Jet-ski river tour roars into Columbus

Jet-ski river tour roars into Columbus 

Commercial Dispatch – Columbus, Mississippi

July 16, 2004 Edition

By Pam McTeer

Like ants, a trail of jet skis line the horizon, dotting the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and quickly pull into view.

The riders, sporting cherry red or yellow life jackets and bandanas, glistened with sweat as they pulled into the Columbus Marina Thursday night for gas and a good night’s sleep after a grueling 675 miles in four days.

While owners typically use jet skis for a day of speeding and splashing on the water, 12 riders have hit the waterways, embarking on 750-mile river tour on personal watercraft.

It gives new meaning to the Southern phrase: “Rode hard and put up wet.”

“Seven-hundred-and-fifty miles you can do in your car, but this is day No. 4, and we’re feeling it,” said Bob Williams, 39, of Easley, S.C. “You don’t have to be an athlete by any means, but you definitely need to be prepared.”

“You’re sore and sunburned, but it’s worth it,” said a smiling Bonnie Carden of Stockbridge, Ga., who was riding with her husband David.

The voyagers are traveling with Discovery River Tours, an Atlanta-based company that provides two- to five-day guided river tours by personal watercraft.

The “Tenn-Tom River Adventure” began Monday in Demopolis, Ala., and has wound its way to the Tombigbee River, traveling through five different locks and on six rivers on its journey.

It stopped in Columbus Thursday evening to dock at the Columbus Marina for the night. The riders, in high spirits, were chatting and relaxing with each other. One rider dumped cold water over his wife’s head, sending every one, including his wife, into bursts of laughter.

“We like to take people away from the stresses. It’s lots of wildlife, sunshine and fresh air,” River Tours co-owner Vicki Williams said.

The rivers, once places of trade and livelihood, are rich with history and beauty, Williams said.

“We’re taking people back out on what used to be the main highway,” Vicki Williams explained. “Even the same trip is different every time you go.”

The riders agreed. They love the scenery, the freedom and the adventure.

“The scenery changes every mile,” Bob Williams said, adding that huge bluffs line the river 60 miles from the Marina. This is his 10th tour with the River Tours.

“You see stuff in the water like alligators and beavers. You’ll be going and a big old fish will jump right in front of your boat,” David Carden said, shaking his head in amazement.

Tour guide Phil Chapman, who now lives in California, is helping to lead the trip during his vacation from work.

“You see and feel and smell things you wouldn’t otherwise. It’s the novelty of it,” he said.

Tour-goers spend nine to 12 hours a day on the water. The longest day of this trip, which is the longest of any offered tour by River Tours, is 220 miles, Vicki Williams said. The group averages three stops a day for food, refueling and relaxation.

A shuttle travels by land to meet riders at scheduled rest stops, maintaining contact with them via radios.

“We specialize in rivers that don’t have any facilities,” Vicki explained.

The shuttle transports fuel and luggage as well as other supplies because most of the routes have few fueling stations along the way. The food is catered and hotels are arranged in advance. River Tours travels the route two weeks prior to the excursion to make sure landings haven’t closed and environmental factors haven’t changed, Vicki Williams said.

“There’s no guesswork,” said Andy Anderson of Charlotte, S.C., who’s on his third tour with the company.

The Marina has hosted several jet-ski tour groups in the past, but they’ve only been tours of three or four people at most, said co-owner Barbara Bigelow of Columbus Marina.

“This many of them at one time is a big first,” Bigelow said.

The tour will end back in Demopolis, Ala., Friday. For more information about river tours, visit

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