If you’re old enough to remember poker runs back in the 1990s, you know they were mostly about loud boats, wild parties and bikini-clad beauties who likely would have nothing to do with you. You’ll probably also recall that the card-play and poker run courses were secondary to those distractions. No judgement—that was simply the way things were when poker runs were new to the go-fasting boating world.
There’s something special about a tight formation start at the beginning of a poker run. Photos by Jeff Helmkamp copyright Helmkamp Photos.
Those days are gone, which isn’t to say that loud boats, wild parties and bikini-clad beauties have vanished from the poker run scene—far from it. But those elements are no longer enough to attract today’s poker run fans, much less keep them coming back.
The 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run, which wrapped up yesterday in the once-upon-a-time town of Clayton, N.Y., is the perfect example of a contemporary high-performance powerboating event. Of course it has all the current standard poker run fare including nightly parties with live music. It also includes a Wednesday evening cruise for sponsors on the St. Lawrence River (a new addition this year), a block party complete with exceptional powerboats in downtown Clayton the following evening and a Friday afternoon fun run.
And then there is Saturday’s poker run on one of the world’s most beautiful waterways.
This year’s happening attracted 90-something boats including five DCB M37R Widebody catamarans, a host of MTI center consoles and catamarans, including the famed Speed Racer 44-footer, two sharp new Donzi Marine 39-foot center consoles, and at least two pristine vintage 38 ZRCs, several Mystic Powerboats center consoles, including a massive 52-footer, and a bevy V-bottom sportboats from Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats, Fountain Powerboats, Baja Marine, Hustler Powerboats and more.
Presenting sponsor, Aqua-Mania had full representation during the weekend. Photo by Tim Sharkey copyright Sharkey Images.
That was more than enough to leave visitors touring famed Boldt Castle on Heart Island gawking as the fleet made its way, after first heading to Cape Vincent and reversing course, to Scenic Bay Park in Alexandria Bay for lunch. From there, the poker runners headed to their third and final card stop in Ogdensburg before returning to 1,000 Islands Harbor Hotel for the dinner celebration and auction.
“This may be the best run we’ve ever done,” said Jack Gladke, a repeat 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run participant who was joined this year by his wife, Cara, in their 38-foot Donzi sportboat. “The weather conditions were perfect and the water conditions were amazing. It was just a beautiful day.
“Cara doesn’t get to go boating with me much at events due to her busy summers and she was here,” he added. “So that always makes me happy.”
The event is as entertaining as it is to spectators and turn-boat passengers as it is to the participants.
The poker-run course is breathtaking, to be sure, and 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run organizers Alexandra Buduson, Bobby Cantwell, Ken and Renee Lalonde, Dave Montroy, Jeff Morgan and Courtney Rutherford are fine hosts who know how to throw a dinner party for 800-plus hungry people. But there are two profound and unforgettable aspects of the event that keep people coming back every year.
The first is the Friday morning tradition of pairing poker-run participants with Make-A-Wish of Central New York program children and families for boat rides. This year, 24 Make-A-Wish families signed up for powerboat rides on the St. Lawrence River with the likes of Upstate New York’s Kelly O’Hara in his 36-foot MTI catamaran.
One of the many views that never gets old is that of the full docks next to the Harbor Hotel host venue.
“If my boat broke after the rides and I couldn’t make the poker run, it would still be the highlight of my summer,” O’Hara said. “I look forward an entire year to meeting and entertaining families during those rides.”
Ryan Zivitski of Mystic Powerboats agreed. Joined by his wife, Amber, Zivitski and Mystic principal John Cosker and his wife, Robin, treated 60-plus Make-A-Wish children and their families to rides in the DeLand, Fla., company’s 52-footer.
“It’s the best part of the whole weekend, especially when you see the smiles,” he said.
Rides for Make-A-Wish of Central New York program children and their families are a key element of the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run.
Though Greg Harris and Yvonne Aleman didn’t get to welcome Make-A-Wish participants aboard their DCB M37R catamaran that morning, they did take a few of the volunteers who helped make the morning happen for a ride. It was the South Florida couple’s second time at the 1,000 Islands happening, but the first with their colorful 37-footer.
“We actually took out Bobby Cantwell‘s daughter, and the gentleman who creates the cooler that’s always such a hit during the auction,” Aleman said.
The 90-boat fleet put on a show during Saturday’s main event.
And then there is the Saturday night celebration under an expansive white tent, where a wish is granted for a child either in the midst of battling or recovering from a life-threatening illness. When Make-A-Wish of Central New York president and chief executive officer Diane Kuppermann told the story of Broder Staab, a courageous 15-year-old who has beaten leukemia and was this year’s wish recipient, the cacophony of celebration became silence.
To play off a well-traveled cliché, you could hear a tear drop in the tent. And more than a few of them fell to the grass beneath the dinner tables.
With 90 boats in the fleet, docking and rafting-off at the event’s Alexandria Bay lunch-stop have to be precise.
Staab had long-wanted his own fishing boat. And that’s exactly what he received in the form of a G3 powered by a 15-hp Yamaha outboard engine.
The crowd’s focus in the moment was absolute—because granting wishes is in no small way the point of the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run.
The final proceeds of the auction that followed, which will fund next year’s granted wish, have not been announced. But a rough estimate put the total between $175,000 and $200,000.
A few of the many faces from this weekend’s 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run.
When the auction was complete, the participants left the big-top to watch the event’s traditional fireworks display over the St. Lawrence River. From there they shifted their attention to enjoying the final party of the weekend, with yet another live band.
After a little break, the event organizers will begin debriefing this year’s happening and planning for the next one. The clock is already ticking for next year’s 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run, where the whole is—and always will be—greater than the sum of its parts.
Flanked by Julie and Kelly O’Hara, Broder Staab now has a fishing boat of his own thanks to the participants, sponsors and organizers of the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run.
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