Story by Sarah Gregg / Photos by Paul Wright and Kassandra Deguire
Only three weeks later Round 2 took place just a little way down the St. Lawrence in the beautiful Town of Gananoque. A town rich with history, unique cultural assets, stunning architecture, and some of the friendliest folks around. Not to mention, the original home of the 1000 Islands Poker Run and host to some of the largest in Poker Run history.
For the second year in a row, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and all it’s obstacles Gananoque once again welcomed back the Poker Runner’s for a fun filled weekend during August 27-28, 2021.
The event kicked off midday Friday as the boats began to role into town, all preparing for the main event Saturday. Poker Runner’s from all over Ontario, Quebec and even one lucky American who made it across the border launched their boats and visited the registration that was hosted at Joel Stone Park. This was not your typical Poker Run weekend as it ran in combination with the Festival of the Islands – a real crowd pleaser for visitors from across Ontario.
The arrival of the boats quickly drawing the attention of spectators, as it always does, along with one main question – would My Way make its triumphant return for the Gananoque event?
The answer to their question came around 4:50pm as the rumble of the engines could be heard from a distance. At first, we weren’t sure whether it was Aqua Mania and their fire breathing dragon, with Greg Rosen behind the wheel and Rick fast man Morello behind the throttles, sounding like a 747 coming into town. However, as the Powerhouse pulled into Gananoque Municipal Marina, all was revealed and much to fans delight it was My Way, with both Bill Tomlinson, Ken Kehoe, and Lyle Steacy onboard. The boat joining many others already on the docks including Brian & Wilma Ross’s boat Tab-Up, Chris Ridabock’s 38’ PowerQuest and many more. Plus, you couldn’t help but notice that the Boudrias family was out in full force with both Stephane’s boat Ferrari and Jonathan’s 44’ Mystic on display.
On Saturday Morning, Jeff Brown once again rolled out the red carpet opening the doors of the Comfort Inn to host the driver’s meeting. Poker Run Route Logistics Coordinator, Dave Bodner, walked drivers and navigators through the route while they enjoyed coffee, donuts and muffins that were generously supplied by Gananoque’s McDonald’s.
At 10am the Poker Run boats left the docks to lineup for the “Parade of Power” as the sound of the helicopter, piloted by Nathan Sheaff of Gananoque, could be heard arriving. Everyone in the water and onshore anxiously awaiting the start that would send all the participants on their way.
As the flags dropped, it was hammers down for the first leg of the run, departing from Gananoque and heading eastbound through the narrows towards Ivy Lea to collect their first card of the day from second time event sponsor Village Quay Marina.
Upon receiving their cards, the boats idled to the Canadian Bridge and then took off, leaning heavily on the throttles all the way to Rockport where they backed off some, making the cross over to Whiskey Island and the International Channel.
It truly was a magnificent site to behold as these majestic vessels paraded single file on the way to Brockville. Running effortlessly along the water, and only slowing as they were hailed by the flag boats to pull back on those throttles to pass through the Narrows at the agreed upon speed of 50mph, then speeding up once again to go by Brockville – entering the 3 sisters islands and finally onward to Prescott for Card #3.
Departing from Prescott it was then time to head for Brockville where lunch would once more be hosted at Moose McGuire’s and The Keystorm Pub. The timing truly couldn’t have worked out any better as participants arrived moments before the rain started. While it rained outside, they were treated to a delicious meal with excellent service. Thankfully, by the end of the meal the rain cleared up. What luck huh?
“Would you believe that it has rained during almost 70% of every poker run in the islands over the past 36 years, but it has always cleared up by 10 am.” said Bill Taylor while enjoying his meal. So, if rain is ever scaring you away, don’t worry about it. Just drop the trailer on the ball and carry on.
Following lunch, a second official start was held out of Brockville, the helicopter ready with photographer and videographer in tow to capture all the action of the afternoon. The boats putting on a show as they headed off on the final leg of the trip, My Way taking the lead and wowing spectators with what they had missed just three weeks before. Not far behind you could also find first time Poker Runner Francois Auclair in his 28’ Apache Brave with legend Don Mills riding along. Don Mill’s has been involved with the Poker Runs since the very beginning way back in the 1980’s and helped with everything from organizing to setting up numerous pace boats over the years. At one point he was even the guide for some of the fastest boats from Florida during those years.
It was also great to see Colin Brown in his new 35’ Fountain No Vacancy with dad Jeff Brown along for the ride. Jeff has supported the Poker Run events since they first came to town, working with both Bill Taylor and Don Mills, and it’s wonderful to see the family is still involved. Carrying on the tradition of participating as the two switched places and Colin drove his father.
Joel LaPierre, the son of Roger LaPierre, also carried on his father’s history of participating for over 25 years in the 1000 Islands. His father, often known for trading in his boat just as frequently as you change your socks, would switch his boat every second year so he always had a new hull. I wonder if Joel will follow in the same footsteps. This year he was running a 34’ MTI called Borderline – the same name his father used on his boat.
