A second-generation boatbuilder, Pat Healey heads up Viking Yacht Co. as its president and CEO. The company is family owned and operated, with plants spanning some 800,000 square feet on the banks of the Bass River in New Gretna, New Jersey, and on the Mullica River, a short ride from the bright lights of Atlantic City. In its last fiscal year alone, Viking built 79 sport-fishing boats, from 37 to 93 feet, and it’s on track to continue its tremendous success in 2018 and beyond.
What were your first jobs when your father, Bill, and uncle Bob Healey started Viking Yachts in 1964? Viking was building wooden boats back then. I was probably 10 years old and would come to the factory with my father on Saturdays. My first job was in the green oil department: The insides of the hulls needed multiple coats of green wood preservative, so I used a big paint brush on a long stick and slopped the thin oil everywhere so it would be absorbed into the grain of the wood. I plugged the teak decks and was taught that each plug needed to have the grain going in the right direction, and I also packed oakum yarn between the hull planks with a putty knife.
Did you know right away boatbuilding would be your career? Pretty much. And any time I complained about how hard the work was, my father told me a thousand times that growing up in a boatyard was better than being on an iron pile, which is how he and my uncle Jerry grew up. When I bitched, my father would ask, “So, you want to go to the iron pile? Come on, I’ll take you to Uncle Jerry.”
Which departments have you worked in? During high school and college, I worked throughout the summer months and part time when I could, and I worked in all aspects of boatbuilding. I spent 10 years full time in production, and enjoyed the fiberglass work because I was a surfer and fixing surfboards was a given in my early teen years. But I also fixed up old boats — Wellcrafts and other rehabs. I wanted to learn how to do all this, and I enjoyed it. I spent a lot of time in mechanical setups and basically went through the whole company. Eventually, Rudy Dalinger put me in charge of the trim section and I worked there for about three years. I became a service supervisor and finally went into sales.
How did Hatteras and Bertram influence Viking designs? My father would wake me up before the crack of dawn when we were at the boat shows in New York, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and we would study the Hatteras and Bertram displays. They had a lot of great ideas, and each time we came away with improvements. We always built a great boat, from the early 1970s, but our boats had what I call a Jersey style, while the others had their North Carolina and South Florida looks. They had that panache. So we set out to change the style, and it began appearing in our 35-, 41- and 46-foot convertibles. We could sell boat for boat with Hatteras and Bertram in the Northeast, but they would kick our ass everywhere else.
What is the driving force at Viking? To build a better boat every day, a mantra my father came up with a long time ago. We strive to out-design, out-build and out-service everyone. In 1995, I was the vice president of sales overseeing marketing, sales and service. My father and I were butting heads on design. I wanted to incorporate the ideas of the younger members of our team. We were hardcore fishermen. So in 1996, my father gave us a shot with Bruce Wilson and his son David, Drew McDowell, Lonni Rutt and me. We reviewed the custom boatbuilding world and took those great features that were focused on chasing billfish around the world and incorporated those into the Viking 55 Convertible. In the fall of 1997, we launched our first 55. By the time the boat appeared at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, we had sold the first 20 hulls. It became one of the most successful boats in our history and accomplished an equally important mission of delivering the boats on time, which to this day remains a company benchmark.
How do you stay in touch with your customers? We are all eyes and ears at fishing tournaments and boat shows. We are still learning every day. If we can tweak something to make it better, we do. It could be changing the layout of the mezzanine or tackle center, fine-tuning the livewell so you don’t lose bait, or tweaking the props. We stay on top of everything we build.
So rather than chase success, you make it happen. To be successful, you surround yourself with the right people. That box is checked: We have the best. You need to stay current on available materials and methods used to build the boats to make them stronger, lighter, more fuel efficient and faster with available horsepower. It’s important to be on the leading edge, whether it’s in fiberglass, resins, generator technology, steering or electrical systems. It’s important to build boats that are Seakeeper ready, which we have done for the past 10 years. Knowing the next big item in the industry helps us build that better boat. We spend $12 million a year in our research and development, and that is a critical investment over the long haul.
How has the Viking acquisition of the former Ocean Yachts plant played out? Ocean’s John Leek III wanted to retire, and he approached me about acquiring his 100,000-square-foot facility, which is only 9 miles from New Gretna, and I didn’t think twice. But I wanted two things in addition to the plant: the 37 Billfish, because it was a nice design although it never had a real chance to be successful because of the timing of its introduction in 2008. I also wanted John Leek IV to come work for Viking because he is an outstanding boatbuilder. In our first full year, we built 35 Vikings in that facility, from 37 to 52 feet. The plant, which we call Viking Mullica, allows us to free up space on our four production lines in New Gretna for our larger convertibles as well as our line of motoryachts.
What does Viking have in store for the 2018 model year? The 68 Convertible premiered at our VIP Preview and then again at the Miami International Boat Show. We also have a new 44 Open and Convertible, as well as a 68-foot Enclosed Bridge on the way.
Who do you admire in the industry? I look up to the boatbuilders. They know who they are because I shake their hand and give them a hug and say there are not many of us left. That’s who I admire. We need more boatbuilders to keep this industry going.
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What is your favorite type of fishing? My favorite is billfishing, but right behind it is striper and flounder fishing. I just enjoy a bent rod. The reason I enjoy billfish so much is the interaction with all the other teams on the dock. There is nothing like it: the camaraderie, having a beer on the dock box in the afternoon, eating a slice of pizza in the cockpit, rigging baits till midnight, working on the boat. All the challenges that go along with tournament and fun fishing are just awesome. I have the same passion for stripers and flounder, but there’s more at stake when you’re billfishing. It’s a bigger rush.