Don Aronow stormed onto the powerboat scene in South Florida in 1962. He was tall, 6’2”, dark (inside and out), smart, and brutally handsome. He was an athlete, having lettered in several track and field events in college, and maintained that body tone throughout his life. He was also a wild, funny sonofabitch. In another time, might have been a fighter pilot, wild west gunslinger, or a Patton-class military leader. Most of all, he was brave, ballsy and major fun. His bizarre sense of humor is well documented. Stu Jackson had been Aronow’s sales manager for Formula Marine, and was sold with company to Thunderbird Boat Co. in 1964. Stu had bought a gold Rolex with his bonus from the sale, and came to lunch with the 188th Street gang at Manero’s in Hallandale. We had Aronow, myself and Dick Riddle from Donzi, Jim Breuil and Jake Trotter from Magnum, Cal Connell, and Sam Sarra from Daytona Marine, developer of trouble charged Daytona marine engine. Stu sat next to Don, and proudly showed his new gold Roller. Don: “That thing shockproof?” “Yep”, “Waterproof?” “Yep” “Lemme see it”. Stu handed it to Aronow, who held it by the clasp and banged it several times in the edge of the table, then threw it into Stu’s draft beer. A couple of bubbles came up, and it stopped. “Don’t think so, Stu”.
Don started up, then sold Donzi Marine to Teleflex, Inc. in April 1965. He sold me with the company, and I became builder, racer, and designer for the Canucks. They were a decent lot, but no match for larcenous (for fun) Aronow. The economy and timing for the formation of the first ever sport boat company made us look brilliant, by accident, and we were selling more boats than were could build. Our tiny factory, which had been the Formula factory previously, was capable of building a couple of small boats a day, and that was that. We actually had seventy 28’ Donzi models built at Beach Boat Slips, on Miami Beach, by Peter Guerke, a Bertram Boat grad, and excellent builder. Interesting how things come around. Our fiberglass shop, where the boats were laid up, was run by Gene Schoell, Harry’s brother, and staffed by doctors, lawyers and businessmen who just escaped Castro. Quality bunch! Aronow talked Tim Chisholm, Chairman of Teleflex, into giving him the 35’ Donzi program, including our prototype 35’ race boat, in return for Aronow racing and promoting Donzi Marine (Hah). Don wasted no time starting up Magnum Marine, right next door, building 35’ Magnums. Hmm, I wonder if there is a connection? 188th street now boasted three boat companies, with Jack Brown’s Scottie Craft Boats on the other side of the street, and down a block or so. (Later, Signature, Pantera, and a few others, same building). Most notably, Linda Lovelace lived on a houseboat behind Scottie Craft, and added ‘star power” to the street, among other things.
One afternoon, Don docked the 35’ “Big Bad Donzi” at our small boat dock and called me to come out there. He asked me to get Gene Schoell and my red 18’ ‘barrel back’ Holman Moody powered Donzi “P” class Marine Stadium circle racer, and follow him out to the bay, behind the factory. He claimed that the slow speed of the Big Bad Donzi (Now called Magnum-Donzi. Hmmm) was from the entry of one of the strakes on the bottom of the boat dragging too much water. The BBD ran about 55MPH, while the 28’ Donzi race boats ran about 60 with the same engines. Don gave us a small camera, and we were to get under the bow of the 35’ at their wide open speed and photograph the water at the entry points. I drove, and Gene photographed. From the top, our 18’ was invisible, as we tucked in, and flew formation with the larger boat. Up and down, back and forth, we stayed glued to it for a half hour, or so. On one run, Aronow hung over the side, and encouraged us to get closer (GET CLOSER, YOU A**HOLES!), and we actually had our rub rail against the outer strake at 55 MPH. I noticed that the big boat had slowed a lot, and I checked to make sure that Gene was alright, then looked forward to see that we were about 50 feet from the end of the canal, where Hi-Lift Marina is now. We were in the center of the canal, preventing us from turning right or left. I picked the softest looking coral rocks to hit, and we shot over the rubble at about 55MPH, coasting about 50 feet from the water into the tall grass. Don couldn’t stop the big boat either, and he whacked some coral too.
On another occasion, Ken Elkind, another nice kid who wanted to be Don Aronow, caught us at lunch, and asked Don if he would take a ride in his new 19’ Cheetah (Great name for boat that you are going to copy) with a jet drive. Ken intended to mold the boat, start a company, and be Don Aronow. He brought the boat to the Donzi docks the next afternoon, and showed it to Aronow and the group of cynical boat racers and builders. It was metal flake (note flake), maybe gold and green, and very shiny. Don had just come from the horse track, and had his Aronow “Coolest guy in the world” uniform on. Planters straw hat, Cheroot mini cigar, large sunglasses, brown, light yellow cotton shirt, light brown gabardine slacks, and woven leather casual sandals, no socks. At a glance, Aronow looked the epitome of everything that 188th Street stood for. Racing, knowledge, nerve, smarts, experience. He stepped aboard the sleek boat, and slipped effortlessly into the candy-striped driver’s seat. Ken got into the passenger seat, and was just starting to explain to Don about the boat, when the key turned, the engine barked to life and in an instant, the throttle was wide open, with the boat facing the end of the canal. Don turned the wheel and made the most beautiful one-eighty turn I had ever seen. Whoosh, they were gone. It was easy to imagine the wringing out that Aronow was giving the boat. It was a quiet day, and the noise from Dumfoundling Bay sounded like the recording “Sounds of Sebring”. Suddenly, the boat appeared at the mouth of the canal, coming toward us at WFO. Don was hugging the south wall of the canal at 60+MPH, and setting the boat up for a Donzi turn, which was barely doable in the narrow canal. I was the only one in the crowd who knew that Don had never run a jet boat. He planned to get as close as possible to the far canal side, chop the throttle briefly, start the boat into the turn, then wide open, and power around the turn. One can only imagine the thoughts in Don’s head as he realized that the jet boat had no steering with no power. They were committed to a course between a large I-beam that kept barges away from the seawall, and the iron plate seawall, about five feet away. Unfortunately, the boat was eight feet wide, and at 60MPH, for a brief moment, it was five feet wide. The collision broke the hull from stem to stern, on both sides, but it still ran. They idled the slowly sinking boat to the dock, where Don stepped out, still clenching the Cheroot, and said “That boat is a piece of shit, Kid, I did you a favor”.