By Alicia Couch Payne

  Bonds Voyage manned by Thomas Bond, Lisa Bond, Michael Bond, and Karin McCoy.  Photo credit:  Alicia Couch Payne
Bonds Voyage manned by Thomas Bond, Lisa Bond, Michael Bond, and Karin McCoy. Photo credit:  Alicia Couch Payne

Lake Lanier was taken over by a band of pirates this past weekend.  However, these pirates are good ones, who were there to give back to the community.  The 2018 annual Pirates of Lanier Poker Run took place July 19th-21st of this year. This was the tenth year that the non-profit group Lanier Partners of North Georgia, Inc. held what has become the largest poker run in the country.  

This charity event gives all proceeds directly to the charities that the Lanier Partners support; charities such as Camp Twin Lakes, Camp Sunshine, Boys & Girls Club of Lanier, and the Edmond Telford Center.  Participants come from all over the Southeast and throughout the U.S., including Oklahoma, Ohio, and Massachusetts. In total, there were 230 boats with their crews that participated in this year’s event.

  Best Decorated Boat Winner, Noonie Toon owned by Jay Howell. Photo credit Sydney Gordon
Best Decorated Boat Winner, Noonie Toon owned by Jay Howell. Photo credit Sydney Gordon

A meet and greet party kicked off the three-day event at the Lanier Islands Harbor Pavilion on Thursday night, July 19th. Then Friday afternoon was their Cheeseburger in Paradise party hosted by Margaritaville and Lake Lanier Islands. Later that evening, there was a mandatory Captain’s Meeting, and it was followed by a silent auction. The auction is another way the event brings in additional money to donate to the charities.

The main poker run event began on Saturday morning. The crews and their boats were decorated in the Pirate theme, with some going all out. Modern vessels were turned into replicas of pirate ships, and the crews were in full costume. Many of which would have made Black Beard himself envious.   

The boats had to go to eight designated locations around the lake to collect poker cards. Once boats completed all stops, they checked the hand they had been dealt, with the principal being the same as a regular poker game. Saturday evening, participants could buy additional cards for $50 each to try and improve their hand. Saturday evening at Margaritaville, the moment the participants had been waiting for arrived. Winners for the various boat categories were announced, along with the winners of the silent auction items.

The winners were….

Best Decorated Boat – Boat #268, owned by JAY HOWELL, named – NOONIE TOON

Best Crew – Boat #132, owned by SCOTT PETERSON – no name

Best Overall Boat – Boat #176, owned by THOMAS BOND, named – BONDS VOYAGE

Natural Poker Hand Winner- ROBERT J. KNAPP, Jr. (Use of purchased cards was forbidden. Play the hand you were dealt.)

Improved Poker Hand Winner- JARRETT GORLIN (Use of purchased cards  was allowed.)

The monetary winnings of these participants totaled approximately $10,000. Never in the history of this event has anyone actually kept their winnings. The money has always been graciously given back to the Lanier Partners chosen charities. It is estimated that this year’s event raised $200,000 total for charity..

Two years ago the event’s sustainability came into question after a horrific accident. Two couples from Kentucky died after they were ejected from their catamaran style boat which was traveling at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. The couples’ boat tried to overtake another vessel, but their boat went airborne, landing in an uncontrollable bounce which ejected the two couples. Many called to have the event shut down immediately, but the organizers fought to keep it alive. New safety rules were put into place, such as strictly enforced speed limits, and the event was no longer a timed race. Also, instead of all participants starting at Buford Dam, they could start anywhere on the lake.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department, who was called in to assist Hall County for the event, said no significant issues occurred at this year’s event. They reported that all boats obeyed speed limits and followed the rules of the lake and event.

Thankfully, this event has continued these last two years in a safe and beneficial manner. All those involved had a good time raising money for a worthy cause. Not even the pop-up thunderstorms could dampen the mood. The 10th Annual Pirates of Lanier Poker Run was a success.

The Lanier Partners next event will be the Christmas Parade of Boats in December of 2018. For more information about this event and Lanier Partners, visit their website at

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