Jake Frith test sails a surprisingly keenly priced trailer sailer in the company of both the guy that sold it and the guy that bought it.

Three to six months is the hump to get over for new boat ownership. It’s long enough to take the showroom sheen off a purchase, the owner will have broken a thing or two on board, the storage bills will be coming in thick and fast and many of the boat’s foibles or failings will have made themselves known. It’s also getting towards autumn if you bought it in the spring.

So conducting a ‘new boat test’ in the company of its nearly new owner and hearing what they have to say about it after some months of ownership should, in theory, be much more illuminating than venturing out in an utterly pristine example fresh out of the mould.

It was with this in mind that we met for a sail with Paul Simmonds, proud first owner of Gi Gi, a four month old, Polish-built Viko S21 on the second hottest day so far of a record-settingly hot summer of 2022.

The Viko S21 hit the UK market in 2017 to gasps of incredulity surrounding its price. Here was 21 foot (6.4m), very spacious, entry level family cruiser, with pretty, contemporary, wedgy styling and an aft double berth for the seemingly unachievable price of £23,000 in the UK.

It begged the question of ‘what’s missing when it arrives?’ Sails? Winches? Berth cushions? Its keel? One UK boatbuilder was even heard to utter that his materials cost alone was more than £23,000 for a similar length boat.

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The Viko S21 does come with all those things, although not a lot more, and despite the fact that its base price has now risen to north of £29,000 with the ‘comfort pack’ and keel featured here, it’s still, undeniably, a lot of boat for the money.

It also swims in a pond with not very much competition. If you don’t particularly want a ‘modern gaffer’, but you want a four-berth sailing cruiser for short passages, overnighting, trailer sailing and perhaps a little informal club racing, but you don’t want to buy secondhand, there is not a lot out there.

I’m a Swift 18 owner, and have asked myself many times over the years why well-packaged little four-berth cruisers that you could have a hoot in for a week on the Norfolk Broads with a small family, simply aren’t made any more. The answer the boatbuilding industry always gave me was value for money, or lack of it.

It seems that small boats need to be sold for very nearly as much as medium sized boats, and if you think about it that does stand to reason. The fittings count is nearly the same, so the savings are really just a few bucket loads of resin and a bit less aluminium, stainless steel and Dacron, making a 20ft boat look exceptionally pricey next to a 30 foot boat that’s additionally capable of much more usable passage speeds.

Could the little Viko S21 be one answer to this conundrum, I wondered? Could it, through the wheeze of eastern European volume manufacturing, unlock the joys of reasonably priced, small boat family adventures to those who were beginning to think that all those capers had died with the Millennium Bug?


All photos: Jake Frith

Three keels: Three boats

The Viko S21 is available with a lifting flat steel-hinged centreplate keel as standard, but for an additional £1,290, buyers can opt for the fixed bulb keel variant, or at £1,754, the lifting bulb keel version we sailed here. These are all RCD Category C boats. This rating is for boats operating in ‘coastal waters and large bays and lakes’ with winds to Force 6, up to 27 knots, and significant seas 7ft (2.1m) high.

So we can take this to mean ‘estuaries and coastal’, and bear in mind that while I’d happily sail this boat to France with a decent forecast, I might have some awkward questions to answer upon making landfall there.

Talking to Hein Kuiper from South Coast Viko dealer Boats On Wheels, the three keels display very different characteristics: “The two lifting keel variants especially are chalk and cheese. The standard centreplate configuration is lovely as a lake boat. It’s the easiest by far to tow, set up and sail. The plate retracts entirely flush with the hull so the boat floats in ankle deep water and dries out flat.


The lifting keel is snuggly supported between nylon rollers

“It hinges back if you hit anything and also makes trailering much easier, and as most of the boat’s ballast is in the hull, lifting the relatively lightweight plate up is easy work.

“But the lifting bulb keel version has much better performance in a blow or in coastal conditions.

“Apart from pointing better and sailing flatter, the lifting bulb keel’s 450kgs also helps the boat retain more momentum, punching better through chop upwind.”

PBO tested the centreplate version when the boat came out in the UK in 2017, and found that, unreefed, it would round up in relatively light conditions.

While ballast ratios are not the whole picture, they provide a useful comparison of otherwise identical boats, with the lifting bulb giving a ratio of 41% and the centreplate keel 32%.

