Want to learn about the history of one of the Rio Grande Valley’s best-known enterprises and the geography of the Laguna Madre?
If the answer is yes, hop on one of several charter boat companies based in the South Padre Island-Port Isabel area for a tour of the Port of Brownsville and the surrounding Laguna.
The deep-water facility can be seen off State Highway 48, but an up close look at the port is an eye opener as a charter boat makes its way along the deep-water ship channel.
The tours were the original idea of Captain Murphy’s. Breakaway Cruises and Osprey Charter Services begin their own tours later. Each tour provides a wealth of information about the Laguna Madre and the port. Valley residents can take the opportunity to learn more about a piece of history right in their backyards.
Patrick Murphy, of the family run-and-owned charter services that bears their last name, said they started offering the tours many years ago.
“However, our operation was halted because of 9/11,” he said in reference to 2001. “We resumed the tours the following year but had to get a clearance to make the trip because of safety issues.”
Getting A Look At History & Industry
Once things got back to near normal, Murphy said they began making the 17-mile, four-hour trip from their dock. The route goes from the southern tip of the SPI jetties to the Brownsville Turning Basin. The boat then goes south, making a quick stop on South Bay where SpaceX can be seen from afar. It next makes its way toward one of the region’s busiest cluster of companies at the Port of Brownsville.
A closer look reveals a number of jobs connected to welding. Workers are seen cutting through steel with sparking torches, dissembling old war ships, or building and refurbishing off-shore oil rigs. The boat then passes the old Brownsville Shrimp Basin and the home of one of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest shrimp boat fleets.
A few minutes later, the boat passes by AmFELS, a sprawling off-shore oil rig enterprise. Passengers can see a mammoth-sized platform is under construction.
The boat then passes by a submersible dock, which is named after Solomon Ortiz. Ortiz served several terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing a district that ran from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. To the south are seven liquid docks that store wax, chemicals and different types of fuels.
A few minutes later, Murphy’s boat goes to the end of the ship channel and makes a u-turn at the Brownsville Turning Basin. It bypasses the old and new buildings that house the harbor master’s office. As the boat heads back, it goes by an area where three warships from the U.S. Navy are being dismantled for scrap metal.
The boat eventually makes its second pass by the Brownsville Shrimp Basin before making another swing in Port Isabel and heading back to its docks. On the boat are Jack and Brenda Baucum, who said this was their second time they took the tour.
“This a trip that never gets old,” she said. “I will recommend it to anyone.”
Minnesota resident Jim Trezona said he enjoyed every minute of the trip.
“We have been here for a week and were trying to find something else to do,” he said. “You get pretty good information about the port and this area. I love it.”
There’s also an added attraction. Each Port of Brownsville trip includes coffee, pastries and boiled gulf-caught shrimp.