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Boyne Thunder And The Art Of Boat-Hopping

In the interest of full transparency, I confess that I boat-hopped last minute for yesterday’s Boyne Thunder Poker Run in Northern Michigan. I’d planned to enjoy the day—as immaculate as the one before it—with American Custom Marine owner Michael Knoblock, Nor-Tech Hi-Performance Boats dealer manager Geoff Tomlinson and other lucky guests on board the first Nor-Tech 460 Flyer with an open bow.

After being canceled in 2020 and modified in 2021, the Boyne Thunder Poker Run returned to Northern Michigan with a vengeance. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

The issue was time. More to the point, I was anxious about making my flight from Traverse City to Dallas followed by a flight to Sacramento, Calif., which is about an hour drive from my home.

So with Tomlinson giving me appropriate grief, I begged off and grabbed a ride with Ron Szolack and his friends in his Cigarette Racing Team 42 GTO Reserve center console.

American Custom Marine’s Michael Knoblock had extra passenger space—thanks to the author’s change of plans—in the Nor-Tech 460 Flyer Open Bow.

Szolack planned an abbreviated run of his own with a return to Boyne City Marina after lunch at Bay Harbor. And by abbreviated, I mean running the 42-footer to the blue water just beyond the channel between Round Lake and Lake Michigan, idling to watch the 100-plus-boat fleet head south for its first two card stops and then high-tailing it to Bay Harbor to eat.

Plans change, of course, and boating plans are among the most fluid. As a guest aboard any boat, you’re obligated to shut up and go with the flow. Or find another ride.

Ron Szolack and company watched the poker-run fleet head south from his 42-foot Cigarette center console, and the headed to Bay Harbor for lunch.

Which was what I did as soon as Szolack mentioned, as we were leaving Bay Harbor, we’d be “stopping by” a raft-up on Lake Charlevoix. To the rescue came Scott Kottmann—the Wozencraft Insurance Agency representative serving the Lake of the Ozarks area in Central Missouri—and his father, Greg, both Boyne Thunder first-timers in their new MTI 390X catamaran. Devin Wozencraft, who was riding with the Kottmanns for the weekend, had them swing by the raft-up to get me.

Soon enough I was in my rental car, taking speed limits as quaint suggestions and heading to the airport.

For the record, those who actually completed the entire 150-mile Boyne Thunder Poker Run enjoyed pre-lunch-stop Lake Michigan glass on the southbound leg and post-lunch white-capping Lake Michigan chop on the northbound leg. Air temperatures hovered in the low 80s for much of the day. The only incident occurred near the end of the run when a 36-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran caught fire. No one was injured but the cat was mostly destroyed. (No additional details were available when this story went live.)

High-performance marine insurance man Devin Wozencraft took in the sights with Scott and Greg Kottmann in their new MTI 390X catamaran.

Did I mention that the fleet was absolutely insane with the likes of the famed Tom Cat 46-foot Skater catamaran and the still-breathtaking Rockette Skater 438, not to mention a slew of MTI catamarans—sterndrive and outboard—and center consoles in the mix? Or that new builds such as Jeremy Tschida’s just-delivered Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats SC 37 catamaran mixed with well-known offerings such as Donnie and Cara MacLeod’s Team Gotta Go IV sportboat, a formidable 52-foot V-bottom from the Bristol, R.I., company?

Or that industry types on hand this weekend from around the country included Mike Livorsi of Livorsi Marine, Randy, Cherell and Taylor Scism of MTI, Lisa Scola and Kevin Skiba of Mercury Racing, Dan Kleitz of Outerlimits, Kyle Miller of Sunsation Powerboats and more were there?

Representing Mystic Powerboats, Bob Barnhart even ran his M4200 center console all the way from Canada to be there.

But Boyne Thunder’s true purpose isn’t see-and-be-seen, it’s about raising money for a pair of exceptional local charities, Camp Quality and Challenge Mountain, for children. Though the total raised from last night’s live charity auction for the nonprofit programs isn’t final, a Speed On The Water shot-ski created by Stephen Miles Design fetched $11,500 and a Peacock Family Vineyard Napa Valley wine experience donated by the winery in conjunction with speedonthewater.com brought in $6,500. Two great starts, for sure.

No one was injured in the fire on board this 36-foot Skater catamaran, but the boat was severely damaged.

“I don’t have a final number, but with the donations back from 50/50 decks and the poker hands, we are in the neighborhood of $140,000,” said Ingrid Day, the Boyne Thunder Poker Run events coordinator. “What a day. What a run.

“And I’m so sorry for the boat that was lost,” she added in reference to the Skater catamaran fire.

For Day, it was her second year at the event’s lead organizer—and the first where pandemic protocols and restrictions didn’t weight heavily in planning since she took over for longtime Boyne Thunder organizing committee chairman Bob Alger after the 2019 event.

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When it comes to high-performance powerboat hardware, Boyne Thunder never fails to attract some of the very best.

“In 2020, the year of deep COVID, no event,” Day said. “Last year and this year both we had supplies and back-up materials if we had any COVID concerns, though it wasn’t as front and center as last year where we expanded the tent to allow for each party to have their own table. But we sure did think about it.”

As for Nor-Tech’s Tomlinson, he seemed to forgive and forget me during the day. Boyne Thunder had him spellbound and that was all that mattered.

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Powered by Mercury Racing outboard engines, the Tahoe and Avalon pontoon brands had excellent representation in the run.

“It’s such a fantastic event, and the locals, volunteers and participants know how to host,” Tomlinson said. “I appreciate that it’s a nonprofit event benefitting fantastic charities, as Nor-Tech is committed to being involved with charities.

“The venue is unique as well,” he added. “Next year is Boyne Thunder’s 20th anniversary. Hopefully, Nor-Tech and American Custom Marine can come up with something special, as Boyne Thunder is permanently on my radar.”

Tomlinson is a relative newcomer to Boyne Thunder—this was his second outing. But Szolack is a veteran. Regardless, this year’s three-day happening impressed him.

“I think this is the biggest one ever and I’ve been coming here for more than 15 years,” he said. “This is definitely the most people I’ve seen here. Such beautiful scenery with waterfront homes—it’s an awesome event, like no other in the country.”

I couldn’t agree more. I just wish I could have stayed longer, preferably on one boat.

During the Boyne Thunder Poker Run, the channel leading from Lake Charlevoix to Round Lake becomes a spectacular parade of catamarans, V-bottoms and center consoles from around the country.

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