Pg. 92

TThe first thing to know about poker runs is that it’s not about the poker. The five-card hand is in­ci­den­tal. A poker run is also not all about the boats — who’s the fastest, the bright­est, the loud­est, the new­est. For most par­tic­i­pants, a poker run is about ca­ma­raderie and friend­ship among mem­bers of a pretty exclusive club.

We spent a June week­end im­mersed in poker run cul­ture at the 10th An­nual Four Horse­men Poker Run on Lake Win­nebago in Oshkosh, Wis­con­sin, a gath­er­ing that drew 74 go­fast boats and more than 250 par­tic­i­pants. We were among peo­ple who crave high-per­for­mance boats and the ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing fast on the wa­ter. For many own­ers, a poker run is the best place to min­gle with other per­for­mance­boat en­thu­si­asts and feel wel­come.

“When I try to launch my Outer­lim­its at McKin­ley Ma­rina in Mil­wau­kee, I get a frosty re­cep­tion,” said one Four Horse­man par­tic­i­pant who asked that we not use his name. “I’ve been told I’m not wel­come, even after I in­stalled turn-down out­lets to quiet the ex­haust. I get the stink eye from the sailors, which ru­ins the fun of go­ing out. At a poker run we are cel­e­brat­ing these boats and are wel­comed by the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”


The idea of a poker run prob­a­bly orig­i­nated with mo­tor­cy­clists. A group ride is or­ga­nized with five to seven card stops, and at each the par­tic­i­pant draws a card. At the end of the route, the best poker hand wins cash or a prize. Mo­tor­cy­cle poker runs have tra­di­tion­ally had a char­ity an­gle, with an en­try fee that cov­ers ex­penses and the prize kitty, and the re­main­der go­ing to a good cause. These mo­tor­cy­clists could just gather and ride to­gether, but adding the card-stop el­e­ment gives the out­ing some struc­ture. Some­body else has han­dled the lo­gis­tics, and the rid­ers can just have fun.

This is ex­actly the premise of a power­boat poker run.

“Our poker run events are a va­ca­tion for power­boaters,” says Stu Jones, owner of the Florida Power­boat Club, based in Pom­pano Beach. “It’s a turnkey way for peo­ple to come from an­other area and en­joy new wa­ter and the com­pany of other fast-boat own­ers.”

Jones has been or­ga­niz­ing poker runs as a busi­ness for 25 years. The 2018 FPC sched­ule in­cludes 10 events in Florida, the Ba­hamas and Europe, plus a fly-in trip to Cuba.

“The orig­i­nal idea was to ex­plore Florida venues with boaters who have a pas­sion for this life­style, and that has not changed over the years,” Jones says. “We pro­vide a struc­tured event and or­ga­nize the docks, the ho­tels, the fuel, the course, the food and the party. Some par­tic­i­pants are look­ing for fun com­pe­ti­tion and want to show off their boat and their skills, to put on a good show. Oth­ers are there just to be around the scene. They may not have a jaw-drop­ping boat, but we put peo­ple from dif­fer­ent so­cial and eco­nomic lev­els in the same play­ground, with just a few rigid rules re­gard­ing safety.”

That same for­mula was in play at the

Four Horse­men run. Granted, Oshkosh is not Mi­ami and Lake Win­nebago is not the Florida Keys, but this event has been grow­ing each year de­spite some past bad luck with weather. This June the weather was great, and the docks on the Fox River in down­town Oshkosh were lined with a daz­zling col­lec­tion of per­for­mance boats from across the Mid­west. I counted 23 dif­fer­ent brands, and boat lengths ranged from 21 feet to 53 feet.

My part­ner for the week­end was Matt Trulio, edi­tor/co-pub­lisher of speedonthe­wa­ter .com, who cov­ers poker runs across the coun­try and per­son­ally at­tends six events a year. This was his first Four Horse­men run, but I was a made man hang­ing with Trulio, who had al­ready seen many of the boats and their own­ers at other events across the coun­try.

“You start at­tend­ing these runs and you make friends ev­ery­where you go,” says Vin­nie Dio­rio of Rich­field, Wis­con­sin, owner of an Outer­lim­its SV43 and his truck­ing com­pany, who at­tends seven or eight runs a year from Buf­falo to Lake Havasu, and Mi­ami to Lake of the Ozarks. “When you come back to a run, your bud­dies from the area are all there. It’s about the ca­ma­raderie.”