It’s important to note that apart from the ballast’s lighter weight and higher location, the centreplate is a flat plate with profiled edges, so hydrodynamically inferior to the profiled keels of the bulbed variants.

In similar conditions to the 2017 test (13 knots average), I was unable to make the rudder of this lifting bulb keeled boat come close to letting go.


If it was my choice, I’d always go for the lifting bulb as the slightly deeper keel-up draft would be an insignificant price to pay for improved performance, and (I suspect) better future saleability as to my mind it’s clearly the ‘one to have’. On the fixed keel version, while it would presumably perform the best of the lot, my view would be that fixed keel 21ft boats are something of an anachronism as part of the joy of little boats for most people is accessing little (usually drying) harbours.

Not wishing to expend 1,000 words on keels, I’ll draw a line under this by pointing out that the lifting bulb on Gi Gi could not be made to rattle, bang, groan or otherwise make its presence known while sailing, motoring, tacking, gybing or heaving-to. Looking at the mechanism (through lifting a small inspection hatch in the saloon table top), the keel actuates between shaped nylon rollers fore and aft that appear to cradle it very well.

Sailing impressions

Paul uses an ePropulsion Spirit 1.0 Evo electric outboard and for reasons we couldn’t fully unpick, despite having two fully charged spare batteries onboard, liked to get a day’s sailing done on just one battery – no mean feat when it’s three miles from the boat’s berth in Swanwick Marina to open water. I actually began to enjoy these sub 3-knot shenanigans.


This boat motors with an EPropulsion Spirit 1.0 Evo electric outboard – fabulously quiet if you can live with the range

The limited electrons encouraged us to sail up and down the River Hamble, which was both pleasant and emotionally rewarding in a ‘post Covid/self-care/let’s not take on too much today’ type of way. The more that large yachts that hurried past us under their diesel engines, the happier these ‘Three Men in a Boat’ all, inexplicably, began to feel.

Once out in Southampton Water the sea breeze picked up with gusts of up to 18 knots apparent when sailing close hauled. The Viko range was penned by Sergio Lupoli, who has managed the design sorcery here of getting a very high freeboard into a relatively short boat without making something that looks like a wardrobe.

It doesn’t sail like a wardrobe either. The boat has a relatively beamy stern but only a single rudder, so I was heartened to see that as the boat heels to a gust, it only requires a very slight adjustment of the tiller to keep it on track.


Smiles all round on the second hottest day of the year

While it’s impossible to say how this would translate into progress on a windier day, I was left feeling that performing flawlessly ‘on a nice summer’s day’ is actually something that some boats of this size I’ve sailed before have struggled with.

Presumably though, once the boat gets to a certain angle of heel, that central rudder in the middle of a wide stern will ultimately get levered out, eventually eliciting a round-up, but we got nowhere near that stage with the wind we had.

Importantly, even as a somewhat jaded yachting journalist, I thoroughly enjoyed sailing this boat for a few hours. It was in its perfect conditions, reacted well to all inputs but was not so reactive as to be fatiguing.


Forestay and jib halyard tension were both a frustration, but this isn’t a high performance boat

With all that freeboard, she’s not an exceptionally close-winded boat, with a tacking angle of around 90 degrees but what she is, is exceptionally dry. We hit plenty of ship wakes over a metre high and not a drop of water came on deck at the bow, let alone back to the cockpit. We saw the high 4s (knots) for most of the day which is acceptable, if not exceptional progress for a boat of this size and type.

Comfort aboard is as important for Paul as performance. He works full time as a carer following a mid-life career change out of the stressful world of IT project management, gets to sail Gi Gi once a week, with his wife, friends or alone and has no more desire than I do to thrash to windward for six hours straight.

In his 60s, boats have been a part of Paul’s life on and off from childhood, when his dad, along with many thousands of others, built a Mirror dinghy, but it was only a visit to Southampton Boat Show last year and seeing the Viko S21 squashed gamely between 40 footers that finally made him consider owning a sailing cruiser of his own. For the first time, Paul saw a boat that looked like “OK value for money.”


Paul has found the Viko S21 a user friendly and manageable introduction to cruising yacht ownership

Something he could finally see himself owning, berthing, insuring, sailing without life changing financial upheaval. Paul had a Laser for a while in Spain in his youth, and has always got his fix of ‘bigger boats’ through regular delivery trips, charters and crewing for friends.

