In the mid-1990s, when Viking Yachts announced it intended to brand a British import for U.S. distribution, the industry took notice. I was one of the first aboard a Sport Cruisers product and was impressed with the boat, a curious blend of European styling, convertible-like performance and conservative British engineering.
The Sport Cruisers line now includes more than a dozen models from 40 to 84 feet LOA. The new 61 Flybridge Yacht is designed to fill a void in the line between 56 and 65 feet. She replaces the 60 Flybridge, one of the company's most popular models, with an updated silhouette, a sleek, sweptback style, a reverse transom and a low-slung arch. Her superstructure's soft-molded shapes are accented with polished stainless-steel hardware and a teak-covered swim platform and afterdeck. A major attraction is her exterior deck space.
"At least 50 percent of our customers are migrating from express cruisers", said Charlie Underwood, vice president of operations at Viking Sport Cruisers.
Our sea trial in sloppy 3- to 5-foot seas off Ft. Lauderdale proved the 61 Flybridge Yacht offers the kind of dry, comfortable ride cruising yachtsmen expect, particularly in the climate-controlled comfort of her interior helm station. In a 15-knot breeze, she delivered a top speed of 28.7 knots at 2250 rpm. At cruise, 2100 rpm yielded a speed of 25.5 knots, and she was responsive. The saloon measured a quiet 74 decibels.
Sport Cruisers are a product of Viking Yachts' joint venture with Princess Yachts International of Plymouth, England.
"Viking's expertise is primarily in the design and construction of convertibles", Underwood said. "We sought out a European partner with similar strengths in performance cruising yachts."
The 61's flying bridge is essentially fashioned after the cockpit of a large express cruiser. Accessed from inside or out, the molded-in exterior steps are an improvement compared with the 60's ladder. Helm and companion seating face a business-like control station, and an adjacent curved bench seat with a bolster is a likely spot for the captain's mate. The afterdeck has a standard isinglass enclosure. I would add a bimini on the flying bridge.
Viking specifies a mast extension that improves the radar scanner's line of sight and raises it above the skipper's head. Provisions for mounting a satellite dome are a $3,275 option. A 12-foot tender can be carried on the transom platform, and an optional 770-pound davit is cleverly concealed in the transom.
Bulwarks forward make prowling the foredeck comfortable. European touches, including the aft warping windlasses, are worthwhile for cruising couples. While the hearty plow anchor has 131 feet of chain, I would get the additional 197 feet.
The 61 Flybridge Yacht's arrangement is similar in layout and design to that of other boats in the line. Our test boat had well-executed, high-gloss cherry joinery with laminated maple trim. Several upgrade packages and custom décors are available.
The saloon has a built-in seating area with a cocktail table and a built-in entertainment area with a 24-inch television and DVD player. The galley is outfitted with a cooktop, a refrigerator, a freezer, a microwave-convection oven and a dishwasher. Custom cabinets accommodate the custom tableware. A teak-and-holly sole, and Avonite counters, complete the upscale feel.
A small utility room with washer/dryer is accessible from the galley. The dinette, opposite the helm, is useful for dining or lounging and has two stools that may be stowed under the forward berth when not in use.
Belowdecks, a midship master stateroom and a forward VIP have queen-size island berths and private heads with separate showers. A third stateroom has a twin berth and private access to a third head.
While Viking and Princess build boats of similar size and complication, the companies' approaches differ. Viking uses the production line format favored by American builders. Each boat evolves as it passes through specialized assembly stations. Princess uses a system common in Europe in which boats are essentially built in place by production teams.
The 61's hull is built of handlaid fiberglass. The bottom and a network of fiberglass stringers and web frames support the sides. Structural bulkheads are bonded and mechanically fastened to the hull and superstructure, and fiberglass liners define the interior. Closed-cell foam coring is used in the superstructure and decks. The superstructure is built with fairly complicated tooling. Fit and finish are of the highest U.S. standards.
She has a fairly conventional, hard-chine planing form with a moderate entry and a relatively deep 20-degree transom deadrise. Shallow propeller pockets reduce shaft angle and draft to 4 feet, 4 inches, an advantage for those intending to cruise the Bahamas. At low speed, her bow thruster makes slipping in and out of the marina almost foolproof.
Her 800 hp MANs seem an ideal match and are accessible from a hatch in the afterdeck. As is typical of European designs, space around the engines is limited, but access to service items is reasonably good. There are engine removal hatches in the saloon sole, as well as a soft patch in the sole of the flying bridge. Should major engine work be required, this forethought will be appreciated.
Additional machinery space abaft the engine compartment accommodates an Onan 21.5kW generator in a sound shield. A small machinery space beneath the galley houses Cruisair air conditioning. Ship's power is the 60-cycle service common on U.S. shores, and our test boat had two Glendinning Cablemaster systems and two isolation transformers.
Systems design follows the recommendations of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the same guidelines Viking follows in its production. Viking specifies mostly American-made components and stocks a few harder-to-find items at its New Jersey facility.
"Our goal is to eliminate any inconvenience related to the ownership of a foreign product", Underwood said. "To achieve this, prompt customer service is critical."
If you are teased by European styling but have never thought of venturing beyond American brands, the 61 should be on your short list.