Family FavoriteBy Capt. Bill Pike
I felt slightly flummoxed after boarding Viking Sport Cruiser’s new 50 Flybridge in the storied old harbor of Plymouth, England. Certainly, the source of my perplexity had nothing to do with the vessel’s appearance. While shapes and style lines were indeed bold and aggressive, the overall profile was attractive yet undeniably mainstream. And I experienced no confusion concerning the topside layout either. All the sun-and-fun-loving essentials were there in all the appropriate places, from chock locks for the dinghy on the expansive teak-paved swim platform to the barbecue grill surmounting the wet bar on the flying bridge, just abaft the double helmseat to port. Nope. What had me scratching my head while I descended the stairway from the saloon to the lower deck was why Viking had described the 50 as “the cruising family’s favorite weekend retreat.” I’d read that in a brochure while flying over to Plymouth for a few seal trials and a tour of Princess Yachts, the immense facility—or rather assortment of facilities—where Sport Cruisers like the 50 are built for New Jersey-based Viking Yachts, with Viking’s considerable input, of course. “What’s this baby got,” I wondered, “that’s gonna make her so darn attractive to a cruising family?”
The first big hint came as technical sales manager for Princess, Clive Brooks, and I examined the 50’s master stateroom. As I approvingly squished my hand into the soft but supportive innerspring mattress on the island-type, queen-size berth, a sense of the unusual size of the place began to slowly dawn. At first, I figured that just standing in the midst of a full-beam stateroom was the reason for my feeling. But then an aside from Brooks clarified things: The 50’s beam is a fulsome 15'3", a measurement that makes her roughly a foot wider than many competitors. And just in case you’re pooh-poohing such a seemingly modest enhancement, don’t forget that a foot more beam on a 50-footer translates into a lot more accommodation space. For example, a master that’s ten feet long, like the 50’s, gets an extra ten square feet. Popular with a family? Heck yes, particularly with Mom and Dad.
Brooks pointed out another family-friendly detail before we moved on: All joinery here—and indeed throughout the boat— had been assembled by Princess carpenters using special veneers from Dutch manufacturer Leeuwenburgh Fineer, thus engendering several advantages exclusive to Princess and Viking Sport Cruisers. First, because Leeuwenburgh veneers are backed with stability-promoting phenolic materials, they resist shifting beneath varnish and other coatings due to contraction or expansion, a virtue that obviates moisture intrusion and whitening or “blooming” of finishes that results. Second, proprietary treatments make the veneers more UV-resistant than most other veneer products, which precludes fading over the long term. And third, the Leeuwenburgh veneers make repairs both simple and easy. If someone scratches a cabinet door or credenza top, Herculean repair efforts are not called for and a weekend’s serenity is not threatened. The polyurethane top coat in the immediate vicinity is simply removed with sandpaper and a new layer of top coat is sprayed on from an aerosol can (part of a joinery-repair kit Viking supplies to its dealers). After a quick buffing, the job’s done.
As I continued to scrutinize the 50’s interior with Brooks, many more family-friendly qualities began to reveal themselves. Our test boat, for example, offered an eminently sensible, comfortable layout with three ample staterooms and a galley on the lower deck plus a seagoing “great room” (saloon/dinette/lower helm station) on the main one. While checking out the condo-style appliances, dovetailed drawers, and other domestic highlights of the galley, a question came to mind: Might the 50’s galley-down setup relegate the cook to a black hole, socially speaking? Not with the lower helm station and dinette within easy conversational range, the windshield above greenhousing the Avonite countertops with a flood of light, and the best stability onboard (both transverse and longitudinal) residing directly underfoot.
A feature I particularly liked was the generous use of glass. There’s an array of elliptical Trend Marine opening ports that are refreshingly oversize—at roughly 2'2"x 10", some of the largest I’ve seen on a 50-something-foot cruiser. There is a threesome of big vertical windows on either side of the master stateroom, two fixed and one hinged to open for cross-ventilation. And an assortment of big side windows and windshield panels on the main deck offer great visibility while seated, whether in the saloon, at the lower helm, or in the dinette area. Headroom is at least 6'8" virtually everywhere.
Once we’d completed a quick tour of our 50’s engine room, a cockpit-hatch-accessed spot boasting a couple of 670-hp Volvo Penta D11-670s, a profusion of top-notch, schematically installed ancillary equipment, and more than enough room to swing a wrench (I measured 1'8" between the two expansion tanks on the mains and 4'2" of headroom), Brooks hit the starter switches at the upper station and we were off for a sea trial on what Plymouth folks call “The Sound,” a rocky little bay that edges the English Channel. While the seas were hardly rowdy enough to gauge rough-water handling characteristics, the boat did cut the two-foot chop with true, deep-V verve (transom deadrise: 19 degrees), produced a brisk average top speed of 36.3 mph, and manifested running attitudes that were for the most part optimum. Even the angles I recorded between 1750 and 2000 rpm (5 and 6 degrees, respectively) were not steep enough to affect over-the-bow visibility from either the upper or lower helms, although I’m no fan of the venturi windshield at the former spot—it’s too dark for my taste.
Tracking was steady and cornering fast and exciting, not least of all because of the 50’s fly-by-wire, electro-hydraulic steering from Sleipner (see “Noteworthy: Fly By Wire,” this story). Not only did the SteeringPower system produce a tight, superresponsive driving experience, it seemed to virtually lock the rudders on straightaways, with no discernable drift or wobble. “Driving this thing’s effortless,” I yelped, as we whooshed past a big, gray warship headed for Her Majesty’s naval base at Devonport.
And just in case you think such joyful declarations have little to do with making a family favorite of a boat like Viking Sport Cruiser’s 50 Flybridge, think back to the last time you hunkered over a flying-bridge wheel on a Sunday evening, after an enjoyable weekend, with everybody onboard tired and just a little bit cranky. Family favorite indeed!
Notworthy: Fly By Wire
Our test boat had Sleipner’s SteeringPower electro-hydraulic steering at both her upper and lower helm stations. How did it differ from the more conventional mechanicalover- hydraulic systems I see on most boats these days? For one thing, the system is quick and even—I counted just four turns lock-to-lock at each of the 50’s steering stations and there was no feeling of compression or heaviness as I spun the wheel one way or the other. Moreover, Sleipner’s built a comfortable amount of resistance into the system’s software. And there’s a hydraulic override built in as well; in the event of an electrical glitch, the lower helm station goes to straight mechanical-over-hydraulic with 12 turns lock-to-lock. —B.P.
Contact: VIKING SPORT CRUISERS (609) 296-6000. www.powerandmotoryacht.com/viking-sport-cruisers ');return false;"> www.powerandmotoryacht.com/viking-sport-cruisers/.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.