For brand-loyal Sunsation Powerboats customers who traveled from near and far to be there to locals just out for a stroll, downtown New Baltimore, Mich., was the place to be last Thursday evening. The streets teemed with 60 Sunsation models all of vintages, from the Algonac, Mich., company’s first offering—the Sunburn, a 16-foot sportboat built in 1984 and powered by a Mercury Black Max 200-hp outboard engine—to a 2023 model-year 40 CCX center console with quad 450R outboards from Mercury Racing.
Generations of Sunsation owners descended on Lake St. Clair last weekend for the second Sunsation Fun Run in as many years. Photos courtesy/copyright Scrapyard Media.
An estimated 500 to 700 people enjoyed the brand-celebration, which opened the second-year Sunsation Sun Run. The company launched the first event to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2022. So strong was the response that the Sunsation team, from principals Wayne and Joe Schaldenbrand and Kyler Miller to the company’s 40-plus employees, decided not just to bring back the event but to add value for the entire New Baltimore community.
“The street party was awesome,” said Ryan Wenk, Sunsation’s national sales and marketing manager. “By the time we set up the factory Sunsation display, we had filled 20 percent of the whole street. We had asked customers who wanted their boats in the show to arrive by noon as it was first come, first served, but they started showing up at 10:30 a.m. By 1:45 p.m. we were full and had to shut it down.
From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Sunsation celebration took over downtown New Baltimore.
“The apparel tent was nonstop for six hours, and the VIP tent was awesome,” he continued. “Local restaurants provided light food and kept it stocked all day. As we had planned, we shut it down the VIP tent at 5 p.m. and encouraged everyone to patronize businesses in New Baltimore. Every bar and restaurant in town was packed.”
Added Wayne Schaldenbrand, “Seeing all the boats in the town where I grew up riding my bike—it couldn’t have been any better,” he said, then chuckled. “And the streets are paved now.”
Of course, Schaldenbrand admits to some understandable bias. But even the likes of Brandon Burgess, a Michigan-based, longtime Cigarette Racing Team V-bottom fan and owner, left the New Baltimore street exhibit and celebration dazzled by it.
“It was the coolest thing I’ve been to since my first Cigarette Rendezvous (at Performance Boat Center at the Lake of the Ozarks),” he said. “Sunsation has taken it to another level when it comes to boating-family.”
On Friday morning, Cabana Blue hosted the largest single fleet of Sunsation sportboats and center consoles in the history of the brand.
Wenk and company don’t know exactly how many boats actually participated in Friday’s fun run, which started at Cabana Blue Lakeside Bar and Grill in Clay Township and finished at Brownies on Harsens Island. But they began arriving at Cabana Blue at 8 a.m. ahead of the drivers meeting and breakfast. So, too, did 40-something Sunsation employees who were given the day off to ride with Sunsation customers.
“We took several Sunsation employees out on a 40 CCX and they loved it,” said Brett Manire of Osage Beach, Mo.-headquartered Performance Boat Center, Sunsation’s largest dealer. “Lake St. Clair is beautiful, and it was so cool seeing all the Sunsation boats on and of the water.
During its 41 years in business, Sunsation Boats has built one of the most loyal and passionate followings in the high-performance marine industry.
“And the street party was a hit,” he added. “All one brand and busy—like the (Lake of the Ozarks) Shootout gets.”
Absent a Sunsation employee on their 40 CCX center console formerly owned by Dave Burgess (the father of Brandon Burgess) were owners Jason and Shanna Tolliver of Ohio and a couple of close friends. Instead, the Tollivers hosted Mitcher T—Sunsation’s go-to man for custom paintwork—and two of his employees for the day.
Though they missed the first Sunsation Sun Run last year, they don’t plan on missing another.
The main event saw Sunsation models of all vintages on Lake St. Clair.
“It was an unbelievable event—Sunsation rolled out the red carpet,” said Jason Tolliver, who also owns a Sunsation F4 sportboat powered by Mercury Racing 700SCi engines. “The whole thing was first class. Not only will we be back next year, we’ll be back with both boats.”
That’s music to the ears of Wenk and his Sunsation teammates.
“This was like an investment year with our time and money, to prove we can do something more than a fun run,” Wenk explained. “The sponsors in downtown New Baltimore want it back as it’s one of the bigger events in this community. And now they understand the type of clients we bring. We have to make it even bigger. We want to make it into an annual festival.”
Said Wenk, “The ‘recovery raft-up’ was probably the rowdiest event of all three days.”
The final planned activity of the week was billed as a “recovery” raft-up in Muscamoot Bay. Approximately 40 Sunsations showed up at the event and formed another mini boat show in front of “the Tiki Barge” a curiously tiki-bar-themed vessel that is a focal point for weekend raft-ups on the waterway. When Wayne Schaldenbrand showed up in a 32 CCX demo boat, the Sunsation crowd made room for him in the raft-up. The Tiki Barge staff even introduced him on the spot.
“The ‘recovery raft-up’ was probably the rowdiest event of all three days,” Wenk said, then laughed. “People have their own versions of rafting up and ‘coving out.’ But we do it better here than they do it anywhere in the country—by far.”
A sea of Sunsation fiberglass took over the Cabana Blue starting point for the fun run last Friday—and it will return in 2024
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