Designed in Italy and built in Poland, the Viko S35 looks to offer style and space together with remarkable value for money. David Harding sees if the reality matches the promise
Viko S35 review: the best cruiser on a budget?
First seeing the Viko S35 at the Düsseldorf boat show in 2019, not long after her launch, she struck me as a boat worth watching. She looked as though she might sail quite nicely and also had a price tag (just €60,000 plus VAT) that would have looked more at home on a 32-footer.
Only a few years earlier I had tested the Viko 21 and I’d come away with mixed feelings, so I was interested to see the new arrival. She too was designed in Italy by Sergio Lupoli, whose racing yachts and performance cruisers (including the Comet range) go back to IOR designs from the late 1970s.
I sailed his Comet 33 in 2007, rather liked it and was disappointed that the Comets never gained a foothold in the UK, though Viko subsequently used the hull of the Comet 31 to produce the Viko 30. This move by Viko – taking on an existing design to build under their own name – reflected a broader push by Polish builders to sell boats themselves rather than just act as contractors for yards in western Europe.
Many well-known builders have had their boats produced (or at least moulded) in Poland for decades. Some I only learned about by chance when, poking around in the back of laminating shops in the middle of nowhere in the depths of Polish winter – as you do – I found the names of some highly reputable boats attached to various moulds.
The new-generation ‘own-brand’ Polish boats have typically been very inexpensive for their size. I have, however, often found shortcomings in the equipment and fit-out. Designs that have been fundamentally sound and seemingly well built have been let down by lack of detailed thought, as though the designer has done the basics and then handed the project over to a yard run by people with limited experience of how a boat works.
For this reason, among many others, I was interested to see how the Viko had turned out when, nearly three years after meeting her in Düsseldorf, I went to sail the first boat to arrive in the UK.
What struck me immediately was the height of the topsides. She’s quite sharp-lined, but I hadn’t remembered quite how far the gunwales were above the waterline. Otherwise there’s little out of the ordinary in the context of a modern cruiser with some sporty pretensions: a double-spreader, high-fractional rig (our test boat’s was 1.5m/5ft taller than the standard), pronounced chines running most of the length of the hull, a vertical stem, an optional hinge-down bathing platform, rectangular ports in the topsides and an L-bulb fin keel giving a draught of 1.95m (6ft 4in).
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The stern is fashionably wide, allowing plenty of space for twin wheels, and another option is a moulded bowsprit to keep the anchor away from the stem and project the tack of an asymmetric spinnaker. It’s all pretty standard in many ways, though even this taller rig didn’t look particularly tall. It made me wonder about the amount of weight in the keel, a modest rig often indicating a relatively high centre of gravity because of shallow draft and/or a low ballast ratio.
In this case, around 33% of the boat’s weight is in the keel and the draught is enough to place it reasonably low, so sail-carrying power shouldn’t be an issue.
Onboard the Viko S35
Hopping aboard the Viko S35, you find two elements worthy of note straight away. One is the deep cockpit with high coamings, which make it feel much less exposed than on many modern cruisers, with their wide, shallow, dance-floor cockpits. For a boat sold as a family cruiser, that’s a good start.
Moulded bulwarks running the length of the boat lend security outboard. These bulwarks seem to be making a comeback and are now widely seen in place of the once-almost-ubiquitous aluminium toerail bolted through the hull-to-deck joint.
Less convincing to me was the coverage of the non-slip finish on the coachroof. Sizeable areas were left smooth. At this stage I normally like to go sailing to see how a boat behaves. If she sails and handles nicely, it’s worth looking at everything else in more detail. Otherwise you have a non-starter and nothing else matters quite so much.
We motored out into Southampton Water, pushed along by the 30hp Yanmar – an upgrade from the standard 15hp. Getting the mainsail up proved to be our first challenge because of a mast gate that wouldn’t stay in place. The gate should be easy to improve, and would need to be improved because the only way to get the reefing cringles on to the tack horns would be to remove some slides from the mast as you lower the halyard.
I would suggest that reef spectacles would be a worthwhile addition. Alternatively fit reefing pennants, invest in some extra hardware and lead them aft.
The sails on our test Viko S35 were the ‘high performance’ versions (still in Dacron), supplied as part of an optional package with the taller rig for a very reasonable £1,750.
Once under sail, we slipped along nicely enough in about eight knots of breeze and flat water, typically making just over four knots on the wind and tacking through 80-85°.
Our speed would undoubtedly have been greater had we not been dragging some weed around with us. A quick scrub from the pontoon before we set off had failed to remove much of what we could see at the bow, and we don’t know how much more was lurking out of sight. A folding prop would make a difference too.
On a cruising boat it’s interesting to see a full-width mainsheet traveller, set into the cockpit sole immediately forward of the wheel pedestals. It’s a feature of which I very much approve, unexpected though it was given that most of the hardware and systems are pretty basic. I also liked the simplicity and directness of the mainsheet purchase directly from traveller to boom.
The problem is that it’s just 4:1 which, predictably, made it impossible to apply anywhere near enough tension when the breeze kicked in.
Our test boat had non-standard grab handles and pods for nav instruments on the helm pedestals. They would be at risk of being snagged by the mainsheet during manoeuvres, so owners might prefer to mount their instruments elsewhere.
At the helms of the Viko S35 you have a comfortable perch on the coamings, as you do further forward in the cockpit. They’re nicely angled and you can lean back against the guardwires.
