GROW­ING UP VIK­ING

PAT HEALEY’S PAS­SION FOR BOATBUILDING IS IN­HER­ITED. HIS LOVE OF FISH­ING RUNS DEEPER

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS - BY GARY CAPUTI

Since he was a boy, fish­ing has been a driv­ing force in the life of Pat Healey, the head of Vik­ing Yachts. By GARY CAPUTI

It was the sec­ond day of the Stone Har­bor Yacht Club White Mar­lin In­vi­ta­tional, and I was with Pat Healey aboard a Vik­ing 72C, fresh out of the com­pany’s fa­cil­ity on the Bass River in New Gretna, New Jer­sey. The morn­ing be­gan with a 120-mile run to Tom’s Canyon from Cape May In­let, with Capt. Ryan Hig­gins at the helm while the rest of us slept in air-con­di­tioned com­fort. Most of the ac­tion took place mid­morn­ing, when the team hooked and re­leased a white mar­lin fol­lowed by a wild blue that the older of Healey’s two sons sub­dued. A cou­ple more whites, and the ac­tion died. At lines out, we were 115 miles from the in­let. The cock­pit was cleaned, the tackle stowed for what might have been a long ride back if we hadn’t been aboard a boat that cruises at 40 knots. Healey took the helm, giv­ing Hig­gins some bunk time. As we drew closer to the in­let, a new 68-foot cus­tom Carolina boat, re­puted to be the fastest in Cape May, started mov­ing up along­side. Healey pushed the throt­tles up a few rpm, and our speed in­creased to 42 knots, but the chal­lenger crept back along­side, threat­en­ing to pass. Healey wound up the MTU diesels a few more notches, and we shot to 45 knots as a smile over­shad­owed his game face. The Carolina boat started fall­ing back, then slowly re­gained ground. Healey gave the 72C its head — 48 knots — as the com­pe­ti­tion fell be­hind for the last time. Within hours, the Vik­ing’s un­de­ni­able per­for­mance was the talk of the docks. Healey, who is pres­i­dent and CEO of Vik­ing Yachts, is a per­fec­tion­ist: fiercely com­pet­i­tive and right­fully proud of the yachts his team turns out at a pro­duc­tion pace. He is equally com­pet­i­tive when Vik­ing’s fish­ing team, com­posed of em­ploy­ees, is on the bill­fish cir­cuit as part of Vik­ing’s demo-boat pro­gram. Tour­na­ments are key to test­ing and re­fin­ing Vik­ing mod­els, while ex­pand­ing cus­tomer out­reach, all be­cause as a kid, Healey couldn’t get enough of fish­ing.

A Nat­u­ral

“When I was 5, we lived two blocks from the beach on Wind­sor Av­enue in Cape May,” Healey re­calls. “There was a jetty at the end of the street where you could catch all the lit­tle [north­ern] king­fish you could ever want, but it took me four days of try­ing be­fore I caught one. I re­mem­ber my sinkers con­stantly get­ting stuck in the rocks, los­ing one rig af­ter an­other. But I was de­ter­mined, and when I fi­nally caught that fish, I put it in my beach pail and ran home to show ev­ery­one. It was the first fish I ever caught by my­self.”

His fa­ther, Bill Healey, was proud of his son but had lit­tle in­ter­est in fish­ing. He was a boat­builder with a post-world War II work ethic, squeez­ing as many hours as pos­si­ble into each of the six days a week he spent at the fledg­ling com­pany he’d pur­chased in 1964 with his brother, Bob. The com­pany was build­ing wooden boats aimed at the grow­ing cruis­ing mar­ket, and lit­tle thought was given to shift­ing pro­duc­tion to fish­boats. Even so, Bill Healey en­cour­aged his young son to pur­sue his new­found love of fish­ing.

“We lived on the sec­ond floor of a du­plex with my Un­cle Chappy and his fam­ily down­stairs,”

Healey says. “It was my un­cle who started tak­ing me on head­boats when I was 6. I re­mem­ber get­ting our rental rods, gold cans and cut squid for bait. It was mostly bot­tom fish­ing for sea bass, tog and floun­der, and I couldn’t get enough of it.”

