Costing from £23,000, the Viko 21 seems remarkably good value – but what does she offer apart from economy? David Harding investigates
For a 21ft (6.4m) trailable cruiser, the Viko 21 has attracted a good deal of attention since she landed in the UK.
This was clearly a boat that I had to sail: people wanted to know what she was all about.
The reason for the unusually high level of interest was simple. Here was a four-berth weekender with an almost unbelievable price tag.
How could anyone build such a boat for the money?
She’s vast down below too, yet her sharp lines, vertical stem and notably fine entry hint of a sporty pedigree.
That’s no surprise when you learn that she comes from the drawing board of Sergio Lupoli, the man responsible for, among others, the Comet 26 and 31 built in Italy by Comar Yachts.
I saw the Comet 26 at the Düsseldorf Boat Show, at a time when a well-established yacht dealership in the UK was looking to add her
to their range.
Sadly this never happened, but what has happened is that Viko used the hull of the Comet 31 to produce the Viko 30.
This cooperation has now resulted in the new Viko 26.
But let’s return to the Viko 21. Achieving space, pace and grace within such a short length will always be a challenge and, to be fair, the Viko does have rather towering topsides.
She looks like the bow section of a 42-footer that’s been chopped in half.
She sends out an interesting variety of messages.
One consequence of this high freeboard and wide stern is enormous interior volume.
So if you want a 21-footer that’s extraordinarily inexpensive, light enough to be easily trailed (she weighs around 950kg, or just over 2,000lb in proper money) and roomier than many 25-footers, this is a boat you can hardly ignore.
If you think £23,000 is more than you’ve seen her advertised for, that’s because it’s for the UK specification.
The Viko has been promoted elsewhere with a spec that’s pared down to – or arguably below – the absolute minimum, whereas over here she comes with a number of items that most owners would deem essential.
Add a 5hp outboard for around £1,000, then tick a few boxes on the options list, and you’ll soon be into the mid-20s.
On the day before we went for a sail, the wind was also into the mid-20s.
We had been trying to get afloat for a long time, but pinning down a Viko to take for a spin proved to be a challenge.
Boats that arrived in the UK were despatched to their new owners as soon as they landed: they simply didn’t hang around.
It looked at one point as though a fin-keeler might have been in residence with the dealer for a while, but it too disappeared in short order.
Besides, since the centreplate version is by far the most popular, it made sense to test one of those.
Like many Polish designs, the Viko 21 comes with multiple choices of keel design: the standard flat steel centreplate, a fixed fin with a bulb, or a bulbed fin that lifts vertically.
The latter two will enhance performance significantly, being appreciably deeper, heavier, profiled sections of higher aspect ratio and with a lower centre of gravity.
The centreplate, on the other hand, gives the shallowest draught, is easier to lift than the lifting fin and will swing up if it hits the bottom.
It accounts for just 40% of the ballast, the rest being internal.
Given that buyers of a boat like this are unlikely to be obsessive about speed or tacking angles, its popularity comes as no surprise.
When everything finally came together for our sail, the flat water and offshore breeze of between 12 and 17 knots would have made no serious demands on any boat, but at least the gusts were enough to push the Viko 21 just a little.
She proved undemanding to sail as we made upwind with mid-4s showing on the log.
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We tacked through an acceptable if unremarkable 90° remaining agreeably light and the rudder blade retaining its grip until we pushed her to near gunwale- awash.
That’s a lot of heel on a boat with this much freeboard.
When she did break free from the rudder, she rounded up gently into but not through the wind; no full-on ‘French broach’ of 180°.
For all her docility this is a boat that, perhaps ironically given her target market, does make some demands on the crew.
As is often the case with Polish trailer-sailers, the mast and standing rigging were about as slim as they could be.
This keeps weight and windage to a minimum, which is a good thing – vital, in fact, with a boat that doesn’t have a lot of low-down ballast to help keep her on her feet.
