Captain Andy Coleman knows the Choctawhatchee River.
He’s been cruising up and down its wild waters just a few miles north of Santa Rosa Beach since the mid-70s. He knows the river’s story, the people who live tucked in little communities most easily reached by boat and the history of their lives on the water and somewhat off the grid. He knows the plants and the animals who call the river home. And he loves it all.
Last year, he decided to start Backwater Tours, to share his love for the river with others. Now, he ferries people up the river in his shallow draft 26-foot motorboat.
The boat is outfitted with a powerful motor, making for a smooth and fast ride that is also light enough to maneuver through some of the shallow sloughs that lead to truly hidden gems, like the River Run spring, a small swimming hole that pumps out ice-cold freshwater and is accessible only by boat.
Touring the river with Coleman is a treat.
Guests experience an authentic piece of old Florida that is hard to imagine is just a stone’s throw from the bustle of Seaside and Rosemary Beach.
An hour into the tour and Coleman has shared a treasure trove of little stories, pointing out the Tupelo and Cypress trees, telling all about the people who used to make their living off these trees — and some who still do.
At one point, he pointed out a wide-trunk cyprus tree, bending and twisting towards the sky.
“Back here, different species start growing together and the trees, they just keep looking weirder and weirder,” he said. And then smiling, “The people are just like it.”
The water at River Run Springs is crystal clear.
Here’s where the dentist lives, he’s in his 80s now but still wins the pull-up contest each year at his big birthday party. This is Crooks Bluff, a bend in the river where robbers used to hide out to steal logs and other goods being ferried south.
At the springs, we all hopped out and into the refreshing water. We had the place all to ourselves as we floated around on paddle boards and dove down a few feet into the cave where the fresh water rushes out.
Everyone agreed it was the highlight of our summer. I’m pretty sure every trip is the highlight of Coleman’s summer, too.