As poker runs go, the annual Jacksonville River Rally Charity event, which happened last weekend, isn’t “huge.” This year’s event pulled in 51 high-performance catamarans and V-bottoms, which was about the same as last year. But there’s something about the North Florida run on the St. Johns River that keeps the faithful from around the Sunshine State and beyond coming back.
“I love this run,” said Greg Harris, who returned once again to participate in Jacksonville with his girlfriend Yvonne Aleman, who captured Friday’s casual fun run and raft up for speedonthewater.com, and a group of friends who head there every year. “It’s like SkaterFest. It just has a relaxed vibe.”
Photographer Jay Nichols made good use of his severely limited time shooting the Jacksonville River Rally Charity Poker Run from the Buckman Bridge. Photo courtesy/copyright Jay Nichols/Naples Image (click image to enlage).
Harris’ SkaterFest comparison was particularly apt for Jacksonville this year—as it is every year. That’s because Jacksonville is home to Bill Pyburn, Jr., the owner of the Pure Platinum Skater Powerboats 388 catamaran, who co-organizes the run with his father, Bill Pyburn, Sr. Powered by twin 1,800-plus-hp engines from Goodwin Competition, the 38-footer reportedly dazzled participants and onlookers during the run.
“We cruised at 100 mph most of the time, but we did run it to 170 mph once and there was plenty left,” said Jason Ventura of Brand X H-Performance Marine, who takes care of Pure Platinum for Pyburn and drove the cat with its well-known owner throttling during the run. “The motors are flawless.
“We had a great time,” he added. “The weather was awesome and the water was flat.”
“It was kind of mellow,” said Grant Bruggemann, who throttled for Bill Munyan, one of his customers, in a 36-foot Nor-Tech catamaran. “Of course you had all those big Skaters and MTIs, but for the most part everybody just cruised along at 90 to 100 mph. It’s also nice that it’s a freshwater run, kind of brackish in parts but mostly freshwater, in Florida. You’re not dealing with the saltwater.
“It wasn’t like an offshore race where you’re worried about competing and how the boat is going to perform,” added Bruggemann, who throttles for the Broadco offshore racing team on the Super Boat International circuit. “It was just fun.”
For photographer Jay Nichols, the trip to a bridge in Jacksonville from his home in Clearwater, Fla., this year proved less than productive but enjoyable nonetheless. Bridge roadway repair work forced him—with a firm nudge from local enforcement officials—off his chosen perch. Still, he managed to bring back a couple of gems, as well as a good story.
“My luck finally ran out,” Nichols said. “I have been so lucky shooting Jacksonville from the bridges. This year I decided to go to the Buckman Bridge instead of the Shands Bridge and they were doing work in the left lane, so a state trooper moved me on shortly after I arrived. I was able to shoot one picture of a Nor-Tech cat, and if you look closely at the guys in the boat you can see them looking up and smiling at me. The state trooper was right behind me with his lights flashing.”
For scenes from Jacksonville’s Friday fun run and raft up, check out the slideshow above courtesy of Yvonne Aleman.
With another successful event on the books and approximately $10,000 raised for Camp Amigo, the Jacksonville run’s longtime designated charity, Bill Pyburn, Sr., reflected on this year’s event. Pyburn has been closely involved with the run for 14 years now, and he’s worked hard to improve it. The children of Camp Amigo, all of whom have suffered severe burns, continue to motivate the retired firefighter, as does simply putting on a great event in his hometown. This year’s Jacksonville River Rally Charity Poker Run, he said, may have been the best.
“There’s really no comparison to other years,” he said. “There was no stress. So many people told me this was the most stress-free weekend they’d ever had, the most relaxed they’d ever been on a poker run. We changed a lot of things around, like moving the lunch stop to Palatka, where our meal—a great all-you-can-eat seafood buffet—was waiting for us upstairs. People told me they’d never seen anything like it in a poker run. On Friday, we had a very nice raft up. We spent $3,000 on barbecue and everyone was welcome.
“It was the most stress-free poker run weekend I’ve ever had too,” he continued. “I came home and mowed my lawn when it was done. That’s how easy it was for me.”
With Pure Platinum rocketing in the background, this image captures the Jacksonville event’s laid-back environment. Photo courtesy/copyright Jay Nichols/Naples Image (click image to enlarge).
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