I think it’s quite a coup for the Viko S21 that it has done its bit to swell the ranks of cruiser owners. According to dealer Hein, it’s pulled that trick off a lot, with every Viko S21 he’s sold going to first time cruiser owners.

When I first saw Gi Gi, I privately scoffed at her cockpit backrests. Surely no serious sailor would opt for this £464 optional extra, that would only stop you from being able to sit out and sail the socks off the boat? But a day sailing the boat in 30+ degrees Celsius and I was a total convert, My back was barely off the things and I even began to idly wonder if I could make something similar for my own boat!


Owner, Paul Simmonds demonstrates the comfortable cockpit backrests

There are other areas where some performance is sacrificed for comfort or convenience that bothered me more. The forestay seemed very slack, but was only adjustable via the cap shrouds, so deemed too much like hard work in the oppressive heat.

The roller furling jib halyard, which was also markedly lacking in tension, returns back down to its tack, and I’d much prefer to have it go via a top swivel, down the mast and back to the cockpit like they do on grown-up boats. It would only be a matter of a few chandlery items to achieve this though.

On deck

The boat has a 7/8ths fractional rig with an adjustable backstay, and thanks to a relatively narrow mast section, putting tension on the backstay made a remarkably noticeable difference to the mast bend – a very useful tool to have in the box in the event of the wind picking up.

Gi Gi had an optional fully battened mainsail which looked like a bargain to me at £155 extra, but I wasn’t sure of the way the battens interacted with the mast on this boat. In the ‘gusts’ the sail filled out and the battens pulled clear of the mast making a better sail shape, but in very light winds, they didn’t and the batten ends protruded a little to windward of the luff groove spoiling the luff shape somewhat.


The backstay tensioner acts effectively on the 7/8ths fractional rig…

Pulling on an armful of backstay tidied the luff up, but who wants to flatten their mainsail when the wind is this light? Hein had arranged a Cunningham line and a second reefing point to be fitted to the sail; locally cheap fixes that he recommends for anyone using a Viko S21 in coastal waters.

The boat we tested had a transom-mounted stainless steel mast crutch fitted, somewhat surprising as Paul doesn’t want to trailer the boat anywhere. It’s definitely in the realm of personal opinion, but I found this construction a complete eyesore.

The tubing is a little narrow gauge to look anything other than fragile, and it’s positioned in a place where it often tempted crew (i.e. me) to lean on it whereupon it flexed and wobbled disconcertingly. I’d prefer it not to be there at all and I’d make something foldable and removable for a mast crutch if I owned the boat.

The stainless steel mast tabernacle hinges neatly about a pin aft of the mast heel, making the start of mast lowering or the end of mast raising a less noisy and fraught business than on many other boats.

A mast A-Frame can also be permanently fitted as an optional extra for committed and regular trailer sailers. Looking at the narrow mast section, I’d guess it’s an easy one-man job to raise or lower it.

It’s difficult to know how far you’d want to go on the various modifications that you could make to a Viko S21 before you enter the realms of ‘trying to make it something it’s not’. While its ballast ratio is commendable, let’s not forget that it has a lifting, transom-mounted, mousetrap-style lifting outboard bracket on the port side of a relatively wide transom.


…but there were some issues with the full length battens’ interaction with the mast

So on port tack, motorsailing out of trouble off a lee shore in choppy conditions, you might very well find you have propulsion that is at best sporadic and at worst non-existent as your propeller periodically pops out of the water to scream at you.

Because the large double aft berth is so central to the boat’s offering, it’s difficult to see how else the propulsion could be organised, so this will always act as a fundamental limitation to safe, any-weather auxiliary propulsion. Perhaps an electric propulsion pod (which in this case could be mounted behind the keel) could come to the rescue of small yachts with such dilemmas?

There are other things that I didn’t like from an offshore safety perspective, but that are doubtless acceptable for a Category C boat so they can’t be considered valid criticisms, more a pointing out of how things often are with such boats. For instance, the cabin sole moulding is integral to the boat and bonded in – so you cannot access the outer skin of the hull in the main part of the saloon.


The wide, gloss finished toerail area could use a roll or two of non slip tape

The outer hull skin is accessible through the (optional) heads compartment and under the forward vee berth (where transducers can be fitted), but if I was unlucky enough to hole the boat at its lowest point somewhere around the keel, I’d want to be able to pull up some bilge boards, fast, and obtain access to the damage. I guess I could keep an axe in the sink instead, although that would take even more explaining to the aforementioned French port officials.

