The 26 ZF rounds out Donzi's ZF fish-boat line by falling squarely between the company's 23- and 28-foot models. Like all the boats in the ZF line, the new 26 was built for speed, and features a double-stepped, deep-vee hull that will really get you where you want to go in a hurry.
Our test boat was powered by twin 225-hp Mercury EFI outboards, an upgrade from the standard 200-hp XL Mercs. When you hit the throttles, it takes a few seconds for the boat to climb on plane. Once it's up and running, the steps kick in and begin aerating the bottom - and that's when you had better grab a rail! The acceleration is awesome. In no time you've reached a top speed of 65 mph. That's right, 65 mph!
Pick any cruise speed you want. The 26 cruises easily at 45 mph at around 4000 rpm, but you can push it harder if you're a hardcore tournament type. Most of us will be happy at somewhat lower speeds, however, and the new ZF handles better at a more sedate throttle setting. It's not that the boat is squirrelly at top speed, but when you're going that fast, things tend to happen quickly.
We tested the 26 ZF on a windy afternoon in the Florida Keys, and it ran well both into and with the seas. The deep-vee hull (22 degrees at the transom) cut through the chop with no problem and ran reasonably dry. It displayed a moderate roll when lying in the troughs of the four-footers, but handled nimbly when commanded to spin around, as you would expect of a boat of this length.
In contrast to its futuristic hull, the 26 ZF's deck layout is pure, traditional center console, still arguably the most versatile fishing-boat setup made. And Donzi has designed in lots of fishing-friendly ideas, including a thin transom bulkhead in the integrated engine platform that offers perhaps the best compromise between the so-called "Euro-transom" and the more traditional, notched-transom designs.
Donzi has joined several other fishing-boat companies in building a bulkhead that doesn't contain fishboxes, sinks or live wells, and is therefore thinner, or less deep, than transom bulkheads which contain these items. It allows fishermen to stand closer to the stern when fighting a fish around the back of the boat, thereby lessening the chance of a cut-off.
A large, transverse fishbox lies just forward of the bulkhead, beneath a double-sided hatch. It drains overboard through a macerator pump. Cockpit coaming pads come standard, and the boat's 35-gallon live well is located in the aft end of the rocket-launcher/leaning-post assembly, where it's above deck and easily accessible. A pad on top of the live-well lid doubles as an aft-facing seat.
The console features a well-designed helm area with built-in drink holders and a good-sized electronics box above the wheel. Visibility is good through the wraparound, acrylic windshield, and the front console seat raises on gas rams for excellent access. There's a ton of room for storage beneath the console, and Donzi also throws in a standard porta-potty, just in case.
A raised casting deck forward contains a second transverse fishbox, plus a shallow storage box. The 26 ZF comes with a bow pulpit, anchor roller and a stainless-steel bow rail. Three cleats at the bow make anchoring easy, and the spring-line cleats are of the pop-up variety so they won't snag anything.
All Donzis feature high-tech composite construction, including the use of Plexus sealant to chemically bond hull and deck, and custom-blended vinylester resins. Donzi is so sure of its techniques that it offers the industry-leading Z-Care five-year limited warranty, which backs virtually everything installed at the factory for a full five years. That includes factory-installed electronics, gauges and engines. It means that you can not only look good while going faster than everybody else to the fishing grounds, you'll also have peace of mind once you get there.
Donzi Marine, Tallevast, FL; (800) 624-3304; www.donzimarine.com.