Af­ter school, Healey would sweep the yard floors and put­ter around the shops, get­ting to know the ship­wrights who worked for his fa­ther. Em­ployee Roy Zeritt was among those who be­friended him; to­day, at more than 80 years of age, he still works at Vik­ing. “Roy and I would fish for white perch in the brack­ish rivers and creeks,” Healey says. “We would whack ’em pretty good.” One of those rivers is vis­i­ble from the win­dow in Healey’s of­fice at Vik­ing Yachts.

“Then I got to know Kenny Wil­son, who also worked here and lived on the prop­erty in a dou­ble-wide trailer,” Healey says. “He would take me bass fish­ing. I was about 8, and we fished a lot to­gether for a few years.”

Through­out his school years, Healey’s in­ter­est in fish­ing grew. “I could never get enough of it.”

In 1976, the sum­mer he grad­u­ated from high school, he got a job as a deck­hand on the head­boats out of Wild­wood Crest. He made more than 100 trips aboard Capt. Jimmy Cic­chitti’s Starlight, and an­other 10 or more on the Cap­tain Blake. Jack Blake was a crusty old skip­per who had run the same boat for 25 or 30 years by the time Healey met him. “This was back be­fore the boats had an an­chor wind­lass,” Healey says, “and the skip­pers would laugh their asses off as all 140 pounds of me would try to pull the 40-pound an­chor by hand, get­ting bounced around the fore­deck in a sea. They would get on the P.A. and razz me in front of a boat full of cus­tomers, but it was good-na­tured fun.”

That sea­son on head­boats taught him what it was like to work long, hard days. The boats ran three trips a day, two half-day runs for fluke fol­lowed by a night blue­fish trip with chum that left the boat a mess. “Ev­ery day, whether the boats ran or not, we worked,” he says. “I re­mem­ber the first time the fore­cast called for a cou­ple days of rain and wind, think­ing, Great, no work to­day. But we were told to be at the boat to wash, scrub and de­tail it any­way. The cap­tain told us, ‘Don’t you boys know the dirt comes off eas­ier in the rain than it does in the hot sun?’ It was tough work, but it was fish­ing, and I loved it.”

First Boat

Healey was about 15 when his fa­ther gave him a 16-foot Thun­der­bird, built in the early ’60s with fins like the cars of the era. “It was just the skin of a boat, re­ally,” Healey says. “The wind­shield was gone, the seats, too. Just a fiber­glass shell with no en­gine, no con­trols and junk wiring, but I put it in the garage and went to work on it over the win­ter.”

He sanded and painted, found seats and had them up­hol­stered, in­stalled steer­ing gear and new wiring. A Vik­ing em­ployee found a 40-hp John­son that was 8 years old and had never been started. “That green-and-white mo­tor smoked like a son of a bitch, but we fished it all over Great Bay, catch­ing weak­fish with my bud­dies,” Healey re­calls. “Even­tu­ally, I got a trailer and my driver’s li­cense, and I’d take it to Cape May to catch tiderun­ners in Delaware Bay dur­ing their hey­day in the mid-’70s. We’d fill garbage cans with them as long as we could get shed­der crab to put on the Up­per­man buck­tails they fa­vored.”

Soon, Healey and a few co-con­spir­a­tors at Vik­ing started en­cour­ag­ing his fa­ther to build a fac­tory demo boat to use in tour­na­ments.

The com­pany had dipped its toe into the fish­boat mar­ket in 1972 with a 37-foot con­vert­ible of­fered in two con­fig­u­ra­tions. One had a small cock­pit and larger sa­loon, and the sec­ond had smaller ac­com­mo­da­tions and a larger cock­pit for fish­ing. Vik­ing called it the 37 Sport­fish, and Healey re­mem­bers fish­ing a few off­shore tour­na­ments on one that Vik­ing em­ployee Bill Cross owned. Healey was still in high school at the time, and his ear­li­est ex­pe­ri­ences off­shore left a last­ing im­pres­sion. Around that time, a new 35-foot Vik­ing fish­ing model caught the eye of Tom Hall, a sales­man for Giles and Ran­some, a distrib­u­tor that sup­plied en­gines to Vik­ing. Pow­ered by a pair of Cater­pil­lar 3208 diesels, the boat was fast for its time. Hall out­fit­ted it for off­shore fish­ing, named it Tom­cat and en­tered a few bill­fish tour­na­ments, bring­ing young Healey along as crew. And the hook for off­shore fish­ing was set for life.

