Last Gasp For A Classic Donzi – Part 2

Donzi 16' Ski Sporter Last fall fellow Woody Boater Sean Conroy was on a mission – to retain his title for the Hagerty Marine Insurance “Best Last Gasp Story” for the second year in a row. His mission started in Ontario, Canada and ultimately took him to Long Island, New York where he ended up buying a classic Donzi project boat. On the trip home, he and his wife (who he refers to as the “Admiral”) and their new 1965 Donzi experienced a different type of “Last Gasp” adventure.

If you missed Part 1 of Sean’s story,“Last Gasp For A Classic Donzi – Part 1” –  just click on the highlighted text to check it out. But now that Sean has his ’65 Donzi project boat back home in Ontario, Canada – the burning question is “What exactly is he planning to do with it?”

Last Gasp For A Classic Donzi – Part 2
Story by Sean Conroy

As you guys know my “other” classic boating interest (besides all things Greavette) is Classic Donzis. I documented for Woody Boater (in Part 1), my journey to pick up a 1965 Donzi 16′ Ski Sporter project from Long Island, New York last November.  Seeing as it’s still very white outside and I have already spent my time at the 2014 Toronto International Boat Show, I have been doing some research on the Donzi Ski Sporter and its roots.

Donzi 1

Our new Donzi project boat. This particular 1965 Ski Sporter 16 was actually abandoned in Connecticut atop a trash pile over a decade ago with a makeshift outboard engine screwed to its transom. It was rescued and taken to Southold, Long Island, NY where the restoration work started, but was never completed. After many idle years, we acquired her last fall and brought her home to Newmarket, Ontario where the restoration will be completed and we look forward to getting her back on the water again.

The key in all this is the well known designers Jim Wynn and Walt Walters, whose names appear on the plans for the Donzi Ski Sporter. In 1964, the first boat Donzi Marine produced was the 16′ Ski Sporter. This model has had variations over the years known as the 16’ Baby (an o/b), the “Sweet 16” and the “Classic 16” becoming one of the most well known and successful designs ever. This design with its 7’ beam and 24* deadrise is also the basis for the Donzi 18’ Classic, the X-18 and the Classic 22’ models that have made Donzi famous.

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Classic 1967 Donzi 18 – 2 + 3

Now, because I’m a woody boat guy and a bit of a “non-traditionalists”, traditionalist…  I began to plan the restoration of my ’65 Ski Sporter to have a wooden deck.  As there were so many Ski Sporters made, and still surviving, despite being an early model, mine is neither special nor identifiable.  Like many classics, a properly restored (to factory) example will most likely be a money losing proposition.

OUR boat has no provenance, documentation or factory markings located anywhere on it. This is not uncommon, as many of the early Florida made Donzis had no identifying marks and this was also true of the Donzi 16’s produced under license by Shepherd in Ontario, Canada. So, (to me) no harm…no foul.

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Photo from 1964 Donzi Marine sales brochure.

While making plans for the impending Ski Sporter refit, I was digging further into the history of Jim Winn and Walt Walters.  I found the original design that spawned all of the great Donzi racers is a 17’ 2” wooden boat called the WYN-MILL that was designed and built as a one-off boat in 1962.  The WYN-MILL won her class in the Miami-Nassau race as well as the Miami-Bimini run that year. In 1963 the Wynn/Walters team hooked up with Don Aronow to build larger off shore boats directly based on this design.  They won… a lot!

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Photo from 1964 Donzi Marine sales brochure.

As a development of the WYN-MILL, Wynn and Walters penned a 16’ version of the boat for Circuit racing called the WYN-MILL II. This “all wood boat” was also a champion, winning the prestigious Paris 6 hour race outright with several other subsequent wins added.  The WYN-MILL II went on to become the pattern for the Donzi 16’ models as well as 16’ boats from Formula and Thunderbird. In the mid 1960’s the WYN-MILL II became so famous and desirable you could order plans from Popular Mechanics Magazine to build one yourself.

