When the late Rus Matos launched the Toys Tour event in Central Florida in 2000, it was a small regional event that attracted a mostly local group of powerboat owners for the ever-great cause of gathering gifts for children in need. But through word of mouth, the Palatka, Fla.-based event grew and gained a national following. Last year’s weekend-long happening on the St. Johns River attracted a record-setting 136 boats and collected hundreds of toys, which were distributed to local children by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
With Velocity Powerboats as its presenting sponsor once again, the Toys Tour returns to Palatka, Fla., next weekend. Photos by Walter Braithwaite, Jr., copyright WallyCaptures.
Scheduled for December 2-4 and led by presenting sponsor Velocity Powerboats, the event is on track for yet another showing and could—thanks to a weather forecast that puts daytime highs in the low-to-mid 70s for the weekend—break its own attendance record. So far 85 powerboat owners have registered with four days to go before Friday’s Cigarette Racing Team Fun/Lunch Run trek on Dunns Creek for lunch at 3 Bananas restaurant in Crescent City, Fla., ahead of Saturday’s main event.
“We have 85 boats registered so far and they’re still coming in,” said Walter Braithwaite, the executive director of the Toys Tour and the vice-president of Velocity Powerboats. “People-wise, it looks like we’ll have 350 to 400 with the 50 to 100 walk-ins we get every year.
“The numbers are very similar to where they were last year,” he added. “And the weather is going to be perfect, so that will probably help.”
A couple of returning participants from the Garden State, Michael and Elena Ciasuilli brought plenty of gifts for children in need last year.
The owner of a 39-foot Velocity sportboat, Spartan Powerboat Club founder and president Del Flores is a diehard Toys Tour supporter and he has recruited club members and friends, such as MTI 390X catamaran owner Michael Ciasulli and offshore racer Chris Colson of Shocker team fame, to join him. And it’s not just because he takes on the master of ceremonies role for the weekend.
“Scott McCormick, the owner of Velocity, introduced me to Rus Matos years ago and he was a total gentlemen,” Flores explained. “They invited me to the run and asked me to get on the mic to make announcements.
“From there, it was a default setting,” he added. “It’s awesome event for a great cause.”
(From left) Velocity Powerboats owner Scott McCormick joined North Carolina-based participants Chad Shutter and Ashley Gerthoffer and master of ceremonies Del Flores on stage during the 2021 event’s Saturday night celebration.
Among the performance-boat enthusiasts heading to Palatka later this week are Kelly O’Hara and Jack Gladke of Upstate New York. They’re taking Red Baron, Gladke’s Donzi 38 ZRC sportboat to the event. They’ll be joined by their wives, Julie and Cara, who will fly to Central Florida on Friday rather than make the 1,200-plus-mile—each way—road trip.
For Gladke, who has “always wanted to do it,” the 2022 Toys Tour will be his first. O’Hara, on the other hand, is a Toys Tour veteran.
“My first Toys Tour was 2011 and Rus Matos really impressed me with his passion for helping the less fortunate children of his community,” he explained. “I would send Rus donations to support the event in years when I was not able to attend. After Rus passed, Walt Braithwaite and Velocity Powerboats stepped in and raised the awareness and quality of the event while maintaining Rus’s giving spirit. Walt has really improved the organization and quality of the event, without abandoning its true mission.
“Rus’ son, Louis, is involved being the Friday night party DJ and helping carry on this holiday tradition,” he added. “It’s an event for all types of boaters, as long as they share Rus’s passion of giving every child a gift of Christmas magic.”
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