Viko S21 accommodation

The interior is surprisingly pleasant. The plywood cabinetry looks suitably multi-layered and the open plan nature of it all gives owners something of a blank canvas. The woodwork will take some looking after and won’t last forever. I spotted some nibbles out of the edges of the uppermost veneers, especially around highly used areas such as the cabin table, and this was not an old boat.

As standard, the boat comes with ‘beige cushions in ecological leather’, presumably painlessly peeled from the ample hindquarters of a PVC cow, but Paul has opted for the ‘Comfort Pack’ with teak effect sole, toilet compartment, pumped water and softer chenille-look upholstery. His wife has created matching blue scatter cushions that set it all off nicely too. The boat comes as standard with a little 12V set-up with a fuse box and lights.


Small hull lights amidships let in a little natural light

There’s more space below than I’ve ever seen on a 21ft (6.4m) sailing boat. It’s all port berths, nothing suitable for sleeping on passage, but here I go again – precisely nobody is going to sail night watches aboard this boat.

The aft berth sleeps two, athwartships, and is best accessed after shifting the (removeable) companionway steps. The aft incumbent gets 6ft 3in of stretching-out space, the forward one a generous 6ft 6in.

Forward of that is a saloon settee berth area, that could house a child or two, and forward of that a vee berth that is tight at the bow but does provide 6ft+ in the length department for a pair of sleepers.


Looking towards the forward berths it’s easy to see the open plan nature of the Viko S21

There are a few stowage areas beneath the berth cushions but precious little locker space anywhere else. The headlining is fully future-proofed, ie. it hasn’t got one. The deckhead is lined with a wipe-clean gloss GRP surface that looks smart and like it will take very little looking after. A little table folds out around the keel box, but with only an optional single burner gas hob aboard, it’s not a boat for entertaining.

Paul’s slept several nights aboard with his son in the marina though and for two the accommodation is reported as palatial. Cooking-wise, it turned out that there are still plenty of good pubs in Swanwick.

Alternative boats

Cape Cutter 19
From £17,000 (used)

A tad smaller than the Viko, and of course with much less space below, the Dudley Dix designed Cape Cutter is a fellow RCD Category C four-berth cruiser. Sails better than some other modern gaffers and there is an active owners’ association.

Swallow Yachts Baycruiser 23
From £54,960

Water ballasted and with a carbon mast for responsive sailing and easy rigging, the Baycruiser is a quick launching quick sailing trailerable yacht. Packed full of unique and clever design features it’s built in the UK and a little larger than the Viko S21 so can’t really compete on price.

Parker 235
From £15,000 (used)

Back in the day, as far as reasonably seaworthy but small trailer sailers were concerned, the Parker range were the boats to go for. The 235 followed the Parker 21 and was built from 2001 and 2009. A 330kg vertically lifting keel helps performance but robs a lot of the interior volume. Still commanding strong values secondhand.


It was not long into our test sail that Paul dropped the bombshell that he’s selling his Viko S21, just four months into ownership. But this is not because boat ownership is not for him, more because it is for him. Paul has arranged a deal with Viko on one of their 30 footers and he’s arranged it at a price that means his time with the 21 has come at zero cost to him, apart from the berthing fees. A recent family charter on a 35-footer in the Ionian has shown Paul how much more sociable life can be on a bigger boat and the similarly stylish and clever packaging, but the larger platform of the Viko 30 has won him over. Bearing in mind the gateway to boat ownership that the S21 was designed to be, I couldn’t imagine a better endorsement than this. From my point of view, I’d love to see a more passagemaking-orientated version of the S21, possibly forgoing a big chunk of the double berth for a central outboard well mounted forward of twin rudders. But it would be more costly, would have lost one of the boat’s USPs (the aft double), almost nobody would buy it and it would therefore be idiocy for any manufacturer to make it. As it is, I couldn’t think of a much more pleasant place to be in 10 knots of breeze on the hottest day of the year and that itself is a great achievement, especially at the price they have done it.


Hull length:6.5m
Draft (min):0.5m
Draft (max):1.4m
Cabin headroom:1.65m
Sail area:23sqm
RCD category:C
Starting price:£29,304 (inc. VAT)