Even with its longstanding dock space issues, the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla., was a known quantity as the host hotel for the Florida Powerboat Club’s annual Tampa Bay Poker Run. So at least in some sense, FPC president Stu Jones took a bit of a chance changing the venue—as planned for months—for this weekend’s event to the Marriott Waterside Hotel in Tampa.
By all accounts that risk, albeit well calculated, paid off.
“I like the Tampa location better than St. Pete,” said Bob Christie, who piloted his new MTI 340X catamaran in the event—and took first place with his poker hand—with his wife, Madelyn, and their friends, Bill and Karen Compton. “There’s more nightlife and more restaurants, and the Marriott dockage is awesome.”
The event attracted a 44-boat fleet of go-fast catamarans, V-bottom sportboats and performance-oriented center consoles. While the group experienced a minor hiccup around dock space for the lunch stop during Friday’s fun run, Jones was delighted with the overall results of the venue change.
“Clearly, this venue has tremendous opportunity for growth because there are three marinas right there,” he said. “The farthest anyone had to walk to their boat was five minutes, and we had two van shuttles running the whole time anyway. It’s only 10 minutes to Ybor City, so on Thursday night for the early birds we did an Ybor City ‘crawl,’ which really gives you the experience of ‘old Tampa.’
“For the poker run Saturday, we had great weather, just the right amount of boats and the right course mileage,” he continued. “We were able to do the traditional poker run format with cards on long poles handed off by pretty girls in bikinis, and that worked quite well. Our two safety boats became our card stop boats, and while one would run ahead to the next stop the other boat would trail the fleet, which is worth it.”
Even with its different starting point from the Marriott area, the 100-mile run followed the same basic course as FPC Tampa Poker Runs of years past. The club held its Saturday night awards banquet at American Social, a quasi-nightclub-and-restaurant that portioned off a special section for the participants.
“American social was a great venue, because even though it was open to the public they partitioned off a section just for us so it felt private, but you still felt that you were in a big happening nightclub rather than a banquet room, which I think everyone dreads,” Jones said. “The food, with stations inside and outside, was amazing and all of the big screen TVs in our area were playing the poker run videos from the day.”
“Five or six years ago, John discovered the Florida Powerboat Club and wanted to be part of it,” Jones explained. “So he bought this old Wellcraft Scarab—it was basically a ‘barn find’—and did all the restoration work himself. It took him five years to finish it, but he made a commitment to himself that he would bring it to one our runs when it was ready, and he did. His 33-year-old V-bottom took our “Best V-Bottom” award. “You’ve never seen anybody more excited to win that award.
“So out of the woodwork comes Bill Erickson, who used to work at Wellcraft in the 1980s,” he added. “He comes up to John and says, ‘You know, I worked at Wellcraft in 1985 and I built your boat.’ It was amazing.”