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HomeEvent CoverageToys Tour Goes Star-Studded With 110-Boat Fleet

Toys Tour Goes Star-Studded With 110-Boat Fleet

From a timing perspective, the annual Toys Tour event on the St. Johns Rivers seems ripe for failure. It happens in Palatka, Fla., on the first weekend in December, which isn’t inherently “bad,” but the happening does follow the Offshore Powerboat Association Englewood Beach Waterfest World Championships two weekends prior, which in turn follows the Florida Powerboat Club Key West Poker Run the week prior.

Holiday lights take many lovely forms—just ask the participants who enjoyed the 21st annual Toys Tour in Palatka, Fla., last weekend. Photos by Renee and Ken Lalonde, Jackie and Stu Jones, Walter Braithwaite and Walter Braithwaite, Jr.

Then there’s the holidays themselves, which tend to inhale free time.

And yet the Toys Tour, founded 21 years ago by the late Rus Matos, continues to thrive. Gathering gifts for distribution to Putnam County, Fla., children, many of them impoverished and/or abused, is—at least for members of the powerboating community—an irresistible draw.

This year’s event, which wrapped up yesterday, may well have been the best one yet. Not only did it draw 110 boats, it attracted many recognizable names in the go-fast boating world such as John and Robin Cosker of Mystic Powerboats, who ran the DeLand, Fla., company’s first M5200 center console for the weekend. The Toys Tour traditional master of ceremonies, Spartan Powerboat Club president Del Flores, brought his usual bevy of friends to enjoy the event in his 39-foot Velocity Powerboats V-bottom.

Mystic’s M5200 center console was hard to miss last weekend on the St. Johns River.

Velocity is the title sponsor of the Toys Tour, and the Sanford, Fla., company’s vice president Walt Braithwaite leaves no detail unattended.

For Velocity Powerboats president Scott McCormick, the attraction is simple.

“The boating community is very generous, and I think when you have a boating event coupled with a great cause, people want to be part of it,” McCormick explained. “Moving the event down to the riverfront made the venue even better since everything was localized. The docks, the tent, the food trucks were all right there, and the the kids could come down and get their faces painted, have something to eat, see Santa Claus and check out the amazing hardware from the boating community.”

“Putnam County really stepped up this year and helped us by sending emergency crews to fix the docks from the hurricane,” he added. “And they overstaffed the local Sheriff’s Department so everybody felt safe and secure.”

Added Braithwaite, “We got more big boats this year and the quality was better.”

This year’s Toys Tour also saw significant cross-pollination among organizers of other events. Ken and Renee Lalonde, two of the primary shakers-and-movers behind the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run in Clayton, N.Y. joined their friend, Mike Lasell, in his Mystic M3800 center console.

“We brought $500 in toys and the charity donated $2,500 to the Toys Tour—and Walter could not have been more gracious or grateful,” Renee Lalonde explained. “We are a charity giving back to a charity—it’s a win-win.

“I think we’ll do the Toys Tour every year,” she added. “It was really fun running the St. Johns River with all the twists and turns. Ken and I are talking about bringing down the DCB (M37R Widebody catamaran) next year.”

Fellow DCB M37R Widebody owners Greg Harris and Yvonne Alemán, who live in South Florida, attended the event and had a great time in Mad Props, their stunning 37-footer they took delivery of at the 2022 Miami International Boat Show.

“There was a really great feeling of community (at the event)—everyone was relaxed and friendly,” said Harris, a South Florida realtor. “The new venue will be excellent when they get the final touches done on the waterfront park. You could run as far as you wanted or just go to the two lunch stops on Friday and Saturday. We did a lot of miles, and went to see Silver Glen Springs. We are already setting up to sponsor again next year.”

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Enjoy more images from the 2022 Toys Tour in the slideshow above.

Florida Powerboat Club impresarios Stu and Jackie Jones tackled the run on the St. Johns River in their 38-foot Cigarette, which is powered by twin Mercury Racing 565 engines and dubbed Project 1130. Jones fondly recalled organizing Florida Powerboat Club events in the area in the early 2000s.

That made the event on the St. Johns River venue a homecoming of sorts for the couple.

“It was worth the drive from South Florida,” Stu Jones said. “We never had a drop of rain and common temperatures in the 70s on Friday and in the 80s on Saturday. For me, it was a real throwback in time.

“There are so many little treasures on the St. Johns course like Dunns Creek and Silver Glen Springs with its crystal-clear water,” he added. “It makes you feel like you’re in The Bahamas. And the river is very calm, which explains why so many of the smaller hot-rod boats come out to this event.”

Jones, who knows a few things about organizing go-fast boating events, had high praise for Braithwaite and his team. He predicts the event will continue to growth and thrive, despite its late-season timing.

“He really pulled all the stops with a very welcoming venue with giant event tents and excellent catering on both Friday and Saturday night,” Jones explained. “They had DJ Louis Matos, the son of the late Rus Matos, spinning tunes both nights, and a live band on Saturday night to entertain everybody, which got the ladies dancing.

“I really think they have put together a winning combination here, especially if they can get some more hotel rooms in Palatka,” he continued. “It really has the right mixture of all the elements you need for a good powerboating event with docks, ramps and more. I’m happy to see it doing well.”

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