There’s no better illustration of how the market for convertibles has “grown” than the waterfront view of Viking Yachts’s service and sales facilities in South Florida. That’s where I caught up with the builder’s latest launch—the 76 Enclosed Bridge Convertible. Dockside, she dwarfs her smaller sisters in the line and she is second only to the 82 Enclosed Bridge Convertible in length overall. Without her sisters nearby the sense of scale would be lost. This balance and her eye-pleasing profile are no accident. The Healey family has been refining their products with a passion since they launched Viking Yachts 46 years ago.
I suppose I am dating myself, however, in my mind’s eye I can still conjure a rather boxy, earth-tone Viking, trimmed in maroon and fitted with a sea serpent scroll—a 40-footer circa 1974. It is the relation of these early fiberglass Viking convertibles to the new 76 that is perhaps her greatest selling point—her builder’s experience. Over the years, each new Viking I have inspected has been better than the last and, these days, you’d be hard pressed to find a better production convertible in the market. Viking’s designs have evolved at a measured pace and that is why the builder has never lost its way. Hard corners have been softened, faceted bridge faces have been rounded, and angular windows have been shaped, but the Viking DNA shines through in all its products, including the 76.
“Ninety percent of the time a new design is replacing an existing model, so we have a tangible starting point in terms of setting our goals,” explains David Wilson, Viking Yachts’s manager of design. Wilson joined the company full time in 1987, following in his father’s footsteps. In that time frame Viking has come to dominate the production convertible market. After more than four decades and with 4,200 boats built, the Viking design and engineering team has a rich library of empirical data to draw from. Wilson points out that the builder also benefits from hands-on experience. “The Healeys are boatbuilders, but they are also boaters.”
A Viking factory boat and crew always campaign the latest launches, shaking them down in the real world while keeping an ear on the dock and an eye on the competition. Wilson and his peers in design and engineering spend time aboard as often as possible. “Sea time gives all of us a chance to see what works and what doesn’t—on our boats and other boats in the fleet,” explains Wilson. Threads of these experiences are woven into the design spiral, which begins with a small, hand-picked team from the factory and the field chaired by Pat Healey, Viking’s executive vice president. It is here where goals for a new design are set and where Wilson presents a proposed profile and arrangement.
“Since the 76 replaces our 74, introduced in 2004, we had a number of styling updates in terms of the house shape and window lines,” said Wilson. With the added length and a bit more sheer height, Wilson was able to do away with the raised trunk foredeck without compromising headroom belowdecks. In addition to in-house input, Wilson was armed with a punch list generated from dealer and customer feedback. Customers, for example, wanted a full-beam master stateroom. Wilson accomplished this by adding six inches of chine beam and a bit more shape to the topsides. Storage space for the owner’s gear was also important. Wilson crafted a five-stateroom arrangement that includes a walk-in pantry forward of the galley.