Doesn’t look much like New Jersey style to us. Why? The 63 MY is designed by English naval architect Bernard Olesinski, designer of who-knows-how-many wonderful yachts. His office is in Cowes, Isle of Wight, one of the world’s centers of yachting. (A hundred and fifty-some years ago, a Yankee sailboat won a yacht race there, and brought home a gaudy trophy that became know as The America’s Cup. )
Captain’s Report by Mike Smith--
Sold elsewhere in the world as the Princess 62, the Viking Sport Cruiser 63 MY comes from one of Europe’s most respected yacht builders -- you might say Princess Yachts is the Viking Yachts of England. Founded in 1965 as Marine Projects to build a 31’ cruiser, today Princess Yachts International builds boats from 42 to 130 feet in over one million square feet of plant space. It’s still run by its founder, David King.
Viking and Princess crossed paths at the Cannes Boat Show in the early 1990s, when Tom Carroll, now Viking Sport Cruiser president and CEO, was impressed by the quality of their motor yachts. Carroll met with King, and a deal was signed: Princess would build Viking Sport Cruisers using the designs, materials and techniques that produced their own yachts, but modified and adapted where necessary to satisfy the requirements of the American market. Not much has to be changed: A boat that can handle the English Channel and the waters surrounding the U.K. will be more than capable in the generally more docile conditions of the United States and most other places in the world.
Cook, eat and lounge on the main deck. The U-shaped galley is just abaft the helm, on the starboard side, dinette opposite. The whole crew can hang around this area, “helping” the skipper run the boat and noshing endlessly without ever going below. The saloon, just aft, has beaucoup seating on a couple of benches, or folks can slip out onto the covered aft deck to enjoy some fresh air.
The Case for English Yacht Building
Obviously the wage rate for both skilled and unskilled labor in the UK is far more expensive than it is in, say, China, Malaysia, or even Taiwan where wages are not the bargain they once were. So why did one of the most prestigious yacht brands in America – one that could have had it’s pick of nearly any boat yard in the world as a partner – pick a builder in Britain, much less Princess? CEO Tom Carroll tells us that if a boat is built right, only about 15% of its cost is labor. So, on a $2 million yacht one would save only about $150k, if Far Eastern labor were half the cost, or only $200k if it were one-third of the cost.
The expense of yacht building materials – resin, fiberglass, teak and other woods – are all commodities that have a world price, just like oil. Most of the vessel’s equipment and the engines have to be shipped trans-oceanic whether the boat is built in the UK or the Far East. And shipping is less expensive from the UK to NYC than it is from Hong Kong – going both ways! That savings goes a long way toward making up the $170k to $200k of savings from cheaper labor.
That saving together with the fact that Princess can now amortize its tooling and overhead expense among more units, reduces the burden on each unit, providing another savings. In the final analysis, the Viking Sport Cruisers are surprisingly competitive in the U.S. market.
Americans run boats from the flying bridge whenever they can, and there’s room here for plenty of guests. The centerline helm has similar side-by-side seats to those below. With all the seating up here, we’d prefer a single helm seat with one or two companion seats to port of it facing forward and the elimination of the port “L”-shaped bench seat. Note the sunpad abaft the dinette. Where does the tender go?
But there is another important reason for having a yacht built in England – it is the home of yachting! Yes, the first yachts were built in Holland, but as a formal, organized, rich-in-tradition sport goes, England and The Solent (the body of water between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight) is the real home to the recreation of yachting. The British have been designing and building yachts for over 200 years. They understand why people do it, and more important, they do it themselves! (Holland is a close second, of course.)
The dinghy goes on the wide swim platform under the hydraulic passerrelle. An integrated, concealed davit is optional. Most Americans won’t need the gangplank but it is an old British tradition we're told.
The fact is that for the most part, the people working in the marine industry nearly anywhere in the world can not afford to go boating on large motoryachts, their friends don’t own them, and their exposure to the sport from the standpoint of a “user” of the product is quite limited. All of this is even more so in the Far East, and is far less so in places like the UK and Holland where the ocean is accessible and there is a rich culture of seafaring that pervades the societies.
This is probably the most important thing that separates UK yacht builders and designers from those in the Far East – and it is rarely mentioned. It is translated into a better product in dozens of subtle ways, many of which might not be known for some time. Then there is the fact that the language is the same – or, almost.