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Restored 17’ 2” “WYN MILL” – where it ALL began. (Photo courtesy Øivind Johanssen)

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Restored “WYN MILL” stern shot. (Photo courtesy Øivind Johanssen)

While trying to track down a set of the WYN-MILL 2 plans I thought would help with my ’65 Ski Sporter project, I happened on to the current owners of the original WYN-MILL which is now located in Norway. I’m pretty sure in its post race life it was used to develop and test stern drives for Volvo before becoming a recreational boat. The WYN-MILL has been lovingly kept, driven and recently restored. There were ultimately only 2 boats built to this design, WYN-MILL and her sister THUNDERFLASH.  The latter has been located in the UK and is in the midst of a restoration.

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Screen shot from YouTube video of an un-restored “WYN MILL”

In a discussion I had last week – I find that this unique craft which was the inception for so much history is actually up for sale.  The owners of this magnificent craft are only asking $30,000 USD but, of course you’ll have to pay for the transportation back to North America!

It’s hard to believe that a boat this special is actually available and within financial reach of many classic boaters. This, is especially true in comparison to a 1990 Garwood boat re-created from an earlier Gar Wood Baby Gar design, that is not significant nor antique but, recently sold for $150,000 USD at the RM Arizona Auction.

Here’s a short video from Norway (I think) of “WIN-MILL” from January 2012.

Hmmmmm…  Do you think the Admiral will miss her Volvo station wagon if I sold it?

Sean Conroy

Thanks Sean for sharing your story with us, and we look forward to some further updates on your Donzi project as it moves forward. One thing we know for sure, there’s a V-8 out there looking for a new home…


25 replies
    • Troy
      Troy says:

      I think Paul is on a ACBS cruise and refuses to pay the cruise price for data access.
      If anyone knows how to get a hold of him it may be a good idea.

      • Paul H.
        Paul H. says:

        Yes Troy, that was in fact correct but I am back now. Also very correct is that I would not pay .70 cents a minute for dial-up or worse internet speed onboard the ship. No one did (or at least very few). Not such a bad thing to be almost totally off-line for 5 days, though it is a strange feeling – a sentiment shared by almost everyone.

        I am not looking at any more boats right now, but this is a indeed a very interesting boat! I think it has Seth Katz written all over it, he is the natural buyer of this important boat. As the progenitor of the early Donzi, a marque that is revered by many, it really is noteworthy and it is nice to see that they have not been consigned to the burn pile and lost. Apparently they have been on the radar and appreciated from the start, which appears to be a departure from the normal course with such racers and prototypes.

  1. Troy
    Troy says:

    What an AWESOME story!

    I bet “WYN MILL” does not stay on the market long.

    I would be glad to be part of a campaign to bring her home but at that price I suspect it will end up in a private collection.

    • Sean
      Sean says:

      If I could swing it, the Wyn Mill would be enroute to me now…. Ironically, the Ski Sporter will most likely end up being a greater overall investment by the time she’s done.

  2. Wilson Wright
    Wilson Wright says:

    Interesting story. Jim Wynne was a high school and college classmate and fraternity brother…An exceptionally bright guy. His parents, where he lived on 55th Terr in Miami were also on my Miami Herald route. You could always find some thing in Jim’s garage that was the project of the moment…As I celebrate my birthday today, I can only say Jim, only a year older than I, went to the great boat yard in the sky waaay to early.

  3. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Seth Katz will need a project once Pumpkin is done.

    A historic wood Donzi would look great in my barn, but I would probably just spend all winter staring at it and not get anything done.

  4. Wilson Wright
    Wilson Wright says:

    Went back to see what they said about Jim Wynn in our high school yearbook…Nothing really revealing…”Once a Harry…always a Harry.”…Not sure now what that might have meant…although I recall “harry” as being rather fast drivers..The knob on the steering wheel ( some called it a necker’s knob) was also called a “harry knob” Jim was Vice President of his senior class …Was on the dance council and in the model club.

    The University of Florida yearbook is not so revealing…Although I remember that Jim designed and built the times square type revolving light message for the fraternity house at homecoming.

  5. Wilson Wright
    Wilson Wright says:

    Thanks to Ken, Don and Rick for the birthday wishes…
    When I got home, I went further into the high school year book and find where Jim was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”
    He graduated in February which was probably before most of the book was put together and printed so other pictures and his signature comments which were usual at the year end book distribution are absent.

    Doesn’t seem unusualy that the current find is in Norway as the Volvo Penta development in which Jim was involved were in nearby Sweden.

