Exploring the rivers with a splash

Exploring the rivers with a splash

A 380-mile river run to the Gulf, by personal watercraft over two states, is an unusual way to discover a remote and beautiful region.

Special to The Herald 

Plans for a three-day cruise down the Apalachicola River brought a great deal of anticipation. This, and other winding rivers such as the Chipola and Brothers which merge with the Apalachicola River which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, are scenic and feature extensive uninhabited areas, beautiful forests, wildlife and mirror-smooth tannic-stained waters.

However, cruising these waters on a big boat could still be a bit boring. The alternative was much more exciting.

This excursion took place on a personal watercraft (PWC) with Discovery River Tours’ three-day ”Apalach River Run to the Gulf.” The trip was fun, relaxing and adventurous.

It all began one early Friday morning on the Flint River, near the city of Bainbridge, in southwest Georgia. After a short briefing on the day’s itinerary and a few necessary rules and procedures by the founders and operators, Sam Thomas and Vicki Williams, 13 adventurers and I prepared to embark on a 380-mile round-trip tour.

Doing this trip on your own would be difficult, at best, without local knowledge of the rivers. The rivers are difficult at times to navigate, and there are no marinas for refueling.

But the Discovery River Tours staff takes all the worries and hassles out of attempting such a long cruise on a personal watercraft by providing fuel, food, luggage transport and expertise.

The first leg of the tour took us down the Flint River and across Lake Seminole, a large reservoir. We followed behind Thomas in single file to ensure that everyone stayed within the channel and in between the wakes of the watercraft in front of them for a smoother ride.

To continue onto the Apalachicola River we had to enter a lock at the Jim Woodruff dam to lower us to the level of the river. At the lock, Thomas and his staff entered first to secure a line across the lock for the rest of us to tie off to for the 20 minutes or so that it took to lower us 30 feet. That was my first lock and it is an unusual experience, especially from a personal watercraft where you can see the water swirling below.

After the lock, we were now in the State of Florida and it was a short ride down the Apalachicola River before we reached a boat ramp near the town of Bristol Landing. There, we stopped for a gourmet lunch provided by Williams and her staff. While we ate, the rest of the staff refueled our watercraft so they were ready to go after our meals.

Their efficiency is remarkable, as everyone appears unhurried and relaxed. Only the perspiration on the smiling faces of the staff gives a clue to the hard work involved to make everyone comfortable. Thomas says they have been running personal-watercraft tours since 1993 and they have learned what works well.

With everyone full and rested, we head back out into the current of the river to resume our 135-mile journey to Apalachicola. As always, Thomas led the way. Thomas stayed in constant radio communication with the support van and a staff member at the rear of our flotilla in case someone encountered any problems.

Even though we maintained a pace of about 41 mph, we had plenty of opportunity to safely enjoy the view of the shoreline and forests. The rivers were always perfectly smooth which, allowed riders to sit on the watercraft comfortably and be able to sightsee. All riders kept about a 100-foot distance behind the PWC in front of them for safety.

We continued for about 1 ½ hours until we stopped for a snack and refueling at Wewahitchka, Fla.


Our destination was the beautiful town of Apalachicola, known for its fishing fleets and oysters. There we stayed at the historic Gibson Inn, built in 1907. That evening after we showered and relaxed, our group strolled to the waterfront for a seafood dinner.

This charming hotel as well as all meals and fuel are included in the price of the tour. The cost the ”Apalach River Run to the Gulf” tour is $905, a reasonable fee considering the first-class lodging, meals, fuel and work involved. The only thing not included is the watercraft.

Discovery encourages that you bring your own but it has a number of watercraft available to rent at $100 per day. That’s not bad when you consider the place that rent them for $60 per half-hour.

Saturday morning, we set off on a 120-mile round-trip ride to Panama City in the Florida panhandle. We took the Intracoastal Waterway thorough beautiful salt marshes and pine forests. Our first destination was a small marina on the edge of East Bay. There we had lunch, hit golf balls, talked and relaxed.


The wind picked up and the crossing back across the bay was a bit rough but everyone made it without problem. We arrived back in Apalachicola around 3 p.m. and had the afternoon to ourselves. We had another great dinner, this time at the hotel. (I began to wonder if this trip was about river touring or the food).

Sunday morning we walked down to the dock where the temperature was an unusually cool June morning of 69 degrees. We started our watercraft (The Yamaha VX110 four-stroke that I tested ran flawlessly the entire trip) and idled out to river to start our 135-mile return journey back to Bainbridge.

Thomas altered the route on the way back to offer a change in scenery. Still, even when we were on the same sections of the river, the view from the opposite direction gave a whole different look to the scenery.

We made two stops for lunch, snacks and refueling.

Who takes these tours? All types. This tour group consisted of professionals and blue-collar workers, young and older. Everyone bonded and became friends as we shared the experiences of the tour together.

Most of the riders had participated in previous trips with Discovery River Tours. Obviously, they enjoyed it the first time around.

The ”Apalach River Run to the Gulf” is one of a half-dozen tours that Discovery River Tours offers. The others range from three-to-five days and include the Savannah River Tour and the 750-mile Tenn-Tom River Adventure that winds through through Alabama and Mississippi.

Fatigue? Yes, I tired at the end but not unduly so. In fact, the next day I checked the tour calendar for another trip some day.

For more information, call 770-493-1792 or go to pwctours.com

Marshall Brodie writes about boats for Wheels & Waves. He can be reached at mbboating@yahoo.com