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The Clayton 1000 Islands Charity Poker Run & My Experience Aboard Mystic's M5200

Mystic M5200 in the 2023 Clayton Poker Run
That's me in the pink shirt second row behind the helm. Photo: Jeff Helmkamp

Ever since I was a little boy growing up in the 1000 Islands region on the banks of the St Lawrence River, I watched Poker Runs take place each summer and would dream of one day being in one. Poker Runs are events where there are traditionally 5 stops, and at each location you receive a card. Despite what you may think, it’s not actually a race. The winner is the team with best poker hand, and in many cases the events are simply for fun or to raise money for a cause. Historically, poker runs were usually done by motorcycles, but they've become very popular in the boating community in recent years.

Why And What

The Clayton Poker Run does things a little different in that, rather than getting a card at each stop, the teams receive all of their cards at the end of the run. This speeds up the process at each stop since each boat doesn't need to take the time to grab a card at each location. Considering there were 115 boats this year, it was a welcome change.

While the winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd best hands yield a prize, the real winners are the charities that received over $240,000 in funds raised. Most notably, the Make a Wish Foundation received $205,000 and River Hospital received $20,000 through this great event.

A Mystic Dream Come True

I have a lot of respect for Mystic Powerboats because of a local legend dubbed “The King of the 1000 Islands." Bill Tomlinson has a Mystic catamaran powered by turbine jet engines that is well known where I live. He set the speed record of 224 mph run at the 2013 Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, and I've been a fan ever since.

Watch this video below to see the 224 mph run!

Being involved in the boating industry myself as the President of and, I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of Mercury’s 500R outboard at their 50th Anniversary Mercury Racing event in Charleston NC. I was able to chat with the owner of Mystic Powerboats John Cosker while I was there. Mystic was showing off their C4000 catamaran powered by twin 500Rs. I was able to take a ride on the C4000, which you can see in the video below. We hit over 110 mph! What a ride.

John also brought the M5200, Mystic’s flagship center console that he alluded would be at the Clayton Poker Run. Clayton happens to be in the 1000 Islands where I do my boating! I jokingly asked if he needs an extra dockhand, I’d be happy to help. To my surprise, John immediately replied: “you can come.” I was so excited that I immediately walked down the dock and called my wife Tami to tell her the good news, to which she asked: “Is he serious?”. I went back to confirm “Hey John if you are serious that I can come. I’d like to take you up on that offer." He was serious. I was excited and asked if Tami could come also. John answered simply with: “there’s lots of space!”. The stars aligned for me. Not only was I going to be in a Poker Run in my neck of the woods, I would be aboard the flagship Mystic with the founder at the helm.

Mystic M5200 -- Hull # 1

Mystic M5200 at the dock
Our ride dockside. Crew is prepping for take off.

Mystic has a reputation for speed -- just consider their dominance at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout with their catamarans. They mean business.

It's worth noting that Mystic pivoted several years ago by adding center consoles to their offering, which to that point they had previously only built catamaran style boats. They have built a number of 38 foot and 42 foot center console models, but the new flagship M5200 raised the bar in many ways.

Quad 600 HP V12 Mercury Outboards
Me touching one of the quad V12 Mercury 600 hp outboards

The 52, in particular, is a unique eye-catching vessel that carries a beam of 14 feet, seating for 15-20, and 2400 horsepower from 48 cylinders courtesy of quad V12 600 Mercury outboards. Top speed on this massive machine is over 80mph.

Mystic offers customization on all their boats. The M5200 is no exception, and they are currently building hull #6 with a unique double cabin that will be completed in June 2024. They have focused on ways to make the boat more versatile and depending on your needs it can be ideal for a day boater or weekend boater. It can even be used long term thanks to the double cabin for extended overnight trips. Every M5200 thus far has featured quad 600 HP outboards, except one with an unreal sextuple Mercury Racing 450R setup. After the Clayton Poker Run, the Mystic 5200 I was aboard was delivered to an existing 42 Mystic owner in Lake of the Ozarks.

The Route

Check out the route map below. What makes this poker run unique is during the final leg you crossover from the U.S. waters into the Canadian channel.

All The Action

Watch my video below for a sample of day's adrenaline rush.

