Homage To An Organizer

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Like most people who got to know him, I always looked up—literally and figuratively—to Dave Patnaude, the president and one of the founders of the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club. Patnaude is 6’6” tall. I’m just a puny six-footer.

What would a piece on a character like Patnaude be without an opening tall-guy joke? For the vertically challenged, his height placed his substantial derrière at eye level, which prompted one of his petite female friends to dub him “High Ass.” The nickname stuck—and nobody got a bigger kick out of it than he did.

Dave Patnaude (shown here with his father, Ray) led the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club for more than 20 years. Photos by Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.

Yesterday, Patnaude announced he was stepping down as president of the 21-year-old club, which produced the once-epic Atlantic City Poker Run, and closing the organization.

Truth be told, it was time. Interest in the club and participation in its events had been fading for the past several years. Patnaude saw the seismic shift in the high-performance marine world to center consoles, sport catamarans and other product segments outside traditional go-fast boats and he tried to adapt his outfit to it—even going so far as to rename the organization the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club in a move toward inclusion—but it didn’t work. For whatever reason, the club’s time had passed.

Greater truth be told? Patnaude was burned out on organizing. That was the first thing he told me when he called last Saturday night to tell me he’d be sending out a Monday morning email blast informing club members and sponsors of his decision.

“Everyone retires, my friend,” he said, the chuckled. “Someday, you will, too.”

I have to admit, I choked up for a moment. Flawed as he may be—and as the saying goes a fisherman always spies another fisherman from afar—Patnaude is a dear friend. By the time he started the NJPPC in 1998, I’d been writing for Powerboat magazine for all of four years. I got to know him even better when he became the sales manager for Typhoon Performance Marine, a former Donzi and Baja dealership owned by Bob Christie, my best Garden State friend, in Toms River, N.J.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am for being involved with the club,” said Patnaude. “Without that, I’d have never met my friend Bob Christie and I never would have gotten into the marine industry. It’s been an incredible ride.”

Not long into that the ride during the early 2000s, the NJPPC issued its “10 Powerboat Rally Commandments” authored by club member and longtime-performance boat owner Chuck Sprague, formerly the manager for the Team Penske Indy Car racing program. They included such then-radical notions as zero alcoholic consumption during NJPPC events and participants wearing PFDs at all times while underway.

During its hey-day, the NJPPC’s Atlantic City Poker Run was among the most popular events in the Northeast.

Sure, those rules and others are standard practice now. But back then?

Not so much. At least across the board.

To call the NJPPC safety mandates groundbreaking, not to mention lifesaving, wouldn’t be a stretch. Patnaude is rightly proud of those rules as well as the results of his club’s strict adherence to them.

“Our safety record over the last 21 years was impeccable,” he said. “I am extremely gratified by that.”

Safety on the water during NJPPC event was one thing. Unmitigated good times off it were another. The early afternoon dock parties after the Atlantic City Poker Run became the stuff of legend, and having covered the event twice firsthand I can attest to ferocity with which Patnaude led his constituents into celebration. (I think I still have a headache from the last one.) The man, often the last one standing, simply loved a good time.

That, too, I learned firsthand.

But here’s what I really learned from Dave Patnaude—that a big body can house an even bigger heart. From his longtime involvement with Shore Dreams For Kids, an annual day of powerboat rides and carnival fun on the Jersey Shore for mentally and physically challenged children and adults to the Saturday powerboat rides for veterans he added to his Atlantic City event, Patnaude was all heart.

Strike that. He is all heart.

Patnaude, who exited Coty Marine a few months ago, isn’t leaving the marine industry. He’s taken on the sales manager role for Galahad Marine, a Maryland-based powerboat dealer that carries the Fountain brand, as well as others, and has four marinas/dealerships.

As for the future of organized go-fast boating events in the Northeast, Patnaude said he believes it’s in good hand with New Jersey’s Del Flores of the Spartan Powerboat Club, which held its first event in late 2018.

“I really take my hat off to Del and wish him well,” he said. “He’s got something great going.”

As did Patnaude with the NJPPC.

After I got off the phone with him, a song lyric from Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” (yeah, go figure) popped into my head. I still can’t shake it.

“Everything dies baby that’s a fact/But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”

So it does. Thank you, Dave Patnaude.

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