Tar­get Bill­fish

“Our first real demo was a 1980 41-foot fly­bridge dad built with a for­ward-an­gled radar arch and Bi­mini top,” Healey says. “We would fold down the top so we could get sun while run­ning the boat. Back then, sun was good for you — not like to­day, when we’re sup­posed to wear sun­screen, gloves, long-sleeve shirts and buffs to pro­tect us from it. We fished that boat in some bill­fish tour­na­ments, and although we weren’t very good at it, at least we were there show­ing it off.

“We didn’t have a men­tor or knowl­edge­able cap­tain back then; we all shared du­ties, tak­ing turns at the helm, in the cock­pit, rig­ging baits,” he adds. “We did it all and learned along the way. We were young; we fished hard and gained a lot of re­spect from other boats be­cause we had fun do­ing it. It wasn’t un­til 1985, when Drew Mcdow­ell came on

the scene, that the demo pro­gram and tour­na­ment fish­ing got se­ri­ous. Drew had just got­ten his six-pack li­cense, so we put him at the helm and hired a re­ally good mate by the name of Craig Hurt.”

They rigged a new 48-foot con­vert­ible with tackle and elec­tron­ics, and it was a fast boat. They’d make the 100-mile run from Cape May to the Wash­ing­ton Canyon in three hours, just to get in on a hot bite. They were be­com­ing a team, mak­ing the mis­takes re­quired to im­prove and con­stantly get­ting more com­pet­i­tive. Along the way, Healey re­al­ized his best fit was in the cock­pit turn­ing the reel han­dle, as op­posed to turn­ing the steer­ing wheel. The helm be­came Mcdow­ell’s do­main, and he went on to be­come one of the top bill­fish cap­tains on the Midat­lantic coast. Be­tween tour­na­ments, he de­liv­ered new Vik­ings.

In 1985, the team made 20 trips off­shore; in 1987, it was 30 and climb­ing. They were com­pet­ing in bill­fish tour­na­ments through­out the Mid-at­lantic states, and Vik­ing was sell­ing more and more fish­boats. In 1987, Healey and his team won top boat in the White Mar­lin Open along with weigh­ing-in the sec­ond-place blue mar­lin. They went on to take sec­ond at the Big Rock Blue Mar­lin Tour­na­ment in More­head City, North Carolina, re­leas­ing three blue mar­lin, miss­ing out on first place by min­utes, not num­ber of fish caught.

“We won the 19th an­nual Vir­ginia Beach Bill­fish Tour­na­ment the next year,” Healey says. “The tour­na­ment was blown out on Fri­day, so we fished Satur­day and Sun­day. We got back to the dock at 6, ran to the awards din­ner, then hopped in a car to drive all night to be at Vik­ing the next morn­ing. I dragged my­self into work around 9 o’clock, saw my dad and told him, ‘You’re not go­ing to be­lieve it. We won the tour­na­ment.’

“With that, the veins in his neck popped out, and he reamed me out six ways to Sun­day for com­ing in to work late,” Healey says. “I was so flab­ber­gasted, I turned around and went home, leav­ing a few choice words in my wake. Fish­ing be­came a point of con­tention be­tween us af­ter that. He’d call my Un­cle Bob and tell him, ‘You’ve gotta slow him down on this fish­ing thing, these tour­na­ments. He’s gotta build boats.’ Years later, we would look back on that day and laugh, and he would tell me, ‘You called it right on this fish­boat stuff. That’s where the mar­ket was go­ing.’ ”

While Healey was bat­tling with his fa­ther over fish­ing, a Vik­ing fan who be­lieved in fish­ing tour­na­ments stepped in to sup­port him. “The demo pro­gram al­most died with the in­tro­duc­tion of the lux­ury tax in 1991 and the re­sult­ing drop in yacht sales that fol­lowed,” Healey says. “We couldn’t af­ford to have a fac­tory tour­na­ment boat. I was ap­proached by a great cus­tomer by the name of John Vid­inghoff who said he would buy a 45, then a 50, 53 and 55 and bring us along to cam­paign the boats on the tour­na­ment cir­cuit on Vik­ing’s be­half. He was as good as his word, and I fished with him for al­most 10 years; the boats were all called the Fish­in­hoff.”

