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Big Cat Poker Run Returns In Big Way

As has been a theme for several performance boating events this season, Northern California’s Big Cat Poker Run roared back in a big way after having to cancel the annual Discovery Bay Lions Club fundraiser in 2020 because of the pandemic.

DCB’s Tony Chiaramonte joined Kris Hansen, the Southern California-based owner of the first DCB M37R Widebody catamaran, for the Big Cat Poker Run on the California Delta waterways. Photos courtesy Kris Wesenhagen/KKJ Media

Thanks to an eager group of 70-plus performance boat owners and their crews, fortuitously good weather, and a dedicated team of volunteers, which included people from three other local Lions Clubs and the team at Discovery Bay Marina (the host venue), the 2021 Big Cat Poker Run was a hit. Whether you ask longtime participant and sponsor, Karl Koster, who ran his Cigarette Racing Team luxury performance center console in the event, or you ask first-timer Kris Hansen, who brought his DCB M37R Widebody catamaran to the run from Southern California (and hosted the author for the Friday lunch run), the answer was overwhelmingly positive when asked if they had a good time at the Big Cat Poker Run.

“I’d come back for sure,” Hansen said. “I’m disappointed Shelby (Hansen’s wife) couldn’t make it. She’s missing out. The boating up here is so different…and so cool.”

Following last week’s event, which included a sponsor/VIP reception on Thursday evening, a fun run and welcome party on Friday and a long- and short-course poker run format with a dinner and party on Saturday, high praise was doled out from Cherilyn Noack, the vice president of marketing for Valencia, Calif.-based Teague Custom Marine, the event’s title sponsor.

“My family and I were so pleased with the turnout and the overall outcome of this year’s Big Cat,” said Noack, who participated in the event’s Friday fun run and Saturday poker run with her husband, Josh, in their twin Mercury Racing 300R-powered 26-foot Adrenaline Custom Boats catamaran, while her parents—Bob and Andrea Teague—ran their DCB M31 Widebody catamaran with 1,400-hp TCM engines. “We weren’t sure what to expect as it can be hard to keep momentum going after taking a year off. In addition to no event in 2020, there also was a change in leadership.

“After years of tireless efforts, longtime organizers Glenn and Melissa Hoffman moved away from the area in 2020, leaving some big shoes to fill,” she continued. “Fortunately current Discovery Bay Lions Club president Debbie Finnegan stepped up to the plate and did an amazing job. She had to learn a lot—and learn it quickly! In fact, we took Debbie along for the day in our DCB TCM31 during the local Unleashed Poker Run a couple weeks ago so she could experience a performance boating event.”

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Check out the slideshow above for more images from the 2021 Big Cat Poker Run.

Noack said she was grateful for Finnegan’s enthusiasm and took on a larger behind-the-scenes role because of it. Her father, who has always helped with the poker run, got more involved as well, and he rallied longtime event volunteers Kevin and Leianne Graves from the Some Gave All Foundation to join the event committee.

“There’s so much that goes on to make this type of event possible,” Noack said. “My dad would join on the weekly Monday night zoom calls for the event planning, while I helped coordinate the event apparel and some of the contact information for different boaters or past sponsors. Everyone on the committee pitched in in different ways to get it done and get the word out. Each volunteer brought something different to the table. I have to say thank you so much to all of the volunteer Lions (hence the “big cat”) who helped leading up to and during the event. We also had several poker run participants who volunteered at the registration booth. No one got paid to do any of this; it’s all for the charities.”

And while a definitive fundraising amount has not been totaled—Finnegan estimated that it’s close to $56,000—everyone involved has no doubt the event was a success.

“We love the Big Cat Poker Run—it always has such a feeling of home and good camaraderie,” Noack said. “It was great to see so many smiling faces from near and far, and people who were excited to come by the booth and get some new Teague swag, too.”

Finnegan, who made sure to credit Lions Club vice president Rita Caruso for her involvement, said she could not have done the poker run without the help of the committee and every other volunteer who stepped up to ensure the event ran smoothly.

“The event turned out much better than expected for being my first year and getting a late start in planning,” Finnegan said. “The new owners of the marina—Joe and Denise Eldam—were fantastic. They really stepped up in a big way. They added new lighting and more electrical for our parties, and their employees even upgraded our Discovery Bay Lions Club stage. They played a huge role in making this event happen.”

Local performance boater and former offshore racer Rick Bowling enjoyed Saturday’s poker run in his 37-foot canopied Talon catamaran powered by twin Mercury Racing 1350 engines.

“We had a fun time at Big Cat—it was a good event as usual,” said Bowling, who added that the boat had a gearcase issue that his mechanic worked with Bob Teague to fix just before the event. “The boat ran perfect so that made it even better. Everyone seemed to be safe and smart on the water, too, which is nice. I loved getting to see all the boats coming and going as we ran to Pittsburg and back.”

Complementing the other volunteers’ efforts, photographer Kris Wesenhagen of KKJ Media stepped up to assist the event this year.

“Kris started the social media pages for the event,” Noack said. “He was a great partner in getting the word out and also in documenting everything at the poker run.”

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