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Aransas Pass Ferry
Aransas Pass Ferry - Port Aransas, TexasOne of the most interesting ways to travel to Port Aransas is by means of the Aransas Pass Ferry. The ferry runs between Port Aransas (Port A as it is fondly known to locals) and Aransas Pass. The ferry service operates in lieu of a bridge providing efficient movement of vehicles across the ship channel while at the same time allowing for free movement of the many ships that move goods up and down the channel.
The Aransas Pass Ferry is operated by the Texas Department of Transportation as a free service. It operates 24 hours each day all year unless there is a weather emergency. During peak hours there may be as many as 6 ferries running between Port Aransas and Aransas Pass. Even in the wee hours of the night there will be at least one ferry running.
With the addition of two brand new ferries there are 8 boats that comprise the ferry fleet at Port Aransas. Older ferries hold a maximum of 20 cars. The new ferries are 60 feet longer and 10 feet wider. They will hold up to 28 cars. In addition, the wheel house on the new ferries has been relocated so there is no stair house in the middle of the boat. On the new boats there is a passenger seating area on one side of the boat.
The ferry shuttles cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and even pedestrians across the ship channel. The ride across the ship channel takes about 10 minutes. On high traffic days the wait for the ferry can be long so plan ahead. Vehicles up to 80,000 lbs., 13.6 feet tall, 13 feet wide and 80 feet long (including trailers) are allowed. There are no permitted exceptions to this rule. There are no hazardous materials allowed on the ferry. All pets must stay in the vehicles. Seeing eye dogs may be out of vehicles but they must be held by leash or harness. If there is room, foot passengers with dogs on a short leash may stay at the back of the boat away from other passengers. There is no smoking on the ferry. All cars must have the ignition and headlights turned off and the parking brake set. Other rules can be found on the TxDot web site. Follow the instructions of the ferry handlers for loading and unloading.
While the ferry is primarily a way to move vehicles across the channel, people can ride the ferry just to enjoy and see the ship channel. To do this, simply ride the ferry from one side to the other, go to the end of the waiting cars and get in line for the return trip. To avoid having to wait in the line of returning cars, park your car in the car park on either side and ride as a pedestrian. Riders may cross as many times as they wish.
People who are observant may see a lot of interesting wildlife in and around the channel. Dolphins frequently swim up and down the channel fishing. When large ships are approaching one may sometimes see dolphins riding the bow wake. Turtles search the waters for food or move up and down the channel as a way to and from the Gulf of Mexico and Corpus Christi Bay. One may also see jelly fish and many other sea creatures if one looks. The area is a rich birding area. Pelicans, both white and brown, are resident here. Other commonly seen birds include cormorants, anhingas, and wintering ducks or other water fowl. Riding the Aransas Pass Ferry can be fun, just for the view.
Starting 2010 TxDOT, in combination with Port Aransas, sponsored an art contest. The contest celebrates Port Aransas, its heritage and natural history. Any art that focuses on Port Aransas is welcome. Submissions can include (but are not limited to) the beach and beach life, nature including the plants and animals found near Port Aransas, and fishing or other activities.
There are two age classes for the Port Aransas Ferry art contest. Adults may enter up to 3 works while youth may enter one. The contest is open to anyone except TxDOT employees or their relatives. Submission requests happen in the summer, this year in August, and close in the fall with the winners announced shortly after. The winners have the honor of having their picture displayed on one of the ferries for up to two years until the ferry goes to dry dock for complete maintenance and is repainted.
The Aransas Pass Ferry has an interesting history. In the beginning the primary way to reach Mustang Island was by boat. Early ferries in the state were private and unregulated. Passengers could pay as little as 6 1/2 to 12 1/2 cents for a single man on foot, 25 cents for a man with a horse to as much as 2 dollars for a light or heavy wagon and team. Ferrymen could raise their fares at night or in bad weather. The fare depended on the whim of the ferry operator. By 1854 Texas had laws that regulated fares and responsibilities of the ferrymen.
The first ferry that served Port Aransas originated in Aransas Pass, went to Port Aransas then to Harbor Island (the north landing of current ferry route) and finally back to Aransas pass. The name of the ferry was the Mitzi. Aransas Dock and Channel Company were the owners of the ferry and there was no charge to ride it. In 1951, Nueces County bought the ferry and instituted a 1 dollar toll. TxDOT acquired the ferry from Nueces County in 1968, removed the toll and has run it ever since.
To reach the Aransas Pass Ferry from Aransas Pass take SH 361 south over several bridges and a long causeway to the ferry launch on Harbor Island. From the south, take SH 361 north to the light at W. Avenue G; turn left. Follow this road, which curves, to the light at W. Cotter Ave. Follow the signs to the ferry ramps.
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