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Jacksonville Poker Run: It’s the Water

Caught up with Bill Pyburn the other day. I’m not talking about the Bill Pyburn whom dialed-in poker run enthusiasts around the country know for his amazing, rocket-fast Skater 388 catamaran, Pure Platinum, and his ongoing battle for top-speed supremacy with Gino Gargiulo in his 44 MTI, Mercedes.

I’m talking about his father, Bill Pyburn, Sr., a recently retired firefighter who founded the Jacksonville River Rally Poker Run that will happen next week, June 3-6, on the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Fla. In addition to providing a fine time for poker run lovers, the event raises money for the Northern Florida Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The senior Pyburn is as outgoing as his son is reserved—they’re two equally compelling sides of the same Southern coin. While he credits the run’s numerous parties, lunch stops and other events, including a swim wear contest, for a good part of its success, he says it’s the St. John’s River that make the run such a strong draw for some of the fastest pleasure boats in the world.

“This is the smoothest water you’ll ever come across,” Pyburn told me. “And you just won’t find a stretch of water this long without any speed restrictions. You could set it on ‘cruise control’ at 120 mph and run forever.”

But while Pyburn says he welcomes and appreciates the top-flight hardware that the run—going into its ninth year—attracts, he regrets the loss of the smaller, less-outrageous powerboats.

“Really, anyone can do this poker run,” he said. “I could easily take a little 22-foot deck boat out there—that’s how smooth the water here is. We started out with 20 to 30 single-engine Velocities. It just kind of evolved into what it is now when people saw how good the water is here.”