Vicem 54 ClassicBy George L. Petrie
The first time I saw a Vicem was more than a year ago, but that brief encounter made a lasting impression. I was on a trawler with friends making a leisurely trip along the coast of Rhode Island, heading for the Newport Boat Show, when off to the south we spotted one of the handsomest yachts I’d ever laid eyes upon. Like a distant apparition she appeared, a beautiful dark-blue hull gliding swiftly across the horizon. The four of us sat, mouths agape, guessing what kind of craft she was. Upon our arrival in Newport several hours hence, we were pleasantly surprised to see her again, docked just a few slips away from us. I immediately sauntered over to inquire as to her lineage and learned she was a Vicem 64, built in Turkey; she was even prettier close up. I knew then that I wanted to take one out for a spin.
That opportunity presented itself recently, when I tested the Vicem 54, Hull No. 1 of the Turkish yard’s latest offering. She was every bit as impressive as her larger sibling. Better yet, she was mine for the day, and as I was soon to discover, her craftsmen apply similar attention to detail in her construction and outfitting.
The day started early, casting off before dawn so our photographer could capture the Vicem’s image just as the sun rose over Huntington Bay, on the north shore of Long Island, New York. As we threaded our way out of the harbor, Michael Landsberg, president of Down East Yachts, filled me in on Vicem Shipyard. One of the premiere custom yacht yards in Turkey, Vicem has been building boats in the 50- to 80-foot range for many years, mainly for European customers. Over the past two to three years, Landsberg worked with the builder to establish a brand identity in the United States. Like all Vicems, the 54 is built using cold-molded mahogany; the hull is built up using four layers of thin mahogany planking laminated in WEST SystemTM epoxy. The exterior is covered with a layer of fiberglass to protect the wood and then finished with Awlgrip. Compared with fiberglass, cold-molded mahogany is stronger, lighter, and more resilient. And for icing on the cake, it also offers superior thermal and acoustic insulating properties.
All that’s great, but what’s really stunning about the Vicem is the lavish use of mahogany throughout the interior. The joinery and bulkheads are all mahogany; mostly solid stock with curved sections of molding built up from thin strips that are bended and laminated to shape. Only the largest flat panels are mahogany veneer. Even the interior decks are solid mahogany, bordered with an artfully crafted sapele pommelle inlay that lends visual interest. Use of a subdued, satin finish on the joinery and bulkheads keeps the dark mahogany from overwhelming the interior spaces, while a lighter tone on the soles adds an attractive contrast.
What distinguishes the Vicem, however, is not so much the use of mahogany per se as the superlative skill of the artisans who crafted the yacht. Consider, for example, the cabinet doors. They’re not just handcrafted in mahogany; each cabinet door is also louvered, assuring good air circulation as well as stunning visual appeal. And in the saloon I found an even more impressive display of craftsmanship: a pair of curved, louvered mahogany doors on a cabinet that also serves to conceal a pop-up 20-inch LCD TV. Other examples abound; a cocktail table in the saloon is adorned with a beautiful compass rose inlay of contrasting hardwoods, and all of the interior doors (mahogany, of course) are shaped with a gentle radius across the top.
Complementing her impressive woodwork, a host of subtle refinements gave further testament to the builder’s attention to detail. For example, every mirror has beveled edges. And there are mirrors aplenty, thoughtfully placed, including a full-length dressing mirror on the master stateroom door, a small one built into a cosmetic table, household-size mirrored cabinet doors in both heads, as well as several other decorative mirrors. It was clear that the artisans at Vicem Shipyard are equally skilled in metal work, as evidenced by the stainless steel trim that bordered each of the mahogany shelves in the galley and dinette.
Another feature I liked was the use of space on the lower deck. Bathed in natural light from the sloping windshield above, the galley is generously sized, offering about 25 square feet of open floor space. And our test boat was tricked out with a full suite of gourmet appliances: An Isotherm freezer and two refrigeration units were built into the aft bulkhead alongside a Bosch microwave, while to port there was a four-burner Bosch cooktop. A deep stainless steel sink was set into an island that served as a divider between the galley and dinette, offering an easy pass-through but clearly delineating the two areas.
Even the layout of the machinery spaces won my favor. All auxiliary systems and related equipment were situated around the perimeter of the lazarette (and mounted on mahogany shelves, I must add), providing excellent access to each component, with easy ingress through a hatch in the cockpit sole, and no need to crawl over or around the main engines to service an auxiliary system. So there’s virtually nothing in the engine room except the main engines and their related piping and exhaust systems; easy to see and simple to service.
Our test boat was fitted with standard 800-hp MAN diesels, although Vicem offers the 1,050-hp MANs as an option. But for my money, I don’t see why you would need them. With the standard engines our boat saw a top speed of more than 38 mph, while at a comfortable 2000 rpm, our cruise speed was a respectable 32 mph. Bow rise was minimal throughout the rpm range, with trim never exceeding 4 to 4.5 degrees. Nonetheless, the raised foredeck, which affords an extraordinary seven feet of headroom on the lower deck, can partially restrict sightlines forward while running in the 1500- to 1800-rpm range. But at higher cruising speeds, the hull just lays out flat, as comfortable as a cat curled up on a plush pillow.
I noticed one quirk in an otherwise flawless outing. At higher speeds she can exhibit a tendency to bow steer. A sharp turn of the wheel can make her bow dig in momentarily, which delays the hull’s response to the helm. Although a bit disarming at first, it seems to have no serious consequence. And as soon as the wheel is turned back to center, the bow pops back up, and she goes once again merrily along as if nothing had happened.
A bit of bow steer aside, the Vicem 54 remains as one of the handsomest yachts afloat. Well designed, superbly crafted, and fully equipped, she’s bound to create some lasting impressions of her own.
Down East Yachts
This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.