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Commentary: Why Boyne Thunder Works

Feature articles are jigsaw puzzles for journalists. You start with a whole bunch of loose pieces and try to assemble them into a larger cohesive picture. On their own, the pieces mean very little, maybe even nothing. But together, they tell a complete and sometimes beautiful story.

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The new Rockette Skater catamaran—one fine piece of the 2017 Boyne Thunder Poker Run puzzle (click image to enlarge). Photos courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

Never has been that more apparent to me than with the Boyne Thunder Poker Run feature I’m just starting to write for the July/August issue of Speed On The Water digital magazine. I returned from the 14th annual event in Northern Michigan last weekend with thousands of puzzle pieces such as 125 registered boats coming to Boyne City, nearby Charlevoix and its idyllic public marina. The immaculate waters of Lake Charlevoix, Round Lake and Lake Michigan dazzled. A Friday night street party took over an entire town.

Everywhere you looked, you saw fine hardware from a bevy of Outerlimits beauties to the latest Skater catamaran—a sparkling gem called Rockette and based out of Wisconsin—to an exquisite wooden creation called Catnip from Boyne City-based Van Dam Boats. There is one fast food restaurant at the edge of a town, at least four brewpubs in town. The small Boyne Mountain ski hill is served by the massive Boyne Mountain Resort. Performance-boat owners came mostly from the Midwest and Northeast, but some showed up from as far away as Colorado and Washington.

The huge sponsor roster included marine industry household names such as American Custom Marine, Chief Performance, Factory Billet Power, Formula Boats and Marine Technology, Inc., and not-so-household names such as Conlee Oil Company, Gaylord Eye Care, D & D Water & Sewer, 8th Day Farms, Gentle Family Dentistry and dozens of other backers. Run entirely by a volunteer committee, the nonprofit event benefits the Challenge Mountain organization, which serves mentally and physically challenged children. While not final, total funds raised for the charity, as well as the Camp Quality charity and Boyne City Main Street program,  should be in the high six-figure range.

More pieces of the puzzle.

And all of this happens above the 45th parallel, the latitude at which you are equidistant from the Equator and the North Pole.

Of course, these are just some of the pieces—a fraction of the total—I’ve yet to assemble into a feature story.

Asked by one of the participants what I thought about the event so far during Thursday night’s party at Boyne Mountain Resort, I said I love it. Pressed to elaborate on that answer, the best I could come up with was, “It’s not in Florida.” I was joking, of course (my Sunshine State friends can put away their torches and pitchforks), but there is an undeniable appeal to boating in rural middle-of-nowhere Northern Michigan. Not all paradise is tropical.

But that’s just another piece of the puzzle.

So here’s is the one thing—right now the only thing—I do know about why Boyne Thunder works, why it sells out in less than 24 hours and why it is the world’s hottest summer poker run.

Boyne City embraces it.

Now, I’m sure there are locals who don’t like performance boats and their owners. In a town of 3,760 people, there has to be at least one resident who isn’t into it. I just didn’t meet him or her. And I was there for an entire week, asking lots of different questions—but answering the same one.

“Are you with the poker run?”

Everyone from the bartenders who poured my drinks at Café Sante to the guy who rented a bike to me at North Country Cycle Sport immediately asked me that if they noticed whatever Speed On The Water shirt I was wearing. It got to the point where I stopped wearing those shirts out to dinner because I wanted to relax with my gal, blend in (OK, my California “dude” accent makes that kind of tough in Northern Michigan) and talk about anything but the poker run.

I lost count of how many times I got asked that question or overheard one local talking to another local about the poker run. Or rode my bike past a sign advertising the poker run posted on some kind of street fixture.

I also lost count of how many times locals—even the sweet elderly lady who told me she loves all the pretty boats but hates the new Boyne City Hall under construction because “It’s too big”—thanked me for being there.

Boyne City buys into the Boyne City Poker Run—Boyne City owns it. That part of the puzzle, a corner section to be sure, I’ve already completed.

The rest is still coming together.

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