Desert Storm is the Biggest, Baddest Poker Run in the Country –Since We Missed It in 2020, We Can at Least Take a Walk Back Down Memory Lane.

It's called Desert Storm, and it's arguably the biggest, most over-the-top poker run, shoot-out and street/-party/show-and-shine display of exotic high-performance boats in the country. It's a once a year happening when boats from all over the United States converge on the town that brought the London Bridge to Lake Havasu City, Arizona over a half century ago.

Undeniably, Desert Storm has grown to proportions never conceived by its founder, Jim Nichols. According to the local Convention and Visitors Bureau in town, the April event annually generates a revenue stream helping to keep local businesses smiling for months.


The four-day blast starts on Wednesday with a Putin’-On-The-Wish charity affair, a collaboration between the Arizona Chapter of Make-A-Wish, Havasu for Youth Organization, the Platinum Powerboat Club and Lake Racer LLC. "I'm always overwhelmed by the generosity of our Desert Storm boaters who volunteer to give rides to these deserving youngsters and families," commented Nichols. "It's something that just feels right and benefits us all."


The party atmosphere of Desert Storm ratchets-up big-time on Thursday when the much anticipated Street Party kicks-off at noon, lining nearly a mile of McCulloch Blvd. with more than a hundred mammoth performance boats, custom tow vehicles and various vendors curbside. By early evening the crowd swells to over 10,000 as foot-traffic is shoulder-to-shoulder along the thoroughfare.


Friday morning starts early as poker run pilots are required to attend a pre-event captain's safety meeting with a stern and sobering message delivered by the event chairman. Attempting to reign-in nearly 200 fired-up poker runners is no small task, but Desert Storm's impeccably clean safety record speaks volumes for the planning and execution by the entire event staff in cooperation with U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish, local law enforcement agencies and everyone else who has a hand in this. As is the case at an ever-growing number of poker runs around the country, Desert Storm adheres to a strict no-alcohol policy for drivers.


Just for the record, the boat count at Desert Storm 2011 was staggering: 20 Skaters, 17 DCBs, 13 Eliminators, 10 MTIs, 8 Outerlimits, 7 Donzis, 7 Fountains, 6 Cigarettes plus another twenty major performance boat brands represented from at least a dozen different states. Some traveled as far as 3,000 miles just to participate. Needless to say, the evenings are just as busy as the days with nightly parties, dinners and award banquets occupying every available hour.

If there was any let-down in the 2011 weekend, it was the wind on Saturday which forced the cancelation of the much awaited "Shoot-Out." A couple of dozen much-horsepowered hopefuls were primed and ready to take-on the one-mile radar-timed course, seeking to become the first to bust the Havasu 200 mile an hour mark. Unfortunately, that honor will have to wait until another year as wind whipped white caps made full throttle runs an impossibility.

Here are just a few vignettes of the people and boats who took part.

DAN ELLIS (also known on faithful as H20 Toie) -- FORMULA 40SS

Stories with a happy ending are always best, even if they don't start out so good. Dan Ellis from Channel Islands Harbor in Ventura, California began his normal
6-1/2 hour journey to Desert Storm right on schedule, a few minutes before noon to get a jump on Southern California afternoon traffic, especially important if you're towing a 40-foot Formula Express Cruiser with an 11-foot beam.


"We were less than a half-hour on the road when smoke started pouring off one of my trailer tires," said Dan. "The brake caliper hung-up and fried my wheel bearing. Fortunately, I knew a place to get it fixed, but it was a three-hour delay to our travel plan and now we were in the middle of typical SoCal freeway gridlock."

Undaunted, Dan and crew pushed eastward on Interstate 40, finally reaching the California/Arizona border about 10:30pm and the familiar truck scales just a quarter mile past the Arizona line. Because it was a wide-load, Dan needed to stop and purchase a permit at the weigh station. The only problem was, it was well after dark, and wide-loads are not allowed in Arizona after sundown so no permit until the next morning. Dan had a choice, either leave the boat and trailer at the weigh station and wait for morning light to retrieve it, or proceed the final 45-minutes to his Havasu destination after the scales had closed.

