On Sunday May 27th, Leverick Bay Resort and Marina hosted the 2018 ‘BVI Strong’ Poker Run, with 263 boats and about 2,000 participants. The event – even larger than the previous year’s massive event – departed from, and returned to, Leverick Bay in North Sound, Virgin Gorda. The event featured stops at Scrub Island, Jost Van Dyke, Norman Island and Pier Park on Tortola, where participants who purchased poker hands for $250 had the chance to draw from decks of playing cards. The event is part bar crawl and part poker game, with participants competing for thousands of dollars in prize money.
Last year was a record-setting year for the BVI Poker Run with 250 participating boats and 2,000 people; however, the record-setting 185+mph winds of Hurricane Irma were a roar that far surpassed the thunder of speedboat engines.
Fast forward to November 2017, when I bumped into a bewildered-looking Nick Willis, the creator and manager of the BVI Poker Run, during a visit to Road Town. “Can you believe that the Tourist Board want us to do it again?” he asked with a dazed expression. While the BVI was tattered, spirits were beginning to rise, and the role that marine tourism would play in the recovery of the BVI was becoming apparent.
Without hesitation, I told Nick that Jost Van Dyke would be ready to serve as a stop for the 2018 BVI Poker Run.
“So, Taboo is okay, then?” Nick asked, referring to Foxy’s, Taboo, which had been host for the 2017 Poker Run Jost Van Dyke stop.
“Nah, it’s totally destroyed,” I said, “but we’ll find a way, we’ll make it work.”
By mid April 2018, registrations for the event started rolling in, revealing, to everyone’s surprise, that in spite of the catastrophic 2017 Hurricane season, the 2018 ‘BVI Strong Poker Run’ would have even more entries than the previous year.
For this year’s Poker Run, Jost Van Dyke served as the official port-of-entry for participating Puerto Rican vessels. Foxy’s Bar set up a welcome booth in front of Great Harbour’s Customs and Immigration building, serving up free rum punch to Puerto Ricans, while White Bay Businesses like Coco-Loco’s, Gertrude’s, Soggy Dollar Bar, Hendo’s Hideout and Ivan’s Stress Free all honored special ‘free drink’ coupons to visiting Puerto Ricans who came for the event. The welcome was part of a special tribute to the ‘Puerto Rican Navy’, a group of private boat owners who filled their boats with food, water and other basic supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, personally delivering supplies to residents on Jost Van Dyke.
The overall winner was Kalik S. Aaron of Tortola, who owns the boat Feed the Need. With the best overall hand, Aaron left the Poker Run with US$8,000 in winnings. The event also raised thousands for the Virgin Islands Charitable Trust.
The 2018 BVI Poker Run is a testament to the strength and the resilience of the Virgin Islands and the vast importance of its marine sector. That so many boats could – and did – turn out for the event, despite overwhelming post-hurricane challenges was “just amazing” according to Jost Van Dyke’s Tessa Callwood, of Foxy’s bar, the event’s second stop. Along with her husband, Foxy Callwood, Tessa has relied on visiting boats to provide a jjcustomer base for their Great Harbour business for decades. “Life has returned,” she said, looking out towards the harbor full of boats.
Susan Zaluski lives in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. She is the director of the Jost Van Dyke’s Preservation Society, a non-profit agency dedicated to the preservation of the history, culture and natural environment of Jost Van Dyke. Email: [email protected]