The ninth annual Leverick Bay Poker Run started with hundreds of boats racing out of Virgin Gorda's North Sound in pursuit of the best "hand" of cards which ultimately could net thousands of dollars in prizes.
More than 100 boats competed in the event which raised $10,000 for local charities and non-profit organizations.
Participants attempted to form the best poker hand by picking up cards at six different locations throughout the British Virgin Islands. The stops included Cyber Café in Trellis Bay, the Jolly Roger Inn at West End, Pirates on Norman Island, Cooper Island Beach Club and Fischer's Cove in Spanish Town.
The best three hands split $15,000 in cash prizes, according organizer Nick Willis. "[It was the] biggest yet," Willis said. "The whole event went so much better than other years."
The winning hand went to Junior Chiverton, who took the top prize of $8,000 with five kings, while $5,000 went to Kenneth Molyneau on Shotta with four aces for second place.
Some boats struggled with the wake at the start. In fact, one boat split in half and sank due to the rough conditions created by the start.
"The boat hit a wave and apparently broke apart," Willis said. "Life vests were worn by nearly all the participants. The guys were picked up and continued the event on another boat."
At Trellis Bay, Eric Burke was preparing to leave for the second stop. He agreed the start was turbulent and despite his friend losing his boat, he planned on continuing the event in his 21-foot boat, rigged up with a 300 horsepower motor.
"It was a bit rough because there was a whole bunch of boats all together," Burke said. "We just had to take it easy."
At Sopers Hole on the west end of Tortola, more than 50 boats were in the harbor at one time to collect their second card.
"It was lined up to the bar," volunteer Tom Means said. "There were lots of boats coming in at the same time."
Participants, mostly females, wore costumes and skimpy bikinis in hopes to persuade the volunteers to give them certain cards.
However, it didn't work for the volunteers at the second stop – they had three aces remaining after all the boats had left.
"I saw a lot more [people] forming big teams, dressing up and really enjoying themselves," Willis said.
Although some competitors race from stop to stop, the event is not a race. In fact, it is luck of the draw and participants are encouraged to enter in any sort of vessel.
"They recognize it is not a race," Means said. "You get some really fast boats out there, but it is just a good, fun day. The more people do it; the more experience people have, the better it is."
Crews from St. Barth, St. Lucia, Florida, the Bahamas, the BVI and the USVI competed in the event along with several boats from Puerto Rico.
"Our goal is to share the paradise of the BVI and unite the nautical families of our Caribbean neighbors in a safe environment [in a] friendly competition," Willis said.
The American Poker Run Association also recognized the event this year, with planning that started in November.
Back at Leverick Bay, participants were treated to several activities including a barbecue dinner, live music, a fashion show, mocko jumbies, and a volleyball tournament.
"I think the fashion show was spectacular," Willis said.
The Virgin Gorda Charitable Trust received $8,000, while the VG Ballers softball team received $1,000 and the Virgin Gorda Animal Rescue and Control got $1,000 from the poker run fund-raiser.
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.