As we slid up Muskeget Channel between Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, the big 12-cylinder MANs on Wayne Whippen's new Viking 55, Tightline, sounded like they were loafing, even though the GPS indicated 33 knots. The boat plunged forward into the first big sea, blasting white water off each side of the bow. The next wave was considerably bigger, and what lay ahead was not pretty.
It was the third day of the Pete Guild Nantucket Billfish Tournament, and so far the event had been plagued by bad weather. Just about everybody stayed at the dock on day one due to heavy seas, and many didn't go on day two, either. At the start of day three the wind had picked up again. We couldn't spend the whole tournament tied up at the dock, so Wayne made the call to head for Veatch Canyon.
Now Veatch lay over 80 miles from the dock, but I knew we were going - no matter what. There wasn't any question that the boat could take the seas, but it wasn't going to be a joy ride.
These were just plain big seas, and even a 55-foot Viking wasn't going to run 33 knots into them. Yet by easing back to about 22 knots we were able to steam south in surprising comfort. This was due in part to the wider chines Viking has added to the hull, which makes the new 55 a great deal drier than some of the older models. One thing that hit me as we hobby-horsed offshore was the absence of drifting spray - what boatbuilders call the "station wagon" effect - on the bridge and in the cockpit. To eliminate spray, Viking designed the deckhouse to taper inward, creating a vacuum behind the boat while under way. This vacuum sucks in spray and casts it astern, leaving the bridge and cockpit incredibly dry.
Another reason for the smooth ride was the new hull's sharper raked entry, which knifes through steep seas. To add stability, the hull's deadrise works its way back to 15.5 degrees at the stern. Viking also molds in a planing surface aft, well below the water line, that's designed to provide lift, thereby decreasing drag and increasing speed and fuel-efficiency. It also pops the boat out of the hole at lower speeds.
As we made our way south, the seas spread out and Wayne was able to push the throttles forward a bit. By the time we reached 100 fathoms we were doing 27 knots.
We had made excellent time, yet I was having doubts about being able to fish in these conditions. However, my concerns were quickly put to rest as we slowed to trolling speed. The 55 settled in like a duck and the games began.
As we bent to the task of rigging lines, I began to appreciate the 55's spacious cockpit. With 153 square feet of working room, it was easy for everyone to move around without getting in one another's way. I found the tagging sticks and gaffs hidden in three-inch tubes under the gunwales on both sides of the cockpit. The handles went first, and neat cut-outs for the gaff hooks were molded into the forward bulkhead.
This cockpit is as well thought out as any I've fished. The in-deck fishbox is refrigerated, and can be used as a freezer for transporting bait and frozen goods. It is flanked on each side by two more large boxes. On the Tightline, one box serves as a live well, while the other is constantly replenished with fresh crushed ice from the onboard icemaker.
I discovered other little niceties, such as the switches for the washdowns and live wells, which are conveniently mounted on the inside of the engine-room access hatch - not on some big, confusing panel in the salon. And speaking of the salon, the pneumatic door leading inside can be opened by stepping on a small button on the salon step. Once inside, another button closes the door. The step itself conceals a refrigerated drink box, and another refrigerated box is located on the bridge.
The day boxes in the cockpit contain the main freezer, rigging station with sink, and tackle storage, but are a little higher and wider than the boxes in most standard cockpits. Their wide, cushioned tops make them ideal spots from which to watch the baits or grab a nap. The final bit of genius in this huge cockpit is the narrow transom, which tapers quickly at the stern, making it easy to back down and allowing for a straight-stanchion fighting chair.
I got a chance to test the boat's fishability firsthand when one of the 'rigger lines went down and we had to back into the steep seas to chase a yellowfin tuna. The short delay on the electronic single-lever controls threw me for a minute, but soon we were backing upsea, zigzagging left and right. The crew got a little wet, but we got the tuna.
By the end of the day the wind was still stiff, so we retreated to the comfortable salon for the long ride home. The huge salon and galley are up, and the three staterooms and two heads below are spacious and comfortable. The hanging locker in the crew's quarters is so large that Wayne used it to mount his 130s vertically. The spacious bridge lockers are large enough to easily accommodate other rods on the boat.
When it comes to fishing boats, Wayne is no stranger. Over the years he has owned many fine boats, so I was curious to hear his opinion of the new 55. His answer was simple. "This is the friendliest boat I've ever owned," he said, and pointed out how much thought and planning were evident in its design.
Of course, such attention to detail has long been a Viking hallmark, and it starts with hull design. While it's true that computers have brought boat design a long way, boatbuilding is still more of an art than a science. The Healey family, who own and run Viking, have spent a great deal of time developing that art. Since Viking introduced the 55 in 1997, they have built over 85 of them, and the orders keep rolling in.
If you are in the market for a boat of this size, a ride on the Viking 55 is a must. It represents one of the industry's major success stories, and is a high-quality fishing machine that'll be riding the seas for many years to come.
Viking, New Gretna, NJ; (609) 296-6000; www.vikingyachts.com