This is another in our series of Beach Fishing How-To articles and is dedicated to beach travel, one of my all-time favorite topics. For as far back as I can remember folks have been asking me, "Billy, what is the best way to go down the beach?"
My standard answer is, "In someone else's truck."
My guess is that I have probably driven more miles on Texas beaches than anyone else in history, so I guess that qualifies me to share some tips and advice on preparation and the equipment one needs to carry when traveling into the 4WD region of PINS. BUT - absolutely nothing will take the place of common sense and being both proficient and innovative with the tools and other items we carry and depend on to get ourselves out of trouble.
I always enjoy it when a user on a fishing message board initiates a debate over which brand and which owner's brand new $60,000 truck is superior for beach use. I never participate in these debates but always get a good belly laugh out of the fact that they see me in a very used $4,000 Suburban with over 100,000 miles making the same trip they make occasionallyover and over, day after day. Now there sure isn't anything wrong with having a state-of-the-art vehicle if you can afford it but, if you are broke down or stuck, vehicle purchase price won't matter a damn and high-end vehicles will rapidly lose their market value in the never-ending battle with salt and sand.
More importantly, at least to me, is that expensive late-model vehicles tend to have more whistles and bells than you'll ever need or use on the beach, and each successive year-model has more than the one it replaced. That is in direct conflict with what is the most effective on the beach. What works best in this incredibly harsh environment is the least complicated, fewest moving parts, greatest durability electrical and power train systems that have ever been assembled into an automobile.
I notice interesting parallels on the beach. Most people who get stuck quite often have no tow strap, no high-lift jack, and no shovel. They have made no plans concerning what to do in case of emergencies. They expect other beach travelers to have all the necessary items and to spend their day digging out your high-centered vehicle; jacking it up, putting blocks under its tires and towing them to safety. Simply put; in addition to being irresponsible, that's not fair to others trying to enjoy a hard-earned day off on the beach. Vehicle operators are expected to have this equipment and to personally do the "grunt" shoveling and work of prepping their vehicle to be towed to good footing. When this is done, most passing travelers will pull you out of a bad spot. But when you do nothing but sit by waiting for others to do the work for you, many otherwise kind souls will drive on by and who could blame them? Likewise; it seems folks with a dead battery rarely have jumper cables those with leaking transmissions have no transmission fluid the folks with overheated engines did not bother to pack a couple spare jugs of water. What's up with that?
I have friends who drive expensive tricked-out beach trucks equipped with an unbelievable number of tools and accessories capable of handling almost any type repair or emergency situation. But even these have their downside. All that equipment is heavy and expensive, it takes up a lot of space in your vehicle which could have been used for fishing or camping gear and, some of it is complicated to use. The other side of the equation is the person with no spare tire, tools or supplies of any kind, and probably wouldn't know how to use them if he did. To me, the practical answer lies somewhere between those extremes.
Think! Make a list and assign priority to each item, and then carry as many as possible and practical every trip. Whenever possible, travel in groups of vehicles and look out for and help each other. Avoid driving on the beach during high tides and at night. If it is necessary to travel in the dark, stay in the main rut and avoid the water's edge. Oncoming headlights can be dangerously blinding so, when meeting other vehicles, slow down and be considerate. Slow your speed to a crawl when driving through camps at night. ALWAYS REMEMBER: THE NORTHBOUND VEHICLE HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY ON PINS.
Remember that the more camping gear you bring the more time you'll have to spend setting it up and taking it down and the less time you'll have for fishing and other leisure activities. I'm going to give you a list of items you might do well to carry. My suggestion is to leave them in your beach vehicle all the time.
Fluids-Coolants-Fuel: Six quarts each engine oil and transmission fluid - one quart each brake fluid, differential gear lube, power steering fluid - five gallons water, five gallons gasoline treated with stabilizer - spray can lubricating/penetrating oil.
Engine-Transmission Cooling Systems: Cooling system hoses (spare of each) and clamps - length of heat-resistant cooling system hose and clamps (to fit and repair cracked or broken transmission cooling lines), and a small steel-tubing cutter.
Tools, etc: High-lift jack, three pound shop hammer, hatchet, funnel, SAE and metric wrenches and socket sets, two flash lights (one that can be worn on your head to keep hands free), two flat shovels (not spades), cheater pipe, hatchet, pair of wooden blocks or tire chocks, Channellock pliers (several sizes), vise grips, wire cutters, long-nosed pliers, assortment of zip-ties, roll of re-bar tie wire, duct tape and Super Glue.
Tire Repair, Engine Belts, etc: Portable air compressor, several cans Fix-A-Flat (will not work on sidewall puncture), tire plug kit (sidewall repairs), set of spare belts (and special tools) and learn to replace a serpentine belt.
Towing: Stout nylon tow strap; NEVER USE CHAIN.
Electrical: Roll of spare electrical wire, electrical tape, and spare fuse kit.
Clothing, Survival, etc: Spare long trousers, windbreaker and slicker, First Aid kit, emergency food rations, gloves, hand cleaner, paper towels, insect repellant, tarp to lie on while working under truck.
Now folks, this list is nothing special and by no means all-inclusive. I imagine its run of the mill for your experienced 4WD beach fishermen. If you are camping, no kit would be complete without a big bottle of Baby Powder for removing sand from your body. Gold Bond Powder works best on chafed areas, vinegar to take the sting out of sunburn, and acetone for jellyfish stings.
Before ever taking others on a down-island trip always inquire whether they have any special medical needs, especially medications, and make sure they have a good supply.
Even as I read this over I know there are items I'm overlooking and also items you'll want to include that I'd never think of taking, but it's a good start. See there and you thought it was going to be complicated. What a Hoot!
If we don't leave any there won't be any. Capt. Billy Sandifer