Skip Rhudy

aviation, travel, books

Under the Gulf Coast Sun

There were times of heavy surf. When we’d first bought our surfboards and were still learning we were too scared to paddle out in waves this big. We excused ourselves: Our parents wouldn’t possibly let us go out because it was too big and dangerous. Then we’d walk out along the south jetty, maybe for three quarters of a mile, and standing there we would see the older guys taking drops like this:

hurricane katrina surf copyright
Hurricane Katrina Surf

The photo below was recently taken by Dan Parker from the Horace Caldwell Pier in Port Aransas. Periodically he gets this benefit as part of his job as editor/photographer of the South Jetty newspaper. I grew up with Dan and we both bought our first surfboards from Pat Magee’s Surf shop. Dewey Weber was buddies with Pat Magee, who had briefly surfed on Weber’s team. Pat started selling Dewey’s surfboards in his shop. My Winger was on sale for $110. I called Dan right away and urged him to go to Pat Magee’s and buy one of the Wingers. Dan did — and his brother Ron got the last one. My winger was eventually stolen from Gulf Beach Cottages by a linen truck driver while I was living in Germany. It was spotted by a friend of mine in a pawn shop in San Antonio a couple of years later. Dan’s brother destroyed his Winger using it as a skim-board towed behind a car on a flooded street after a rainstorm. Dan’s board is still at his house. This is a local ripping tropical storm Laura surf in Port Aransas:

The Pod House still exists today. As with many scenes in Under the Gulf Coast Sun, the party at the Pod House where the two main characters meet is loosely based on a real event. I was at a party at the Pod House. It was a great party — the names and events have been changed or invented to protect the innocent:

After graduating high school many of my friends from Port Aransas headed up to central Texas to go to college at either Southwest Texas State University or the University of Texas at Austin. I stayed home. I was sick of classrooms. I needed work, and after waiting tables that last summer at Pelican’s Wharf I got a job on a crew boat. The job could be described with the same words often used to describe war: Long periods of intense boredom punctuated by short bursts of dangerous and potentially fatal action. I survived, and in fact experienced all the things in the book but being washed overboard and spending the night in The Gulf:

crew boat

When we first moved to the Island, I loved Spring Break. Maybe less so now. In the far background is the Dunes Condominium, and you can barely make out the Horace Caldwell Pier stretching out into the water:

Kassie, the heroine of Under the Gulf Coast Sun, is inspired in part by Margaret Hamilton. Margaret joined the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory and was the first programmer hired for Apollo; she became director of software engineering for the project in 1965. In the novel Kassie knows about Margaret because her dad worked at NASA and told stories to Kassie about her and other women who worked at important jobs at NASA. Here is Margaret Hamilton with printouts of some of the Apollo guidance software:

Somewhere there’s a picture of Pelican’s Wharf in Port Aransas when I was working there with Dave Hix. Dave went on to work in many restaurants on the Island, and I briefly talked with him in 2012 or so at Kody’s where he was prepping king crab. He remembered me from the days at Pelican’s. Dave has since passed on, but I’ll never forget the dynamic force of nature he was manning the grill at Pelican’s during big event weekends like the Deep-Sea Roundup or during a holiday like July 4th. The Internet claims that the Pelican’s Wharf below is in Victoria, Texas. It might be, but it looks so much like the one I worked at in Port Aransas — down to the placement of the trees and the sandy looking street in the background — that I’m not ruling out this is the original Port Aransas Pelican’s. I started as a busboy at 14 and skateboarded to work and back home after each shift. My last summer there I was waiting tables as a 17-year-old, and my tip money paid for a new Toyota pickup truck:

The Forgotten Shore: