Most of us in the performance-boat world have heard of the big, “marquee” poker runs such as Key West, Miami Boat Show/Islamorada, 1,000 Islands and Desert Storm. But what most of us don’t realize—or just forget—is that a whole bunch of poker runs happen every weekend across the country. And while these smaller run don’t get as much recognition as the better-known events, they are equal—if not sometimes better—to their larger counterparts.
Case in point? Jammin’ on the James, which happens annually on the James River in Virginia. The event starts in Hopewell and ends in Portsmouth, two locations you would not necessarily think of for a spectacular go-fast boat event. And yet this poker run offers everything you could ask from a poker run including amazing performance boats on fast water, great scenery and, of course, awesome parties.
I was on hand at Jammin’ on the James this year not just to make this epic run once again, but to cover it for speedonthewater.com. Here’s how it went down.
The first group rolled out of Appomattox Small Boat Harbor on Saturday at 9 a.m., with the second group about 45 minutes behind. The two groups met up at Jordan Point for what would be the official start of the event.
Once the helicopter showed up overhead, the faster of the two groups took off behind a 328 Skater owned by Matt Hall. This was Hall’s fourth year in the event and he was an excellent pace boat driver for the run as it headed down the scenic—and breezy—James River.
The second group started shortly after behind the 38’ Active Thunder of Mark Shackelford, who was also the event coordinator for the third year in a row and is the president of the host organization, the Richmond Power Boat Association. When I talked to Schackleford later in the day, he said that 102 boats made the start, which was down about 18 boats from last year. And yet nearly the same number of people registered and participated this year.
Translation? More passengers per boat—very likely a sign of these difficult economic times with people wanting to save money on gas and “carpooling” in boats for poker runs. Regardless, the fun factor was undiminished.
The first card stop—a quick drive-by—was at historic Jamestown. From there it was back on plane for a run past the Ghost Fleet, a group of enormous moored ships on the James River that the military keeps on hand in case of an emergency. Spectacular.
In short order, we were off to Smithfield Station for the lunch stop. Once all the boats were rafted, it was time to eat some of the best pulled-pork in the South. Smithfield is known as the pork capital of the world, which, of course, kind of helps a bit with the pulled pork thing.
During lunch, I ran into Michael “Doc” Janssen, an old friend who also happened to be a sponsor of this year’s event. Janssen was on hand in his 47’ Fountain known as Taz. A well-known Super Vee light offshore racer, Janssen made the trip from Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, to enjoy the festivities. I asked “Doc” what attracted him to Poker Runs, especially this one so far from home.
“Poker Runs participants all have something in common,” he said. “They enjoy camaraderie on the water.”
Perfectly simple. And perfectly true.
After lunch, it was time for the final leg of the run, down to Portsmouth. When we pulled into the harbor about 30 minutes later, it was off to find our assigned slip and then—the infamous Jammin’ on the James dock party.
But it also was time to check out some seriously impressive hardware that made the run. One boat that caught my eye in particular was a 29’ Dave’s Custom Boats catamaran that belonged to Charlie Mattingly. The boat is powered by twin Teague 800 horsepower engines, so obviously it’s plenty fast. This was Mattingly’s third consecutive year at the event, and he said that he feels like he’s part of the family. That had proven true earlier in the day when the DCB’s ignition box failed and a fellow participant in the run loaned him the parts he needed for the repair.
Once the docks had sunk up to our ankles from the weight of crowd during the dock party, it was time for the awards banquet located at the host hotel. It was a first-class event all the way with great food, great bands and, of course, a bar. During the banquet, I bumped in Randy Garcia of Miami-based engine builder Cobra Power. Garcia was on hand to support his customers in the run, as well as possibly meet a few new ones.
Garica said he was impressed with the event, as well as the participants.
“This is a very professional group of individuals who take pride in their boats,” he said.
I couldn’t have agreed more. And as the night moved and things got livelier, I could help thinking to myself, “What a great poker run. It has to be one of the best.”
I thought back to what Mattingly had said about feeling that he was “part of the family” at Jammin’ on the James. He was far from the only person who expressed that sentiment to me during the weekend. Year in and year out, Shackleford and the entire crew of the Richmond Power Boat Association make everyone feel welcome.
And that puts Jammin’ on the James right up there with any poker run in the country.
Editor’s Note: Speedonthewater.com extends its gratitude for Mike Yowaiski and Ted Ginnity for the considerable time and effort they put into covering the 2011 Jammin’ on the James Poker Run.
Jammin’ on the James 2011, Part II: Getting Rolling
Jammin on the James 2011, Part I: The Preview