Ten years ago the Leverick Bay Poker Run had only 12 participants; today the event draws hundreds of boaters from around the region.
The poker run recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with 124 participants and more than 200 hands being played.
The BVI fielded about 90 boats, 35 boats came from Puerto Rico, two from Miami and four from St. Maarten.
The poker run started shortly after 11am at Leverick Bay as the boats made their way to Scrub Island. Boats then headed along the north side of Tortola to Soper's Hole to pick up their second card at Pusser's. From there, they headed to Norman Island where they had lunch at Pirates Bight. The fourth card was waiting at Cooper Island, and the last stop before the finish was the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. A sixth card was drawn at Leverick Bay, which could be used as a 'wild card'.
Javier Lopez, President JL Marketing of Puerto Rico and co-producer of the event, researched other poker runs in the region in an effort to improve the BVI event.
"It is the biggest poker run in the Caribbean in terms of boats," Mr Lopez said. "One of the things that make this event unique is definitely the BVI. It is by far one of the most beautiful destinations you can think of." He added, "Even when there are rough seas, the islands protect us."
The calm conditions were ideal.
Ed Silvers of Virgin Gorda was competing in his 38-foot Cigarette boat Top Gun. He drew a ten of spades at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. He had won the event five years ago with four eights and was feeling good about his hand. However, his three tens wouldn't be enough to take home any prizes, but it didn't matter to him. "We are having the time of our lives. The big boats can run in much heavier conditions. There are 16-foot boats out there that if it is blowing 20 knots they would be swamped – but today they can run," he said.
Jimmy Bou of Puerto Rico was another competitor who has competed in every poker run. However, he came close to not making this year's event after his boat broke down at St. Thomas. Fortunately, he had a friend pick him up and he would tag along with him for the rest of the weekend.
Mr Bou enjoys the poker run, because it is like a 'family reunion'. But he believes that folks from the BVI like the event for another reason. "People in Puerto Rico have a lot of money. They have a few options: they can have a twin-turbo Porsche or a Ferrari. The guy [in the BVI] can't buy that because there are no roads, so he buys a fast boat."
Although boats reach top speeds as they race around the territory, organizers say the event is not a race, rather luck of the draw.
Boats ranged from six to 50 feet long and had as many as three engines.
"These are high-performance boats," Mr Lopez said.
Nor-Tech, Cigarette and Skater boats received the most attention with their rumbling exhaust systems and custom paint jobs.
The organizer hopes that next year more high-performance boats from the US will participate in the event. With the help of social media and online coverage, he envisions eight to nine boats from Miami coming to the poker run. The boats would be delivered by cargo boat.
Mr Lopez said the poker run has been growing each year. "The most important thing about it is that it is a charitable event. Most of the money we collect goes to charity."
This year organizers donated $10,000 with a good part of the money going to the Virgin Gorda Charitable Trust, which is building a swimming pool near Bregado Flax Educational Centre in The Valley. The event has donated more than $70,000 to charity in its 10-year history.
Festivities ended with all the boaters finishing at Leverick Bay Resort and Marina waiting for the results. They were entertained with a poolside fashion show and live music by the band Elvis White.
"Today is the end of the 10th anniversary and tomorrow we start preparing for 2012," Mr Lopez said.
1. Dion Crabbe – Four Fives, Apache, $8000
2. James Jones – Full House, Distraction, $5000
3. Jose Dueno – Full House, Showtime, $3000
4. Dewayna George – Full House, Mellow
Yellow, Weekend stay at Little Dix Bay Resort and one dinner.
5. Khemoe – Full House, Know Yo Role,
Dinner for two Biras Creek.
6. Lauren George – Flush, Big Popper,
Dinner at Saba plus one night stay.
7. Roger Francis – Straight, Sex Appeal,
weekend for two at Leverick Bay.
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.