Like most Viking Sport Cruisers, the 63 MY rides on a modified-V hull that incorporates propeller pockets to maximize efficiency and reduce draft. The hull strakes are designed to deflect water for a dry ride while also providing lift. “Dry ride” and “English Channel” don’t always go together. Curved chines and an optimized deadrise are designed to make for a smooth ride at sea.
The enclosed helm is on the main deck which is where you want it in the UK, where you can get freezing gales and slashing rain even on nice days. It’s compact, with side-by-side seating that’s a little cozy for our liking. However, everything you need is also close at hand, and windows all around make for good sightlines for the skipper. In the U.S., we expect most folks will steer from the flying bridge, except in British-style weather.
Although the designers figure this stuff out using computer-aided-design (CAD) programs, the proof is in the running, and Princess crews beat the heck out of every new design in the nasty waters off Plymouth to make sure it performs in fiberglass like it does on the computer screen. If not, it’s back to the shop for modifications, then test it again until everything is fish-and-chips.
Built Like a Battleship
If you know Viking Yachts convertibles, then you know they’re built like battleships, and the same philosophy pervades the Sport Cruisers. Conditions around the UK are so arduous that shoddy work means broken boats and maybe lost crews. Boat builders who want to stay in business don’t cut corners. The London press covers boating and yachting the way the New York Times covers politics. When something nasty goes wrong on a yacht off the UK coast, it makes the front pages and the evening BBC TV news.
The 63 MY is built with resin-infused or hand-laid ‘glass components, with high-density foam and end-grain balsa coring where appropriate. Interior components are mostly made in-house; metal and PVC tanks, stainless-steel fittings and hardware, wiring looms, and so forth all come from Princess craftsmen.
Here’s a shot of the saloon. We love all the natural light from the windshield and swoopy side windows. Too often Euro-styled means Euro-dank, but the 63 MY is nice and airy. We also like that the layout here is uncluttered. The joinery is cherry, the upholstery genuine leather with fabric inlays where appropriate. It’s a perfect conversation pit, but if you tire of chatting, there’s a fully equipped entertainment center, too.
Modifications for The Western Hemisphere
Some changes on the Viking Sport Cruisers are made because of how people boat in the Western Hemisphere: For example, the hull-to-deck joint is beefed-up vs. standard Princess specs because Americans dock alongside, not stern-to like in Europe. So Princess hulls shipped west are protected by a tough PVC rub rail. Boats being sent to American also don’t have the de rigueur bidet in the master bath. And, of course, the electrical system is 60 cycles, not the 50 cycles used in Europe.
Components specific to the U.S. – TVs, stereos, electrical equipment, refrigeration, air conditioning, electronics, and so forth – are domestic brands for the most part for ease of service and fast delivery of parts. These components are shipped from the U.S. to Plymouth for installation. (The same process is followed by most yards in the Far East as well.)
Some things are installed after delivery to Viking, too. Even though the boats are built in England, every Viking Sport Cruiser meets ABYC and U.S.C.G. standards, and is NMMA certified.
Old World Craftsmen with New Tools
Joinery and upholstery is also built in-house. Princess Yachts boasts that it has one of the largest and most sophisticated furniture manufacturing facilities in England, working in a “shop” that’s almost 128,000 sq. ft. But you won’t find a bunch of old guys with chisels and handsaws: All furniture is carefully designed using CAD, then cut with CNC routers to ensure absolute accuracy and minimal waste of expensive wood. Once built, each piece of joinery is given up to seven coats of finish, then hand-polished until it shines like glass.
Although many of us at BoatTEST.com are watching our weight (watching it increase), the galley is still our second favorite area aboard any yacht. Aboard the 63 MY, the cook will enjoy lots of daylight and ample counter space. Note the covered sink, near the fruit bowl: That creates a long workspace right under the side window. Regular readers know that we think galley counters should have fiddles and stove tops should have sea rails. We’re surprised that Princess, of all builders, does not install them. Need we mention the galley has all the best equipment? We didn’t think so – since this boat costs around $2.8 million.
Sea Trial x 4, or, Maybe 5!
