Donzi 35 ZR

The 35 ZR offers comfort in addition to speed.

I approach performance boats with equal parts of enthusiasm and trepidation. Many boats just get so skittish past the 65 mph mark that the latter feeling comes without shame. But within 10 minutes of listening to handling tips from Donzi performance school instructor Craig Barrie, I was throttling the 35 ZR all the way to redline at 5,000 rpm, and the only concern I had was picking out distant Intracoastal Waterway markers through the wind, tears streaming from beneath my sunglasses.

It ran easy and arrow-straight at just shy of 80 miles per hour, and I throttled down to 60 mph, then slightly more, settling the boat on the three sections of its two-step hull before feeding in port rudder. It carved into the turn, and, thanks to the safe setup by Donzi, the helm held without feedback. Hands off the helm, I fed in throttle, and the boat held its course, hooked up and stayed that way as we crossed back across our own wake. The ZR was just as kind turning to starboard.

If go-fasts were all this easy to handle, and if gas were a buck a gallon, everybody would want one! As it is, everybody can become proficient with them, and there seems little to stem the enthusiasm for those who love this romping sport.

Fully expecting to need tabs to hold a lunging bow down as I throttled up, I was surprised to find none were needed. And, no matter the speed, trim settings for our ride could have been left at about “3” on the mechanical trim indicators conveniently viewed just to the left of the dual throttle and dual shift controls. Halfway through the ride, I was about to conclude that tabs were redundant. But, as wind picked up and bay chop climbed past a foot or so in quartering seas and winds, a bit of leeward tab helped level the ride. In heftier seas they’d come in handy too, helping a bit in keeping down the leaping and lunging brought on by clearing waves. Even on still waters like those of Lake of the Ozarks, they deploy quickly to counter the dynamics of those pesky crew members who bound like Labradors from port to starboard.

We didn’t make the prescribed 80 mph on our test, but the day was damp and rainy and the tank was full of fuel. Also, when we loaded the ZR back on the trailer, we spotted three or four pieces of shrink-wrap tape clinging to the steps and keel of the just-uncovered craft. We would have peeled them and dunked her back in then and there, but clouds were building and the damp mist was beginning to progress from drizzle to rain.

Noteworthy on our test ride, the engines were the new 430 hp big blocks from Mercury, and there was no Captain’s Choice exhaust cutoffs mounted to the manifolds. Catalytic converters provided ample muffling to keep the throaty growl within marina-friendly confines. A side benefit of catalytic converters is a reduction by more than half of carbon monoxide fumes. That’s great for reducing risk caused by the station wagon effect, in which fumes follow the boat and are drafted inside, and it also reduces noxious gases in marinas.

While the skinny on power and handling was striking enough, so was the look of the go-fast, thanks to its rocket-red theme and contrasting ice-white upholstery. The latter is durable and stain-resistant, as I learned when accidentally rolling my ballpoint across the helm seat backrest. A sheepish apology and a little spit and polish with my thumb set it right.

Most dramatic is the forward seating area, ideal for several guests but best used in calm waters and at moderate speeds. Even in light chop, the bow can lift enough to rock bow passengers, so Donzi recommends caution when placing passengers there. Still, at 70 mph our passenger enjoyed relative comfort at the bow.

Formula forgoes the forward seating in its 353 FasTech ($284,400 powered like our test boat, see "The History of Go-Fast Boats"), offering a V-berth farther forward of the midship lounges — as is the tradition in this genre of sexy boats. Performance-wise, the open bow takes nothing from the ride, since the closed and open deck versions weigh exactly the same. Performance purists can opt for the closed-deck ZR.

Convenience of a full head makes this a poker-run winner. Consider Craig Barrie’s parting words: “It’s not how fast you can go, but how long you can go fast.”

Comparable model: Formula 353 FasTech