The Caribbean is well-known for its sailing regattas and sport fishing tournaments. Now the region is becoming equally famous for its powerboating events like poker runs and races. These marine activities not only offer more ways for Caribbean boaters to have fun, but are also adding to islands’ bottom lines with marine tourism dollars.
What makes powerboating so much fun “is the opportunity for people from many different walks of life to come together for an event of commonality that is full of adrenaline, horsepower and raw emotion and to enjoy showing off their ‘toys’ and sharing boat stories with one another,” says Colin Conner, organizer of the 2016 SXM Poker Run, set for July 24, which will start out of St. Maarten’s Great Bay Harbor in Philipsburg.
Poker Run Fun
Poker runs are not a race but more of a rally. The one-day affairs feature a fleet of powerboats – usually fast high-performance boats – that cruise a specific course and stop at five different pre-determined locations to draw a playing card. At the end, the team with the best hand of cards wins. Poker runs are family-friendly since racing and speed, per se, isn’t the main focus.
The Leverick Bay Poker Run, held in the BVI, has gained global recognition from news outlets like CNN over the past 15 years. This year, over 250 boats including those from the U.S. mainland took part in the May 29 event hosted out of Virgin Gorda.
“The Leverick Bay Poker Run is the biggest nautical event in the Caribbean,” says Javier Lopez Matos, of JLM Marketing in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is co-organizer with event founder, Nick Willis, manager of the Leverick Bay Resort. “Safety and camaraderie is foremost, although because we run the event in the protected waters of the Sir Francis Drake Channel it’s possible for the boats to really fly over the water. A major goal is to raise funds for local charities.”
The third annual USVI Stars & Stripes Poker Run takes place July 3rd out of Yacht Haven Grande on St. Thomas. Last year, 40 boats participated and organizers expect 50 to 60 this year, spurred on by a large cash prize.
“Someone will go home with US $8,000 to $10,000 this year. This will be a milestone for us,” says organizer, Guilderoy Sprauve.
New too is a fully-cloud based scoring system to assure accuracy, and a new stop on the circuit: Hull Bay Hideaway, on St. Thomas’ Northshore.
The second annual SXM Poker Run gets underway three weeks later.
“Due to St Maarten’s unique location to Anguilla and St Barths, many individuals who attend the Anguilla August Monday Festival have a huge interest in the SXM Poker Run because it is scheduled one week before August Monday. So, it’s from one party to the next,” says Conner, who expects anything from 25 to 50 boats.
Other islands such as Antigua, Curacao, Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago also host poker runs. The latter two islands are also famous for powerboat racing.
Revved Up Racing
The Puerto Rico Offshore Series (PROS) consists of four events annually. At each, several classes and speeds of boats race offshore, while onshore there is live music, food kiosks and boat exhibitions.
“The trend now is small courses where the public can enjoy the complete race from one spot,” says PROS president Benny Nieves.
“This year, we are working to provide a longer racing experience for the public. For example, we are adding jet ski drag racing. Jet ski drag racing has a lot of followers in Puerto Rico and they are very, very fast!”
Offshore powerboat racing has grown considerably in Trinidad & Tobago in the past six years, according to Peter Peake, president of the Trinidad & Tobago Power Boat Association. Peake’s 46ft Skater, Total Monster, is three-time champion of the Carib Great Race, an event that has been running for nearly half a century where seven classes of powerboats race 115 miles from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Scarborough, Tobago. The Carib Great Race will take place this year August 20th.
“The standard and quality of equipment has gone from home builds to world class offshore boat and engine builders,” says Peake. “This was the result of the failing US economy back in 2008 to 2012. Prices of secondhand boats there fell dramatically. Lots of race boats were laid up and available. In swoop the Trinis. Since then we have seen the arrival of several top boats in the 130mph class. This year, the legendary 48ft Fountain Cat Killer, with its twin 1550 horsepower Sterling engines is coming for the Carib Great Race. In addition, we have seen new enthusiasm from our young men and women. The younger crews are revamping tried and true boats and getting involved.”
Power boating fans from the Caribbean and abroad have a new event to look forward to in 2018: the Venture Cup, billed as the world’s longest, toughest and most prestigious powerboat race.
“The Venture Cup model is for some of the top racers in the world to have a week of unsurpassed racing, overseen by the sports global governing body,” explains director Aiden Foley. “Right now, the main areas where these race boats and teams exist are in Europe and the USA. This year’s race takes place in Ireland and is the first full Venture Cup. All going well, it will prove the concept and the model to the European teams. We then need to bring it to the American teams and the Caribbean seemed to be the perfect location. It’s an area that all will have heard of, but few will have raced in and one that’s easier to draw in the American teams. The course is currently being planned but we expect to have Antigua as our starting base and for the Cup to take place in June of 2018.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.