Playing The Odds

South Carolina couple win a pontoon at Expo

Published online: May 02, 2014 Feature Katie Burke
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Anyone out there want a free pontoon? Not an old junker, but a brand new Qwest LS Splash Pad? Any takers?

Every year at the annual Houseboat Expo, Houseboat magazine partners up with Apex Marine to give away a loaded pontoon to the winner of the annual Poker Run.

“Giving away a free boat from Apex Marine has brought a lot of excitement to the On Water Houseboat Expo,” says show producer Greg Larsen. “It’s been great for the industry to get houseboaters excited about pontoons.”

Apex Marine specializes in pontoons in smaller lengths, which makes it easier for the winner to tow it home at the end of the show. The Qwest LS Splash Pad was a new model for 2013 and it’s a great multi-use boat that includes a bar with stool seating. The stools easily slide out, creating a huge swim platform for the kids to jump back and forth into the water. Features like these made it the perfect boat to give away at the On Water Houseboat Expo.

In June, Julie Gillespie and her husband, Brian, showed up at State Dock on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky as houseboating people, but left as converted pontooners.

The Gillespies’ spent $100 on six poker hands and ended up making it to the final table, with five other participants. The dealer deals each hand at the table and the worst hand dealt is eliminated each round. Everyone wins a prize, with the runners-up taking home new tubes and other great prizes for top sponsors like Sportsstuff. But when the dust settled five hands later, Julie had the best hand and the keys to a brand new Qwest pontoon.

“I felt total disbelief,” says Julie. “The entire time I was just excited that I had the opportunity to win the prizes offered to the second through fifth place winners.  I never even considered being the winner of the boat.”

The only problem at hand was the fact that the Gillespies flew to Kentucky from their home in Lyman, S. C., and most airlines won’t let you check a pontoon boat. People at the Houseboat Expo were trying to help them out with offers of buying the boat. By the end of the night, the standing offer from the second place runner-up was $10,000 in cash.

“My girls would have killed me if they knew I won a pontoon and then sold it instead of bringing it home,” says Julie. “So we had to find a way.”

Within 10 minutes of his wife winning, Brian was on the phone checking with shipping companies, truck rentals and anything else he could think of to possibly get the boat home. It was not an easy feat, but finally the couple were able to find a family friend who was nice enough to drive all night with his truck so he could pull it home. The men drove the boat back to South Carolina while Julie flew back.

When the men arrived home with the pontoon, the couple’s two daughters, Emma-Kate, 13, and Mary-Alex, 7, were excited to see the prize with their own eyes.

“I don't think they really believed we were telling the truth until we got it back home,” says Brian. “We had no plans to purchase a pontoon before we won it, but we quickly realized what a great addition to a houseboat a pontoon can be.”

The Gillespies keep their houseboat at the Portman Shoals Marina on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, S.C. and now the Qwest pontoon is docked right next to it.

“We purchased our houseboat in August 2012,” says Julie. “Its name was Sugar Shack, but it has been renamed Insurance Poli-ce.  Brian owns a business called Gillespie Insurance Services Inc. and he’s a volunteer police officer. Hence the name Insurance Poli-ce.” 

The family spent the summer enjoying their lake in a whole new way.

“Our most favorite thing about having a pontoon is having the flexibility to go places on the lake, like going to have dinner at The Grill Man,” says Julie. “Our family also loves using it to ski, tube and kneeboard. None of those things would be possible with just a houseboat. The memories that have already been made just since June are beyond belief.”  

The Gillespies aren’t novice boaters, but they were new to the pontoon lifestyle. Luckily, it only took a few trips out to realize how much fun it is to own one.

“This is our first pontoon. My family had a lake house when I was growing up, but we had other kinds of boats rather than pontoons,” says Julie. “Now we use the pontoon multiple times during the day. Our girls keep us busy wanting to tube and kneeboard.”

Learning the advantages of a pontoon boat was easy. The family soon got over the initial thought that a pontoon can’t pull a skier or a tube.

“Some of the things we like best about the pontoon are its capability to pull someone skiing, it’s easy to get around anywhere on the lake and the size is perfect for our family of four,” says Brian.  

Next year, this could be you. Plan on attending the National Houseboat Expo on Lake Cumberland, Ky., June 6-8, 2014, for your chance to win big prizes. You might think the odds are stacked against you, but the Gillespies felt the same way and ended up leaving with a brand new pontoon.

“Of course we are planning on attending the Expo next year,” says Julie. “The 2013 Expo was our first, but surely not to be our last!”  

Apex Marine

Houseboat Expo


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