Saturday, January 5, 2013

Rockport- Maritime Museum and more...

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Today the rain relented just enough to allow us mice to venture out away from the shelter of of our fiberglass, glass, and steel nest on 6 wheels. Okay maybe I am taking the analogy a little too far- suffice to say we were hunkered down yesterday while the rain lashed us and the wind rocked and rolled our suspension.

Joan and I had to do this photo shoot when we discovered this Tropical Trails sign just north of Rockport. It puts the smiley on the exclamation point when we think about this week being 27 degrees below their normal high.

The weather forecast calls for more showers again this evening and tonight...and tomorrow We don't get a break in the clouds until Sunday, where the temperature climbs to a high of 62. What makes this ironic is that we could get this weather at home in Oregon! Okay, I'm not on a rant here. Let's just say we are very surprised that this is not the tropical wonderland that we thought it was. That's not to say we don't like it here or that we are not finding this place fascinating- we are. Read On!

Today we did not have to venture far to start the discovery. A mere 5 miles away we visited the Rockport Maritime Museum, which is perched on the edge of the boat harbor in downtown Rockport. Now for a city of slightly more than 8,700, this is an awesome museum! The museum is part of a network of Texas State Maritime Museums that are distributed among the various cities and historical sites along the Texas coast. Other attractions of this network we intend to check out are the USS Lexington anchored in Corpus Christi harbor, The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, the Houston Maritime Museum, Texas Seaport Museum- and there are more we won't get to see.

The Rockport Maritime Museum is filled with beautiful models! When you enter the first room this large model of the La Belle is front and center. It is a central theme as it should be. In 1684, one of Robert de La Salle's last great voyages from France to the USA was with a fleet of 4 ships and 300 settlers to start a colony near the mouth of the Mississippi. The lead ship was the La Belle. The expedition was plagued with poor luck as one ship was lost to pirates, and two of the other three ran aground or sank in Matagoda Bay. The wreck of the La Belle was discovered in 1995 in the muck of Matagoda Bay and it turned out to be an archaeological treasure. For some reason the warm mucky water of the bay turned out to be a perfect preserver. Archaeologists found the ship to be in incredible shape and were able to find many artifacts in the silt, including a human body that still had tissue in the cranium!

I finally tore myself away from the La Belle and headed into the next room which portrayed the importance of oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf. Again, the models were incredible and my pictures will not do this justice.

The models were very detailed constructs of drilling rigs that were commissioned and built- some right here in the coastal bend. The models show the progression of taller and taller rigs until the last ground-supported rig that was 1500 feet tall! After 1500 feet the rigs could no longer be built to sit on the sea bed and engineers designed floating drill platforms, anchored with cables to the sea floor.

Taking photos through plexiglas is very frustrating and in many of these the focus of the camera is off enough that you cannot see the intricate details I really wanted to show.
This model of a super tanker was so incredible I took close-ups of the details to show how painstakingly these were crafted.
This model is of the tenders that are used to supply the drilling platforms with supplies and can be used to ferry workers to-and-from the mainland.
The next room (balcony) was homage to the outboard boat motor.

I vaguely remember a few motors like these in my youth, but I was disappointed that I didn't see any Fageol motors like my family owned in the 60's in Alaska- those were museum pieces when they rolled off the assembly lines!

Joan was particularly interested in this board of knots that was tied by a Navy sailor while on duty on an icebreaker in the Arctic.
One of my favorite parts of the museum, was the life boat display out in the back yard. I wish these had been restored to original condition and had better descriptions.
This is called a Survival Craft and was primarily designed as an escape vehicle for offshore drilling platforms. It was totally enclosed once everyone was inside and the hatches were dogged. It had an oxygen system on board, as well as exterior fire sprinkler system that kept the whole craft wet in case they launched into burning oil. It had an on-board motor as well as 2 sets of oarlocks that could be used with the center hatches in the open position. In rough seas seat belts were required for all the occupants to keep the craft self-righting. (If it rolled and everyone were tossed to the roof the center of gravity would shift too much for it to turn right-side up again) The craft had food and rations enough for 45 crew for two weeks at sea. Too Cool!

This next craft is called the Whittaker Capsule, an escape pod that would accommodate a crew of 28 persons.

I wish the museum had included some of the tragic history that surrounds this craft. It seems that in the first serious use of this model of escape capsule, lives were lost due to the inability of the rescuers to safely transfer the occupants to the rescue craft before the capsule flooded. A secondary problem was the smells from the engine compartment (new paint) nauseated the crew when they used the engine. The capsule became embroiled in controversy after the incident which claimed 13 lives. In fairness the tragedy had many causes not all the fault of the capsule designer. In 1987 the Whittaker Marine Company restructured and the new entity is now called Survival Systems International. New generations of escape pods built on the lessons learned from these early designs still protect offshore workers around the world.

Get this:

The first totally enclosed, motor propelled, US Coast Guard Approved survival craft ever built for the offshore oil and gas industry anywhere in the world was manufactured by Whittaker Corporation in 1968. This survival craft, Model 9089A- serial number 001, is still in service today in Alaska, which is one of the harshest climates in the United States.

That's it for now...

All our best,

Jeff and Joan

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