Some people take to boating at an early age. It seems as though it’s just in their blood. That was the case with Pete Gutska.
“I was real young, and my grandfather took us out for a ride on the Connecticut River,” says Gutska, a Cromwell, Conn., auto-body shop owner. “I loved it. I said to myself ‘When I turn 16, I’m going to buy myself a boat instead of a car.’ ” While anticipating that great day, Gutska made do with a 13-foot aluminum runabout with a 5-hp Evinrude — his grandfather’s engine from the 1940s.
With sixteen candles came a Checkmate. “I bought it brand-new,” says Gutska. “[It] had everything on it that a teenager wanted in a speedboat.”
And the sleek little outboard runabout set the tone for Gutska’s future boating. He liked a boat that had some spirit, some speed. As an adult, he’s owned a Formula and a favorite 30-foot Scarab with which he cruised Long Island Sound, ranging from Block Island, R.I., to New York Harbor.
Now 44, Gutska says his need for speed wa gradually accompanied by an increasing desire for creature comforts. Five years ago, he picked up a 1997 Donzi that combined performance with the cruising amenities he was looking for. It’s a 3250 Express, a twin-I/O cruiser that sleeps six and has a full galley and an enclosed head with shower — and a top end of around 48 mph.
“I have always liked performance boats — the speed, the handling,” says Gutska. “But I’m getting away from that a little. As you get older, you want more creature comforts. That’s why I like my Donzi. It’s pretty quick; it’s a comfortable boat. [It’s] perfect for two people for a weekend, and it’s really good on gas, too.”
Gutska bought the Donzi, listed at about $70,000 in Massachusetts, five years ago, trading in the Scarab as part of the deal. “The guy with the Donzi wanted a smaller boat,” he says. “He had a house in Portugal with an island, and he wanted to use it over there.”
When Gutska saw the boat, he knew right away it was what he wanted. He liked the seating arrangement in the cockpit and the layout down below. “I was looking for overnight capabilities,” he says. “The Scarab really wasn’t set up for that. I didn’t need a big boat, just something comfortable for two or four people, a boat that I could take out on the ocean a bit more.”
The Donzi was in good shape. The previous owner had worked on the bottom, so Gutska applied an epoxy barrier coat. “I wanted to make sure it was done right,” he says. “I redid it right away, and it’s been fine.”
He’s also added new graphics and a GPS, while tending to the usual maintenance. “I’m finding a lot of little things to do — replacing water pumps, fuel filters, a winch motor, light fixtures,” he says. “I’m not used to all the maintenance, but I find I like the work.”
And when he’s done, there’s a whole new set of destinations to head for, whether it’s for a weekend or a week. “My favorite thing is to go over to Shelter Island [N.Y.], to West Neck Harbor, and anchor out,” says Gutska. “We go swimming, go to the beach, have a barbecue. It’s great.”
Sag Harbor and Port Jefferson, N.Y., also on Long Island, are two other favorites. “We’ve even gone through the Shinnecock Canal [on the island’s south shore] and along the ‘front side’ of Long Island to Fire Island. That’s a nice trip, and we’ve done it twice.”
The 3250 handles well, says Gutska. Powered by 330-hp MerCruiser sterndrives, it cruises at around 30 mph at 3,000 rpm. Fuel consumption is 20 to 22 gallons an hour. “That’s where the boat likes it. The engines aren’t working hard, and the ride is decent,” says Gutska. “It’s comfortable. If you want to do 30 in rough seas, it’ll pound. If you back off a little, it seems to be fine. I’ve been out there when it was pretty rough, with waves coming over the boat, and it handled OK.
“Sometimes I think about a bigger boat, a 40-or 45-footer, but I don’t want to get into that right now,” he says. “The Donzi is fun to use, it’s inexpensive, and it suits my needs quite well.”
Author Ed McKnew calls the Donzi 3250 Express a “high-performance mid cabin cruiser” that combines “brisk performance with roomy accommodations.” Built in Florida by the well-known performance boat manufacturer, the 3250 has a “well-planned” layout with berths and amenities for up to six people. The look is 1990s, with an aft-raked radar arch, raised helm station and lounge seating in the cockpit aft. A swept-back aluminum-frame windshield protects the fully instrumented, performance-style starboard helm station, with its large, cushioned bench seat. There’s more seating aft, and a centerline transom door leads to the integral swim platform.
Below, there’s a master cabin forward that can be closed off with a folding door. The main cabin has a semi circular dinette (convertible to a berth) to starboard, with the galley (two-burner electric stove, undercounter refrigerator, microwave) to port. The enclosed head is abaft the galley, at the foot of the companionway. It includes a Vacu-Flush head, sink and a wand shower.
Standard power is a pair of 310-hp MerCruiser sterndrives, delivering a 30-mph cruise and a top speed around 45 mph. The boat — known as the Z32, 3250 LXC andZ3250 — was in production from 1996 to 2000.
The Donzi 3250 Express is easily found on the used-boat market, thanks to its successful five-year production run. Prices begin at around $50,000, with well-equipped models available for around $70,000 to $75,000. A 1996 model for sale on Florida’s west coast for $69,900, powered with twin 220-hp Volvo gas engines with 130 hours, includes a wet bar, galley freezer, air conditioning and a Bimini top and “camper-style” enclosure, along with a bow sun pad. A 1997 model was selling for $72,000 in Indiana, with twin 330-hp MerCruisers coupled to Bravo III outdrives, a 4-kW Kohler generator, Sirius satellite radio, and a television with VCR. A 2005 Loadmaster trailer was included. In Massachusetts, a 1998 model was “reduced $10,000” and listed at $49,000. The boat is powered by 450-hp Mercury Horizon engines with 70 hours and comes with a 6.5-kW generator, new air conditioning/heating, and a new enclosure.
Steve Knauth is a contributing writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.