Reinventing a Classic
The new Viking 37 Billfish updates a timeless design.
When Ocean Yachts debuted its 37 Billfish model in the mid- 2000s, the boat caused quite a stir on the docks. With lines intentionally reminiscent of the iconic 37 Merritt, the little Ocean immediately attracted the interest of serious anglers looking for a nimble and practical fish boat.
Fast forward a few years and that same phenomenon is now repeating itself. Viking Yachts has introduced an updated version of that same boat, with touches unique to the Viking brand, but without losing the essence of what made the 37 so cool in the first place.
Like the Merritt, the Viking 37 Billfish sports a classic look, even when sitting in the slip. If you’re a fisherman, it’s nigh impossible to walk past it on the dock without stopping to admire her lines. I did just that recently when I met Viking’s company captain, Ryan Higgins, to put the latest version of this unique boat through her paces at the HMY Yacht Sales facility in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
As Higgins and I boarded, he offered some perspective on what it’s like to drive this beauty. “I spend a lot of time on our larger boats, 70-footers and up” he said, “So it’s really fun to drive this boat because its maneuverability is so incredible.”
Hardcore anglers will appreciate the 86-square-foot cockpit, a fairly sizeable working area for a 37-footer. The boat features a transom fishbox that can alternatively be used as a livewell, and the primary fishbox sits to port beneath one of two large deck hatches. This box can be ordered with optional chill plates to keep the day’s catch cold, and the starboard, matching in-deck space serves as a dunnage box for loose gear.
A centerline lazarette just forward of the transom provides access to the rudder table, the boat’s fuel valves and the rear fuel tank. The 37 comes with two tanks, with the forward tank gravity-fed to the rear, for a total capacity of 440 gallons of diesel. A transom door to starboard sits beneath a hinged section of covering board, enabling you to land truly big fish with ease. And with an aft freeboard of only 2 feet 11 inches, handling fish of all sizes from the ’pit should be a snap.
In the saloon, Viking has made good use of limited space, with bench seating to starboard and a lower helm station forward of that. You can opt to lose the lower helm and then that bench seat extends all the way to the forward bulkhead. A dinette to port converts into a double berth, and a small refrigerator sits forward and beneath the dinette, handy for keeping cold beverages close at hand.
On centerline, a day hatch affords entry to the engine room—but for better access, both sides (the dinette and the bench seat/helm) rise on electric actuators to put everything within easy reach. The twin 550-horsepower Cummins diesels are easily serviced this way, and everything is within sight and reach.
Viking has truly done an outstanding job with this space. The boat’s 9-kilowatt generator rests athwartships under the deck at the forward end of the engine room, where it’s easy to get to. Air conditioner systems sit outboard to port and the fire-suppression system is in front of both engines. Battery switches and fuel filters lie within easy reach, and Viking even had the forethought to build in a dedicated space for a Seakeeper unit, should a buyer decide they want one. Very clever.
Down below, the 37 features a sizeable head to port complete with a shower, and a well-laid-out galley to starboard. The galley comes with a refrigerator/freezer, plentiful stowage under the counters as well as in a dedicated locker, and a microwave oven.
Center Console Competition
The 37 not only offers buyers a chance to join the Viking family in more affordable fashion, it also may challenge a hot, existing market: the high-end, large center console world.
Center console outboard boats are now available above 40 feet from a number of companies, and a few 50-plus footers have been introduced and appear to be selling well. A well-equipped 42 with quad outboards can easily reach the cost of the 37 Billfish, and the 50-foot-plus boats routinely fetch prices well into seven figures.
This may make the 37 attractive to prospective center console buyers, especially to young families looking for real cruising amenities along with ample fishing room. That combination is sometimes lacking in outboard boats, where the emphasis is usually more on the fishing side. And while the 37 Billfish will never match the center consoles in terms of speed, it can hold its own against a quad-engine boat when it comes to efficiency.
We all know no boat is perfect, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Viking’s new pocket battlewagon attracts the attention of some buyers who originally looked elsewhere. And if they choose to go this route, they will become a part of the Viking family, a place a great many people enjoy calling home.
A forward stateroom has a queen berth at the forepeak and is separated from the galley/head area by bifold wood doors. A flatscreen TV lies to port in front of one of the two hanging lockers, and three cabinets hang along the starboard hull side. You can opt for an alternate stateroom layout, with a crossover bunk added above the double berth. The accommodations are tight, since there’s only so much you can do with 37 feet, but it’s so well designed that a couple or young family will have no trouble staying aboard, even on extended trips.
After our inspection, Higgins fired up the diesels and we cast off. I got a chance to look over the compact flybridge as we idled down the Intracoastal Waterway in North Palm Beach toward the Parker Bridge, and once again, I found everything to be logically arranged and well-planned.
A symmetrical layout on the bridge places the helm in a console unit on centerline with a single helm chair. Passengers will ride on one of the two matching bench seats port and starboard or on a seat on the front of the console. The electronics panel held a 12-inch Garmin display with the Cummins display on centerline in front of the helm. Two VHF radios were mounted in an overhead box, with a Garmin repeater. The helm position affords excellent visibility in all directions and the driver can easily see both the bow and the transom.
When we reached Lake Worth, Higgins pushed the throttles forward and the little Viking rose quickly onto plane. This boat accelerates fast, and in short order we reached a comfortable cruise speed of close to 29 knots at 2700 rpm. We ran the boat up and down the lake, gathering performance numbers throughout the rpm range, then Higgins showed me where this boat really shines.
He began backing and spinning the boat, simulating a fish fight; the Viking’s agility must be experienced to be appreciated. It spins from one direction to the other faster than most people can wind line, and even in forward it has an incredibly tight turning radius. This level of maneuverability is rare among sportfishing boats of any size, and nonexistent in truly large vessels. But you buy them for different reasons, of course.
It might be an oversimplification to call this a “starter Viking,” but that’s really what it is. Viking took a well-conceived boat and added their own touches to it, including the traditional Viking engine room hull vents, a black mask treatment—the company’s signature high performance isopthalic gelcoat for superior gloss and weather resistance—and a secondary step in the hull.
But they didn’t change what made the 37 Billfish so unique in the first place. The classic and timeless sheerline and overall look remain, evoking memories of one of the most revered sportfishing boats in history. This combination of heritage and Viking’s high standards of fit and finish will surely make the 37 Billfish a classic in its own right in no time.
Noteworthy Options: Seakeeper SK 5 (price on request); Aqua Whisper 450-gpd watermaker ($10,900); Cummins inboard joystick system with two joysticks, includes bow thruster ($21,120); Eskimo ice machine ($14,845); flybridge air conditioning, ($10,500); Release Marine teak helm pod in lieu of fiberglass pod ($5,775).
Generator: 9-kW Onan, Warranty: 2 years on engine and genset
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 81ºF; humidity: 72%; seas: calm; winds: 5 knots or less.
Load During Boat Test
Full water and fuel, two persons, minimal gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/550-hp Cummins QSB-6.7 diesel
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 280-1A, 2.227:1 gear ratio
- Props: 25" X 32" 4-blade NiBrAl
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.