Four Horse­men or­ga­nizer Shar­ron Radtke hooked us up with Glenn Kennedy of Mil­wau­kee, owner of a spec­tac­u­lar Outer­lim­its SV43 pow­ered by a pair of 1,385 hp Teague Cus­tom Marine en­gines. Kennedy was ac­com­pa­nied by friend and nav­i­ga­tor Justin Hart. Kennedy is the COO of a man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany and a but­ton-down guy, ex­actly the cap­tain we wanted for the day. He’s been hav­ing fun with fast boats for about 18 years, start­ing with a 38 Scarab and pro­gress­ing through a Donzi 38ZR, a Nor-Tech 36 Super Cat, a 43 Outer­lim­its Closed Canopy, and a 47 Foun­tain.

The river­front Dock­side Tav­ern served as event head­quar­ters, host­ing mu­sic and fel­low­ship on Fri­day evening, and break­fast and a driver’s meet­ing on Satur­day morn­ing. We snapped into Type III life jack­ets and shoved off at about 10 a.m., head­ing up­river past the Mer­cury Marine Plant 33 test cen­ter and into Lake Buttes des Morts, where throt­tles were dropped with the fast group (boats ca­pa­ble of 100 mph or more) lead­ing the way. The first card stop was a cabin cruiser fly­ing a giant weather bal­loon, an­chored in Lake Poy­gan

above the town of Win­neconne. Hart clam­bered to the fore­deck and snatched a large en­ve­lope clipped to a long pole of­fered by a hand on the cruiser. Our first card. And we roared back down the river.

Rather than com­plain about the racket, lo­cals turned out in force to watch the boat pa­rade. Run­abouts and pon­toons were an­chored along the route, and one buf­foon who parked his pon­toon right in the mid­dle of a nar­row chan­nel on Lake Buttes des Morts got a close-up view of some very fast boats. Lunch was a buf­fet at the Em­prize Brew Mill in Me­nasha on the north end of Lake Win­nebago.

Trulio com­mented be­fore the event that a poker run tends to re­flect the cul­ture of the area, and he was in­ter­ested to see how that

would trans­late to cen­tral Wis­con­sin.

“At the Tick­faw 200, you get the wild, any­thing-goes at­ti­tude of New Or­leans,” Trulio says. “At the Florida Power­boat Club events, there are lots of girls in biki­nis staffing the card stops. Oshkosh is more fam­i­ly­ori­ented, but there may be more cel­e­bra­tory drink­ing after the run.”

There were bloody marys at break­fast, and lunch was at a brew­ery, but our cap­tain had a soda. Dur­ing lunch the wind picked up and very shal­low Lake Win­nebago got rough, and Kennedy an­nounced that he was head­ing back to the dock, not will­ing to beat us up or to in­vest valu­able en­gine hours run­ning 65 mph through a stiff chop.

“Noth­ing over 1,000 horse­power is easy to live with, and I’ve got 28 hours on these en­gines al­ready,” he ex­plained.

I spent the rest of the af­ter­noon prowl­ing the dock, start­ing each con­ver­sa­tion with a sim­ple re­quest: “Tell me about your boat.” Ev­ery­one had a story.

My fa­vorite crew was the “Sexy Six,” three cou­ples from the Min­neapo­lis area in a 2004 Outer­lim­its 39 Qu­at­tro owned by Tom and Stacy Derner. Tom’s in lawn ir­ri­ga­tion, and Four Horse­men was his first out­ing with this boat. He traded up from a 33 Baja like trad­ing a Ca­maro for a Porsche. The men wore match­ing event shirts, and the women dressed in or­ange tops that matched the Outer­lim­its. This crew was hav­ing a blast.

“We did our first poker run in 2007 in a 25-foot Lar­son Senza, not re­ally a per­for­mance boat,” Tom Derner said. “But ev­ery­one was great, and we had so much fun and were hooked. Now we’ll do four runs a year, in­clud­ing a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout.”

Regis­tra­tion for Four Horse­men was $350 plus $150 for each crewmem­ber. Derner


es­ti­mates the week­end cost him $2,000 in­clud­ing ho­tel, fuel and the tow down from Min­neapo­lis. The Florida Power­boat Club events fee is $750 for cap­tain and first mate, but it’s a more-deluxe ex­pe­ri­ence that in­cludes ae­rial photography and video, and a new car for the win­ner.

A full-house hand won the $2,500 Four Horse­men poker prize. At most events the win­ners give cash prizes right back to the as­so­ci­ated char­ity. Be­cause it’s not about the poker.

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