The stanchions slot into broad bases, which spread the load nicely and should make stanchion replacement relatively straightforward. My only concern was that a fair bit of rust had formed already.
Staying on track
Slack in the steering cables between the wheels didn’t enhance the helming experience to start with. Thankfully it was a simple job to tension the bottlescrew in the linkage, reached via a hatch in the cockpit sole.
The rudder bearings were stiff, however, making it hard to feel the increase in weather helm when the wind eventually picked up to around 14 knots. And although our test boat had the bigger rig, I was surprised by how quickly we needed to start de-powering the Viko S35 to keep her on track: she would round up even at a modest angle of heel.
If you can feel the rudder through the helm, it’s much easier to know when you’re pushing the limits. If that feel is disguised by stiff bearings – and perhaps reduced further by a lightly balanced rudder blade, as I suspect might have been the case here – you’re more likely to find that you have applied more lock than you realised. Then the rudder stalls and the boat rounds up.
As a matter of course you don’t want to sail with more than a few degrees of rudder angle. Any more means something is amiss. Easing the traveller was a quick fix. I would have liked to be able to de-power by other means first, such as removing some of the excessive forestay sag. That wasn’t possible because the rigging was under-tensioned and the leeward D1 (lower shroud) was waving around in the breeze.
Combined with the (optional) 4:1 purchase on the backstay, it meant that tensioning the forestay wasn’t an option.
Of course on a racing boat you expect to change gear all the time with variations in wind speed. On a cruiser, both the need and the crew’s interest or inclination are generally less.
I would like to sail a Viko 35 with a clean bottom, a folding prop and tensioned rigging for starters, not to mention easier rudder bearings and some upgrades to the hardware and sail-control systems.
Lupoli seems to be a designer who gets his sums right, so I suspect the boat would feel and behave in a very different manner with a little tweaking, even if the standard
rudder doesn’t look particularly big. You would undoubtedly have to start de-powering earlier still if you had the 1.6m/5ft 3in shallow fin and the shallower rudder that goes with it.
Viko S35 on deck
Moving to the other end of the boat, we find an anchor well in the bow. If you have the optional bowsprit, the anchor is likely to live on its projected roller and, with the windlass (included in the dealer’s UK Cruiser Pack) feeding the rode straight down through the deck, the locker itself is likely to be used principally for warps and fenders.
Moving aft again is easy given the width of the decks and the outboard rigging. The headsail tracks, mounted just outboard of the coachroof, give a reasonably narrow sheeting angle. I would want to try reefing the headsail in a good breeze to make sure that the tracks extend sufficiently far forward to maintain leech tension: with a low-clewed sail like this, the position of the cars is more critical than it is with a higher clew.
I would also want to ensure that extra deck hardware could be fitted for handling reefing pennants, spinnaker gear, the kicking strap (another 4:1 purchase) and anything else one might want led aft.
Clutches are mounted on raised plinths forward of the winches, but the solid moulded headlining throughout (with just one removable panel around the compression post) provides no access to the deckhead.
Back in the cockpit of the Viko S35, stowage is limited if you have the twin double aft cabins as on our test boat. You have a deep locker each side under the helm seats and a shallower bin just forward of the transom that could be used for liferaft stowage. As on most boats these days, there’s no readily-accessible stowage for small items.
Internally the Viko is simply finished in European light oak. The saloon feels nicely woody from the gunwales down. Overhead, the shiny moulded headlining inevitably looks rather plasticky.
Despite the high-volume hull, this is not an enormous boat down below by modern standards. That’s partly because the rudder is mounted well forward and the space abaft the helm pedestals is occupied by the steering linkage, so the aft cabins don’t extend as far aft as is often the case. Even though their berths are only 6ft 1in(1.85m) long, this inevitably pushes the whole layout forward.
If you have twin double aft cabins, the heads is opposite the galley, leading to a less open feel down below.
The extra cabin is a lot to fit into a boat of this size. If you have just the one double cabin in the stern, to port, it’s a good deal larger, extending across the centreline, and you can sleep athwartships. Then you have a cockpit locker to starboard and the heads moves aft, creating space for a small chart table.
Whichever Viko S35 layout you choose, the saloon berths are straight, parallel and 1.88m (6ft 2in) long.
Apart from the headlining and in the heads, Viko have used no interior mouldings, maximising stowage space and allowing access to the outer hull. Reassuringly, bulkheads appear to be bonded directly to the hull and deck.
Because the saloon is well forward, the forecabin isn’t vast. Here you will find a low V-berth and some locker space for storage. Features that might bug me include the absence of catches to hold doors open (or even positive closure for the double doors to the forecabin), the smooth, flat companionway steps (potentially tricky when wet), nothing to hold the steps up when you need to get at the engine, lack of a crash bar in the galley and a total absence of engine insulation.
It made me wonder about fire-proofing although, strangely enough, noise levels throughout the vessel didn’t seem excessive.
The Viko is an interesting mix of the basic cruisey and the slightly sporty. She has the appearance of a modern performance cruiser, statistics that tell you she should be a reasonably quick boat, and some features in keeping with this, such as the full-width traveller. On the other hand, most of the sail-control systems are pretty basic and, in some cases, barely adequate even for cruising purposes. She also seemed to prefer lighter conditions, and was less sure how to behave when the wind picked up. A performance boat needs to be tuned and equipped like a performance boat in order to handle like one. Otherwise you’re trying to drive a sports car on four get-you-home spare wheels. I believe the Viko 35 has potential. She just needs the opportunity to show what she can do.