The Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) is located on the banks of the Houston Ship Channel in the town of Deer Park outside of Houston, Texas. It has 242 storage tanks with the capacity to hold 13.1 million barrels of petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil, and distillates.
On March 19, 2019, a tank burst spilling thousands of gallons of toxins into the Houston Channel. The waterway was immediately closed while containment efforts were rapidly employed. No sooner had the spreading contamination seemed to be stopped then a containment dike collapsed igniting a fire in twelve of the nearby holding tanks. Industrial neighbors panicked fearing the loss of their nearby facilities. The environmental disaster is yet to be resolved as of this writing and the Houston shipping industries dependent on the Channel have been put on hold.
I was keenly aware of the Houston Channel and closely followed news of this disaster because of my own experience on the Channel eighteen years earlier.
In 2001 I was part of a crew sailing a 50-foot sailboat that had been part of a British Virgin Island charter fleet to its new owner in Houston, Texas. We were a crew of four. The Captain of our delivery team, an extensively experienced sailor, offered crewing opportunities to individuals interested in learning offshore sailing techniques regarding navigation, foreign port procedures, and long-distance sailing procedures.
Kevin and Mark were two other novice crewmates. Unlike myself, who had taken Coast Guard navigation courses and was looking forward to the learning experience, they seemed more interested in having a sailing vacation and objected to the Captain’s requirement for adherence to procedures, watch standing discipline, and shared work responsibilities.
Our 21-day transit with overnight stops in Cuba, had us making a stop at Galveston, Texas, to clear customs before sailing up the Channel to Houston.. When docking at Galveston, the disgruntled Kevin and Mark emerged from their cabin toting their sea bags with the announcement, “We quit!” and walked off the boat.
The Captain merely shook his head, mumbling about their lack of character.
Two people left to handle a 50-foot boat is not difficult while at sea but docking and securing details becomes a Chinese fire drill with one crewman at the helm and the other handling dock lines, fenders, and everything else. That’s not to mention the 101 clean-up tasks involved following a 21-day transit before turning the boat over to its new owner.
The Captain and I had become a compatible team. I valued his extensive sailing experience and he appreciated my interest in learning all I could about offshore sailing. As the two of us departed Galveston, I half expected some comment from him about our mutinous shipmates and perhaps an acknowledgement of my loyalty, but when I asked his thoughts regarding the matter, he replied, “My thought is you better get started cleaning the food cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, and wash down all the heads.”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
I had looked forward to seeing the surrounding sights as we sailed up the Houston Channel, but other than a brief glimpse through a porthole below, missed most of it. Thank you Kevin and Mark.