New Twist for Useppa Catboat Rendezvous: A Poker Run

A formula exists for a successful sailing regatta: light wind one day, heavy the next, good parties with even better food, congenial sailors, and tall tales told months later. Add a Poker Run as a bit of amusement, and you have a few hours of pure fun for everyone from skippers to their families.

Sailors know all about tacks, sail trim, starts, rules, and tides. They elude a combination of intelligence and aggression on the race course. But take these fish out of their usual waters with a Poker Run, and they are completely lost.

Let’s take Mike and Jay, regatta chairmen for the Useppa Catboat Rendezvous who started the first ever sailing Poker Run, talking to the competitors:

“You will be given an envelope. Put your sail number/boat name on it, and put in the Ziploc bag. Sail south as indicated on this hand-drawn chart where Jay will be in the water handing you an envelope. Put that one in the Ziploc, too. Do not open the envelopes,” Mike repeated at least five times between the opening party and the Poker Run.

Savvy racers, who know every technique for getting the most out of their catboats, look blank. “Math is not involved; you do not need to know how to play poker.”

More blank looks.

“Then you sail past this sandy spit to the picnic area on the NW side where you will get another card after lunch.” Same blank looks, except for the mention of food. Volunteers earlier oversaw pack-it-up-yourself lunches. Happy boaters chose their favorite sandwiches, drinks, and snacks.

By noon towels were spread, hungry participants relaxing on a white beach; boats having been pulled up on the beach.

“What a way to spend a day.”

“A super idea for a non-racing day.”

“Beautiful green waters, we don’t appreciate all this going from mark to mark.”

Mike once again got the attention of the sailors. “Pick up another card from me, and we’ll sail south again, where Jay will hand each boat another card.” Blank looks suddenly turned to understanding: the Poker Run was all about the pure love of sailing. Set between two days of racing on Pine Island Sound — eight exciting races total — skippers, crew, spouses, and friends agreed that it was the best day.

Poker Run events have existed for years in power boats and motorcycles. “We tried something with sailboats that had never been done before,” Mike says. “We wanted to get as many people participating as possible. I think we accomplished our goal. Hopefully, we gave people the flavor of a Poker Run.”

All of which goes to show that sailboat racers can be taken out of their element for a few hours without losing their competitive edge.