The poker run took place on a sunny summer day on July 15, 2023. For a few days leading up to the main event I was so pumped I couldn’t sleep. Tami and I got to the docks at the Clayton Harbor Municipal Marina around 8:30 a.m. where all 115 boats were being prepped for the day. We had a chance to walk around and check out all the performance boats. So much horsepower, so many flashy colors, and such clever names.

Aqua Mania MTI Boat
Aqua Mania Turbine Boat - Always getting attention, even from our crew.

I blinked and it was 10:15 and we were leaving the docks on the M5200 with John at the wheel. The boats lined up with the catamarans up front and the famous Aqua Mania leading the charge. Next it was time for the center consoles to get up on plane. As you might expect, and as I was happy to see, the M5200 got up to 75 mph effortlessly. I was genuinely surprised we were able to run that speed with 18 people onboard, but it was no problem. The 14-foot beam instantly became noticeable and it felt like we were on a yacht slicing through the water while the other V-bottom boats were dancing side-to-side. With tens of thousands of spectaculars (including a couple helicopters, I might add), it wasn’t hard to feel a little bit like a celebrity.

My beautiful wife Tami enjoying the comfort and view!

Around 11 a.m. we reached our first stop at Cape Vincent where thousands of people were waiting to wave at the boats. We all did a parade around the piers so the fans could get a look. Then we were back on plane running at a smooth 75 mph to our lunch stop at Alexandria Bay.

Poker run boats docked in Alex Bay
Lunch stop in Alexandria Bay with all the boats docked

With all the boats tied up at the Village Docks, we had a short walk to an outdoor venue that had an amazing BBQ ready for the 500+ crew members. Everybody got to dig into chicken, ribs, pulled pork, potatoes, and corn. Tami and I had the pleasure of sitting with Robin Cosker (John’s wife), Greg Weber (Director of Sales), and his wife Sherry.

Following lunch, we made our way back to the docks and were back on plane running with the pack at 75 mph. The boats headed east to Ogdensburg for the last stop before coming back to Clayton to end the day. John has been to the 1000 Islands a few times, but he never had a chance to stop and see Singer Castle (he was always going too fast to notice it!).

Singer Castle
Singer Castle

Since it is simply too cool to miss, our crew made a stop outside Singer Castle and waited while the rest of the boats went to Ogdensburg and back. That also gave us a chance for the media onboard to snap some great photos of the participating boats.

Final Thoughts

New memories, friends, and experiences made for Tami and I

It's one thing to watch the excitement of a Poker Run, which I've been fortunate to experience dozens of times. Needless to say, it's always fun. But to experience firsthand running with over 100 boats is something else entirely. It's phenomenal and there's nothing like it. The Clayton Poker Run is a feelgood event that supports great charities and uplifts the community, and if you get the chance I highly recommend you find your way onboard to experience it yourself.

“2023 was a monumental year for our run. We contributed around $250,000, of which $204,000 went to Make A Wish Foundation of central New York. It was the largest single donation for MAW sense their inception” said Bobby Cantwell, President.

Even more, the economic impact was well into the millions not only to Clayton but the entire 1000 Islands region. Since it’s kickoff in 2017, the mission of the Clayton Poker Run states that: “our objective is to raise money through corporate sponsors, silent auction items, t-shirt sales and Boater entry fees. The 1000 Islands Charity Poker Run is intended to be a safe family-friendly event. There will be many things to experience, both on and off the water. Expect more ‘slow zones’, allowing for participants and spectators alike to have a clear view of the boats at a safe distance. 100% of all donations and proceeds will be going to charity.”

John Cosker, Founder of Mystic Powerboats summed it up best: “The Clayton run has been a welcome addition to our summer event schedule. With a beautiful venue and a fantastic area for boating we have enjoyed this run immensely over the last few years. We are looking forward to coming back as a sponsor for the 2024 event.”

The 2024 Event Details

Mark your calendars for July 18-20, 2024 as this year will be sure to impress.

“This year’s event is already gearing up to be another record-breaking event. We couldn't do any of this without out our participants and volunteers” added Cantwell.

Photo Credits: Jeff Helmkamp

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