“Texas Chicken Game” in Houston Ship Channel

The object of "Texas Chicken" in the Houston Ship Channel apparently is to create a brief water wall between two large ingoing and outgoing ships that otherwise could not pass each other.

The object of “Texas Chicken” in the Houston Ship Channel apparently is to create a brief water wall between two large ingoing and outgoing ships that otherwise could not pass each other.

Holy, Moses! As one of those neighborhoods that teemed with longshoremen and merchant marines as residents, we never heard anything that comes to memory of this “Texas Chicken Game” back then. The Pecan Park Eagle has just learned that it is now going on in the Houston Ship Channel. We learned of it accidentally on a short drive to the dog groomer with our little male Shih Tzu “Morti” when I reached to the radio to punch in the 610 AM  sports talk show at the same time our car was hitting a pot hole. Because of the jar, I accidentally hit station 700 AM as some regular political host guy was talking about and explaining what the “Texas Chicken Game” on the Houston Ship Channel is really all about. I heard just enough to get a very insufficient education on the subject as we turned into the Tiffany Kennels grooming service.

Here’s the gist and the narrow, shallow depth of what we learned. – It seems that even with all the widening of the ship channel that has continuously taken place forever out there, that it is still a passing problem when a very large incoming ship encounters a very large outgoing ship in certain  parts of the narrow 50 mile strip of water that connects Houston to the Gulf of Mexico and every other large seaport in the world.

The problem often is that there simply isn’t enough flat-water width for the two ships to pass each other unless …. unless they each can do something to generate a temporary wall of water between themselves that creates an angular brief area of space that is sufficient to make passing each other possible. We don’t completely get all the physics and geometry involved here, but we do wonder how they know the details of their individual ship hull clearance needs to make it work. Surely all large ships are not of a universal size, but, as the two captains engaging in this little act of scientific resourcefulness, they would each need to be pretty sure it was going to work with their particular crafts before lunging “had on” into this particular solution.

Here is the essence of how it works, according to the guy on the radio:

Aware of their impending passage problem, the two oncoming ships take dead aim at each other from some unspecified distance away from contact and go full throttle, straight  at each other like James Dean and some other hot rod teen driver in a game of “Rebel Without a Cause” car chicken-  only this challenge is between two monster vessels of the sea. (Maybe they should have called this game “Chicken of the Sea”.)

At any rate, as the two ships near contact with each other, both captains simultaneously veer right, creating an enormous temporary wall of water that manages to expand the hull water space enough for each ship – just long enough to make safe passage possible.

That’s all we got from our brief exposure, but we have found a number of “Texas Chicken Game” links” on Google that look pretty informative, if anyone has the time and interest in learning more. The following link from Bloomberg Business pretty well supports the explanation we described here.


Maybe ship channels have something in common with our freeways. Maybe widening a ship channel would simply be a trillion dollar waste of money that solved nothing. After all, making our Houston freeways wider doesn’t resolve our auto congestion problems. Widening freeways just seems to create wider traffic jams.

But do we simply settle for “The Texas Chicken Game” as our ship channel limited width solution for the passage of two big ships in the night? What happens if one of these “Texas Chicken Game” captains goes over the line in an oceanic version of “road rage” and then fails to veer right when he is supposed to turn?

Maybe the rest of you already know about this rather high stakes risk solution they call the “Texas Chicken Game”, but we sure had not heard of it until a couple of days ago. It seems like a potential disaster just waiting to happen, especially if two freighters carrying highly combustible cargoes collided anywhere near a few of those large hydrogen tank storage facilities that exist at certain points along the way.

T.G.I.F, Everybody! – Even though, these days, every day is pretty much Friday for your humble publisher, editor, and staff writer of The Pecan Park Eagle. Otherwise, where would I find the time to write about a subject like this one? I do find it very interesting that we haven’t heard more about this practice from the mainline local TV stations and the Houston Chronicle, but maybe those folks don’t have car radios.




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