Story by Gregg Mansfield
Photos by Paul Wright
The 1000 Islands Poker Run returns August 5-7 and is worth the trip
With spectacular views and huge community support, it’s easy to see why the 1000 Islands Poker Run in Kingston, Ontario, continues to be one of largest poker runs in North America since it started nearly four decades ago.
This year’s event, August 5-7, will celebrate a return to normal as Covid-19 protocols have been lifted. That means spectators are back, the street party is on, and more than 100 performance boats will be in the poker run.
“I’m extremely excited about getting it back because this COVID has held us back for 2 1/2 years now,” said Bill Taylor, owner and publisher of Poker Runs America. “We were able to do it the last two years on a limited basis with only 50 boats. We’re happy to put on a full show again.”
Few poker runs can match the beauty and scenery that the original 1000 Islands Poker Run offers. One of the highlights of the 130-mile poker run is running down the center of the St. Lawrence River with spectator boats lining each side of the Canada and United States border.
“Nothing compares to running with 30,000 to 40,000 people lining the shores of the mighty St. Lawrence River,” Taylor said. “You have to experience it to believe it.”
Just across the border from New York, Kingston is a historic city with Fort Henry serving as the military outpost for the region in the war of 1812. The city is the home of Queen’s University, one of the first liberal arts colleges in the country.
The poker run is based out of Confederation Basin Marina, which is surrounded by hotels, bars and restaurants. The boats are on public display in the marina starting Friday afternoon until the start of the poker run on Saturday morning.
The history of the city is present in the marina, with the Shoal Tower (a small defensive fort), which was originally constructed in 1847 and designed to provide military protection to Kingston’s harbor, sitting at the front of the marina.
What makes the 1000 Islands Poker Run unique is the Saturday morning start with the announcement from the town’s crier, a joy for participants and tourists alike. After leaving the Confederation Basin Marina, the boats go to the Tall Ships Landing in Brockville for lunch. After lunch, the participants will go to Prescott Bridge, the 1000 Islands Boat Museum in Gananoque and return to the marina to finish the poker run.
Taylor recommends for first-time participants to come a day early to learn the waters and do some sightseeing. For those who don’t feel completely comfortable, the poker run has guides available to ride with offshore boaters. Towns along the route provide course flag boats to keep the poker runners away from hazards.
“Once you’re going 130-140 mph you’ve got to know where you’re going through the islands, and there’s nothing better than following pace boats or having a guide on board,” Taylor said.
Thanks to the lifting of pandemic restrictions, the Friday night welcome party as well as Saturday’s awards dinner will return indoors. The winning poker hands will be unveiled at the dinner.
The $900 entry fee is for the boat with driver and navigator, and includes docking for two nights, a Friday night welcome party, breakfast and lunch on Saturday along with the awards dinner.
The 1000 Islands Poker Run enjoys strong support in the region with the first poker run taking place 36 years ago. Over the years, some of the sport’s greatest ambassadors attended the event including Fred Kiekhaefer of Mercury Racing, Fountain Powerboats founder Reggie Fountain and late Outerlimits Powerboat founder Mike Fiore.
Traditionally the poker run takes place in late July but was moved to the first weekend of August to accommodate the additional participants. Taylor said the run will be limited to 100 boats, double the number of entries during the pandemic. It’s also one of the busiest times of the summer as residents and tourists enjoy the weather before the fall.
“It’s the largest extravaganza in the 1000 Islands region,” Taylor said. “It’s a holiday water haven for people. People bring their super yachts there. They bring their regular pontoon boats, fishing boats, they book hotel rooms, or they stay on their boats each year to catch a glimpse of this exciting event.”
Poker Runs America, 800-354-9145, ext. 252, www.pokerrunsamerica.com.