At the same time, it means the rigging really does need to be kept up to tension, because a boat that’s not the stiffest is going to be more sensitive to the heel-inducing consequences of forestay sag.
Tensioning the backstay is of limited help in these circumstances because it makes the cap shrouds even slacker: tight caps are the answer.
The sails weren’t too bad a cut. They were let down by stiff, un-tapered battens in the mainsail and a cloth that, as you often find on budget-priced boats, felt light and highly resinated.
I couldn’t help wondering how long they would hold their shape.
Once sails start to stretch, heel will increase as performance decreases, and the effects will be more noticeable with a boat that doesn’t have a lot of power in reserve.
Even tensioning the luff of the jib is a challenge when you’re under way because the roller-reefing system comes with an integral halyard.
There’s no substitute for one that comes down the mast, though the integral system simplifies trailer-sailing.
Elsewhere in the rigging department, I think every Polish trailer-sailer I have ever sailed has misaligned swagings on the standing rigging, and the Viko 21 is no exception.
None of these points is by any means unique to the Viko.
They just mean that you need to be aware of them: keep the rigging tensioned, replace the sails the moment the draught starts to creep aft, and be aware of the need to depower the rig when the wind picks up.
It was easy to induce excessive heel and I would be concerned that some owners might lack the sailing skills to get her going.
You can use the single reef point in the mainsail and take a few rolls in the jib, only you’ll then find the sheet lead is too far aft and sail shape will be further compromised.
And you can’t reef those topsides.
Much of the hardware on deck is from familiar brands.
Spinlock supply the two XAS clutches each side, the winches are Lewmar 7s and some of the blocks are Selden.
The stainless-steel work is of typically neat Polish design and finish.
This includes the (optional) pivoting mast heel for easy raising and lowering of the rig. A 4:1 mainsheet is taken to a raised plinth on the cockpit sole, the plinth extending aft to form a foot-brace for the helmsman.
This is presented as a sit-in boat: no tiller extension is provided, and removable backrests (£540 extra) slot into the inboard edge of the coamings.
My inclinations would be to save the £540, invest in a tiller extension and helm from the coaming.
On the other hand, the coaming is so close to the single guardwire that, as so often on small boats, you couldn’t angle your torso back far enough to counter the effects of gravity once the boat starts to heel.
Dipping underneath and outboard of the guardwire would be the answer, as on the Haber 620.
On our test boat, the netting to help keep the owner’s dog on board would have made that difficult.
We shouldn’t forget that this is not sold as a performance boat, so let’s not get carried away.
She’s sensitive to crew weight, however, and in any breeze that means keeping your weight as far to windward as you sensibly can.
Simple geometry means that the higher up the crew’s weight in relation to the boat’s beam, the sooner it comes into line with the centre of buoyancy as the boat heels and, therefore, the sooner it begins to induce heel rather than counter it.
I was reminded of this in no uncertain terms when I went forward and stood on the boom to take a shot of the deck and cockpit.
The precarious angle of heel that resulted encouraged me to hop down and aft again without delay.
There’s no arguing that high freeboard and easy-lift keels have their benefits, but you also need to understand their effects when you’re sailing.
Generally speaking, the smaller the boat the harder it is to make it do everything well. You choose according to your priorities.
Back in the cockpit, single-handed manoeuvres are simple enough if you’re coordinated.
The split pulpit means you need to give a sharp luff after a tack if the foot of the jib has got outside it, then sheet in before bearing away to a close-hauled course.
Just make sure you don’t get a riding turn around the winch, because it’s a fair distance from the car (which needs to be right at the forward end of the track).
Then you need to create some slack in the sheet abaft the winch to jam it in the cam cleat on the bulkhead.
It’s not slick, but it’s doable with two hands.
Occupying the double deck-organisers and clutches to starboard are the main halyard and centreplate line.
It’s not obvious how extra hardware could be fitted if, for example, you wanted to add spinnaker gear or lead the reefing pennants aft.
On the subject of the centreplate, it was notable that it clonked in its case even when we were sailing upwind.
