Houma site carving a niche – Downtown marina a tourist draw

For most people passing through downtown, the Houma Marina is barely noticeable, just a place where you see vessels from time to time, some big and pretty, others small.

But for recreational cruisers who travel long distances on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Houma Marina is a welcoming oasis, providing basic amenities and services essential to boaters between larger ports like Houston and New Orleans. It is also a gateway for boaters to shopping, dining and entertainment.

Activecaptain, the online inter-cruising guidebook, gives the marina four stars in its overall rating. Most of its subscribers who leave reviews give it a “five.” Even the handful of boaters who have given it a measly “three,” pointing out the amenities that aren’t there or haven’t yet been activated, praise what it does have, which encourages local officials who say they look forward to future development.

“It really is a little hidden jewel, right here in Terrebonne Parish,” said Main Street Program Director Anne Picou, who says that while the prices for overnight docking are low, the parish’s overhead is as well. “The parish gives us $25,000 per year. We use it for grass cutting, and maintenance. The harbor master, Mr. Raymond Malbrough, deserves a lot of credit. He greets them and they love his personality and assistance. He is a great ambassador for Houma.”

Working in a cooperative partnership with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, Picou and her team also work closely with Terrebonne General Medical Center, whose property is flanked by the marina on the western side of the ICW.

“The way it was all designed is that DOTD had created that environment and the parish took on the responsibility to maintain the marina,” she said.

The Main Street program took over the marina operation in 2010, and while the spot took a while to catch on, it’s been winning fans.

Monday morning, Sam and Pat Crowder of Houston prepared to cast lines and continue a westward voyage on their 43-foot Benetou sailing vessel Longhawk, after spending a week at the marina with other members of the Texas Mariners Cruising Association.

“We have been here eating our way through Houma,” said Sam Crowder, recalling memorable meals at 1921 Seafood on Barrow Street, Nancy’s and the Pit Stop. With other couples from different boats, they two-stepped the night away at the Jolly Inn to live Cajun music and ate some more. “It’s a port of refuge. There are not many places between Point A and Point B for pleasure craft, it’s good and useful.”

For their $25 per day, the Crowders and other boaters made use of pump-out services for the Longhawk’s plumbing, water and electric shore-power. They and other mariners made use of Houma’s Good Earth bus system; some used bicycles to reach destinations that included the Southland Mall. During “docktails” beside their vessels, the mariner families have met passing Houma residents and invited some to join their parties.

Docks are operational on the west side of the marina only at this point, but Picou and other boosters hope an eventual expansion onto property at the east side of the Intracoastal is part of the project. There has been talk among Downtown board members of encouraging a partnership with business interests that could one day develop a means to pump fuel into boats directly somewhere near the docks.

The Downtown program has created a welcome bag for boaters that includes marina rules as well as a guide to things they can see and do while in Houma. Favorites among them have included the monthly Friday Live After Five concerts and the weekly free Cajun music presentations at the Terrebonne Waterlife Museum.

In the Houston area alone, Crowder said he knows of two cruising clubs with upward of 500 members, some of whom have visited Houma and some of whom plan to come in the future.

Last year, Picou said, 192 vessels came for a stay of a night or more, and she expects those numbers will increase.

A downside for boaters – expressed in interviews and in online forums – is the need for dredging at the marina’s entrance. The Longhawk, its skipper noted, has a 5.5-foot draft, and a sizeable hump of bottom beneath the canal makes entry and egress difficult. Even so, Sam Crowder said, the haven is worth the effort of overcoming the obstruction.

To Picou, the promise of future contributions the cruising community can make on the local community – including patronage of restaurants and retail businesses – is bright. •

Downtown marina