"I wasn't about to leave the boat and trailer unattended at the weigh station," commented Dan. ""There's no security of any kind there once the scales shut-down for the night. We decided to just hang-out for awhile (scales close at 11:00pm) and once it was clear, make a run for it. We pulled into Havasu a little after midnight about 6-hours behind schedule, but we made it."

For that dedication, Dan says he was rewarded with another spectacular Desert Storm adventure, his fourth time at the event, but first time with the Formula. "It was a different kind of experience this time around. Before I brought my 35 Cigarette (which he recently sold), but with the Formula and all its onboard amenities, the comfort level ratcheted-up several notches, especially for the ladies in our crew."

Dan's Formula 40SS is an in-water boat at his home port, Channel Islands Marina. And because he is a performance lover at heart, his Formula is powered by a pair of Mercury Racing 525EFI engines mated to Bravo III drives. "Top speed is just a little over 60 mph," says Dan, "which isn't bad for a boat of this size. It's super comfortable but I don't get an opportunity to open it up that much in the ocean. The Ventura coastline is usually pretty rough."

As is so often the case at Desert Storm, Dan's original crew of four grew to ten companions part-way through the week. "Desert Storm is one of the friendliest poker runs I've ever been to. That's one of the reasons I keep coming back. You meet a lot of really nice people and we're all here for the same reason, to have a good time and enjoy our boats. I'll be back in 2012, and maybe I'll have a new 38 Cigarette by then."



When someone tells you his brand new F26 DCB cat with a pair of 300XS Mercury outboards is his "little" boat for the "little" lake, you just have to wonder what else might be sitting in his garage back home. For Canadian native Brian Lundy and his family, wife Janet and son Kyle, 2011 was their first Desert Storm experience and it won't be their last. Making the long trek from Ontario to Lake Havasu with a brief stop-over in Las Vegas even sweeter was the anticipation of taking delivery of their new F26 DCB outboard rig.

"We ordered the DCB back in early January," said Brian," and Dave Hemmingson at DCB was good enough to bring it to us at Desert Storm. I'd been looking to downsize a little and I wanted something reliable, fast and eye-catching to run on Charleston Lake back in Ontario where we're building a new floating boat house that will be finished later this year. I did a lot of research online before making up my mind on what to buy, but it was the fit, finish and overall quality that sold me on the DCB."

Although Brian's idea of a "little" lake is something with about 180 miles of shoreline, that hasn't diminished his obsession with performance. "I bought my first fast boat back in 1998 and the new DCB is my eighth. I've owned quite a variety; Cigarette, Spectre, Baja and Nor-Tech, and the DCB is my third cat which I love. I just recently sold my 36 Nor-Tech with 2500 horsepower which was a great boat, but just not quite what I wanted for my new waterfront property."


Since Brian and family were newcomers to Lake Havasu and Desert Storm, they weren't quite sure what to expect although they do participate in as many as eight to ten poker runs a year in various parts of Canada and the U.S. "When the Desert Storm poker run started we just picked out some boats in our group and hoped that they knew more about where the first card stop was than we did. Fortunately, Havasu is a pretty easy lake to navigate. It was a beautiful run down to Havasu Springs and I couldn't have been more impressed or satisfied with my new boat's performance," said Brian.


And impressed he should be. According to Brian, his new DCB cruised at an effortless 90 to 100 miles an hour with a couple of quick full throttle bursts near the 115 mph mark just for good measure. Even more surprising was at the end of the day, Brian checked his fuel gauge and it still read half-full. "That's pretty amazing fuel economy compared to what I'm used to getting with much larger inboard V-8s," remarked Brian. "We did the entire poker run and a little extra lake sightseeing on about 45 gallons of gas. Besides being smooth and so very quiet, those Mercury 300s were a lot less thirsty than I expected."

