Viking 68 Convertible

The newest Viking is a blend of the best of the 65 and 74.

The phrase "Defining the Evolution of Excellence" is one Viking Yachts uses to announce their new 68-foot Convertible. While both "evolution" and "excellence" seem almost mandatory in marketing materials today, in Viking's case they are entirely appropriate, if not an understatement. Because there is no question that the sportfishing boats from Viking-always solid sea boats-are better built, better performing and better looking than ever.

The Viking 68 Convertible is a good example. It is slotted into Viking's existing line between the 65 and the 74 convertibles. It builds on the foundation of those two boats, but surpasses each in several ways. For instance, it is the first model to make use of the company's new million-dollar 5-axis router, an imposing computer-controlled machine that helps assure more accurate molds. This means a better fit between the many fiberglass parts that make up the finished yacht, for more solid construction with tighter secondary bonds and fewer chances for movement or leakage.

Viking's designers have given the 68 Convertible an accommodation plan similar to and as spacious as the three-stateroom layout of the 65, with an important exception. Using the extra 3 feet of length and an extra inch of beam, they have managed to add a fourth stateroom that does not require reworking the portside master stateroom into a smaller space, as was done on the 65.

Otherwise, like the 65, the 68 Convertible has a VIP stateroom with an island queen berth forward, a master stateroom with an athwartship queen berth to port, and a cabin with upper and lower twin berths to port. The fourth stateroom, to port abaft the master stateroom, also carries upper and lower berths. It, like the other three staterooms, has an en suite head with shower. A passageway that curves as it goes from the saloon stair to the bow helps avoid the visual effect of a long, narrow tunnel that afflicts too many designs.

Once out of the teak-finished forward accommodations, the Viking 68 Convertible's kinship with its big sister, the 74, continues in even more dramatic fashion. Though 6 feet shorter, the deckhouse layouts of the two models are strikingly similar. All that's missing, it seems, is the on-deck day head of the 74. For those who would prefer a smaller boat for whatever reason, and particularly considering the cost difference between the two boats, it seems a small price to pay.

The stairs coming up from the cabins divide the port U-shaped galley, with its granite countertops, from the four-person modified-L dinette to starboard. The aft counter of the open galley widens out to provide bar seating for additional guests. Galley refrigeration is handled by Sub-Zero undercounter units, and dry storage is provided in numerous drawers that pull out on aircraft-style slides that lock into place for safety.

The innovative cabinet layout to port that allowed room on the 74 for either a spiral interior stair to the enclosed bridge, or more space at the bar on open bridge versions, has been duplicated in the 68's saloon. The cabinetry, in addition to providing a great deal of storage area, houses a 42-inch plasma video screen that rises by remote control.

An L-settee, modified from the 74 but equally spacious, occupies the aft starboard corner of the area, convenient for TV viewing, casual dining or just relaxing. Opposite the settee, just inside the cockpit door and mounted at eye-level for convenience, is the main electrical panel. Air-conditioning outlet grills are mounted behind valances to keep them out of sight and to better control noise.

Stepping through the aft door brings you onto a short mezzanine deck that divides the saloon from the cockpit. Comfortable seating to starboard provides a great vantage point for watching the fishing action, and an anodized aluminum ladder to port leads to the flying bridge. Beneath the seating are lockers for storage of fishing gear and a 9.9-cubic-foot bait freezer as well as access to the engineroom.

The cockpit measures out to 186 square feet, a little bigger than the 179 found on the 65 Convertible but not as large as the 218 square feet that the 74's extra length and beam allow. It is fully equipped with fresh- and saltwater washdown systems, a transom door with lift gate, aluminum plate reinforcement for mounting a fighting chair, and several in-deck boxes for storage and for fish well and/or live well. Glendinning Cablemasters are also fitted port and starboard for shorepower cords.

The flying bridge, available in both open and closed versions, features a center-console helm. This style at helm can accommodate a lot of electronics and rod stowage. Bench seats to port and starboard provide rod stowage, and a freezer and an additional bench seat are forward of the helm.

Like all Vikings, the new 68 Convertible carries her engines on steel engine beds hung from substantial transverse frames. Depending on engine choice, cruising speeds range from 28 to 34 knots, with a top end of 39 knots. Propeller tunnels are molded into the hull to reduce draft to a Bahamas-capable 5 feet, 5 inches.

Intelligent, evolving design like this results in boats like the Viking 68 Convertible. The progress that has culminated here is no accident, but rather stems from a top-down dedication to continuous improvement and innovation on all levels, led by Viking cofounders Bill Healy and his brother Bob, and now by Bill's son Pat. A personal example: A few years ago, shortly after I published guidelines for designing propeller tunnels in Professional BoatBuilder magazine, I got a call from Viking cofounder Bill Healy. "Come on up," he said, "I want you to take a look at what we're doing."

I'd seen propellers tested in laboratory settings, but what Viking's engineers showed me was a new model prototype, their first with prop tunnels, fitted with movable pinhole underwater video cameras through the hull bottom near the stern. As we ran offshore in the open ocean, I watched with fascination as the TV screen showed images in real time of water flow through the props and around the struts, rudders and shafting. It's a tool Viking now uses on each new model to optimize flow, increasing the percentage of horsepower that's converted into thrust and reducing the amount that's lost to vibration-inducing cavitation. It is but one example of the measures taken to make each new model better than its predecessor.

You'll be able to judge for yourself how well Viking has succeeded with the design of the 68 Convertible this summer and fall. The yacht debuted at their June dealers' meeting and will be fishing the tournament circuit and visiting boat shows all along the east coast.

Contact: Viking Yachts, (609) 296-6000; www.vikingyachts.com.