Capt. Andy began giving these tours in 2014 and is now joined by alternate Capt. Jimmy Parris, which works well because Capt. Andy can now point out sights and curiosities while Capt. Jimmy navigates. Most tours wind their way up to a captivatingly quiet cut-through that runs deep into the swamp, past old cypress stands. Capt. Andy explains these perfectly straight waterways are remnants from the 1800s, when men with oxen-pulled carts would travel deep into the swamp to cut cypress and timber, which would then be floated downriver.
Instead of the usual 3-hour tour, we’re in for something a bit more special—an all-day adventure that works its way up into Bay County and to a small spring that feels like a local secret.
Along the way, the river widens, and riverfront fish camps, bed and breakfasts, and ramshackle houseboats dot the shoreline. A kingfisher swoops by a rope swing, and we strain our necks looking for giant sturgeons beneath the water.
“How do you like my river?” he yells over the roar of the motor. “Can you believe how few people are on it?”
As we get closer to the spring, the riverbank begins to change, and we notice pale pink and white wildflowers lining the ancient limestone shores. These shores give way to unbelievably wide cypress; we glide silently past one that is as wide as a refrigerator is tall. Within the new cypress growth and lumpy, bumpy landscape of the swamp, tiny white wildflowers bloom. It feels as though we’ve somehow slipped from an angler’s paradise into a quiet fairyland.
Capt. Parris skillfully guides our boat through a shallow, narrow waterway lined with these mammoth cypress that leads to the spring. Once at the spring, we dock on a small sand beach and stare, amazed, at the bubbling, crystal-clear water in front of us.
“We love to show off our favorite places,” Capt. Jimmy says as he hands out the paddles for the SUP boards. Capt. Andy never wastes an opportunity at the springs and gamely jumps into the 68-degree water. “I like to stay in one spot with a mask,” he explains. “You’d be amazed at what goes by you!”
With the SUP boards unmoored from the top of the boat, it’s now time to experience the force of the spring for ourselves. The experience does not disappoint. The bubbling spring is forceful but gentle as it pushes our boards back and away. Beneath us, schools of fish dart and river grass sway.
Capt. Andy surfaces from watching the fish and points to the sand beach. “This is the best place in the whole world to eat a watermelon,” he says. “You sit in the shallow water there and eat it.”
Once we’ve grown tired of paddling the spring, it’s time to reboard and begin the long ride back to the dock at Point Washington. It’s a bit sad to say goodbye to these woods and this crystal-clear spring. It feels as though, just for a little while, we were granted special passage into a watery and forgotten world.