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On Scene At The Buffalo Poker Run: Looking For A Record Fleet

“We might have a problem,” was not the greeting I was hoping for after a long day of travel and delays.

The greeter was Anthony Scioli, event coordinator for the Western New York Offshore Powerboat Association board of directors. The “problem” is that the 73 boats confirmed when we spoke on Monday had grown to over 80 and “It looks like we could have 100 boats.”

By the time registration closes, the Buffalo Poker Run could have 100 boat's in tomorrow's fleet. Photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.

By the time registration closes, the Buffalo Poker Run could have 100 boats in tomorrow’s fleet. All photos courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.

Nice problem to have. Especially at a time when some poker run and many offshore race entries around the country are down significantly.

Buffalo, New York is located on Lake Erie and the Niagara River between the US and Canada. It is an area rich in boating tradition and powerboat racing history going back to the 1900s. The Association was formed 29 years ago to keep that tradition alive and growing, and 2013 seems to be a lucky year for that growth. In addition to the boat count, club membership and attendance at monthly meetings are up. The number of sponsors and sponsor dollars are up. And the number of poker run classes is up this year as well, with the addition of a 110-plus mph grouping that came at the request of a group of mostly Canadians coming to the event for the first time this year.

Jeff "Captain" Morgan and friends lead today's the Formula contingent dock.Jeff “Captain” Morgan and friends lead today’s the Formula contingent dock party.

So what is WNYOPA doing that few other organizations seem able to do? Why are all the number here up? “Leadership, personality and a positive attitude,” said club president Steve McKie. Over the past six years the board has worked hard to “be more professional, more like a business and creating a value for members and participants,” McKie said.

The strategy seems to be working, at least if you listen to first-time attendees Rob & Jeanett Forbus, in from Syracuse with their 38′ Fountain. “There has been a lot of chatter about this event,” said Forbus – who credits the discussions on Offshore Only—and some peer pressure with helping him make the decision to pass on two other regional events and shuffle off to Buffalo.

“The value is amazing,” Forbus said. “I had other options this weekend. I could have paid $1,000 entry and $300 for crew for lesser food and no aerial photography. Here we get two great parties with ‘real’ food, the helicopter, there is a great poker payout and they give significant money back to charity, all for $300 registration and $80 for crew. This is a class act.”

The charity is Excalibur Leisure Skills, a Buffalo-based non-profit, all volunteer organization that provides “adaptive boating and fishing opportunities for developmentally challenged and disadvantaged person,” according to its website. The group operates a custom-built 30′ “T-boat” that is wheel chair accessible with fore and aft chair lifts, widened and reinforced companion ways, a raised deck with a wheelchair tie-down system and a full array of electronics and safety features. WNYOPA has managed to donate nearly $10,000 over the past three years from this single annual event.

Like the weather today, the weather for the run tomorrow is predicted to be ideal.

While Friday dawned with lingering showers and clouds from the night before, the sun broke out just as registration opened for business, so even the weather is looking up for Saturday’s 90-mile run. But for Scioli and McKie, the weather is the least of their concerns. They’re trying to figure out where to put all these boats.

Editor’s Note: Look for a post-run report from Buffalo this weekened on the speedonthewater.com