Plates often clonk when the pressure comes off, downwind or when the boat’s rocking around at rest with the sails down.
Upwind it’s unusual. Matching clonking came from the rudder.
It looked to be a perfectly robust and neatly-made structure, with the stock and tiller in stainless steel in typical Polish fashion.
It’s just that there was play between the stock and everything to which it was attached: the hinge-up tiller, the blade and the transom brackets.
Combined with the boat’s slight tenderness, it contributed to a feel that wasn’t exactly taut and sporty; power, precision and positivity were rather lacking.
Fundamentally this is a design that has potential when it comes to sailing.
So is it unfair to mention some of these aspects of her performance, given that she’s unlikely to be bought by people planning to thrash around exposed headlands against 30-knot headwinds?
The important thing is to understand the boat’s limitations.
With a clean bottom, the outboard lifted well clear of the water, new (or still-good) sails and a crew who know what they’re doing, she’ll sail well enough for most people in undemanding conditions.
But give her a weedy bottom, a prop dragging through the water, slack rigging, sails that are poorly trimmed or past their prime, an inexperienced crew – any of these, in fact, let alone all – and I think she might start to struggle when the wind picks up.
None of these factors would help any boat, but some would have greater capacity than others to overcome them.
Stick to sheltered waters with the Viko 21, don’t ask too much of her, and enjoy the aspects of her design that other boat can’t match.
If you like the boat but want more power and performance, you should seriously consider one of the alternative keels.
Don’t underestimate the difference they can make.
Then make some mods to the rudder (the fin-keeler has a fixed blade anyway), upgrade the sails and ensure the rigging is tweaked up, and the boat would be transformed.
As for the other practicalities of her design – well, nothing major stands out on deck.
The deck sits on a return in the hull moulding that forms a low-level toerail, a bead of sealant running the length of the join.
You find an anchor locker in the bow and a half-height locker to starboard in the cockpit.
A stainless steel support for the mast is permanently bolted to the transom if you have the mast- raising system.
For a boat of her length, the Viko 21 offers an extraordinary amount of space.
You can’t stand up as you can on the Haber, for example, but the entire length of the hull is used.
The only enclosed space is the heads compartment if you choose it (£1,000 extra).
A tall bloke can just about fold himself inside, sit down and close the door.
At the foot of the removable companionway steps, you find yourself facing a lot of volume and not much else.
With minimal stowage it would be a question of living out of kitbags or doing some customising.
Narrow stowage troughs are outboard of the backrests in the saloon and there’s space beneath the forward berth.
Foam buoyancy is under the settee berths.
Opposite the heads is a small moulded galley unit.
I’m not sure I would consider electrically- pumped water to be vital on a 21ft weekender and I was also rather disconcerted to see a 13A socket just below the tap at the aft end of the galley.
A full interior moulding forms the basis of the accommodation. Above it, the hull sides are lined in vinyl.
The teak-and-holly-effect sole is bonded down and there’s a moulded headliner.
It’s simple, modular and, as you would expect, all pretty basic.
The finish is a bit tacky in places, but then you’re not paying top dollar.
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The outstanding features of the Viko 21 are the high volume and low price. But if you want features like this, you have to accept some compromises elsewhere. A builder of a boat of similar size told me that his materials alone cost more than the Viko sells for. In terms of the hull lines and sail plan, the basic design looks fine as long as you accept the implications of those towering topsides. The swing keel and budget specification do nothing for her sailing qualities but, as we’ve discussed, you could do something about both of those. I can’t over-stress the difference one of the alternative keels would make. Then either accept the boat as she comes, or spend a bit of time and money making some mods. What matters is that the basic structure is sound. It’s never easy to know that unless you witness (or have verified) every stage of the building process.Happy owners Given the rate at which the little Viko has been selling, plenty of owners are willing to accept what she has to offer. I spoke to one who, although admitting to limited sailing experience, was living aboard and was delighted. If there’s a boat whose price allows people to buy it and that then makes them happy, that can’t be bad.