  6. Cobourg Kid
    Cobourg Kid says:

    Thanks for the terrific article Sean I always admired the sweet sixteen’s clean lines, deep-vee stability and excellent performance… just a beautiful boat .

    Just for fun I had a look back at some MotorBoating issues from early 62 and discovered several articles that provided commentary on Winn Mill’s appearance at Miami’s Orange Bowl Endurance Test which went down in January of that year . The following remarks were made about a new boat being campaigned by “the bearded Jimmy Wynne”.

    “Winn Mill” made her debut at the 1962 Orange Bowl Nine Hour Marathon and finished fourth in a fleet of generally more powerful craft” ….….

    “Despite the vast range of from 0-266 cubic inches for class I inboards, bearded Jimmy Wynne of Miami managed to wind up in first place in his V bottomed Walters-Abbey hull powered by a 100 hp Volvo. What is more amazing is Wynne finished fourth overall with the low power engine?”

    According to Don Aronow, who was interviewed in the June 1974 edition of MotorBoating magazine, not long after his arrival in Florida in 1960 he became friends with a group of guys down at “the boatyard”. Howard Abbey was one of them. A local Miami boat builder Howard and “the guys” apparently quickly talked Don into letting Howard built him a wooden offshore racer. Don recalled that “It was a 30-foot, flattened out shallow-V craft, which when they installed three 327 crusaders, went 57 MPH; which was very fast in 1960”. Abbey later moved on to work for Breuil Boat Co. and later joined Bertram Yachts, becoming production manager in 1966.

    So the evidence seems to suggest that it was Howard Abbey that built “Winn Mill” for the design team of Wynne and Walters.

    I’ve attached a couple Donzi ads, circa 64 and 65 for all you closet Donzi freaks.

  7. Cobourg Kid
    Cobourg Kid says:

    A bearded Jimmy Wynne celebrates a win following completion of he 1964 International Daily Express Offshore Powerboat Race at Torquay England . To Jimmy’s right, Lady-Aitken, wife of (Canadian) Max Aitken, publisher of the London Daily Express, and sponsor of the race

  8. Texx
    Texx says:

    Thanks CK – Great stuff on the early Donzi Boats.

    Here’s a cool shot Donzi used in the ’67 catalog. The old school marketing philosophy of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday”

  9. Sean
    Sean says:

    Could you please e-mail me those DONZI ads?
    They would be appreciated!

    Also, if anyone does have a set of the Wyn Mill 2 plans (or can lay your hands on a set)… I still have not unearthed a legible set… please and thank-you. 🙂

  10. Alex
    Alex says:

    Interesting story and well done. Thank you Sean.

    I agree with Paul. The wooden Donzi might make good sense for Seth, who could give it what it needs restoration-wise, and then market it properly to a target audience.

    Here is Wynne racing in Thunderflash, which is not a boat of his design, but also has stunning lines. It, too, is a survivor and is currently under restoration. Amazing driver. Amazing engineer.

    • Sean
      Sean says:

      Afaik, Thunderflash is a Wynn/Walters design that was built by Souters Marine in the UK. It is the ONLY other boat made from the same plans of the original 17′ 2″ Wyn Mill. Thunderflash is not identical however, as she has some different chine and bow details.

  11. Wilson Wright
    Wilson Wright says:

    Interesting S.I. story and that’s pretty much the Jim Wynn I remember..He wasn’t that much of a ladies man in high school but he could tune up his dad’s Dodge sedan to outrun all the Ford V-8s.

    Oh and that guy S.I. says messed around with Jim in the garage. That was Dwight Collar another high school class mate that made a little money when he invented a machine to make screws. I’ll leave it to you imagination what we said about Dwight.

    An interesting aspect of the Volvo outdrive story is what we all believed about Jim and what Jeff Rodengen said about Charlie Strange’s involvement in his book Iron Fist….. Who knows ?

    Jim was a facinating guy.. Last time I saw him was when we had an ACBS Directors meeting at Dinner Key in the early ’90s and Jim was living on a boat there…With you might imagine….a good looking chick We did a lot of reminiscing at dinner that night. Wish I’d done a better job of keeping up with him…but he was in Miami and we were living 500 miles up the street in Tallahassee. The next time, his mother and I were lamenting Jim’s passing.

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