Fidencio Banda is the type of man who always keeps a fishing pole in his truck. “Just in case,” he says. A Brownsville resident, he often drops his line into resacas, pulling in bass and catfish, but at least twice this year he has been called to the Isla Blanca Park jetties on South Padre Island. The fishing is great, of course, but Banda said he had another reason for heading to the coast Friday morning: the arrival of the USS Saratoga, the second Forrestal-class aircraft carrier to be tugged to the Port of Brownsville to be scrapped this year.
The USS Forrestal, which reached Brownsville in February, is still visible from State Highway 48 as workers at All Star Metals continue its dismantling. The Saratoga is headed for a similar fate at Esco Marine, which will be the ship’s final resting place as Brownsville’s port continues to attract decommissioned naval ships destined for the scrap yard. The U.S. Navy is paying Esco one cent, the lowest price possible, for workers to dismantle the ship. A third ship, the USS Constellation, a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier, is taking the long way around South America from the PacificCoast on its way to Brownsville, as well. The ship left WashingtonState in August and is expected to arrive in the Gulf of Mexico this December.
Banda said he’ll likely be back on the jetties when that ship comes in, too, explaining that along with the fishing and view, he likes meeting others who have been drawn to the area by the ships and taking photos. Banda said he once worked in the ship recycling industry, just as Nacho Bautista did, who was fishing with his wife, Mary, just down the channel from Banda. The couple arrived at 7 a.m. to make sure they didn’t miss the ship, which was expected to make its way through the jetties at about 8 a.m. The two Port Isabel residents spend most days out fishing from the jetties, anyway, Mary said, but made certain to catch the Saratoga’s arrival in between pulling in some small catches. Nacho said he took apart battleships when he was younger, but marveled at the size of the carrier. “It’s as tall as a hotel,” Mary said.
Nacho said he was just glad to have been able to welcome the ship to the port. “This is history,” he said.”