An unrelenting north wind had sent the sailfish packing with hardly a sniff of action reported off Palm Beach. On top of that, a massive cold front was about to park itself over the Sunshine State, sending temperatures plummeting to lows not seen in decades paired with gale-force winds. January is full of surprises, and it was time to make a hasty decision.
With a rapidly decreasing weather window, we could either head north 60-plus miles and troll baits for sails, run across the Gulf Stream toward the Bahamas in hopes of finding a blue or white marlin, or set down some swordfish baits in 1,600 feet of water about 15 miles due east. Whatever option we chose, the Viking 64 flybridge convertible, our fishing platform for the expedition, would be more than up to the task.
After mulling over the options, we went with door number three, which would afford us more time for performance tests while still getting a sense of how the boat fishes. We left the dock at Viking’s service facility in Riviera Beach armed with some local knowledge. Joining our crew were two deckhands who grew up in this area, Jake Smykay who showed me photos of the 600-pound swordfish he recently caught immediately after we shook hands, and Mike Buckland whose family owns the Fisherman’s Center, a nearby bait-and-tackle shop that’s outfitted many Vikings with custom rods.
We loaded the boat with more than 60 pounds of lead weights, rigged baits and rods, but you’d never notice it as the crew neatly tucked everything away in the tackle drawers and under-gunwale locker. The only real telltale signs of our agenda were the two large electric reels mounted on bent-butt rods set in the shape of an X in the leaning post, hopefully marking the spot where a big sword would come through the transom door.
Heading out of Palm Beach Inlet, Capt. Sean Dooley spun up the powerplants, a pair of MTU Series 12V 2000 M9X, and we motored past a couple vessels in front of us. I have to admit, I’ve been passed by more than a few Vikings and it feels pretty good to be on the opposite end of that picture. The 3- to 5-foot swells were a few seconds apart—nothing much for the 64. At 80 percent load we cruised along at 35.7 knots with plenty more power in the tank should we want to pass a few more boats. (On a Viking, it’s hard to resist.)
When it comes to building sportfishing boats in the 60- to 70-foot range, you can hardly compete with Viking. In the last 20 years, the company has introduced eight models in this size range and claims to have delivered a whopping 550 yachts. The 64 falls right in the middle of that sweet spot and comes on the heels of the Viking 62, a popular model with tournament crews up and down the East Coast, throughout the Gulf and beyond. This begs the question: Why would you change something that clearly isn’t broken? The answer is that Viking doesn’t get complacent; the new 64 is an improvement on an already proven platform.
Running into the head sea with the bow down, there was no shuttering and no pounding. The boat smoothly crested the waves, landed softly and sent spray cascading off the sides of the bow like watery wings. Wind-driven droplets reached the bridge enclosure only a handful of times. The hull form is very similar to the 62, with some subtle design changes to the chine angle and the softness of the radius where the deadrise transitions to the chine. “We’ve lowered the strakes in the bow slightly to get a better angle of attack for spray up front,” says design manager David Wilson. “We believe the strakes do more of a job in spray [reduction] than in the back where they provide lift.”
Viking also refined the shaft angle and the diameter, length and entry of the propeller pockets to improve water flow and help minimize draft. The end result is a fast, dry ride that tops out at 42 knots. And with 2,200 gallons of diesel on board, you can cruise at 35 knots for some 500 nm. No canyon is out of reach.
Viking 64 Flybridge Convertible
Running out to the grounds, I could appreciate the updated flybridge. Viking raised the island-style helm and adjusted the angle of the three flush-mounted Garmin touch screens to make them easier to reach and see over. There’s a third MFD in the dropdown on the hardtop and a fourth MFD tucked in the teaser reel compartment so the captain can keep an eye on the fishfinder when facing the trolling spread. You can also see where Viking used some concepts introduced in the Valhalla line of center consoles, including a sunpad forward of the helm with a massive 305-quart freezer underneath.
