For the second consecutive year, the Unleashed Poker Run, which is set for Friday, July 30, will be the strongest organized summer happening on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Northern California. The longstanding Big Cat Poker Run has been cancelled again as its dedicated lead organizer has relocated to Idaho. But where the annual Big Cat run, which raised money for the Discovery Bay Lion’s Club, was primarily driven by the vibrant performance-boating community of Discovery Bay, the Unleashed Poker Run is fueled by performance-boat enthusiasts from all over the Delta area.
Open to powerboats of all kinds, Northern California’s Unleashed Poker Run returns in late July. Photo by Photos courtesy Kris Wesenhagen/KKJ Media.
And though no one would describe the remarkable Big Cat event as formal, the Unleashed happening is even more casual and laidback. The event was born out of a grassroots group of high-performance powerboat enthusiasts known as the Delta Lunch Bunch, which enjoys loosely organized, Friday lunch runs during the boating season. Among the group’s members is Dan Bouchard, who owns a restored 21-foot Talon catamaran built in 1987 and powered by a Mercury 300XS outboard. Bouchard, a Fox Factory director of Performance Vehicles, saw the group’s passion and untapped potential for a more-structured, charity fundraising event.
As the president of Stockton, Calif-based nonprofit Animal Protection League, which “moves 800 to 1,000 animals a month through the shelter and is able to place 95 percent of them,” Bouchard had just the charity in mind for an event. And in 2020, he was able to combine the two with the inaugural Unleashed Poker Run.
“I’m not a profiteer, but I did see some energy to harvest for an event to benefit a charity,” he said. “And that really came together when COVID-19 hit and APL was looking for an organized fundraising event. The organization historically has had several fundraising events a year, banquets and such, but we couldn’t do that. My friend Jill Faso Antonini (also an APL board member) suggested we do a poker run. That was the solution.”
Limited to 75 boats as part of its permit-required COVID-19 safety plans, last year’s run quickly filled to capacity. This year, said Bouchard, he expects the event to be able to accommodate 125 boats with tandem starts in different locations, Orwood and Stockton. Though the run will conclude at Windmill Cove as it did in 2020, two new stops are in the process of being secured.
Powerboats of all kind are welcome.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is among the Golden State’s most intriguing waterways.
“We’re going to try to get the ‘more leisurely’ boats to Windmill Cove ahead of the bigger, faster boats so they can watch them come in,” said Bouchard.
The second-year organizer emphasized that the Unleashed Poker Run is not intended as a substitute for the Big Cat event, which reportedly will return in 2022.
“I was very cognizant of the Big Cat run when we started this event last year,” he said. “We didn’t go after their sponsors—it’s not a ‘replacement event.’ Our goal has always been to do no harm and find a way to co-exist.”