The next boat we looked at belonged to one Roger Fisher and was described as a 32’ Sea Ray Pachanga. The name on the side (Black Velvet) sounded much like the color of our boats. After some conversation with Mr. Fisher though, it turns out that he didn’t name his boat after anything related to the Sea Shepards. Conversing with Mr. Fisher was actually entertaining for some reason. How could somebody obviously so bent on destroying the environment possibly be so nice? He even offered to share a drink (or three) with him after the run.
The last boat we toured before the Driver’s Meeting was a 22’ Progression belonging to Tom Warda. Tom explained that he was the last remaining charter member of the club and had only missed one running of this event in the last 20 years. His son Brandon then explained that the single Diamond Marine modified Mercury outboard was capable of pushing the boat to almost 80 MPH. Brandon then showed off the motor by starting it and showing me the unique foot pedals to control throttle and trim – which I actually was starting to understand by now. The engine made a sound like a killer bee and smelled simply awful. Brandon justified this by saying that “Outboards only smell bad when they’re in front of you – which of course they always are.” Tom then noted that Jim Myers and Alex Murchison were docked next door in a 30’ Specter Cat with three even more powerful Mercury Racing outboards. Lord help us.
It was now time for the Driver’s Meeting where all drivers and crews were briefed on operations, times, rules and conduct. I scurried to jot down several hard and fast rules. First, PFD’s are required at all times whilst on plane. Second, no alcohol for drivers or passengers until after the event. Third, no passing of the pace boats. Finally, participants were instructed to respect the local boaters and show them how professional this group really is. These simple rules have apparently worked wonders for the club’s reputation over the past 20 years and almost everybody on the lake welcomes the club back year after year. Maybe these people weren’t as barbaric as we thought? That still left the needless environmental destruction caused by their boats though.
It was decided that I would ride in the pace boat for the “fast” fleet. (I must have penetrated the organization even more deeply that I thought.) Drivers get to pick which “fleet” they’d like to run with based on how fast they would like to go from stop to stop over the almost 75 miles they would cover. The “slow” fleet runs at 50 MPH. The “medium” fleet runs at 65 MPH. I was told that 100 MPH is pretty much the price of admission for the fast group. The fleets run staggered starts that allow everybody to arrive at the card stops at approximately the same time. I was somewhat terrified at the prospect of going that fast in a boat, but once I met Captain Rob Schooping and his crew, I must say that I felt much more comfortable at what lay ahead. Captain Schooping had apparently just finished a complete re-fitting of his 36’ Eliminator cat and claimed it would run almost 150 MPH. Oh my!
All 28 boats then left their docks in a neat and orderly fashion and headed out into the lake to await orders to form up and start. This was in stark contrast to our normal launching of “small boats” to harass the whaling ships. This biggest contrast was that everybody seemed to know exactly what they were doing here - and no boats capsized. Not a single captain or crew member was observed barfing either. Strange.
Since the fast fleet actually leaves last, we got to witness the first two fleets leave at 10 minute intervals. As much as I hate to admit it, watching (and hearing) a group of over powered, open exhausted, sometimes supercharged powerboats get up on plane together was quite exciting to watch. Then it was our turn. Oh my, what an experience! The twin supercharged engines made noises that can only be described as “almost biblical.” Oh my, maybe this is why people like doing this kind of thing. The boat didn’t so much accelerate as it altered one’s view of the world. (Probably because I was pinned to my seat.) When I was finally able to focus, we were skimming along on the waves at well over 100 MPH. Dare I say that the sensation was pleasurable? (Maybe even extremely pleasurable?)
The whole idea – contrary to what we thought – of these “Poker Runs” is to get together with a group of people with similar interests (in this case high performance boating) and have some fun while raising money for a worthy cause. The worthy cause in ROPA’s case is Mercy Flight Central which is an emergency medical helicopter service in upstate New York. Participants collect cards at each “stop” along Seneca Lake and then use those cards at the awards ceremony at the end to win cash and prizes. There were four card stops and at each one, captains had to maneuver their boats close enough to a dock to have a crew member reach into a net and grab the required number of cards. I was even allowed to retrieve the cards at Ervay’s Marina and I didn’t even have to don my survival suit because Rob and the other captains were so good at maneuvering their boats. The Sea Shepherds could definitely learn some boat handling skills here!