Enough time has passed that I feel comfortable mentioning an overall boatbuilding blunder that transpired during the go-go days of the old economy-you know, the period that vanished with a puff about a year ago. During this crazy time, I sensed something wicked was brewing when our editorial office received weekly press releases announcing the birth of yet another boatbuilder or perhaps a new model. Many of these designs never made it to launch day, while others, unfortunately, did.
In my opinion, we experienced a shallow period in boatbuilding. There was a rush to bring product to market in order to meet a superficial demand. Thus, features such as the number of flatscreen televisions, MP3 plugs, exotic counter materials, and the type of leather on the sofa outweighed priorities such as hull design, cruising comfort, performance, and quality construction. Some in the industry lost sight of the real joy and importance of going to sea on a good, comfortable, honest boat.
Well, those days are nothing but a memory. A new trend is once again blazing the trail, clawing past all the static of the past: real boats, built for real boaters, by real boatbuilders. And that's exactly what I met head-on while running the new Viking Sport Cruisers 85 Motor Yacht on the south cost of England. This peppy little ship was designed to cruise in comfort and safety-pure and simple.
A major reason for the success of the 85, and the entire Sport Cruisers line for that matter, is the collaboration between U.K.-based Princess Yachts and New Jersey's Viking Yachts. Each Viking Sport Cruiser that I've tested since 2000 reveals a smart blend of practicality, sound engineering, and timeless style. "Our guys use their boats," said James Noble, Viking Sport Cruisers' marketing director. Princess offers the engineering, construction, and design expertise, and incorporates Viking's formidable building experience, strong dealer network, and knowledge of how its customers go boating. It's a tough formula to beat.
During our test, Noble made it clear that the new 85 is not simply an evolution of the now discontinued 84. Instead, it is actually a "smaller" SC 95. I ran the 84 in 2001 and at the time was impressed by the interior volume and layout. Yet, to Noble's point, the 85 is vastly different. For example, the deckhouse of the 84 curved inward. Yes, it was a nice design element, but the treatment compromised some interior volume in the salon and galley areas. On the other hand, the most noticeable feature when walking through the double-sliding doors of the 85 is the expansive space. Part of this can be attributed to the salon layout and use of free-form furniture. Our test boat featured a sofa with two armchairs, opposite a large-screen television. Forward is a dining table with seating for eight and lockers to house the factory-supplied dishware. It's refreshing to see a dining table that can actually accommodate the same number of diners that the yacht can berth. The entire salon and dining area is bathed in cascading natural light from thoughtfully placed side windows that also allow you to see the world passing by as you relax on the sofa. These details do not happen by accident.
The galley also offered a pleasant departure from many European designs. For the most part, European galleys tend to resemble the butler's pantry of other boats, particularly American ones. The galley on the 85 is not immense, but it is larger than some of its competitors' and very functional, thanks to a full range of appliances. Our test boat featured an optional configuration that kept the area open to the pilothouse. Standing at the counter, the cook can easily serve anyone seated at the small dinette in the lower helm area. There was plenty of counter space for serious meal preparation and enough stowage to provision for an extended cruise. A side door will allow service crew to come and go without disturbing guests.
Are there bigger galleys in some other similar-sized U.S.-built boats? You bet, but often those are at the expense of a functional lower helm station. That's not the case on the 85. Every Viking Sport Cruiser I've tested has featured an exceptionally designed helm area. On the 85, all gauges are placed directly in the line of sight, as is the full electronics array. The single-lever throttle and gear controls are placed perfectly within reach, providing a natural orientation along with an extremely comfortable, form-fitting, helm seat. You could use the dinette to port to spread out a chart and cruising guides while planning your next destination.
Walking through the lower deck, I was reminded yet again that the 85 shares more of a family pedigree with the 95 than the 84. The primary difference is the result of placing the crew quarters abaft the engineroom on the 85. (They were in the forepeak of the 84 with access from a bow hatch.) This provides a true four-stateroom, fourhead layout. The master stateroom expands across the entire beam and rivals many 100-footers. There are four large ports on each side, providing a light, airy feel. I especially like the dinette for two on the starboard side. It provides a perfect perch to wake up with a morning cup of coffee and the paper, or to spread out with a laptop and bang out some work after your morning swim.
Forward, the starboard stateroom has a walkaround berth, two opening ports, and two hanging lockers. You can also specify two berths side by side in this cabin. The port cabin on our test boat featured two twin berths. Both staterooms are en suite. Forward is a huge VIP stateroom, with a walk-in locker, plenty of stowage, and a vanity.
By moving the crew quarters abaft the engineroom, the designers were able to create first-class crew accommodations, unlike a lot of European boats in this size range. Features include a separate crew mess with a refrigerator, plus a dinette, and two good-sized staterooms.
Engineroom access is through the crew area. (Soft patches are incorporated in the salon sole above in case an engine needs to be removed.) I found the space on the old 84 tight, but serviceable. On the 85, there is more than enough room to get around the 1,825-horsepower Caterpillar C32A diesels. Wiring runs were neat, coded, and labeled. It was obvious that thought was given to making both routine service checks and major service items easy. Like Noble said, his buyers use their boats. And this area would represent a home run to that clientele.
The thoughtful details continued on deck, with attention to small items-like placing the water fills aft, accessed from the swim platform. Anyone who has dragged a dirty hose across a deck will appreciate this thoughtful feature. Forward, there is a large deck locker, and a clever seating area with a sunpad, settee, and table. A dual windlass system will address a variety of anchoring and mooring needs.
Viking Sport Cruisers offers a flying bridge option that is constructed and outfitted in New Jersey by its subsidiary. The bridge on our test boat was set up for cruising and entertaining alike. There is plenty of seating for relaxing guests, and features include a Jacuzzi, large bar, ice maker, grill, and another well-thought-out helm station.
One of the things I've come to expect about a Viking Sport Cruiser is that she's not just another pretty face-and the 85 is certainly no exception. With the C32A diesels, she achieves a cruising speed of between 26 and 28 knots, depending on how the boat is outfitted. Expect stabilizers to take a little over a knot of speed away. The top end is again between 30 and 32 knots. (Our test boat was lightly equipped, with no gear, tender, or stabilizers.) It stands to reason that a company such as Viking Yachts, known for fast, tough convertibles, would ensure its builder partner would be of similar pedigree. In a gradual three- to four-foot swell, the 85 rose on plane with no protest, settling in on about a five-degree running angle. She has the response of a boat about half her size.
The Viking Sport Cruisers 85 Motor Yacht is proof positive that if a builder finds its niche, success will follow. When it goes above and beyond that to ensure it's building boats for serious yachtsmen to take cruising, not to just hang out on at a marina, then success is almost guaranteed. After all, we're finding our that the good old days weren't always as good as they seemed.
Viking Sport Cruisers, (609) 296-6000; www.vikingsportcruisers.com