Cruising Texas – Corpus Christi

Published – Southern Boating
©2013 – Troy Gilbert

It’s a common sight to see predatory birds soaring on the updrafts rising from the heated scrub plains and cattle ranches of south central Texas, head a few miles towards the coast and those same updrafts sustain the breeze pouring onshore from Corpus Christi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico at an average of 15 knots. These continuous and cooling onshore breezes are one of the reasons for the founding of Corpus Christi as a frontier trading post in 1839 and later as it became a banking center along the coast of Texas. Today the city harnesses these winds to drive over 150 massive green power windmills and to further solidify itself as a regatta and cruising destination.

What’s surprising is that although you may be deep down the Texas coast from Houston, next door to the legendary King Ranch and only a few hours drive from the border with Mexico, Corpus Christi has in many ways a feel that is closer kin to the beach towns of the northern Gulf Coast. With sand covered barrier islands protecting bays and fertile estuaries that are rumored to have sheltered Pirate Jean Lafitte, Corpus Christi has definitely turned her gaze towards the Gulf for her future and it’s only a matter of time before these cruising grounds are discovered by boaters and anglers outside of Texas.

At the heart of this coastal city of under half a million and lined by modern high rises and her Arts District lies the 600 slip Corpus Christi Municipal Marina. Home to a real waterfront community, this very liveaboard and transient friendly marina is populated with numerous restaurants, bars and two yacht clubs – including the nearly 90 year old Corpus Christi Yacht Club. The marina complex itself is quite modern with floating docks reconstructed as recently as 2005 and large greenspaces  that look out onto the dusty emerald waters of the bay and the adjacent beaches to the south.

This working and recreational marina has a real pulse both day and night. Shrimpers bring in their catch to the local markets and restaurants throughout the day while after school the junior sailors from the yacht clubs train on their Optimists year round in the constant seabreeze. As the sun sets, joggers and walkers make their way along the massive length of the stepped 12′ seawall, lights rise from the seafood restaurants and liveaboards settle in for cocktail hour as riffs from Jimmy Buffet and Texas crooner Robert Earl Keen cover bands tune up and float across the piers. On Wednesday evenings spectators line up on the seawall and watch the start and finishes of the weekly “beercan” races run by the local yacht clubs.

Corpus Christi has embraced their marina and waterfront and understands that it makes quality of life and financial sense. Between the locals, students from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, conventioneers staying at the grand waterfront hotels and the sailors and cruisers, all of the city’s downtown has sprung to life with the majority of it within easy walking distance of the marina.

It shouldn’t take longer than a day to make new friends out on the piers – Corpus Christi is a true city of the Gulf South and the locals are eager to share their knowledge and their world  – true hospitality is as common as breathing on this waterfront. This is a city and a people humble and proud of their home, blink and you may miss an invitation to one of the oldest yacht clubs in Texas. Look the other way and drinks on a classic 50′ yacht may evaporate. Worse yet would be to miss out on the camaraderie of crewing a sailboat race out on the bay onboard competitive boats that have raced across the Pacific.

Have lunch at the grooving surfer joint, The Seawall, along the beach just to the south of the marina and plan your days adventures to visit the USS Lexington, the World War II era carrier now existing as a floating museum and then catch a night game of AAA Baseball in the beautiful stadium just underneath the colorfully lighted Harbor Bridge. The Texas State Aquarium is also conveniently located in downtown Corpus Christi and just north of the city lies the Texas Maritime Museum.

Water Street, which was the shoreline until the government reclaimed land from the bay in the 1930’s and 40’s to build the seawall and the marina for storm protection, is now the heart of a booming arts, restaurant and nightlife district. Only a city block from the grounds of the marina complex, coffee shops, bars and restaurants abound and offer fare from fresh oysters and sushi to your finest Texas caliber steaks.  Most boaters congregate for the incredible burgers and array of draught beer at the Executive Surf Club after a day or evening sail on the water  – yes, there is surfing in Texas. After dinner anything from live music to traditional Irish bars with Guinness on draught are all within blocks of each other. For your high end cocktails outside of the confines of a restaurant, the Havana Club situated in a hip urban decay setting is valuable for people watching and swing dancing.

Corpus Christi makes for an interesting homebase for day cruises or as a respite before a longer cruise south or north. Easily within a half day’s cruise is Port Aransas on the entrance to Corpus Christi Bay at the northern end of Mustang Island. A quaint beachside resort town, Port Aransas is the finish for offshore regattas and on its own is a well equipped cruiser’s destination.

To the south of Corpus Christi Bay lies the mouth of the renowned Laguna Madre. Stretching all the way south into Mexico, this beautiful narrow lagoon is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. Given its shallow depth, few inlets to the Gulf and lack of freshwater coming from the plains of South Texas, this is a unique ecosystem buffered on both sides by sand dunes. Well known to cruisers traveling the intercoastal waterway down the Laguna Madre, most know it by the barrier island and spring break destination that runs its length, South Padre Island.

In a state as large as Texas and more closely associated with the deserts of the southwest, it’s easy to forget that Texas has a nearly 400 mile long coastline on the Gulf of Mexico dotted with beautiful anchorages and beachside towns. Situated right in the center of this coast is Corpus Christi and she is clearly positioning herself to become the cruising capital of South Texas.

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