Port of Houston Tour Is Free

Check it out at http://www.portofhouston.com or call 713.670.2416 for boat tour reservations.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. This freebie boat tour of the Houston Ship Channel has been going on for well over a half century and I didn’t even know about it until this week when my son Neal invited me to go with him yesterday, Wednesday, January 26. It was ninety minute dream day tour with about sixteen other people aboard the M/V Sam Houston, a ship that is designed to comfortably carry 90 passengers.

Neal & Bill McCurdy: Standing just inside the bridge where Buffalo Bayou becomes the Houston Ship Channel at the Turning Basin.

Neal and I took the 10:00 AM tour. The routine schedule for all tours works like this:

Monday: Closed. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, & Saturday: Two Tours; one at 10:00 AM and another at 2:30 PM. Thursday & Sunday: 2:30 PM only. Closed on all official  holidays and closed for all of each September for annual maintenance work on the M/V Sam Houston.

As a security measure, all reservations must be made 24 hours in advance and all adult “tourists” will need photo identification cards to be allowed into the Port’s tour embarking dock at the Sam Houston Pavilion – and again at tour boarding. Cameras are fine, but no large purses or big travel bags are allowed on the boat.

Looking upstream, Buffalo Bayou begins and ends on the other side of this bridge.

Pelicans are just one of the many wild bird species that somehow make their homes on the murky waters of the Houston Ship Channel.

"The Sam" features an air-conditioned interior with comfortable seating and free coffee, plus ample exterior walking space on deck, all around the boat. Our tour included mainly French-speaking people.

We sailed under the big overpass on 610 East.

Our captain and/or auditory tour guide (We never saw nor met the person behind the voice) kept us filled with information about what we were passing as we made our 45 minute first half trip down the ship channel. The sights were both expected and surprising. Unloading import docks, massive storage facilities, ships of all sizes, from Coast Guard to Harris County Sheriff ships to cargo cities to tugboats and survey vessels were all out there at once. Energy and activity appeared to be the order of things around here on a daily basis. There was a lot to be done – and all of it had to do with the movement of massive, heavy objects.

In fact, it was the enormity of these ships and this operation that stayed firmest with me. At the Houston Ship Channel, we have a chance to witness the stuff that moves our economy one way or another on a daily basis. It’s almost scary to consider the cost that goes along with bad commerce decisions on this level. The stakes and the risk-reward swings are every dollar as large as the size of the physical operation.

Passing a Monster of the Deep

Colossal-Scale Hydrogen Tanks

Plenty of Outside Walking Room

These ships were designed for the biggest possible haul.

The closer you get, the more "awesome" takes over.

The descendants of the same birds that greeted the Allen Brothers on these waters in 1836, plus some newer ones, are still hanging out as survivors.

Jennie Johnson of "The Sam" was a gracious host to Neal and me on this trip. Thanks for the information, the coffee, the band aids, and the good company, Jennie!

Old Glory Really Shines on a Blue Sky Day!

And it truly was a blue sky day, one that Neal and I will hold together in our hearts and minds as another great father-son moment to remember. I’m very lucky that this great young man came into my life from birth when he did. He has his own life as a young man now, but he still makes time to do some “adventuring” on a random January Wednesday that we both had the time to be together.

No “Cat and the Cradle” remorse here. I’m glad that I always had time for Neal when he was growing up. Now, it seems, he has time for me.

Thank you, son, for another wonderful day.

Houston: One of several depictions of our city on the walls of the Sam Houston Pavilion.

Th Sam Houston Boat Tours are supported with funds collected through a 1% surcharge fee assigned to every ship docking at the Port Houston. The money pays for the running, staffing, and maintenance of the ship and its free touring package – and remember, that includes free coffee. Hang out here for a while and some us might start to discover the sense of entitlement that seems to drive the lives of so many others on much broader fronts

I’m not used to the experience that comes pretty close to feeling as though we are “getting something for nothing,” but I certainly enjoyed the boat ride yesterday. And also the free coffee. I’d recommend it to all of you, but that tout may be coming a tad late. Yesterday, if I recall correctly, we learned that over one million people took the same boat tour between 1958 and 1979 – and I have no idea how many have made the trip since then.

If you haven’t, it’s worth the run.


One Response to “Port of Houston Tour Is Free”

  1. Tim Collins Says:

    You’ve sold it to me! Looking forward to taking this tour when next we visit Houston . . .

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