Change is tricky for event organizers, for as much as their customers often express their desire for it, they also question, second-guess and generally resist it. Sure, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. But it also breeds comfort.
So while some members of the Florida Powerboat Club will embrace the format and venue changes to the events on its 2018 schedule and others will reject them, this much is certain: They’re coming.
“Sometimes people say, ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,’” said Stu Jones, the founder and president of the club. “That might apply to our Key West Poker Run, but thanks to factors like the damage from Hurricane Irma and resorts simply changing their business models—many of them don’t want to accommodate big groups during the high season—we have the opportunity to make some positive changes this year.”
On the micro-level, so to speak, the club’s Jan. 26-28 Winter Poker Run to the Florida Keys has the group lodging and docking at the Playa Largo Resort and Spa in Key Largo rather than its traditional Hawk’s Cay Resort destination, which is still closed as it recovers and repairs damage from by Hurricane Irma.
That temporary closure definitely forced Jones’ hand, but he sees it as an opportunity for positive change.
“Playa Largo is first-class—it’s a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel,” said Jones. “It has its own marina, though not a big marina, which is perfect for the 20 to 25 boats we get for that run. But it also offers a lot of promise for the future. While the resort doesn’t currently offer more dockage, I am already looking into permits to add a floating dock system that would allow us to bring in another 30 to 40 boats.”
On the macro-level, longtime participants of the Miami Boat Show Poker Run Feb. 22-25 won’t recognize it. Based out of Haulover Marine Center in North Miami Beach and the Trump International Beach Resort, the run will be a “truly Miami-centric event” this year, according to Jones.
“With the damage to the venues in the Keys, it’s been a challenge to find a place for a group of that size to go and stay overnight,” he said. “So what we’ve done is address that situation and make it more like our Tampa Bay Poker Run where we’re based out of one place but take day trips. On Friday, we’re going to head up the Miami River to a destination we have not determined yet. On Saturday, we’re heading to Sundowners in Key Largo at Mile Marker 103 for a seven-card poker run. We’re buying out the entire two-restaurant venue and having a party. Then we’ll come back to Miami and have our evening party at Duffy’s Sports Grill on the water. Everything—the Trump property, Haulover and Duffy’s—are close together. We can easily shuttle people between those locations.”
After years of struggling to secure enough dockage at the marina adjacent to its longtime Vinnoy Renaissance Hotel host venue in St. Petersburg, Fla., the club is moving its March 22-25 Tampa Bay Poker Run headquarters to the Marriott Waterside Hotel. Jones said the move offers an immediate resolution to the dock space shortage problem, as well as the potential for expansion in the future.
“With the dockage at the Vinnoy plus some more at the city docks, we were never able to accommodate more than 45 boats,” he said. “By moving downtown with the concrete seawall and floating docks in front of Jackson’s Bistro, we could take this event to 125 boats in the next few two years. We can even accommodate members who also want to bring their yachts—a lot of our members want to bring their ‘mother-ships’ in addition to their powerboats.”
And then there are changes that come when two parties involved in the same event no longer share the same vision, as is the well-reported case of the Florida Powerboat Club parting ways with the Emerald Coast Foundation and starting its own new event—the Emerald Coast Powerboat Poker Run—Aug. 15-19 in the Destin, Fla., area.
“The Emerald Coast Foundation, with the very best intentions of raising money for their cause, opened up the event to pretty much everyone with a boat in the area,” said Jones. “But that doesn’t work for a true powerboat poker run, and our members let us know exactly how they felt after last year’s event. So this year we’re doing our own thing and bringing the event back to what works for our members.”
Of course, there are other changes in this year’s FPC events. The June 9-16 European Poker Run Tour, which has participants joy-riding Porsches through the Old Country every day and hitting a new resort every night, actually will include a boating component this year. The “extended version” of the Bahamas Poker Run June 15-20 will feature a journey to and stay in Hope Town in the Abacos.
“If you really want to experience the Bahamas, you have to get to the Abacos Islands,” said Jones.
For those who want something a lot shorter, but still, with a Bahamian flair, the FPC has its new Fall Bimini Blast, Sept. 28-30, on the schedule.
In Jones’ view, all of the changes are good for the members of the club.
“Once you step out of the box, it can be a pain in the butt—even after doing this for 25 years—because you have to work with new people and introduce yourself to new venues and prove yourself,” he added. “But when it’s all said and done, you have something new and different on the horizon. For the newcomers to the club who just want to run their new boat in a poker run, it’s not such a big deal. But I think for the hardcore veterans—who are looking for a change—it is.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.