The Laguna Madre is an unheralded and stunning cruising ground running along most of the 367 miles of Texas’ coastline. Lined with barrier islands, the vast stretch from Corpus Christi south to the Mexican border is a postcard of undeveloped dunes and massive cattle ranches such as the enormous and legendary King Ranch. Best known as a Spring Break destination, South Padre Island and Port Isabel are frequented by cruisers in the know, but now they are primed to become a cruising destination for something unexpected—rocket launches.

Cruisers on the east coasts of Florida and Virginia have long understood the cruising appeal of anchoring in the designated locations for rocket or (in the past) space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida, or the Wallops Island facility in Virginia. However, Texas billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corporation is constructing the first commercial orbital spaceport immediately south of Padre Island and Port Isabel and is expected to become operational in 2016. Local government officials are already in the planning phases to upgrade coastal parks and other viewing areas, including new boat ramps and mooring areas.

Located only 500 feet from the Boca Chica Beach on the Laguna Madre and the Gulf of Mexico, the site was originally a finalist for the Apollo moon launches before NASA selected Cape Canaveral in Florida. Only a few miles to the north, South Padre Island and the waterfront restaurants of Port Isabel will all see a boon to tourism as the launches will be easily visible from their decks, waterfront parks and campgrounds.

This past October, a wayward sailboat forced the scrubbing of an Antares rocket launch from
a NASA facility in coastal Virginia and the rocket subsequently exploded during the launch the next day. This boat violated the serious boating restrictions in place in the shadow of the launch trajectory, and while having no direct or indirect effect on the loss of the rocket, it makes the point of how serious NASA or private space corporations’ safety and security precautions are, and undoubtedly they will be in place in south Texas.

Rocket launches have always been a major draw for the curious and the enthusiasts with RV parks, motels and highways crowded with sightseers, but cruising down the pristine Laguna Madre in your Hatteras or Beneteau will be an ideal way to escape the traffic and congestion. Anchoring and grilling offshore with friends and family is one of the great boating experiences. Add to that the awe and anticipation of watching (and feeling) a heavy rocket launch or resupply missions to the International Space Station only brings the added depth of witnessing space exploration while conducting your own cruising explorations into new territory.

By Harlen Leslie, Southern Boating February 2015

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