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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Viking 61 SC

"You can cut right in there, Ken. There's plenty of water just off the bank," says Peter Fredrickson, Viking's director of marketing, as we navigate the upper regions of the winding Bass River from the flying bridge of a Viking 61 Sport Cruiser.

I have the big boat humming at just under 30 knots, according to the Furuno NavNet GPS, whose readings I confirmed earlier with my Stalker radar gun. As I turn the wheel to starboard, and then, as we enter the first of several curves, quickly back to port, I look ahead towards the next meandering turn, and she leans easily into the turn with no apparent slipping nor drop in rpm. Then, just as smoothly, she answers my command to go the other way. I always like putting a big boat through such maneuvers—not much can compare with having all that power under control. Unfortunately, this day sees calm conditions in the river as well as nearby Great Bay, so I won't be able to test the 61's seakeeping abilities.

The Bass River is one of the many protected tributaries, including the Batsto, Mullica, Wading, Maurice, and Great Egg Harbor Rivers, that inhabit the wetlands of southern New Jersey's Pine Barrens. It's a distinctive area that's home to many unique animal and plant species and a number of distinctive boatbuilders, including Viking Yachts, which lies at the headwaters of the Bass River.

Famed for its battle-ready, horizon-chasing convertibles, Viking has also made a name for itself with its Sport Cruiser fleet, built by Princess Yachts of Plymouth, England, and overseen by division president and CEO Tom Carroll and vice president of operations Charlie Underwood. Viking's Sport Cruiser line now has 12 models, including four express boats, three flying-bridge boats, and five motoryachts, of which the 61 is the latest vessel to join the fleet. "This boat is our blank sheet of paper for the Sport Cruiser line," Carroll told me during a previous visit to the Viking plant. He says that while he and Underwood had input into the preceding models, they really got to call the shots on the 61.

The object of their work is a three-stateroom, three-head cruiser that was aimed directly at the American market. "All the soft goods are from the States, as is the seating and, of course, all the appliances. The mechanical and electrical systems were also designed for the U.S. market. And forget the coffin-like crew quarters found on most European-built boats. We go to a complete stowage area instead." As Fredrickson and I sat in the big lazarette—accessed through a large hatch in the cockpit sole—I could see the space accommodating almost anything you'd need for a cruise: spare cases of oil, props, another anchor and rode, tools, and even a couple of bicycles.

Carroll and Fredrickson had given me a complete tour of the 61 before my day out on the Bass River and Great Bay. Entering the main deck area from the cockpit, I found a spacious room with four separate areas: an entertainment/saloon area aft, a galley to starboard and down slightly, a raised dining area opposite the galley, and the starboard helm station forward of the galley. Lightly colored overhead, seating areas and carpet were contrasted by warm cherrywood cabinetry and inlaid wood trim that together, with large windows all around, made for a spacious and airy feel.

As we moved into the galley, Carroll began opening up a seemingly never-ending array of cabinets, drawers, and cubbies. "Space utilization was high on our list," he told me as he opened a pair of eye-level cabinets housing a microwave and a dishwasher that slides out for easy loading and unloading. Other nice touches include a fold-down splashguard for the electric stovetop, ice maker, deep stainless steel sink, undercounter refrigerator and freezer, and lots of counter space. In a separate utility room off the galley, I found a washer/dryer combo and another freezer. "Between the freezer here and the one in the galley, you can store enough frozen food to keep you going for quite awhile," said Fredrickson.

The lower helm station was just as well thought out and comfortable, too. A pair of adjustable seats—from which at 5'9" I was able to see clearly into the seaway while seated—faced a burr-wood helm with plenty of room for several large electronic displays. A quick step out the aircraft-style door directly to starboard puts the skipper right at the spring line cleat. (However, as I witnessed the following day, the 61's captain had little problem putting her 61-foot length and 16'3" beam into a tight spot, thanks to a standard bow thruster.)

The 61's staterooms are accessed via a stairway just forward of the port dining area on the main deck. Each space—forepeak, port twin berth, and starboard master--has its own en suite head featuring Avonite countertops and teak and holly soles plus generous stowage. The master and forepeak have queen-size island berths with stowage below and are surrounded with enough cabinets and closet space for an extended cruise.

The level of finish down here was superior. In fact, I could not find one piece of wood aboard that did not fit or perfectly match its mate. But what drew my attention were the elegantly curved door frames.

"This piece of trim is molded all in one piece," Carroll told me as he pointed at one. "There are no joints, and the only way you can do that is to laminate it." To do that craftsmen take flitches (slices no thicker than a piece of paper) of maple, run them through a glue wheel, and lay one atop another to achieve the desired thickness. The laminate is then put into a mold that goes into what basically is a big microwave. "The glue kicks in the microwave, and when it comes out, it's run through pin routers and machined to get the needed shape. Then it's finished off to get the quality you see here," said Carroll.

But while the 61 is impressive on the inside, she also has the requisite places for outside entertaining. There's a settee on the aft section of the teak-soled cockpit, a foredeck sunpad, and, of course, the flying bridge that is easily accessed via a pair of staircases, one in the cockpit and one separating the saloon from the dining area. For a quick lunch or a leisurely dinner under the stars, there's an electric grill and wet bar up here directly abaft the centerline helm, plus an oval table with wraparound seating immediately aft. An additional large sunpad just behind the table has a stowage compartment beneath it.

All that beauty and comfort is supported by considerable brawn. Built to Lloyds' Register Quality Assurance and ABYC recommendations, the 61 is made of hand-laid FRP with a solid hull and bottom. "The supporting foam-encapsulated stringers, frames, and foam-cored, encapsulated FRP bulkheads form an egg-crate type of construction—almost like building a wooden-framed boat," said Fredrickson as we peered at the hull from inside the lazarette. "The result is strength and stiffness without compromising weight." I also saw beefiness in the engine room, where I noted a welded aluminum frame above that supports the saloon sole.

With a price of $1,722,415 as tested, it shouldn't be surprising that I had trouble finding anything majorly wrong with the 61 Sport Cruiser. I found nothing lacking in her accommodations, entertaining areas, or machinery space—no cramped quarters, plenty of stowage, doors that fit just as they should. Sitting at the lower helm and while looking aft, I even had good visibility aft for docking. Moreover, I noticed a lot of thoughtful touches: the rollers on each of the bow leads, the battery boxes in the lazarette that are vented overboard, and the large rams that make opening and closing the large transom stowage hatch effortless.

Frankly, I would liked to have spent more time on the 61—especially slaloming her in the Bass River—but no sooner did we have her back in her slip from our test then she was being made ready for her trip to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Probably not as exciting a ride but I'll bet every bit as pleasurable.

Viking Yachts
(609) 296-6000

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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