Donzi's 38ZFX is a twin-stepped, vacuum-bagged, vinylester-and-balsa-cored beauty that can shift from an offshore performance boat to a sport cruiser to a fishboat at the whim of the guy who's running it. Sounds too good to be true, right? I mean, c'mon, a boat that can honestly run hard and fast in big water and fish smart and cruise in comfort? That's just too tall an order. There must be some compromises somewhere. It can't possibly do all that and do it well, can it?
BET YOUR BOTTOM DOLLAR.
As you know, go-fast fishboats are nothing new. Models such as Fountain's 38 LX ($340,744 powered like our test boat) have proved that high speed goes with fishing like wasabi goes with toro. The tricky part? Trying to make a go-fast fishboat into a competent cruiser, a difficult feat that has been mastered by the Intrepid 370 Cuddy ($222,485 powered like our test boat).
So, designing a fishboat that can run fast isn't big news. Just bolt triple 275-hp Mercury Verado outboards onto a 5-ton rig such as our test boat and you can get a top speed of 65 mph, which I recorded during a one-way run on the 38ZFX. But to keep all that speed under control on a boat that must also provide good range and comfort requires something extra: a stepped hull. Here's why.
Steps allow a boat's hull to run faster than a comparable conventional V-hull because they add lift, which reduces drag. This extra lift also gives a boat with a stepped hull more range than its V-hulled counterpart. Case in point: The 38ZFX gets roughly 400 miles at 40 mph on a single tank (325 gallons) of fuel. What's more, because their fore and aft trim is built in, boats with stepped hulls run flatter than V-hulls. As a result, the 38ZFX punches through waves with little deceleration. It doesn't suffer like boats that don't have enough trim, which fetch up or slow down in waves. Nor does it leap across the waves and come down with a crash as do boats with too much positive trim. Sure, handling a stepped hull can be…well, a handful. I've tested some that demanded the reflexes and experience of an APBA champion.
Because we know that your kids, spouse, and assorted friends with less boating experience than you may sometimes be at the helm, Boating Magazine always runs its test boats through a series of maneuvers designed to see what would happen with a newbie at the wheel. Such actions include high-speed lock-to-lock turns with full negative drive trim, chopping the throttle from wide open to idle, jumping waves, and turning the wheel midair so the boat lands in a turn. We also toss in some other assorted no-nos that fall into the category of "Don't Try This at Home." The point is, the 38ZFX handled all of these maneuvers well.
Shaking out your ya-yas is loads of fun in a boat that makes you feel safe. Boating's also equally enjoyed on an idle cocktail cruise, joining in a holiday boat parade, or taking out the gang to view a fireworks display. The 38ZFX excels in these endeavors. Aft, you have a full-beam transom bench upon which three can lounge. The shoulder-high backrest swings open to reveal a set of steps that leads to the swim platform. There's walking space to the sides and in front of the engines, so jumping off for a swim is as easy as wrestling a monster fish aboard. Aft of the bench-atop the transom wall-is a sink with a pull-out sprayer that can double as a transom shower as well as an insulated stowage box. Under the seat is dry stowage and a 60-gallon livewell. In the cockpit sole are twin fishboxes that are deeply guttered and feature gasketed lids. What impressed me was that they're serviced by diaphragm pumps, which I find superior to macerator pumps when dealing with hard solids such as ice cubes. Of course, these boxes could stow safety gear or tow toys as easily as fish.
The center console helm, sporting twin drop-seat racing bolsters, connects to the port coaming bolster via a vanity with a recessed top and a flip-out trash bin. This area will serve as well for snacks as rigging baits. Inside the console is 5'9" of headroom. My test boat boasted the optional electric head with holding tank and pumpout ($1,279). A portable MSD is standard.
There's also access to wiring after you unsnap a vinyl curtain. Check the heavy gauge of the lead servicing the electronics bus. It's #1 AWG (American Wire Gauge). There'll be no loss of voltage here. Be sure to check the dielectric lacquer applied to the terminals, in addition to heat-shrink tubing-all of this works to forestall corrosion. Excellent.
The forward cockpit features a generous L-lounge with seating for three or four and more stowage within. The short leg of this L is the console cooler seat. Flip open the top and be impressed by a cold box that can be ordered as a refrigerator or a freezer. More stowage resides beneath the balance of this L-lounge, in the sole below, and in a flip-out bin under the gunwale. Above all is a powder-coated arch with fixed Bimini providing generous weather protection beyond just the helm itself. This is the optional, extended top ($12,850).
Sleeping, and only sleeping, occurs in the cuddy. Headroom is slight and the berth taped out at 7' long. Remember, the head and shower are remote and stowage is plentiful. If you think of a cabin as catchall, you won't appreciate the overnighting qualities of the 38ZFX. A sporting couple could be comfortable for a weekend aboard this boat.
Is the 38ZFX perfect? There's no such thing as a perfect boat. For all that cockpit seating, I found the lounges' 15" seat depth too short for day-long comfort. Plus, the aft bench blocks access to the stern cleats, inwale-mounted jobs that receive their lines through hawse pipes. Gunwale-mounted cleats would solve this problem. And although the anchor locker atop the cuddy provides two-handed access to the rode, it isn't deep enough. My test boat didn't have a rode rove through yet, but when that pile of rope is in there, there will be little drop between the windlass ($1,664) and the top of the pile, which will cause a free-drop windlass to jam. And, of course, hardcore anglers are gonna want to forgo the arch top in favor of the 360-degree fishability provided by a T-top.
The list of boats that enable you to pursue the various facets of your passion with equal ease is short. Donzi's 38ZFX deserves to be on it.
The Highs: Swiss Army accommodations. Stout build - even the cockpit sole is bonded to the stringers. Double-sealed wiring. Neat swim platform access.
The Lows: Aft seating takes precedence over stern cleat access. Deeper lounge seating would be more comfortable. Anchor locker is too shallow and can jam the optional windlass.
Draft (max.): 3'0"
Displacement (lbs., approx.; w/o power): 10,200
Transom deadrise: 22*
Bridge clearance: 9'0"
Max. cabin headroom: 5'9"
Fuel capacity (gal.): 325
Water capacity (gal.): 28
Price (w/standard power): $216,595
Price (w/test power): $235,406
STANDARD POWER Triple 225-hp Mercury OptiMax V-6 gasoline outboards. OPTIONAL power Triple Mercury OptiMax or Verado outboards to 825 hp total.
TEST BOAT POWER Triple 275-hp Mercury Verado in-line-6 gasoline outboards with 158.5 cid, swinging 151⁄4" x 22" four-bladed ss props through 1.85:1 reductions.
STANDARD EQUIPMENT (major items) Transom bait station with sink/shower faucet; illuminated baitwell; 9 gunwale/transom rodholders; under-gunwale rodracks; raw-water washdown; Zero Effort engine controls; mechanical trim indicators; K-plane trim tabs; enclosed head w/sink, shower, portable MSD; safety-glass windshield.