All Hands on Deck

Posted By: CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E. Port Bureau News, Captain's Corner,

Years ago, I boarded the Coast Guard square-rigged sailing ship EAGLE as a cadet for a training cruise. It was my first experience at sea. It was hard work. There was endless maneuvering of the sails which required intelligence, cooperation, and muscle. The first thing I learned was how much the sea rolls and which side was leeward. When my sea legs arrived, I began learning the 154 lines and their salty “clew-, bunt-, and leech-“ line names. More importantly, I learned that to maximize the sails' effectiveness, the entire crew has to work in unison, pulling and releasing the lines with just enough strain to keep everything in check.

Why do I mention this? Because there are a lot of people pulling hard on the congressional strings for the $31 billion Coastal Barrier “Ike Dike“. Your Port Bureau Board of Directors applauds the momentum to fund such a project, but they also want to start pulling on the design lines to ensure it's right for us.

Recently the Board wrote a letter to the Port of Houston Authority Commission, the Gulf Coast Protection District Board of Directors, and the Harris County Board of Pilot Commissioners asking for support for the Houston Pilots navigation study of the preliminary gate design. The letter’s intent was to encourage the storm surge safety efforts while enabling the long-term viability of the Houston Ship Channel as our nation’s most critical waterway.

Like many other ports, Houston has met the ever-growing needs of maritime transportation by expanding the Ship Channel. As everyone knows, we are now in the eleventh expansion project to accommodate increasingly larger vessels. The proposed coastal barrier system includes a set of two 650’ gates between Bolivar Peninsular and Galveston Island. The navigation study mentioned above would include evaluating whether the dual 650’ gates will safely accommodate current and future vessel sizes and allow for continued two-way traffic.

Another line they want to pull on is the potential location of the gates and their impact on the Bolivar Roads’ inner anchorage areas. The inner anchorages serve as critical space for deep-draft vessels to await orders, effect repairs, or receive bunkers in sheltered waters that are unavailable in the offshore anchorage. The significant value of these areas is why the Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee has spent years pushing to expand our inner anchorages. The location of the gates could be problematic in our system of staging, bunkering, and preparing vessels for arrival. Nearly 100,000 metric tons of bunkers are delivered to vessels anchored in the inner anchorage every month – that’s about $1 billion per year at current bunker prices! Proper gate placement is critical to the continued efficiency of our port.

 Understanding the hydrology, traffic limitations, and safety of the gates is of paramount importance to all stakeholders in the port region. On the EAGLE every major sail maneuver required all hands-on-deck, working together, and paying attention - and your Port Bureau Directors believe this is an all-hands-on-deck decision for our communities, waterway, and industrial complex. It is time to get your sea legs, study up on what is being proposed, and weigh in on what is the best design for our channel. Give me a call to get involved in pulling and releasing the multiple lines for an optimal Coastal Barrier plan.  

About the Author

CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E. is president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau. Utilizing his 30+ years of marine safety and port operations experience, he guides the Port Bureau in bringing members and community partners together for cooperation and collaboration to improve and advance the port region.