance. I'd deep-water some plants if you don't have a sprinkler system for sure.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Computers, Sheesh!

With one click of the computer mouse I managed to wipe out my entire blog lay-out, which might have been boring but it worked. So this is what happens when you push the "enhance" button, huh? Suffice it to say, I started over and I'm not real happy about this format but it is time to give it a rest. At least I could enlarge the print size because the default was teenie-weenie.

Nice weather with open doors and even naps on the beach continues. I heard from some folks up in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee and while damage reports were truly awful, given the storms and tornadoes, all were safe. We could use some rain but not that kind of rain.

Political season has started here on our sandbar although not in high gear, and I won't bother you all with that noise unless you really want some Sturm and Drang.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Open Door Days

Ah, when it gets over 65 degrees the door is thrown open in typical South Padre style, rarely ever seen with a screen door. You can tell when the locals are happy because they have their doors wide open. No need for air conditioners or heaters, nice.

And we have plenty of happy open door days on SPI. In the summer it's mainly in the morning, and in October the mosquitoes can be bad all day long. But other then a few fronts and storms, an open door policy is always good while your home.

When the wind gets up in the afternoon you have to be careful, though, because if you open the back door as well your house could become a wind tunnel, as papers and linen flies its merry way out the door. One open door at a time is a good idea in high winds, trust me.

After all those years of working in sterile offices with no open windows, this surely is a treat.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Existential Grist Posting

Dr. Andrew Dessler wrote a nice posting on the Grist blog about climate change and hurricanes, and I was feeling good, liked what he said, and decided to post him a comment. Basically he said the science is divided ... and some of the people who publish "definitive" and alarming studies on global warming causing hurricanes are full of hot air. Nice!

[p.s., Andrew and I do agree the air is warming.]

* * *

[new] Thanks Andrew


I breathe a sigh of relief as somebody tells the right story about ocean temperatures, climate change, and greenhouse gases. If it was a simple topic, the scientists would be mostly in some kind of agreement now like the IPCC recent findings.

Difficult Issues

There are issues such as the latent energy of ocean water, ocean oscillation, and even the fact that as the ice melts at the poles that water is maybe 30 F. In addition, massive hurricanes can mix ocean water down to at least 600 feet, which results in colder water (see before and after SST of where Hurricane Dean came in). There are warm eddies and cold eddies and even deep trench circulation that can move extremely fast, such as during a tsunami. It's fascinating stuff and I'm glad I'm a student of it.

Frontier of Science

Back to the IPCC, we are just now starting to understand pole melt water such as from snow, glaciers, and sea pack ice, each different. Climate change oceanography is still in its infancy because nobody knows what to expect, as it keeps surprising us. Let's get the ice modeling done first and then work on the ocean dynamics. And folks, we're still learning about what an ocean wave is.

Global Warming and Hurricanes

I trend to agree that if you have ocean water over 83 F for a good while, you could grow a "super-cane" like Hurricane Katrina or Dean when they were at their maximum vorticity. The question is the timing and distribution of these relatively hot waters all over the globe, as well as the mechanism (e.g., easterly wave in the northern hemisphere).


If you look at maps of sea surface temperature (SST) and mixing depth you can infer the thermal efficiency of a tropical cyclone. The only problem is, there are hot currents and little hot-spots all over, slightly changing every year. OK, now does climate change relate to that, and visa-versa?



Onward through the fog

by Sam Wells at 11:21 PM on 06 Feb 2008
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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Extreme Offshore Kayak Fishing

Well this was a new one one me. Seems like these kayak people wanted to try fishing 40 miles offshore on a relatively calm day and found a convincing captain to make the voyage. The story told on was that they first tried some small fishing on the bottom and caught some beeliners (Vermillion Snapper) and were extremely pleased. Then, it was Tuna Time.

Only one kayak hooked up on a large yellow fin tuna and it took the poor fellow for a two mile Nantucket Sleigh Ride. Two miles, folks! Danny here in the picture (peace out man) paddled like all heck to catch the pair and latched onto the first kayak to slow down the monster fish. Meanwhile the M/V Cherise maneuvered closer.

Dang if the 100-some pound tuna didn't break the reel holding the tuna so the crew frantically worked to splice the line onto a heavier fishing pole but it parted before the knot was nailed.

These fearless kayakers decided it was the time of their lives and want to do it more. I wonder if this would be fun off South Padre instead of way up the coast?