Used Boat Review: Donzi Sweet 16
According to Dr. Stuart Miller, “medical research has demonstrated that repeatedly placing a child in a boat produces a lifelong boater.” And the good doctor should know; he’s living proof.
“I can attest to this, as I was taken in the family Lyman years before I was able to walk,” says Miller, 49, an interventional radiologist at the Vascular Institute at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J.
The New Jersey native spent summers at Lake Hopatcong, surrounded by a fleet of freshwater boats. “I was able to watch an endless parade … encompassing all, from Fay & Bowen, Gar Wood, Chris-Craft and Century to the early fiberglass deep-vees and trihulls of the 1960s,” he says.
One boat in particular caught his eye. As much as Miller admired the old Fay & Bowen, parting the lake waters in its dignified way, the boat he fancied was a sporty little 16-foot runabout. He became fascinated by the dark green speedboat with the big letters D-O-N-Z-I at the stern, running fast and jumping waves. “I knew that I needed to own a Donzi,” he recalls.
Today, he does. In fact, Miller’s boat — a 1967 Donzi Ski Sporter, or “Sweet 16” — has been turning heads on Lake Hopatcong, the Passaic River and other local waterways for almost 20 years.
It started back in 1990 with an ad for a Donzi in a local newspaper. Miller decided to take a look and found the boat under wraps in a yard. “I remember the utter silence — somewhat of a religious experience — as the owner gently rolled back the cover from bow to stern, revealing the solid green beauty,” says Miller.
He recalls circling the boat several times, looking at the white-and-chrome steering wheel, the wraparound seating, the racing stripe, and the big black-and-white logo at the stern proclaiming “DONZI.”
“Love at first sight,” Miller says. He bought it for $4,750 and brought it home.
Two years later, it sank. Miller came down to the dock one morning, and there was his Sweet 16 under water, the bow “aimed at the sky,” as he recalls. A leak had developed around the outdrive.
It was heartbreaking. “As I looked in disbelief after she sank, I knew that this love affair was not over,” he says. “I wasn’t ready to get rid of the boat. It was just too much fun to drive and a great stress relief. The solid British racing green [model] was also the Donzi that I remembered best as a child, and the one that I wanted. It would seem the logical decision would be to keep the boat I had and spend some money on what I wanted.”
During the next year, he restored virtually the entire boat, from seats and upholstery to wiring — and the leak, of course. The Mustang engine was rebuilt and its performance increased. The 16-footer, with its Volvo outdrive, cruised at 27 mph at 2,500 rpm; top speed was around 70 mph. “The result was both exhilarating and terrifying,” says Miller. “Pushing her to full throttle resulted in acceleration that would push you back into the seat.”
Since the restoration, Miller has run the Donzi up and down the lake and local waters, water skiing, picnic cruising, sunset watching. And when he gets the chance, he opens up the throttle and gets her up to speed. That’s when she really shows off her performance pedigree.
“It’s a ride that every powerboat enthusiast rightfully deserves to experience at least once in his lifetime,” says Miller. “The responsiveness of the steering and throttle, the feeling of immediate power and control — and it’s quite the sensation when the boat becomes airborne.”
But it’s not all about speed. Getting out on the water in the Donzi is getting away from it all, says Miller. “A perfect day is coming home from work, uncovering the boat, and spending several hours water skiing with my friends, then anchoring and enjoying a summer sunset.”
The original Ski Sporter was built for high-speed performance, and the company brochure promises the “softest-riding, driest high-speed sports boat ever built.” The 1,500-pound (gross weight) runabout was based on an all-fiberglass deep-vee hull with 24 degrees of transom deadrise and a pair of lifting strakes on each side of centerline. The boat’s underwater shape contributes to its stability, as does the ample beam (7 feet) and wide transom.
The Ski Sporter has a distinct reverse sheer, unusual in its day but commonplace in today’s performance boats. The foredeck is nearly half the length of the boat, decorated with the signature stripe down the middle. The large cockpit has a port-side steering station and an unusual seating arrangement: an L-shaped lounge to starboard and aft.
Power comes from a single sterndrive from 120 to 210 hp, and the engine compartment is abaft the cockpit. Options included a tinted windshield, stainless-steel cockpit rail, a boot stripe, custom Donzi trailer, and a series of high-performance props.
The older the boat, the higher the price. Models from the 1960s and ’70s are generally priced in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. Boats from the ’90s range from around $10,000 to $20,000.
The Donzi Ski Sporter was born on Miami’s “Thunderboat Row” in 1964, during those wild and wooly days when the pioneers of performance were turning out revolutionary fiberglass boats. The 16-footer with the racy lines and bold stripe was designed by Jim Wynne, and it was raced by no less a personage than Don Aronow.
The company was sold in 1965 and went through a series of owners during the next 28 years, including Outboard Marine Corp., which changed the Ski Sporter name to Sweet 16, by which the boat has become known. Now located in Sarasota, Fla., Donzi has been run by American Marine Holdings since 1993 and continues to produce performance boats and center consoles, as well as an updated version of the Ski Sporter/ Sweet 16, the Classic 16.
LOA: 16 feet, 7.5 inches
BEAM: 7 feet
DRAFT: 2 feet, 3 inches
WEIGHT: 1,500 pounds
HULL TYPE: deep-vee
POWER: single sterndrive
FUEL CAPACITY: 25 gallons
BUILDER: Donzi Marine, Sarasota, Fla.
Phone: (941) 727-0622.