Dan Gabeline cultivated his love for speed and power on the water back in the days when he owned sleek, ultra-fast cigarette boats, but his beautiful custom pontoon from PlayCraft turns more heads than those racers ever could.
“It doesn’t matter where we pull into, people look at that boat,” says Dan. “I’ve always had cigarette boats ahead of this one, nice ones, and this one gets way more looks and talk than any of the other boats I’ve ever had.”
Fully deserving every sidelong glance and bit of out-right gawking, this fully customized `toon isn’t just a speedster, it’s gigantic, coming in at a whopping 36 feet in length with a 10-foot beam. John Odom of Marty’s Marine in Missouri, who sold and customized the boat for Dan, remarks, “This thing is absolutely huge. Matter of fact, I just got in stock a brand-new 30-footer with big 400s on the back and Dan’s boat makes that 30-footer look tiny.”
However, rather than lumbering along like a drowsy giant, the 36-foot PlayCraft slices the waves like a racing ninja while carrying nearly two dozen people aboard, and the large sport arch, mounted with eight of the boat’s numerous speakers, projects not only killer sound, but the craft’s raw, elegant sportiness.
But this isn’t the Iowa farmer’s first upsized `toon.
“I’ve always wanted a big pontoon boat. When the biggest one they built was a 27- footer, I got them to make me a 32-footer,” says Dan. “So I was the first one to go to 32 feet, which was the biggest boat PlayCraft had done at that time. Now I got them to do the 36-footer.”
After building and absolutely loving his 32-footer, Dan started dreaming even bigger. As the idea crystallized into the vision you see today, Dan returned to John and Marty’s Marine in Osage Beach, Mo., to tackle the monster project.
Birth Of A Giant
In their very first discussions, the single factor that was to define this `toon after its size was its power.
“We decided to go with the biggest outboards we could put on it and Mercury had just come out with a new 400,” recalls John. “We knew that was going to be the one we wanted and that’s how the boat came to be built.”
Dan mentions that a big part of the appeal for this boat was how PlayCraft’s design caters to speed and performance with logs that slice the water well at high speeds.
“PlayCraft’s got that race-style design that is more built for speed and power,” boasts Dan.
After nailing down the basic idea of what the boat was going to be, Dan and John hashed out all the details to bring this idea to the water.
“We do a lot by telephone,” says John, explaining the design process. “Dan, he rarely ever comes down to the office, so we did everything by phone and by email. From designing this boat and picking out all the colors to everything else, it was done via email, back and forth. There are a lot of challenges to it, but of course it’s lessened by previous years of working together.”
Developing the new project would, in many ways, follow in the wake of the 32-footer. John had worked with Dan previously to build the previous oversized `toon and much stayed the same.
As hardcore fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes, the colors of the new boat, as in the old one, were never even a question: white, black, and yellow all the way. But where things like the colors had an element of continuity that made things easier, even the colors brought their challenges for the new 36-foot version. As the goal for the pontoon was to have everything right down to the pontoon logs powder-coated for durability and style, the challenge of fitting a 36-foot pontoon log in a powder coating oven began to be a real problem since PlayCraft is unable to powder coat anything over 30 feet long.
And in a manner indicative of the team effort in building this boat, Dan himself found a company in northern Iowa with an oven long enough to fit and powder coat a 36-foot log. “When PlayCraft built the pontoon logs before the pontoon was put together, Dan came down and picked the logs up, took them up north, had them powder coated, and then brought them back,” explains John. “Then we built the boat on top of those powder-coated ‘toons.”
Dan took care of the details with the help of his farm’s equipment. Remembering that little feat of logistics, Dan recalls, “I had to send one of my semis down and pick ‘em up and haul them clear by the Minnesota border. They were able to powder coat them and then I had to haul them back.”
With the foundations in place and the first hurdle surmounted, the work was able to continue towards building the largest pontoon the Missouri-based manufacturer had ever constructed. After the powder coating, most of the work was done through the PlayCraft factory, but neighboring Waves And Wheels came in to do the incredible sound system that included the speakers on the sport arch that in reality were like cherries on top of an already sweet ride.
Layout & Amenities
The results of their efforts are there for you to see. After you come to grips with your first impressions of sheer size and power from the outside, the splendid luxury of this piece will be more than enough to maintain your attention. Starting off the massive list of just-right features there is the custom seating, lots of it, all done in the family’s favored colors of white, black and yellow in sporty checkerboard patterns and designs. And all that seating makes is possible to bring along 17 to 20 people in high comfort.
Looking down, the Infinity Seagrass flooring, beyond being tasteful and aesthetic, serves to drastically reduce cleaning time.
“The Seagrass flooring makes it amazing,” says John. “You just sweep it out, because being 10 feet wide and 36 feet long you don’t want to clean the carpet all the time.”
Toward the stern, the extra large sundeck offers a relaxing place to recline and enjoy the weather.
“We made the rear sundeck lids on this thing 48 inches versus our standard,” John says, “On a twin they’re normally smaller, and we made these things four feet to where, with the fill-in piece, you could put three adults up on it to lounge on the rear sundeck.”
Then there’s that 14-speaker stereo system featuring two 10-inch subwoofers, 12 focal speakers, and focal amps with a FUSION head unit. Waves And Wheels Marine Audio cranked up the quality, so Dan’s family can crank up the sound. And with the mood lighting throughout the entire floor, the glowing atmosphere can set the tone onboard.
Is Dan pleased with the result? Absolutely. When asked what he loved about the boat Dan gave this statement, “Everything about it. I mean, there really isn’t a feature that I don’t like about it. The ride is unreal.”
And sitting at the helm on his raised Milsco racing bolsters across from his wife Amy on the dual console, they can enjoy the racing wind either on their own or with a full complement of family and friends. With the twin 400 R Mercury Racing Verados, sculpted pontoon logs (the outside toons are 28 inches tall by 24 inches wide, and the center toon is 28 inches tall by 36 inches wide), and twin 50-gallon fuel tanks, this boat lives up to that early dream of raw performance at high speed.
“I know for a fact, I had 12 people onboard and I still got 62 miles per hour out of it,” says John. “That’s the cool thing about it; we only lost a couple of miles per hour with all that weight on it because of the torque of those great big engines.”
Dan agrees. “Yeah, that’s about what it will do. With two people it will go right up to 70. And the way it’s built, it cuts the waves perfectly.”
With such a long hull-to-beam ratio, the finished hull carries much of the same look and appeal of Dan’s former cigarette racing boats, but this time he can bring the whole family along.
“We usually have a dozen people on it,” says Dan. “My brother Dave and I own it together. So we go down at separate times all the time. And we both take our families down and everything.”
These weekend getaways and planned family vacations continue to draw both families to the water, where they keep the pontoon at the Lake of the Ozarks on a lift.
Though John has since sold the 32-footer for him, the brothers still have a 30-foot pontoon with a single 300 on the back, done in the same color combination with the same white pontoon logs and the whole nine yards. And when they come down, they bring their friends and the entire family, turning the two pontoons into a family fleet. And with the admiral at the helm, the 36-foot flagship carves out a wake of family memories.
Photos by Greg Larsen