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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Viking 68 Convertible

The difference between testing a new Viking and other convertibles is the same as the difference between following the New York Yankees and most any other baseball team. The Yankees are obsessed with being the best, and they set the bar higher than anyone. Where a division title would cause most teams to rejoice, for the Yankees it’s a mere stepping stone to the only thing that counts: the World Series championship. And while they aren’t always successful in attaining that goal, they usually come close, which is why while other teams rebuild between seasons, the Yankees usually only need to tweak their lineup with one or two roster additions.

Viking Yachts is just as obsessed with being the best, and since it nailed the basics of convertible design long ago, it doesn’t reinvent, it just refines. Take the 68 Convertible. She and the soon-to-be-introduced 64 Convertible were designed to replace—and improve upon—the 65 Convertible, which debuted at the 1999 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. The 68 is, of course, bigger—five inches wider and two inches shy of three feet longer—with much of the added length abaft the saloon bulkhead. At 186 square feet, the 68’s cockpit is but three square feet larger than her predecessor’s, but that’s deck space. She also has a standard three-foot-deep mezzanine (a smaller one was available on the 65), beneath which are a 9.9-cubic-foot bait freezer, tackle locker, chill box (under the saloon step), and engine-room hatch. One step up is a three-person observation settee (shaded by the cockpit overhang) with stowage below. So where the 65 catered to anglers, the 68 caters to anglers and those who like to watch them.

Viking owners, who are known for putting a lot of miles on their boats, will be happy to learn that the extra 34 inches also translates into 250 more gallons of standard fuel capacity (an additional 375-gallon tank is optional), although freshwater capacity drops by five gallons. Interestingly, Viking says it’s also managed to shave an inch off the draft, bringing it down to 5’5”, even though displacement increased from 96,000 to 115,000 pounds. Does an extra 19,000 pounds make the 68 a sluggish performer? Thanks to an extra 460 horses with the top-of-the-line engine option, the answer is no—unless you consider a breath under 45 mph sluggish.

The other big improvement is on the flying bridge, which, as on the 65, is available either open or enclosed. But where the 65’s console was a peninsula open to starboard, the 68’s is an island, which improves traffic flow. Stowage hardly suffers, as the console is still big enough to climb into (in spite of all the electronic gizmos and two dedicated electronics batteries inside), and the area forward is large enough to accommodate an optional 5’4” wide by 2’6” deep freezer and seating ahead of that. There’s also a seven-foot-long bench on either side, under which is rod stowage complete with fabricated lock-in rod racks, plus a trash container and a drink cooler, one of five aboard.

The saloons are similar in size and configuration, although where the 65 had a big, U-shape couch across from a starboard entertainment console, the 68 has an L-shape lounge with a table across from a port-side credenza. Both boats have the dinette forward and to starboard and the galley across from it, but the 68 adds a sweeping Corian counter with two-person eating bar.

Below, the 65 was available with either three or four staterooms; at present the 68 is available only with four, but that will probably change after things calm down a bit; at presstime the 68 was sold out through 2007. As in the 65, the four-stateroom version includes a crew quarters with double bunk, private head, and direct access to the engine room, but in the 68 the port-side master berth is athwartships instead of angled, providing more walk-around space. On both boats the forepeak VIP is available with either cross-over berths or an island queen.

As with the Yankees, Viking retained much from previous years’ winning lineups, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the 68’s construction and engine room. Her hull is not only balsa-cored—along with her top and hull sides—but also vacuum-bagged, as are the principal bulkheads. Divinycell is used in the engine room overhead to reduce thermal and acoustical transfer to the living spaces, but the keel is solid fiberglass, so it’s a real grounding shoe. Even the through-hulls are molded fiberglass, not only for low maintenance but because it looks sleek and neat.

In the engine room the story is about space—all Vikings have expansive ERs, and the 68’s is no exception. At 6’6”, headroom is generous. There’s two feet between the engines and a foot and a half between them and the standard Delta “T” demisters. Everything is accessible, but more impressive to me is the powder-coated, structural steel engine bearers that affix to the fore and aft bulkheads, a configuration that Viking says reduces vibration and allows for more accurate and long-lasting drive train alignment. The lack of clutter is also remarkable, an impression enhanced by the standard Awlgrip finish. Not only does it make for a beautiful space, it also allows you to instantly spot a fluid leak of any kind. There’s even a compartment in the forward starboard corner for one of two freshwater manifolds, the water heater, and Cruisair air conditioning compressors.

Underwater exhausts and Viking-manufactured mufflers, visible in the after corners of the engine room, contribute to moderate (for a 4,000-hp boat) sound levels. But as anyone who has ever ridden on a Viking will tell you, these boats are rattle-free, and our 68 was again no exception, despite the 1,000 hours she’d logged in Venezuela, Mexico, and the Bahamas. One reason is the fact that every hatch is gasketed, and most have dogs or latches. And we’re not talking those cheesy quarter-inch-thick gaskets. These are thick and beefy.

Yet another commonality is the fact that virtually everything aboard the 68, short of engines, electronics (installed by Atlantic Marine Electronics, a Viking subsidiary), and ancillary equipment, was made in house. Viking is “vertically integrated,” which means everything from joinery to electrical harnesses to every piece of metal from the tower (built by Palm Beach Towers, another Viking subsidiary) to the cockpit drains comes out of the factory in New Gretna, New Jersey. It also includes all tanks, which Viking molds to fit each boat. Not only does this preclude corrosion, but it allows the tank to occupy every possible cubic inch of space, maximizing capacity and, in the case of the fuel tanks, range. (Viking says 95 percent of its fuel-tank capacity is useable.) It also places the tanks as deep in the bilge as possible, lowering the center of gravity and improving seakeeping and handling.

Which brings me to the last thing the 68 shares with her stablemates: seakeeping. Vikings have a reputation for bluewater performance, and the 68 maintains that tradition in spades. We had our test boat out in the Atlantic in 25 knots of wind and steep six-footers, a combination that repeatedly blew water clear over the bridge, and she seriously abused those seas. Despite repeated impacts, the only thing that went awry was a rocket launcher that was attached to the Murray Brothers fighting chair. When they call a Viking a battlewagon, they’re not just talking about how she fishes.

But then that’s what Vikings are all about. Like the Yankees, when the game is tough, you expect the best. And as good as the last effort may be, you know it only raises the bar for the next lineup.

Viking Yachts
(609) 296-6000

This article originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.