I've covered most of the Gulf Coast
to FL via both the ICW
(but it has been a few years).
to New Orleans
(NOLA) is not very small boat friendly via either route
: lots of rigs and other oil
field hazards...and of course the Gulf itself which can get quite nasty. Via the ICW: Not a lot of options for small vessels and there is commercial
traffic to contend with, but they are generally pretty accommodating.
Transiting the Mississippi
to NOLA is an interesting experience, but you do have to be comfortable dealing with commercial
traffic and locks.
The options for recreational vessels get better from NOLA east. In fact, from NOLA to Pensacola
is quite a nice cruising ground. I have not run this area post-Katrina so someone else might have more current
info on which marinas are now operational.
The ICW ends east of Pensacola
so you must run offshore. The shortest hop is to work your way over to Port St Joe and then cross to Crystal River (about 145nm). Alternative, you can jump across to one of several other stops along the west coast
such as Tarpon Springs or the Tampa Bay area. The west coast
is a great cruising ground -- all the way from Tarpon Springs down to Key West -- take your time and enjoy it.
A few related notes:
- On the ICW route
: be very careful transiting the Morgan
City intersection. Be sure and check in with VTC (Vessel Traffic Control). This is a very busy commercial intersection and it is not uncommon to encounter large, cumbersome, oil
field traffic -- like rigs being towed in for service
. You can (could) tie along side at the wharf in town. Friendly place and some good local restaurants.
- There is a busy commercial traffic intersection at Lake Charles also -- though not quite as potentially hazardous as Morgan
City in my experience.
- Houma, LA. Always liked this stop. Good food
and good people and nice little municipal marina under the twin bridges.
- The offshore rigs start to thin out after you get east of the Mississippi
, but you will still encounter some as far east as Mobile Bay.
- Get up-to-date information on the Gulf Loop Current
-- it can meander surprisingly far north -- ran into it once just south of Mobile Bay!
both very good ideas for offshore in this area offshore. Because of lots of commercial traffic and lots of rigs.
- Be very aware that not all offshore rigs/hazards are plotted on the charts
or even lighted at night for that matter. I sailed right by a large drill pipe sticking about 6' out of the water
offshore one night....no markings/lights whatsoever....and through an area thick with production platoforms that were unlit (sometimes they power a group off the same genset -- so if it goes out -- they all go dark). Mooring
bouys, the size of cars, for oilfield supply vessels are typically not lit.
Another option to consider is a straight offshore run to Key West, but a Chris Craft is really not the ideal boat for this option (better suited to calm inland waters). With this boat, and wanting short runs, I would probably stick mostly with the ICW route.
Once you are in Key West you have lots of short distance options for making your way to the Bahamas
(lots of posts on this subject here at CF).