The cockpit on the 64 is six inches longer than the 62, so visibility aft is excellent. You can clearly see the transom, but there’s also plenty of room aft of the three helm chairs on the bridge so passengers can walk behind the captain without having to swivel the chairs.
As Dooley throttled back for our first swordfish drop, he engaged the Seakeeer 26, and the roll of the boat settled down to nary a bob despite a growing swell off the continental shelf. The Seakeeper lives in a large, water-tight hatch underneath the cockpit sole, so the gyro is easily accessed yet won’t get flooded when backing down on a hot fish.
Dropping baits down to the bottom in 1,600-plus feet of water with a north current on the surface is a fairly technical endeavor. If you don’t follow a systematic process you will get tangled. For this reason a lot of crews only fish with one or two setups. The deckhands on the 64 wanted to deploy three baits, tricky for sure. We splayed the baits out with the boat idling with the current. Once the line was stretched out, Dooley spun the boat to face it into the current and drive back up the line till it was straight up and down. From this position, he bumped the boat in and out of gear to maintain the position over the drift. I’d only swordfished on center console boats where you often fish the rods off the side of the boat by the helm. I wasn’t sure how the 64 would handle the drift. Well, it got an A.
The spacious cockpit has tons of freezer space and an ice dump in the mezzanine. If we were to take a legal fish, the in-deck fish boxes would be filled with meat and ice in no time. The cockpit is also wired for the 24-volt electric reels we were using with outlets in the gaff lockers under the gunwales.
Fishing for swords is a waiting game. As the baits and strobes drift over the structure, there’s plenty of time to hang out on the mezzanine or move to the more comfortable quarters inside. Viking placed the salon entry door on the port side of the cockpit, and when the door slides open, you can see clear to the forepeak, creating a very open, functional space. The 64 is a four-stateroom, three-head layout, including a midship master with large en suite, an over/under bunk, a VIP forward with en suite and a two-berth guest room. There’s more than enough room to take a full crew on an extended fishing trip to the Bahamas, Mexico or even through the Panama Canal. You’d be hard-pressed to find these accommodations on a custom sportfish in this size range. The cabinetry features a mix of horizontal-grain walnut and ebony accents, and the wall surfaces are covered with textile fabrics. A few standouts were the sheer size of the salon space, the raised dinette with a massive tackle drawer below, the peninsula-style galley with built-in bar space and the washer/dryer in the companionway. Functionality and design coexist nicely.
“The 64 is the culmination of several different boats that we’ve built in the past,” says interior design manager Steve Walker. “We implemented some horizontal walnut grain to change our look without going into exotic materials. Overall, it’s a more contemporary look.”
As much time as Viking puts into the design and ride of the boat, I have to say the engine room is probably my favorite area on the vessel. Gleaming in white Awlgrip and lit up like an operating room, this space offers clear access to all major systems, and there’s a lot of them. The boat has an Omni-directional sonar, but it’s situated toward the forward bulkhead so you don’t have to step around it. There’s a Spot Zero water maker and two Onan 21.5-kW gensets. When I asked Dooley what systems he liked most, he said it was hard to choose, but he admitted the Electrosea Clearline system that prevents barnacles in the raw-water and the built-in Willy Vac makes the captain’s job much easier.
After a 4-mile drift, the crew flipped the switch on the reels and pulled the baits up to reset. We ran a few more miles down the hill to dry another spot and repeated the process. As we waited for a bite, we warmed up sandwiches and enjoyed an open-air lunch on the spacious mezzanine seating. Watching the rod tips, hoping for a dip as a sword took hold became hypnotic, and before too long, we made the call to pull ‘em up and head back to the barn. The fish weren’t cooperating today, but we gave it a good shot. The boat, however, never let us down.
Displ.: 99,738 lbs.
Fuel: 2,201 gal.
Water: 302 gal.
Power: 2/2,002-hp MTU 12V 2000 M96X