Skip Rhudy

aviation, travel, books

Under the Gulf Coast Sun

In January 2021 I started writing a novel set in my hometown, Port Aransas, Texas. I don’t think it was a sense of nostalgia that prompted me to write, but the memories of growing up there stood out as unique and, maybe, a bit mysterious. The time of the novel is the late seventies or early eighties. No internet. No social media. No cell phones — not even any computers.

Stoney Creek Publishing, part of the Texas Book Consortium, has accepted the manuscript for publication about the middle of April 2025.

On the surface the novel is romance, a beach read, but more than that it is a love letter to the Texas coast, to the town where I came of age, to its culture, its people, and to the enduring power and attraction of The Gulf.

I can remember when my friends and I first started surfing. When it got really big, we were too intimidated to go out. We’d walk three quarters of a mile out the south jetty, in awe of waves that were peaking well over head. We’d stand there and watch the older guys take drops like this one:

hurricane katrina surf copyright SPardre.com
Hurricane Katrina Surf

The photo below was recently taken by Dan Parker from the Horace Caldwell Pier in Port Aransas. We both grew up on the island and bought our first surfboards from Pat Magee’s Surf Shop. Pat was a two-time Texas Gulf Coast Surfing Champion and for a while surfed on Dewey Weber’s surf team in California. When Pat opened his surf shop in Port Aransas, Dewey came out to visit, and Pat started selling Weber’s surfboards. Here is a Port A. local ripping tropical storm Laura surf in August 2020:

The Pod House still exists. 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 went to a party at the Pod House when I was in the eighth grade. Some of my Facebook friends from those Port Aransas days were at the same party. While the party I went to was real, and while The Pod House still exists, the party and the people in the book are completely fictional:

After graduating high school many of my friends from Port Aransas headed up to central Texas to go to college at Southwest Texas State University or the University of Texas at Austin. I stayed home. I was sick of classrooms. I wanted to work. After waiting tables at Pelican’s Wharf during the summer I got a job as a deckhand on a crew boat in September. There were long periods of intense boredom punctuated by short bursts of dangerous work. This boat looks a lot like the one I worked on for Captain Jeff Cartwright:

crew boat

I loved Spring Break — for a while. The picture here is from 2016, taken by Dan Parker for a South Jetty story. It did not look much different in the late seventies. In the background is the Dunes Condominium. I can remember it being built, though I don’t remember much about the wooden dance hall called “The Dunes” that occupied the same space during the late sixties and early seventies. You can barely make out the new Horace Caldwell Pier stretching into the water. The pier in Under the Gulf Coast Sun was the old wooden one, before hurricane Allen wrecked it:

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 performed important jobs at the space agency. 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. Here’s one in Victoria, almost identical to the one in Port A. I started as a busboy at 14 and skateboarded to work each afternoon and then skated back home at night. I worked behind the scenes in the bus station / food prep room, a steam-hot hell, where I operated the Hobart dishwasher. That thing did a complete wash cycle in one minute flat. You’d load square dish racks with glasses or plates, slam the door open, shove it in, and slam the door back down, hit the start button — and it was like a firehose exploded inside with boiling hot water. A minute later the cycle ended and — slam — I’d open the doors and pull the rack out the other side. I was covered in sweat and food grime. During the dinner rush I would bust into the walk-in fridge around the corner, crack a Schlitz, and guzzle:

The Forgotten Shore