Luc Brunelle, a former Fountain Powerboats distributor, made a return to his favourite hobby – Poker Running joined by son Lucas, while powering a 38’ Fountain with twin 1050HP Mercury engines. During his heyday of selling Fountains and distributing them to the dealers, he’s one of the main reasons we still see so many Fountains in Upstate New York and Canada today.
Known for having one of the fastest boats in the Islands and taking home the gold during a previous Gananoque Shootout Weekend – Terry Leeder was also on the scene with his 40’ MTI Mechanical Madness. After having a smooth run in the Kingston 1000 Islands event just a few weeks prior, it looked as though this showstopper would have to call it quits for the weekend, the boat seemingly living up to its name. However, Cody Watkins and family came to the rescue, making his way out to Gananoque at the last minute with his 28’ Cigarette so Terry and crew never had to miss a beat.
The Three Musketeer’s almost made a grand return, but one appeared to be missing this time as Neil Parson and Jon Lutz both took to the water in their 33’ Scarabs. The Black Widow quickly taking notice and aiming to take a bite out of the remaining two, but the united pair of Scarabs held their ground and the Black Widow found itself slowly backing off. However, the boat’s driver Jeremy Hanna says he’ll be back next year, and the Black Widow won’t just be taking a bite, it’ll be a chop. So, to the Three Musketeer’s …you better get back together quickly because 2022 is just around the corner and the 27’ ZR Donzi Black Widow will be back!
When 3:00 in the afternoon rolled around, the roar of engines could be heard as the boats began arriving back in Gananoque. Eager spectators along the shores, waiting to greet them and catch a glimpse of their favourites.
Upon arrival the boaters socialized while talk of the awards began with everyone quickly realizing that the rest of their luck would be all in the Cards. The Poker Runner’s heading from the docks to Joel Stone Park to draw their 5th and final card of the day while handing in the envelopes they had been collecting. Each one carefully opened without revealing the contents so the card hands could be placed on the board while everyone began to gather round. The sound of music from the Waterfront Festival playing in the background, as anticipation hung heavily in the air.
As the band ended their set and the panel of judges finalized their decisions, it was finally time for Bob Ackley and Dave Turnbull to take it away, kicking off the awards ceremony and jumping right into the presentation of the winners to continue building suspense for the main event.
Announced first was, Best Graphics which was taken home by Bob Hanson in his eye-catching Orange 390 Nor-Tech with Grey and Black stripes. Bob’s no stranger to speed or the Poker Runs, he’s been around for 30+ years and has without a doubt run faster than anyone else in the Poker Run. Truth be told it wasn’t in a boat though, but his Jet Aircraft. “He did a flyby of the 1000 Islands Poker Run event a few years ago and boy was it a sight to behold. You could hear the fighter jet coming before you could even catch a glimpse of it. The sound absolutely deafening for everyone including the Poker Runners with headphones on and engines peeking out at 600rpm. You’d have to hear if for yourself to believe it!” said Bill Taylor while discussing the award winner. Rumor has it he enjoyed the event so much that he’s even going to be a sponsor in 2022, hats off to Bob!
Stephane Boudrias of Laval, QC claiming Best Engine thanks to Ferrari’s exotic twin 1075HP’s Mercury’s. Gananoque local, Jon Lutz and his 2 Fast Crew winning Best Dressed as they sported matching purple shirts that paired perfectly with his 33’ Scarab 2 Fassst 4 U.
Then it was finally time for the moment everyone had been waiting for, all eyes landing on the game board in front of them, wanting to know who would have the best Poker hand. The crowd hanging on the edge of their seats as each hand was revealed – the turning of the cards always followed by banter, cheering or sighs of disappointment while the leader board constantly changed.
Once all the hands were played, Luc Brunell and son Lucas came in Third Place with a hand of 55542, Dan & Katrina Tierney in Positivelycharged a 30’ Baja came Second with a hand of QQQ75 and new poker runner Francois Auclair came in first with his hand of J1098.
When all was said and done, everyone headed off to local establishment Moroni’s Family Restaurant that generously closed its doors to the public to host the celebratory dinner. The Poker Runner’s were treated to first class food and service along with a video recapping the highlights of the day. The high-speed action playing on screen as old friends caught up and new ones were made. You could even find Louie & Jimmy Mangiove from Crosstown Engines in the mix trading stories with Andres Ruiz from Mercury Marine about how the day went, all of them having ridden along with PRA’s own Bill Taylor on the official Poker Run Pace Boat.
One common theme shining through at the end of every conversation – that Gananoque is still the perfect backdrop for this world class event, even after so many years. No matter if it’s a family trip, a couple’s weekend escape or just a getaway with friends – everyone can’t wait to return.
Lastly, we’d like to extend a special thank you to all the Sponsors, Volunteers, City Staff, and everyone who helped make the Gananoque and the Kingston Poker Runs happen! We wouldn’t be able to do it without you and can’t wait to work with you again in 2022!
Village Quay Marina
G3 Offshore Race Team
NTP Stag Canada
Pride Marine Group
Moroni’s Mediterranean Ristorante
City of Brockville
Moose McGuire Pub & Grill
The Keystone Pub
1000 Islands Accommodation Partners
1000 Islands Gananoque
Chamber of Commerce