The Sandbar Landing

Sunday morning, Jim, Gabe and I decided to make a quick flight down toward San Luis Pass… one of our favorite short flights.

There was a pallor over the area as we flew southeast towards the pass.

Jim was off my left wing; Gabe was somewhere behind him. About halfway there, I took a short detour to get a photo of DemiJohn Island.

Back on track, I look way off to the east, past Chocolate Bay, and see the buildings in downtown Galveston shining in the distance.

I also notice that the tide was very, very low… I couldn’t remember ever seeing it this low before.

We’re now within 2 miles of the pass, and I see, out in the water, just this side of the pass, three large sandbars that have appeared due to the low tide.

They sit between Bird Island, which is always above water (if just barely), and Galveston Island. The appearance of these sandbars is definitely an unusual occurrence, but not unheard of.

A friend of mine who fishes this area frequently has told me about the occasional appearance of these sandbars. I asked him if they were soggy and soft and he said, no, they were hard as concrete! He would sometimes walk across them and said they were so hard, his legs would ache by the time he reached the other side.

Based on this information, I decided that it might be possible to land on them. So I went down for a look. First, I flew over the sandbar at about 50 feet to make sure it looked smooth and consistent. It did. So I circled back around. I radioed Jim and Gabe and told them I was going to do a touch-n-go on the sandbar, and to stand-by.

As I made my approach I started to realize that the sandbar was very, very large and that I would not have to worry about having enough room. That was one less thing to be concerned about and could concentrate on the stability of the temporary island.

I flew just inches above the sand, just above stall speed, and rocked the wings to the left to make the left wheel touch the sand. It made a slight impression, but even less than the impression I make when I land on the beach. That was good news! I tried the other wheel, and it, too, looked solid. So, I decided to put both wheels down, but keep the front wheel up in the air.

I rode along the sandbar this way for a few seconds, and intentionally wagged the plane back and forth with the rudder pedals to see what would happen. Again, everything looked fine, so I went ahead and lowered the front wheels and slowed down.

The sandbar was just as my friend had described: hard as concrete!

I radioed back to Jim and Gabe, telling them to “come on down!” Jim responded in the affirmative, but Gabe held back a bit and decided to watch Jim land.

Before Jim landed, he took this photo of me on the sandbar. Spectacular!

Shortly after Jim lands, I take this picture of him.

Gabe then gets up the gumption to land, and I shoot this just as his wheels touch… good landing!

Look close and you can see the track in the sand…

…you can easily see that the weight of the plane barely made an impression on the hard sand. Pretty impressive considering this is normally under 1-2 feet of water!

If you take another look at the map, but this time zoomed in…

…you’ll see the oval path I took during the first fly-by, and then a landing. I then took off and flew over the other two sandbars. They were smaller, so I only did a very brief touch-n-go on them, then headed over to the Pass.

We spotted a couple of powered parachutes in the air.

By the time I got near them, only one was still up…

…the others were on the beach.

The remainder of the flight was pretty standard, paralleling the beach most of the way down toward Freeport, then a quick touch-n-go on a deserted road before we headed back to Bailes.

On the way back, I again flew close by DemiJohn Island — where I got this photo — and noticed the low water level was revealing some sandbars there, too, which I hadn’t seen before.

It was really nice that such a short trip could result in such high adventure!

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