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Big Cat Poker Run Strikes California Gold

If participants in yesterday’s Big Cat Poker Run had just one common complaint, it was this: It was bloody hot all day with temperatures in the mid-90-to-low-100-degree range. But that’s just the way it is in California’s Central Valley in August. Plus, it’s an excellent reason to be on the water creating your own air-conditioning in a go-fast V-bottom or catamaran.

That’s exactly what more than 300 participants did during yesterday’s event, which raised money for the Discovery Bay, Calif. (home base for the run, which began Thursday evening with a V.I.P. welcome party for its sponsors including title sponsor Teague Custom Marine and Gold-level sponsors DCB Performance Boats, IMCO and Speedboat magazine) Lions Club’s programs for visually impaired children. With help from his wife, Melissa, Glenn Hoffman of the Discovery Bay Lion’s Club handled the organzational duties for the event.

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Always a showcase for exotic go-fast boats, the Big Cat Poker Run pulled in its biggest fleet in recent history (click image to enlarge). Photos courtesy/copyright Jay Nichols/Naples Image.

The event attracted 90 boats, a significant increase from last year’s 60-vessel fleet and not far off its record-high fleet of slightly more than 100 boats. Friday’s casual lunch for a taco buffet at Tower Park reportedly drew 40 to 50 boats, and it was followed by a Delta tour—for those interested—pulled in more than 20 boats. While the final amount of money raised for charity isn’t yet tallied, it’s estimated to be in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. That estimate includes a reported $8,900 raised in less than 10 minutes for the Heart Of A Hero charity for pediatric cancer.

Bob Teague, the founder and owner of longtime Big Cat title sponsor Teague Custom Marine in Valencia Calif. owns a second home in Discovery Bay. Teague attributed the growth and success of this year’s event to several factors.

“Good organization, good promotion, good community involvement, great volunteers and awesome boating,” he said. “Also very chill—no start boats, no pace boats, no finish. Everybody just had a good time. Single-file (boat) requirement in the narrow channels, everyone wearing vests and nobody drinking until the end of the day. And the camraderie was awesome.”

“The poker run was fantastic,” said Carl Zanger, a part-time Discovery Bay resident who was joined in the cockpit of his 2003 Cigarette 38 Top Gun equipped with Mercury Racing 700 SCi engines by his wife, Betty, and a couple of friends. “It was a little hot, but it was a beautiful day.

“In the afternoon, the breeze kicked up so it really wasn’t that bad,” he continued. “It was one of the best poker runs Big Cat has had in a long time. It was really well-organized, the food was great this year and the turnout was the best it’s been in a long time.”

“Honestly, it didn’t feel any worse than it usually is and it was a gorgeous day on the water,” said John Teague, who ran with Larry Kramer in Kramer’s Skater 388 catamaran powered by twin 1,200-hp Teague Custom Marine engines, for most of the run and was joined by his wife, Maggie Rae, and their infant daughter, Layla. “We took Layla on the run and kept it mellow, no drama and lots of fun.”

This year’s event featured two courses on the Sacramento River Delta: A “long course” for the faster boats, which first took participants west to the Pittsburg Yacht Club before routing to the University Hotel lunch stop in Stockton, and a “short course” for the slower boats, which stopped first at the Sugar Barge on Bethel Island before sending them to the same lunch stop. Both courses started in picturesque Discovery Bay Harbor.

Post run festivities included a dinner, awards ceremony and live entertainment on the grass at Discovery Bay Harbor.

For a few more images from this weekend’s Big Cat Poker Run, check out the slideshow above.

On sabbatical for all but a few events this year, well-known high-performance powerboat photographer Jay Nichols came all the way from Sarasota, Fla., to capture the event for the second consecutive year. Also on scene—and behind the lens—was Southern California photo ace Erick Bryner, who was shooting for Speedboat magazine.

“It was nonstop awesome all day—my finger hardly left the trigger button,” said Nichols. “I shot 4,500 frames yesterday, a new personal record. It was my pilot’s fault. Same guy I flew with last year, he was incredible.”

“I’ve never seen so many spectators,” said Rick Bowling, a longtime Big Cat Poker Run participant who ran Gone Again, his 37-foot Talon catamaran, in the event. “They were lined up everywhere.”

Editor’s Note: For the complete collection of Jay Nichols’ images from the 2016 Big Cat Poker Run as they become available, visit his Flickr Gallery.

Related story: Big Cat Poker Run Wrap-Up: 60-Boat Fleet Beats the Heat

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