By Kurt Doherty 

Growing up, my family had a cottage on Wamplers Lake in Irish Hills, Michigan. It was a good size lake and home to a lot of performance boats – Bajas, Chaparrals, wooden Chris-Crafts, flat bottom fully blown jet boats, and a few Donzis. Nobody was a bigger performance boat, and specifically Donzi boat, enthusiast than our neighbor and close friend, Ken Skiver. But, no matter what he had on the hoist there was always this one boat on its trailer in the driveway next to his garage, tarped so tightly that even a curious kid couldn’t see what was underneath. This was a boat with a reputation. 

“Ken’s orange Donzi, Ken’s orange Donzi,” that’s all we heard growing up. Stories of how gorgeous it was and the roar when it went flying by. Dad just fell in love with this boat, a boat he had never laid eyes on other than in some faded pictures. It was covered when our parents bought the cottage and remained covered for the next 16 years. Then, after all that time being put away, Ken was curious as to what condition it might in. So, he uncovered it.

Ken bought this Donzi Sweet 16 brand new in 1976. He covered it after a few years of using it, life happened and he just never got it back out. In 2005, when Dad heard that Ken was going to uncover the boat, he managed to be there when it happened. 

The story has been told hundreds of times by our dad – the way it was put away was truly breathtaking. The boat was covered with up to 10 military grade canvas tarps all under and overlapped, intertwined, basically stitched together so that nothing would make its way in between. Once uncovered, a wooden exoskeleton, running the whole length and width, sat on towels and rags. It perfectly matched the shape and contours so that nothing was touching. Dad said the craftsmanship of that rig was as impressive as the boat itself.  

When the last of the tarps came off this boat shined. It had the original center stripe matching leather cover, and once removed the interior just as it was when Ken had put it away, just as it was the day he bought it. The orange shag original carpet, the Donzi keychain and key… everything was frozen in time. 

Ken wanted to uncover it mostly to see if his extensive storage preparations paid off, but also because my dad had finally worn him down. Ken had decided to let the boat go. With a handshake, Dad thought that he was going to get his dream boat.

The cockpit and gauges – everything is original.

Dad was bummed when Ken told him he couldn’t sell, but he understood…(Sidenote: For the next 14 years we could not be around a body of water or a boat of any kind without hearing the story of how close he was to owning that boat, up to and including the day we surprised him with it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

In 2018, a few days after Dad’s 65th birthday we made a trip back up to our old cottage. Of course, stories of Donzis sparked stories of THE Donzi, leading Dad to ask how Ken’s daughter, Kim, who was now owner of the Ken’s Donzi was doing and how “dad’s” boat was. They told us things are good, they still have the boat but just haven’t had much time to use it. We got Kim’s phone number but about a year passed before I called her.

I told her about how Dad still talks about the Donzi. Kim said at any given time there are no less than 10-15 guys asking if she’s ready to sell. “It’s not for sale to those guys or anyone else,” she said, “But, if your dad wants it, it’s his.” I was completely speechless and gave her some time to think about it. After a week she came back saying, “I’ve thought about it, talked with my husband. I have been in tears, but I’ve made my decision. It’s time, and I would be happy for this boat to go to your dad.”

The Donzi’s three owners – Ken Skiver, Kim and Dad in the center.

 

So for a late Father’s Day-early birthday surprise, we showed up at Ken and Marge’s house, to the same driveway that we had admired all those years on the lake where we’d grown up.

We planned the reveal by driving down the street to go “visit our old cottage.” We’d invited friends and neighbors who know and love both our dad and the Skivers. The boat was sitting in the driveway as if it was getting cleaned and prepped to go out on the water. We knew dad would not be able to pass without stopping. When he got out of the truck his door wasn’t even shut before he jokingly yelled to the 10 or so people, “Get away from my boat!” As predictable as the sun, after saying his hellos, he started talking about how “this thing was almost mine.” 

Mom in the Donzi

He asked if they were getting the boat out for the first time this year and Kim said, ”Well actually, we are getting it out because I’ve sold it.” Dad made kind of a disappointed shaking of the handrail and said, “Oh, wish I would have known.” She told him about how things have gotten busier and they just don’t have time for it anymore and Dad said for a second time, “Wish I would have known.” He could not have been more disappointed.

Then Kim then turned to him and said “You do know,” and handed him the keys. 

“Is it mine??” he asked and we all answered!

Dad on one of the happiest days of his life… so far!

As you’ve gathered, Dad is a talker and a jokester. There is never a situation that he doesn’t have something to say…except this one. It was the end of the greatest stories we’ve ever been fortunate enough to tell. Now an incredible heirloom has passed from one family to another, and one very happy man finally has his dream boat.

7 Comments

      • Kurt,

        Very touching story. I too had a need to own a Donzi and was blessed to buy my dream boat off Lake George. She now resides on Lake Dora in Florida and will be at the show in two weeks.

        Jim

        • I attend the Dust Off of the Donzi Boat Club Father’s Day weekend at Lake George NY..We gather at Treasure Cove in Diamond Point and have our banquet at the Algonquin in Bolton Landing. It is a great group There is another gathering the weekend after Labor Day when the National Car Show is at Ft Wm Henry in Lake George village. There is a picnic at the docks. I imagine you enjoy being in Florida also.

  1. Got choked up reading this. This is a great story. I obtained a fiberglass Scataboat speed boat in Algoanc that I looked at for years under a tarp too. I can relate!!!

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