Because Ontario has a relatively short summer boating season, usually confined to early June through mid-October, Brian's family has become accustomed to migrating to warmer climates like Ft Myers, Florida in the winter months to enjoy more boating. "We'll definitely be back for Desert Storm in 2012," commented Brian. "We love the casual atmosphere, the great Lake Havasu weather and a very well run event. Who knows, maybe by then I'll be ready to take delivery on another new DCB."



It must be nice. When you're kind of between boats at the moment, waiting for your new one to be built, your boat manufacturer just happens to have a "loaner" for you in the showroom so you don't miss Desert Storm. In 2010, Ken Armstrong of Houston, Texas showed up for the annual late April Lake Havasu poker run with his own personal show stopper, "Hell Raiser", a wildly-painted 44-foot MTI with a pair of Mercury Racing 1075 EFIs in the engine compartment
MTI Hellraiser image.jpg

Ken's return to Desert Storm in 2011 was a little less auspicious, but not by much. Since his new 48-foot MTI project boat is still several months away from completion, Ken opted for the next best thing....a borrowed 36-foot MTI factory display boat with a couple of 700 SCi Mercury Racing powerplants. "Desert Storm is just too much fun to pass up," said Ken as he hovered around the awesome multi-boat MTI display during Thursday nights' Street Party on McCulloch Blvd. "This is the best boating party of the season, I wouldn't miss it. The people are friendly, the weather is great and if you want to see the cream of the poker run crop, it's right here at Desert Storm."

Ken Armstrong (left) and MTI owner/founder, Randy Scism

Ken is certainly no stranger to high performance boats. He started boating in his late twenties and was hooked for life. He's owned a number of different boats over the years including three Fountains, a few cats and his 74-foot Viking sportfisher/yacht. Although the majority of his recent boat ownership has involved cats, he says he still enjoys a good vee-bottom, especially in the ocean. When he is not at a poker run, most of his Texas boating is done on Clearlake.

But what really has Ken's attention at the moment is his newest build in progress at the MTI factory in Missouri, a 48-footer being prepped for a pair of Mercury Racing's new 1350 packages with the M8 drives. "I like to call it my 'Rolls Royce' boat," quips Ken. "It will be the first eight-seater that MTI has ever built. I nicknamed it 'Rolls Royce' because it has a Phantom of the Opera theme going on and I own a Rolls Royce Phantom. It should be done by the end of this year and just in time to make the 2012 Miami Boat Show and then join in for the Florida Powerboat Club's annual Boat Show poker run."
MTI Phantom image.jpg

When asked how he became such a good MTI customer, Ken responded. "I just like the way Randy Scism does business. He builds an incredibly good-looking boat that performs with the best that's on the water today. He truly enjoys building custom, one-off boats, and I like that. Besides, it's hard to argue with a guy who just hands over the keys to a nearly million dollar boat like the 36 I drove at Desert Storm, and says have fun at the poker run."



It's a long way from the Tickfaw River in Springfield, Louisiana, but Jeff Ford is the kind of guy who doesn't mind traveling a few miles to be part of a great party. "Desert Storm is a totally different environment than I'm used to back in Louisiana, but I love it," says Ford, owner of a 2008 model 26 Redline by Revolution Performance Marine. "This is my third trip out to Lake Havasu for the event, and I think I enjoy it more each time because I know more people and make a bunch of new friends."

Jeff is pretty typical of a lot of boaters who get hooked on poker runs because of fast boats and plenty of social interaction. And Desert Storm is lacking in neither department. "Last year I came to Desert Storm with a purpose in mind," comments Jeff. "There were some people who questioned how fast my 26 Revolution really was. I decided that the "Shoot-Out" would be a good place to put those doubts to rest once and for all. Even though the course was too short for my set-up, I still ran 119 mph which isn't bad. I've gone 132, but it takes awhile to get there."


