Two of us decided to explore San Luis Pass despite (or perhaps because of) a small craft warning and forecast for winds 20 - 25kt out of the South. The Marine forecast was predicting 6 - 9 foot seas for the area. One reason that we chose San Luis Pass is for the abundant sheltered paddling opportunities in the Bay if ocean side conditions were too daunting.
Driving in along Seawall Road, looking at a washing machine like, 1/3 mile wide break zone we were both doubtful that we would be doing much paddling on the ocean side. It was a grey day and the frothing water and grey skies washed together.
After bouncing along the beach trails, we were able to park in an area above the high tide line but with only a 50 yard carry to the Pass. Our put-in was well sheltered with only small chop moving the boats around as we got on the water. One of us chose a full drysuit and the other a dry top. Air temps were in the upper 60s and water temps holding right at 60 degrees.
As we paddled under the bridge, we began to feel the swell pouring into the pass helped by the winds. Wind speeds were sustained about 15mph with gusts higher but never reaching the extreme forecast speeds. To get accustomed to the boats (one NDK Explorer Regular Volume, one NDK Explorer HV), we spent some time playing in the beach break zone on the Galveston Island side of the pass. My partner had one swim in this area and with the shallow water we moved him beyond the break and performed an assisted reentry and pump. Most waves near shore in the soup at this point were in the 3 foot range.
After getting the rust off, we decided to paddle through the break zone and explore the noticeably larger breakers about 1/2 mile offshore. As we paddled further out the breaking waves predictably got bigger, eventually giving way to an area of just swell between the shore break and the sand bars further out.
As we continued paddling out and entered the sand bar break zone, most of the waves were in the 4 - 5 foot range with a few popping up considerably bigger. It was a confused environment with waves coming from many different directions and required solid bracing and aggressive charging of the waves. My partner was at the edge of his comfort zone and decided to return to shore. I should have paddled back with him, but thought I could keep an eye on him from the wave crests. With him a few hundred yards away, I started having trouble balancing my desire to look for him at the crests with my need to stay engaged in paddling and decided to turn and make sure he made it in safely.
On the trip back in both of us had some amazing surf rides on the steep faces of the waves pushing us in. I had a couple rides that must have been 75 yards long and very fast.
After a rest on shore, I paddled back out solo to play some more in the bigger stuff. The shore surf zone had widened with the building seas and rising tide, now having steady 4 footers. While the period was short, the breaking portions were spread around so by picking spots and timing, the waves were not breaking on me continuously.
This trip out there was very little area without breaking waves between the shore break and the sand bars off shore, with the possibility of larger waves cresting almost everywhere. The waves breaking on the sandbar were the largest I have paddled in, with many in the 6 - 8 foot range. They were like small houses and I had to orient myself at the top of each wave as in the troughs all that could be seen was more waves.
I realized that while comfortable paddling, I had eaten up any margin of safety and it was prudent to return to my paddling partner nearer shore. I again had some great surf rides. On one particularly tall and steep face the bow began burying severely and I thought I would pitchpole, but by leaning forward the bow came back up and the boat moved further up the wave to continue an excellent ride.
After another break on shore, we decided to paddle back through the pass and explore a little in the Bay. Paddling back through the pass, we were able to get some great rides on the 2 footers rolling through. The shallows just inside the Bay were creating another, much smaller break zone and we continued our play.
With dark going to come early on this overcast day, we paddled back toward the bridge and our car. Normally based on the East Coast and having only paddled in the Gulf a few times, this was quite different that what I think many picture as Gulf conditions. Quite a fun and challenging environment.
Hurricane Ike has destroyed any accommodations that were at the state park.
Beach parking on both sides of the highway.
Many hotels, restaurants, stores in Galveston.
From Galveston, head West on Seawall Blvd. Seawall Blvd becomes San Luis Pass Rd. Just before the bridge, we pulled down on the access road and then drove down the beach to a point just inside the pass to put in.
NOAA chart of the area, particularly if you are going to explore the bayside marshes