Earlier this month—and August already seems like a blur—I ran my third Lake Erie Offshore Performance Association Thunderfest Poker Run in Ohio. And what keeps me coming back is its main venue, a hidden treasure called Put-in Bay. The locals call it their own “mini Key West,” and I don’t disagree with them. With a little more promotion, the LEOPA Thunderfest easily could be one of the premier poker runs in the United States.
Location, location, location—for high-performance marine insurance man Devin Wozencraft, the annual LEOPA Thunderfest Poker Run is all about Ohio’s Put-in-Bay (click image to enlarge). Photo courtesy/copyright Devin Wozencraft/Wozencraft Insurance.
There’s so much to do on the Bass Island site—the home of Put-in Bay—and you feel a little like you’re heading out on a Gilligan’s Island-style adventure as you load up all your luggage on your boat and make the voyage across Lake Erie to the location. When you arrive, the club already has a slip assigned to you right on the main docks in town. Transportation is mostly limited to golf carts—there must be hundreds of them on the island—and you can rent them to get to local hot spots including biergartens and wineries, assorted bars, restaurants, shops and more. And if you’re up for a little exercise, there are great hiking trails, lots of places to swim and kayaks for rent.
For the first time in my three trips to the event, we hopped in my 30-foot Skater Powerboats cat and headed up to Pelee Island, which includes passing into Canada. We were greeted by very friendly Canadians at Scudder Marina up at the north end of the island, found a nice slip and then took a shuttle to the Pelee Island Winery. My family enjoyed a great afternoon relaxing in the spacious gardens of the winery as well as enjoying—and cooking—a nice meal.
That’s right, I said cooking. Whatever you order from the winery’s menu, from hot dogs to steak, you get to cook it yourself on one of pre-heated barbecues set up around the garden eating area. My family loved it, and we had a blast.
This time around, Lake Erie behaved itself and the weather ended up being fantastic. The winds never exceeded six miles per hour, which was great as anything more than 10-mph winds on Lake Erie—and all the Great Lakes for that matter—can be dicey for boating. But conditions the day before and during the poker were exceptional. The weather was so great that it brought out a flock of recreational boaters outside the poker run. That made for a bit of chop at times, but it was nothing to worry about and we rarely ran below 60 mph.
Check out the slideshow above to enjoy more of Wozencraft’s images from the 2019 LEOPA Thunderfest event.
But even if the weather and water conditions do get ugly, there is always something to do on Bass Island—that’s part of the charm of Put-in Bay. The first year we attended, for example, the weather was quite windy to the point where no one went boating on Friday and they cut the poker run in half on Saturday. And we still ended up having a great time on the island.
Just ask my friend Rick Bowling of Alamo, Calif. Bowling owns a well-known 37-foot canopied Talon catamaran called Gone Again, and I convinced him to make the LEOPA Thunderfest part of his summer tour that included the Boyne Thunder Poker Run in Northern Michigan and the 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run in Upstate New York. His recent text message to me said it all.
“I can’t believe all the wonderful moments we got to experience,” he wrote. “Thanks to you for all your help and encouraging us to include Put-in Bay.”
Now, if I can only get my speedonthewater.com friends, Jason Johnson and Matt Trulio, to come next year. In fact, I’m going to make that a challenge to them.
Just like their fellow Northern Californian Rick Bowling, they’ll thank me later.
Wozencraft convinced his friend Rick Bowling to include the LEOPA Thunderfest in his summer travels with Gone Again, and Bowling was grateful he did (click image to enlarge).
Editor’s note: Devin Wozencraft is the owner and founder the Southern California-based Wozencraft Insurance Agency, which specializes in high-performance powerboat coverage. This is his fourth article for speedonthewater.com and third season of checking in from his “world tour.”
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