Little Performance Boat, Big Poker Run. Part 2

When your small boat gets caught in a storm.

Go Fast Blog

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In the first half of this story, Rich Hamilton was a guy with one of the smallest boats entered in the Atlantic City Overnight Poker Run staged by the New Jersey Performance and Powerboat Club on June 22 weekend. He was excited about seeing how his 29' Fountain, Big, would work as a poker run ride. The day before the event, he said, "It might be a bumpy ride, but that's all part of the fun and excitement." Little did he know how prophetic his words would turn out.

“Now there is humor in it, but when we were going through it, there was not a lot of humor,” Hamilton said a week after the event.

At the driver’s meeting the morning of June 22, NJPPC president Dave Patnaude closed the session saying, “There’s a chance of a spotty shower.”

The start of the run was delayed by an hour because the helicopter pilot’s wife had a baby the day before. Hey give the guy a break. At least he showed up. “It was a beautiful morning, hot, ready to rock and roll,” said Hamilton. “I had checked the radar the night before and it said Atlantic City was going to get slammed by storms Friday night.”

With their intercoms and headsets on, Hamilton, his in-boat partner Jeff Millinghausen and Millinghausen’s 15-year-old son Brandon, were running at the front of their fleet, staying with the group’s paceboat to take advantage of good water. They made it to the first card stop easily and were waiting for the group to re-form before heading to pick up their second card.

“You could see a storm coming,” recalled Hamilton. Once they had picked up their first card, crews could decide if they wanted to complete the run by staying inside or heading out to run in the ocean. Some of the big boats headed out, but Hamilton stayed inside.

Within minutes, the storm they had seen in the distance arrived. “We got slammed, rain, wind, hail, everything,” Hamilton said. “We had to come off plane because the visibility was zero.” Using the boat’s onboard GPS, Hamilton idled following the cursor in an attempt to stay in the channel. Not only were waves lapping over the gunwales, lighting struck all around them, sending tingles up Hamilton’s arms. “We were just trying to figure out how to get to land or some kind of protection,” said Hamilton.

He explained that Millinghausen’s experience in bad weather from his offshore racing days helped keep the team calm, even during the worst part of the storm. “The three of us stayed calm and just kept looking for other boats or buoys,” said Hamilton.

Eventually the storm subsided and the sun came out, but Hamilton and the Millinghausens weren’t taking any chances. Watching the storm swing back around behind them was all the incentive they needed to exceed the speed limit—only by a little—in the no-wake zones. “We had to get out of danger’s way,” Hamilton explained. The drives had sucked up either sand or seaweed and the high-temperature alarms were sounding so he just wanted to get to port safely. Jeff Millinghausen took over the helm and used his local knowledge to get them to Atlantic City in one piece.

A week after the run, Hamilton was reflective. “There was a moment when I thought, ‘We’re in trouble here kids,’” he said. “But I keep going back to how reassuring it was to have Jeff along. That made it bearable and kept the fun in it. We were joking and Brandon fit right in. We did what we had to do and it was fun.”

Asked if he planned to reconsider his thoughts of entering an upcoming poker run in Maryland at the end of July, Hamilton said no way. “As far as I’m concerned that’s all the fun of the 29,” he said. Big fun indeed.