There's no question that Jeff has one of the fastest single engine stern drive powered cats around. In the engine compartment is a 540 cubic inch big-block
with Dart heads, CMI stainless headers and a 5.0 liter Whipplecharger. Dyno sheets back-up the contention that the combination is good for 1,040 horsepower on 91 octane pump gas with a bump to 1,071 on race fuel. The drive is an IMCO SCX with one of their SC lower 1.35:1 gearcases swinging a well-worked 34 pitch Bravo I prop by B-Blades.


According to Jeff, when he goes boating at home in the rivers and back-waters of Denham Springs, LA, it's nothing for him and fellow boating buddies to cover a hundred miles in a single day. "It seems like we've got waterfront restaurants, taverns and marinas every few miles to stop at," says Jeff. "Out here in the west, most everybody boats different. They like to find a good beach and spend the day there or park in the London Bridge channel and watch the girls go by which isn't all bad. I guess it's just a different culture. Here in the south, we're always on the move, looking for the next party."

This year Jeff had to hurry home to Louisiana from Desert Storm since the annual Tickfaw 200 Poker Run was the following weekend. "I can't miss Tickfaw either," says Jeff. "It's our boating Mardi Gras. People turn out for it just to see the Krewe of Wrecks boat parade. Charlie Albert got it started some years ago and it's been growing ever since. Events like Desert Storm and Tickfaw are the reason I own a boat."



For Ron and Lori Harrison of Terre Haute, Indiana, the Desert Storm poker run had been on their boating bucket list for awhile, and 2011 was the year they decided they'd put a line through it. "It was just the right time to do it," remarked Ron, "We had just taken delivery of our new 46 after it was Cigarette's display boat at the Miami Boat Show in February and it was too cold around the lakes in Indiana to go boating. Desert Storm and Lake Havasu sounded like the perfect place to be in April."

Actually, Ron is a little on the modest side. His new 46 Cigarette isn't just any Cigarette, it was the first customer built Cigarette to receive a set of Mercury Racing's new 1350 EFI motors with M8 stern drives. And if Ron isn't Cigarette's best customer, he has to be close to it. In the last ten years, Ron and wife Lori have purchased five Cigarettes, the one previous to the new Rough Rider model was also a 46 named "American Muscle" with a pair of 1075 Merc engines.


"This 46 Cigarette was really designed and built with my wife in mind," said Ron. "She likes to enjoy the sun and lay-out when we're boating. Cigarette is simply the best when it comes to accommodating their customers' wishes. This new boat has custom aft sun pads over the engine hatches with integrated air induction vents for the motors. Then forward, Cigarette came up with more customized lay-out pads for the bow. It's an incredibly comfortable boat for all the fun runs we attend."

Maybe it's because of geography, but Ron and Lori are obviously starved for boating and poker runs. "Living in Terre Haute, it's at least a four to six hour tow to get to any major boating waterway," remarked Ron. "I guess that's part of the reason we don't mind sending the boat to some far from home places to enjoy ourselves. Desert Storm seemed like a logical choice and we're glad we did it. I think you can count on us to make this an annual part of our boating calendar. We did as much as we could including a display space for the boat and truck (a custom painted to match Freightliner SportChassis) at the Thursday night Street Party and even a run up-river after the poker run on Friday to Pirate Cove Resort for some food and refreshments."

Most likely the 20-mile trip to Pirate Cove didn't take too long since the 46 has been tested with a top end in the mid-130s thanks to the new 1350 monster motors from Mercury Racing. "I've never experienced anything quite like the power and acceleration of these 1350s," commented Ron. "They're super strong at every rpm yet as docile as you'd ever want when docking. That makes things a lot more enjoyable in a poker run setting. I seldom find need to run wide open throttle so I keep it propped on the conservative side for optimum all-round performance. After all, it's just our pleasure boat."