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Viking 56 Convertible

When Viking Yachts intro'd the popular 55 Convertible about a half-dozen years ago, I was way more intrigued than I usually am when a manufacturer splashes a new vessel. The size was right, for sure—I can't think of a more sensible envelope for a practical sportfishing machine than a LOA in the mid-50s range. The boat was chock-full of the engineering virtues that are typical of Viking—the ones that make sense to folks who extensively use and cruise their boats. Furthermore, the offshore fishing essentials were there. If memory serves, the 55 had a large, savvily accoutered cockpit with a sole close enough to the waterline to facilitate hauling a fish aboard, and her flying bridge, with Palm Beach-style steering console and extended hardtop option, was a tournament skipper's dream.

But there was something else that tickled my fancy about the boat—the same something that hallmarks Viking's new 56 Convertible, a successor to the 55 in some respects, albeit a slightly longer and substantially beamier one. Call it class perhaps, if what you're attempting to describe is a certain solid, uncompromising air of distinction. Or call it style, if it's curvaceousness and sleekness you're shooting for, infused with just enough tradition to make the boat look like a boat, not a swoopy chunk of abstract art. One way or the other, I'd probably agree, although I'd have to add an important observation, based solely on a little offshore trip I recently did on the 56, a prototype optionally outfitted with a matched set of 1,480-hp MTUs.

The day was a pretty one. We departed Miami about mid-morning and made our way up the coast to Fort Lauderdale at a cruise speed of maybe 33 or 34 knots, arriving a little before noon. The velocity with which we covered the 20-some NMs from one spot to the next was not in itself astounding—Vikings are wave-chompers for the most part and fast, and the mellifluous sea state the day we made the run was hardly a challenge to a boat of the 56's capabilities. What was astounding, or at least seriously attention-getting, was the utter confidence the boat inspired en route, both in me and, I think it's fair to say, everybody else onboard.

Confidence is an ephemeral quality, of course. Although you'd think it would have something to do with a boat's size, it often does not. I've test-driven vessels that were so small, I expected them to perform with aplomb, for example, but nope—they were untrustworthy. On the other hand, I've test-driven boats that were so big, I expected them to perform like lumber wagons, but again, nope—they felt so staunch and constant, they gained my confidence immediately. Exactly why the 56 (and, for that matter, the 55) fit so squarely into this latter camp I can't say, although a few thoughts came up on the trail to Lauderdale.

For one thing, there was the assured steadiness of the ride, an aspect of performance that proceeds from two sources: rock-solid construction and a balanced, sea-splitting hull form. On the first score, Viking integrates and secures everything that goes into the 56, from the foam-cored fiberglass stringers to the custom-fabricated bracket that immobilizes the water heater in the engine room. When the boat moves, whether it be sterning into a slip or rocketing the Gulf Stream, she does so as a cohesive unit.

On the second score, the 56's running surface is the product of one of the oldest boatbuilding heritages in America. Viking, with manufacturing facilities in New Jersey and a growing service center in Florida, just celebrated its 39th anniversary. While empirical factors like broad, reversed chine flats, a transom deadrise of approximately 15 degrees, and a beefy, resin-and-silca-filled keel all contribute to a comfortable—and comforting—ride, the fact that Viking has been building boats since the glory days of Elvis Presley is a part of the picture as well.

Then there was hands-on performance. At one point during our run, I put the 56 into a series of tight S-curves, which I hoped would test her agility and give me a thrill. It did both. Thanks to a Hynautic hydraulic steering system with two engine-driven power-assists, both the wheel—and, of course, the boat—were ultra-sensitive to the touch and instantaneously responsive. More to the point, I found I could make quick, controlled turns by simply giving the wheel a momentary push with a finger, allowing it to spin quickly or slowly through the palm of my hand (depending on the intensity of the push), and then adjust or stop the turn with the same finger.

The savvy, robust way the helm area was protected from the elements was the last place I figured my sense of confidence was emanating from. The optional hardtop was secured with tree-trunk sturdiness, and although we had the three-sided enclosure (also optional) deployed for the entire run up the coast, there was never a hint of blowout, even at top speed. Watertight, gasketed Lexan hatches covered all electronic nav aids at the steering station, keeping everything dry inside dedicated lockers. Moreover, an Icom VHF was installed in a locker under a gasketed, waterproof hatch, and a set of dial-type emergency engine controls (throttles and shifts) were protected in the same waterproof environment. Does Viking try to cover every contingency? You bet.

Once we hit Lauderdale, Viking's marketing rep Pete Frederiksen and I spent the afternoon examining the 56 dockside. The interior's layout is much like the 55's on the main deck: a saloon and galley to port, stocked with top-shelf appliances and equipage, including a home-entertainment system with an optional, pop-up plasma TV. The lower deck's been changed considerably, although the three-stateroom, two-head basics remain. The queen-size berth in the amidships master has been reoriented from fore-and-aft to athwartships. Sculpted teak vanity fronts have been added in the heads, along with a solid-granite option for countertops and soles. And by moving the Kenmore washer and dryer from the companionway nook it occupied on the 55, Viking's been able to add a sizeable hanging locker to the starboard stateroom as well as extra space to the starboard head.

The engine room was what put the finishing touches on my impressions of the 56, though—it was flat-out spectacular. From the companionway-style entry forward, everything was either powder-coated or Awlgripped white, including the overhead, the underside of a four-inch-thick layer of fiberglass composite that supports the saloon sole. Lighting was ample—ten lights overhead. Batteries—each being a Delco, replaceable just about anywhere in the world—were ensconsed in fiberglass boxes with lids. Engine mounts were gutsily installed atop steel-beam engine bearers gusseted into dedicated, intermediate bulkheads, the point being to maintain bulls-eye drive-train alignment, improve under-engine access, and reduce the transmission of vibration. Delta T demisters guarantee clean, dry intake air.

"Given the level of engineering I'm lookin' at here," I noted as Frederiksen and I finished up, "it's no wonder this baby's so darn confidence-inspiring."

"Go a hundred miles offshore," he responded with a grin. "It gets even better."

Viking Yacht Company
(609) 296-6000

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