Little Performance Boat, Big Poker Run. Part 1

How was it entering a 29-foot Fountain, one of the smallest boats in the Atlantic City Poker Run?

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Rich Hamilton's boat has a simple name, Big. It's a little ironic because it's a 29' Fountain and it was one of the two smallest boats in the New Jersey Powerboat Performance Club's Atlantic City Poker Run on the weekend of June 22. The only one smaller was a 28' Mannerfelt that tops 100 mph with an Ilmor V-10 engine and looks more like a raceboat than a pleasure model.

“This is going to be our first run with this 29,” he said the day before the event. “It might be a bumpy ride, but that’s all part of the fun and excitement. That’s why I do these things, for the boating excitement.” Hamilton, a 62-year-old retired school teacher and owner of Sparky’s World Famous tavern in Levittown, Penn., for 26 years, is a bit of an adrenaline jockey so he didn’t think twice when it came to entering his boat in one of the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club’s most popular events that draws some big power from all over the east coast.

Hamilton, who is a former tunnel-boat racer, still competes in go-karts so he knows something about going fast intelligently. For starters, his 2007 single-stepped hull has twin engines, 320-hp MerCruiser 6.2L MPIs with Bravo One drives. If he loses one engine, he can still get to his destination. “I would not own a go-fast boat without twin engines,” said Hamilton. “Some of the go-fast boats in that under 30’ range might have a single engine with big horsepower, but I feel more secure with twin engines.”

He also went out and found an in-boat partner who knows a thing or two about running in big water. Jeff Millinghausen, who used to race the 41' Apache,Lucky Strike, when teams actually ran in offshore conditions, sometimes throttles Hamilton's boat and rides along to help with navigation. Since 99 percent of Fountain performance boats have been set up with lefthand throttles, Millinghausen can stand next to Hamilton's bolster to throttle and run the trim during a crowded run.

For the past three years, the duo ran a 37' Outerlimits, Wild Child, in the Atlantic City event, but that boat was no longer available. The Atlantic Ocean off the New Jersey coast can serve up some big water, but Hamilton said, "It would take quite a chop for us to not even leave the dock. If we have to slow down to roll over the swells, that's what we will do." The event has three classes, one for boats that head out into the ocean to make the trip. Then there are two classes that stay inside to run in the bay, a faster performance-boat category and a more pleasureboat-oriented class that Hamilton planned to be part of. Hamilton said he would take no more than four people in the run because he still wanted to have the ability to accelerate.

Hamilton lives in Fairless Hills, Penn., and does most of his boating on the Delaware River. He picks and chooses the poker runs he attends based on how much fun he has at each event and that includes the possibility to run in offshore conditions. “My boat might not fit in speed-wise, but as far as getting to the dock and having a good time and being part of it, it’s going to be more exciting,” said Hamilton. “Would I go to a bigger boat, more horsepower? Maybe, but for now, it’s a hoot in this 29’ Fountain.” Sounds like big fun. Check out my next blog to see how he made out.

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