My wife and I literally just made this trip, arrived in Houston on the 14th of this month.
From your post I can't tell how long you've been in the Marathon area or how familiar you are with the Gulf, so I'll assume it's relatively new to you as it was to us. No offense intended.
We had a delivery skipper
with us since the boat was still pretty new to us and honestly we wanted a 3rd watch keeper and someone with more storm experience than us along.
Since the gulf is a fairly nasty body of water
due to the shape of the coast leading to the washing
machine affect, read confused seas when the wind
picks up, we opted to head
up the Florida
coast to the Tampa area before making our jump. This was our original plan since we wanted to have somewhere to duck in if the weather
got nasty, this is the time of year for those cold fronts out of the North. This proved to be a good strategy for us and we ended up getting a slip in the Tampa area to wait out a couple days of temps in the 30s-40s and 35kn winds out of the N and NW (not great when trying to make the run to Houston).
Once the weather
let up and we had a couple days of somewhat favorable winds we decided to make the offshore
jump with a course that would take us towards Mobile and keep us within roughly 100 miles of shore so we'd have the ability to get in if the weather required it. As we moved NW we gradually shifted our course to bring us up west of NOLA, where we made our turn SW in an attempt to stay outside the majority of the rigs (following the 4000ft depth
contour) along the coast.
We had some fairly lumpy seas, about a day of 8-10ft quartering seas and pretty steady winds in the 15-25kn range (primarily NE to E with a sprinkling of N thrown in) but overall it was a good quick (for us) passage
. It took us just over 5 days to make the complete trip from Tampa to Houston. Note it would have been quicker if we'd taken a direct route
but since we opted to follow the coast (100sh miles off) we added some miles.
I would say the biggest surprise for my wife and I was the sheer number of oil
rigs. We began seeing them offshore
SW of LA. and they where constant companions through Houston (Kemah area). That combined with the shipping
traffic and our wanting to sail as much as possible led to some stressful solo watches. The cold weather meant when you where off watch, you needed to be down below warming up and resting up for the next watch.
I can honestly say that if I had to get back to Houston again at this time of year, I'd take the same route
and just be prepared for a cold crossing. If I had the option to go later, I'd wait a few months until March/April and go when it's warmer. Also, I wouldn't even consider the offshore route without at least 3 people to ensure you have time out of the cold to rest up. Note we don't have radar
(yet) if you have both of these and the power to run them 24/7 it might be possible to make this passage
more comfortable for 2 people.
So I guess it depends. If you have the time to either wait for warmer weather or take the ICW I'd probably go that route. Maybe cut the corner from Tampa to Pensacola
and then hit the ICW. If like us you have limited time and need to get there, it's definitely doable with the right weather window and number of people/gear. Just be prepared for cold weather and relatively lumpy seas. The nice thing is overall, the wind
is in your favor this time of year.
I've been working on a blog entry for this passage but it's not posted yet. Hope to have it up tonight or tomorrow.
Hope this helps,