Men's Breakfast Report, June 2008

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, June 14, 2008 with James Williams of the Coast Guard.  James is engineering section officer at the Coast Guard station in charge of maintaining the diesel engines.  He also participates in other duties as needed. 

James was raised in Lampassas and had seldom even seen the ocean when he enlisted.  When he was deciding what branch of the service to enlist in, a friend suggested the Coast Guard because they hang around playing pool.  The actual duty has the men on for a 48-hour shift every week plus a 72-hour shift every other weekend.  If they are lucky they can play pool, but occasionally, especially on busy summer weekends, they may get very little sleep because of having to rescue several people. 

The main duties of the Coast Guard at the Freeport station are search-and-rescue and homeland security.  There are several security zones in the area where boaters are not allowed to enter without permission.  The most prominent of these are the Dow dock and canal and the LNG plant.  The Coast Guard does daily patrols of these areas to make sure boaters are not trespassing.  They also intercept smugglers.  Drug smugglers are usually identified by intelligence from the Drug Enforcement Administration, rather than by random inspections.  The Coast Guard also captures boats with illegal aliens trying to enter the country. 

The security function that most impacts the local boating community is the shepherding of the LNG tankers into the port.  The Coast Guard gives notice that the tanker will arrive within a 24-hour period.  They do not give more precise information because of fears that this could aid a terrorist.   When the tanker enters the jetties, the jetties and the intersection of the jetties and the intracoastal canal are shut down for four hours to other craft.  This could be a major inconvenience to other boat traffic.  Barge traffic through the canal is heavy and this could tie up traffic for many miles each side of the intersection. The Freeport area is trying to develop the recreational boating industry with marinas at Surfside and Freeport.  If a tanker enters the port on a weekend, someone’s long planned boating excursion could be ruined because they could not leave port when they planned, and it might make it unsafe to leave at all if they could not arrive at their destination at a safe time due to darkness or tides.  The question was raised as to how much this long closure is due to paranoia in Washington and how much is actually needed.  James said that the main cause of the long delay is the requirements of moving the large tanker around in the harbor and into the dock.  The tanker is much larger than most of the boats entering the harbor, has to move more slowly and requires tugs to help it maneuver.  Therefore the long time could not be shortened significantly because the area has to be free of other craft for safety reasons, not security reasons. 

There was also discussion of search-and-rescue operations.  A type of rescue that has become necessary recently is of kayaks.  Kayakers will be caught in the outflow from the Brazos River or San Luis Pass and swept out to sea where they become too exhausted to make it back to shore.  In general, many of the rescues involve boaters caught in the strong currents of the Brazos River and San Luis Pass.  James was involved with the rescue of the sailboat that lost its keel.  He said that the investigation of the incident would probably not involve the Coast Guard.

The men had an enjoyable discussion and a good breakfast.  All men are invited to the next breakfast, on July 12.