Once complete, each Viking Sport Cruiser is quality-checked and sea-trialed in England. When the Princess folks are satisfied, a representative of Viking arrives to carry out a preliminary inspection, another sea trial and a final inspection. Then the boat is delivered on its own bottom to Southampton (130 miles) for loading aboard ship for New York. Once it arrives by ship to one of the New York metro area docks, a Viking team takes delivery in the water and runs the boat down the Jersey coast to New Gretna (about 80 miles), yet another sea trial.
Like the galley and helm, the dinette is two steps up from the saloon, just at window level. Many English yacht designers used to keep the seating areas much lower than the windows. Could that have been because they didn’t want guests to see how bad the weather really was outside? But Olesinski has arranged the 63 Motor Yacht’s main deck for maximum natural light and visibility outside for both skipper and guests.
Final commissioning takes place at Viking, and those folks are even pickier than the Brits, we’re told. They carry out a 250-point inspection of all systems, perform another sea trial and install any remaining components or options. Once the yacht is perfect, the dealer who sold it arrives and – you guessed it – carries out his own inspection and, we bet, another sea trial. By the time the boat is finally detailed and delivered to its new owner, it’s been inspected more times than Bernie Madoff’s account books – après le crime.
We like the midships placement of the master stateroom, a full-beam compartment in the widest part of the hull, and where the motion is easiest when running in a rough sea. The two guest cabins just forward of the master each have a pair of single berths: Bravo to Olesinski, or Princess, or Viking – we don’t know who can take the credit -- for not putting doubles in every cabin. The upper/lower setup in the port-side cabin can be swapped for a ‘thwartships settee and desk, turning the space into an office. The Princess version of the 63 MY includes a small captain’s cabin abaft the engine room. Standard power is twin 1015-hp Caterpillar C18s.
The master cabin spans the 63 MY, with four large portlights P&S to admit light; we know we’re harping on this, but it’s important: Too often midships lower-deck cabins are light-starved caves. There’s a dressing table on one side, a settee on the other side of the stateroom (behind the camera). Note that this interior does not have the dark, stripped wood and sharp corners with everything squared off as is being done south of the Alps by many builders – and their imitators elsewhere. Three cheers for rounded corners!
We understand that bowls turned into sinks is the yacht-designer flavor of the month all over the globe, but we’d prefer one set flush in the countertop; this one looks too much like an artsy New York City hotel to us. And what happens when you lose your balance underway and grab it? But the shower stall looks plenty roomy, even though our wives would drive us nuts keeping the door spotlessly clean like it is here.
See the sloping area just to the left of the forward cabin’s island berth created by the deadrise of the hull? It’s the same on the other side, making it awkward to climb into and out of bed. That’s the weak point of berths like this, tucked way up in the bow. We’d like to see some sort of step or other solution here. The builder has also missed an opportunity to install shallow cabinets fore and aft of the P&S portlights. Every bit of storage that can be created is well worth it, particularly in the forward stateroom. Roman shades over the portlight would do just fine and look a lot classier.
Too many modern boats base the accommodations on double berths, but not everyone likes to sleep cuddled-up next to someone else. Those folks will love the single-berthed guest cabins on the 63 MY as much as we do. Without single berths, where do your single friends sleep? Do you make them choose partners? What about your kids and their friends? Look closely in the middle of the cherry wood panel over the bed and you will see a reflection of the white orchid in the vase. How’s that for gloss?! Again we think the builder has missed an opportunity to create storage space along the hull sides.
While we don’t normally discuss customer service in these reports, the Viking organization has rightly earned a reputation for caring about its customers. This is the corporate culture fostered by owners Bill and Bob Healey from the beginning and it permeates the organization. After you’ve had your 63 MY for a while, Viking will contact you to make sure everything is copacetic, and fix anything that’s not. If any problems do turn up later on – this is a boat, after all – the company has factory-owned service centers in New Gretna and Riviera Beach, FL, and each has a “mobile customer service support team,” too. There is also a network of Viking-approved independent service facilities throughout North America.
So what does all of this cost? You know it doesn’t come cheap: A recent Viking Sport Cruiser 63 Motor Yacht was delivered, well-equipped, for $2.8 million. Prices vary with the dollar-to-sterling exchange rates independent of changes in cost of production (which always go up, don’t they?), so if the dollar gets stronger against the pound, maybe it’s time to place your order and send a deposit. Chances are you’ll have to wait quite a while before delivery, which will give you time to save up the rest.