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Adaptation On Tap For Tampa Bay Poker Run

As previously reported on speedonthewater.com, this weekend’s Florida Powerboat Club Tampa Bay Poker Run has been sold out at 55 to 60 boats for weeks. That sounds like a good problem for the event-organizing outfit to have, and club president Stu Jones isn’t complaining about it. But according to Jones, had he been able to secure enough dock space registration would have swelled to 80-plus entries based on the number of Florida Powerboat Club members who had to be turned away.

Thanks to a host of factors, this weekend’s Florida Powerboat Club Tampa Bay Poker Run will have a two-day format. Photo from the 2021 Tampa Bay Poker Run by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

Some the of dock shortage has to do with ongoing work at the Tampa Bay Convention Center waterfront area, which is at 50 percent of its normal capacity. But the issue isn’t just situational, Jones explained.

“This is the 12th year of the annual Tampa Bay Poker Run and we saw immediate growth in the event’s attendance after we moved it from the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg to Tampa about four years ago,” he said. “And we doubled our roster in a short time.

“Now we are faced with the same challenges again, but for a different set of reasons,” he continued. “Recreational boating is on fire everywhere. Florida tourism is back at peak capacity and we are at the height of spring break. The other marinas we use including the one at the Marriott and the docks over at the American Social are fully booked by monthlies due to the higher demand for boating in the area. So we have done our best to squeeze every room and dock spot downtown to accommodate 55 poker-run teams.”

Featuring a two-day poker-run format, the Tampa Bay will run will have speedonthewater.com chief photographer Pete Boden shooting from a helicopter both days. In another new wrinkle, Jones has a raft-up—rather than a lunch stop for all 55 boats and almost 300 people—planned after Saturday’s final card stop in advance of the evening’s banquet and celebration.

“For Saturday, we are taking custom deli orders for lunch during the raft-up,” said Jones. “We will get all the food dockside and hand them out to each team at departure. I also made arrangements at other waterfront restaurants. I can take about 20 to 25 boats for those members who don’t want to raft-up.”

The move to downtown Tampa four years ago has been a boon for the Florida Powerboat Club event, but there are new challenges on the horizon.

Having Friday and Saturday card-stops for poker-runners will cut down the issues a large fleet will face on an already congested waterway. But with Southwest Florida’s pandemic-spurred boom in recreational boating, additional adaptation may well be required for the popular event beyond this year.

“If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years organizing poker-run events, you can’t get too comfortable with the same format year after year,” he said. “We have to adapt to changes in the local landscape, and if nothing else it will be a welcome change for many participants who are repeat attendees every year. As for the newcomers, well, I can bet they’re just happy to be there no matter what the program is.

“The key to event management is adapting to your environment,” he added.

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