Uncovering the Course of Houston’s Hidden Ship Channel

Judith Schultz, GHPB

It’s more than 100 years old. It fuels a large percentage of the local, state, and even national economy. It ought to be obvious, but it isn’t. Finding the Houston Ship Channel can be a challenge for the tourist wanting to get on a first name basis with how Houston really works. In fact, it can be a challenge for those of us who live here and pass it by without seeing it. To meet this challenge, we’ve compiled a few good ways to get better acquainted with the 52 mile economic engine that keeps us chugging forward.

1. Cruise aboard the Sam Houston Boat Tour. This 90 minute educational voyage on the M/V Sam Houston is the best way to meet the Houston Ship Channel face-to-face and catch a glimpse of Port Houston’s Turning Basin operations. The tour is free but requires reservations a minimum of 24 hours in advance. WE-SU. www.porthouston.com/portweb/sam-houston-boat-tour.

2. Visit the Houston Maritime Museum. The museum’s collection of artifacts and ship models has grown to over eight galleries covering the world of maritime history and culture. A highlight of the museum is their comprehensive exhibit on the history of Port Houston and its impact on daily lives, the economy of Houston, and the nation. Guided tours can be arranged, with engaging stories and insights, from museum docents. 2204 Dorrington, Houston, 77030. Open TU-SA. www.maritime.org.

3. View it from the top of the San Jacinto Monument. The Monument’s observation floor at the top of the tower offers panoramic views of the Houston Ship Channel. Unless your budget affords a privately arranged helicopter tour of the port region, there is not a better place than this to take it all in with a bird’s eye view. High powered binocular scopes offer visitors a chance to extend viewing perspectives and zoom in on changing scenes. Visitors can also access an archive of footage from the past 24 hours of the Monument’s camera. Open daily. Admission to observation floor and use of scopes require separate fees. www.sanjacinto-museum.org.

4. Cross over the channel on the Lynchburg Ferry. The short ferry trip offers another perspective of Houston Ship Channel activities as the ferry awaits its turn for each crossing. To gain an appreciation of the ferry’s legacy of maritime activities, it’s helpful to read the details at the site’s historical marker. In addition to its industry work, the historic ferry service also transported wounded soldiers from the Battle of San Jacinto to Lynchburg. Free. Daily operations. www.hcp2.com/road-bridge/lynchburg-ferry.

5. Mingle at the Houston International Seafarers’ Centers. Grab a hamburger at the Howard T. Tellepsen Seafarers’ Center at the Turning Basin. They welcome visitors for lunch at their small café. Thursdays is the steak and baked potato special. Get there early so you don’t miss out on a steak before they sell-out. (Be sure all your guests have their I.D.s.’s handy for entrance through Port Houston’s gate.) Or shoot a game of pool with visiting mariners lucky enough to spend a few hours ashore at the Lou Lawler Seafarers’ Center at Barbours Cut Terminal in LaPorte. If you can take a decorated shoebox filled with useful items for their Christmas Box Program, the contribution is guaranteed to be appreciated and could open the doors to new conversations with the staff. Open daily; dining hours may vary. www.venturecd.net/seafarerscenter.org

6. Dine on the Channel waterfront. Sunday brunch at Brady’s Landing is a special treat for visitors, but weekday lunches might offer the best view of port activity. Brady’s Landing is also the venue for the Port Bureau’s Commerce Club luncheon series. Just a few miles east will take you to the Monument Inn. Diners can enjoy the view from most any table, but an early dinner around 3:00 p.m. can be a good time to get a window seat booth. It’s almost guaranteed that vessels of all types will glide by during your meal. (We seriously recommend the warm cinnamon rolls.) Both restaurants open daily. www.bradyslandingrestaurant.com and www.monumentinn.com.

7. Take a guided tour. Professional tour companies, such as Houston Historical Tours, offer guided tours to learn more about Port of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel. The tours cover some points of interest previously mentioned, but include knowledgeable guides to enhance learning and discovery moments. Most itineraries include a lunch stop at one of the waterside restaurants. By appointment. www.houstonhistoricaltours.com/portofhouston or Google for more tour professionals.

8. Book a boat tour. This spring the Buffalo Bayou Partnership offers “Looking Back” boat tours that return passengers to the founding days of Houston, featuring local historian and author, Louis Aulbach, sharing stories of the Allen brothers and the events that shaped Houston. Or book a private charter on their Spirit of the Bayou pontoon tour boat for up to 21 guests. The ride through the heart of downtown includes a look at Allen’s Landing where Houston’s inland port all began. Based on availability, you can request a historian join you on your private cruise. Fees vary. Reservations required. www.buffalobayou.org/boat-tours.

9. Wing over the Channel on a helicopter tour. This option requires a more expansive budget than most of the previously listed opportunities, but several firms offer tours that include an aerial view of the Houston Ship Channel from the San Jacinto Monument to Buffalo Bayou. If you are looking to view from Galveston all the way up to downtown Houston, you will more than likely have to secure a custom charter. Google to compare options.

10. Go digital. Although we urge all visitors to take an opportunity to see our amazing waterway up close, there are some excellent online opportunities for getting a feel for the importance of the Houston Ship Channel. For starters, we recommend the video produced by the Houston Pilots at www.houston-pilots.com/pilotHistory.aspx. It is eleven minutes of informative narratives and close-ups of vessel movements along our maritime highway. Many readers are familiar with the photography of Capt. Lou Vest, whose works (as well as those of others) can be seen on Flickr. You can also watch his two time-lapsed video tours (one by day and one by night) at gcaptain.com/500-knots-on-the-houston-ship-channel/. A fascinating photo essay produced by The Atlantic titled, “Americans at Work: Port Houston”, can be enjoyed at www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/12/americans-at-work-port-houston/511973/.

Keep tuned in for individual events that can overlap opportunities to see more the Houston Ship Channel community. For instance, the Texas Independence Relay takes runners from Gonzalez to the San Jacinto Monument. At the very least, participants are sure to gain a little more first-hand knowledge of the terrain!

The Port Bureau is always interested in promoting the maritime region. Our president, CAPT Bill Diehl, frequently presents a Port 101 session to new members and visiting entrepreneurs looking to boost their port knowledge. The Houston Ship Channel plays a unique role in Houston’s history, its present, and its future. We are eager to know more options for getting visitors better acquainted with the contributions of this vital economic engine. Email editor@txgulf.org anytime with your thoughts. Our visitors should know the Bayou City has achieved much of its success because a channel runs through it.

  • Date February 14, 2017
  • Tags February 2017