What began 16 years ago as a one-day, mostly local happening has turned into the one of the most popular and respected three-day go-fast boating events in the country—and one that attracts participants from coast to coast. That’s the book on the Boyne Thunder Poker Run in Northern Michigan, which celebrated its “Sweet 16” birthday this weekend.
“I have been doing Boyne Thunder for the past 15 years,” said Michael Knoblock, the owner of American Custom Marine in Kimball, Mich., and a longtime sponsor of the event. “It used to be that we would get off work Friday night, drive up to Boyne City and launch our boats in the dark. Then we’d do the run on Saturday and drive home Sunday. Now, I would say that at least half of the people show up on Wednesday. It just keeps growing and growing. All of the hotels were booked this year. People were even staying in Petoskey, and that’s about 25 minutes away.”
Knoblock, who ran the first Nor-Tech Hi-Performance Boats 390 Sport Center Console powered by triple Mercury Racing 450R outboard engines in the event with its new owners, once again sponsored the Thursday night welcome celebration at Boyne Mountain Resort. Like Boyne Thunder, that party also started small but outgrew its original venue that was accessible only by ski lift. Now it happens in one of the resort’s largest conference rooms that has its own outdoor area with a spectacular view of the ski hill.
Nor-Tech dealer Michael Knoblock and company ran the first Mercury Racing 450R outboard-powered Nor-Tech 390 Sport CC in the event (click image to enlarge).
“I think the party was 30 to 40 percent bigger than last year,” he said. “I had six boxes of Speed On The Water 2018 Year In Review magazines that I put out on the tables. There were only four magazines left by the time everyone was gone.”
Moody body of water that it is, Lake Michigan proved far too ill-tempered for Thursday’s lunch run from Boyne City to Bay Harbor, which was sponsored by Unreihl Sunsation, the performance center console company’s dealer in Chesterfield, Mich. Those who did show up for lunch at the posh waterfront community’s yacht club had to come by car.
“But you know Lake Michigan,” said Bob Alger, the longtime chair of the Boyne Thunder steering committee. “By evening, the wind and water had laid down to manageable levels and by the next morning it was glassy calm.”
Boyne Thunder sponsor Iconic Marine Group brought a slew of models to the run, including this Baja 36 Outlaw (click image to enlarge).
Lake Michigan held its good mood through much of Saturday’s poker run, which saw 112 out of the 120 boats registered take to the water. Rain showers that developed during the drivers’ meeting cleared quickly.
Alger said that the additional pace boats—with enhanced visibility thanks to lights and flags—proved a worthy addition to the event. Only one participant passed the paceboats on Lake Charlevoix, which has a 55-mph speed limit. (“He didn’t show up to the dinner but we wouldn’t have played his hand if he had,” Alger said. “That’s our first-offense penalty for breaking our rules.”)
Adding a text service to keep participants updated also turned out to be an excellent move.
In its Jet 46 SC catamaran and Team Gotta Go IV SL 50X V-bottom, Outerlimits had two of its latest and greatest models in the Boyne Thunder fleet.
“We had 186 people sign up for the text service and it worked really well,” he said. “When conditions got too bad for the lunch run to Bay Harbor, for example, we were able to tell people they could come by car.
“We try to make the event fresh every year,” he continued. “We try to make a difference, though it’s hard to make those differences noticeable enough. We added a new videographer this year, which is more of a filmmaker-advertising company so we’re eager to see how that comes out. Last year, 25 percent of our participants were new. This year, 15 to 20 percent of our participants were new.”
The backbone of Boyne Thunder, however, is its contingent of longtime participants such as six-time event veteran—and current offshore racer—Vinnie Diorio of Wisconsin. Diorio ran his Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats SV 43 sportboat in the event.
“The Boyne Thunder Poker run organizers prove themselves every year, which is why they have the best poker run in the country,” he said.
Check out the slideshow above to enjoy more images from the 2019 Boyne Thunder Poker Run.
As if to prove his point, a pair of banners touting Boyne Thunder as “the world’s best poker run” (borrowed from a 2017 speedonthewater.com commentary) fetched $6,200 during Saturday night’s charity auction.
“From the venue and the charity to the people welcoming us and the food, everything about Boyne Thunder is top notch,” Diorio said.
Added Knoblock, “It just keeps growing, that’s the spectacular part of it. We had the same number of boats in the run, but there must have been a couple of hundred boats just watching it. And the crowd on the sides of the channel from Charlevoix to Lake Michigan was just nuts.”
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