Build a Bet­ter Boat

Af­ter the lux­ury tax was re­pealed, Vik­ing cre­ated a host of new mod­els that re­de­fined sport­fish­ing yachts. Healey reignited the demo pro­gram, which now cam­paigns two boats on the East Coast, fish­ing a cir­cuit of tour­na­ments from Cape May to the Florida Keys. They also par­tic­i­pate in events on both coasts of Mex­ico and in Cen­tral Amer­ica.

Fish­ing be­came the sta­ple for Vik­ing Yachts as Healey took on more re­spon­si­bil­ity for boat de­sign and mar­ket­ing. Un­der his di­rec­tion as vice pres­i­dent and, later, pres­i­dent, the boats got big­ger and more re­fined in both per­for­mance and crea­ture com­forts. He built a team of naval ar­chi­tects, en­gi­neers and pro­duc­tion spe­cial­ists, and ex­panded the man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties. “Re­gard­less of the pres­sure from my dad, I was truly self-mo­ti­vated,” he says. “I love fish­ing and build­ing fish­boats. Be­ing on the tour­na­ment cir­cuit helped us bet­ter iden­tify our mar­ket, our cus­tomers and what they wanted, and we’d re­spond ac­cord­ingly. And I got to do what I en­joyed most: fish for mar­lin and sail­fish.”

The Masters

In 1964, John Ry­bovich came up with the con­cept for an an­gler-cen­tric bill­fish tour­na­ment that be­came known as The Masters. Com­pet­ing an­glers fish a dif­fer­ent boat each of the three or four days, and the boats are picked by lot­tery. It’s one an­gler to a boat with two rods in the wa­ter, and only the an­gler can touch the rods. Once a fish is hooked, the an­gler fights the fish un­aided by the boat. No back­ing down. The cap­tain can only spin the boat to square it to the fish.

“Of all the tour­na­ments I have fished, I am most proud of my in­volve­ment in The Masters,” Healey says. “It’s a dif­fer­ent con­cept. You’re no longer fish­ing as a team but as a lone an­gler head-to-head against a field of great fish­er­men. I started fish­ing the event in the ’90s, af­ter it had been moved from Palm Beach to Can­cun be­cause the fish­ing slowed so much in Florida. I re­ally loved the con­cept and the com­pe­ti­tion. When I started fish­ing it, I was the youngest guy in com­pe­ti­tion; now I’m one of the more se­nior an­glers. I won it twice, fin­ished sec­ond once and third two more times. I re­cently stepped down af­ter a 10-year stint on the board, and one of my goals was, and re­mains, bring­ing younger an­glers into the event.”

Healey says he is for­tu­nate to have ac­cu­mu­lated so much off­shore ex­pe­ri­ence. “I didn’t be­come a mar­lin fish­er­man over a five-year pe­riod; it was over 25 years of be­ing on the wa­ter,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to go from 20 days a year out of New Jer­sey in the be­gin­ning to 80 days a year chas­ing mar­lin and sail­fish all over the world.”

Home Wa­ters

When asked about his fa­vorite fish­ing des­ti­na­tion, Healey thought about it for a few min­utes and came back with a pre­dictable an­swer. “Los Sueños in Costa Rica is prob­a­bly my fa­vorite right now be­cause of the in­cred­i­ble sail­fish­ing in the win­ter, the spec­tac­u­lar blue mar­lin fish­ing on the FADS in the sum­mer, and all the great crews that are there,” he says. “The best of the best. The big­gest prob­lem is it’s a thou­sand miles away, and while I can go and fish for five or six days, I have to fly home and go back to work.”

Then he added a sur­pris­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion. “The place where I thor­oughly en­joy fish­ing more than any­where else is right here in the Mid-at­lantic,” he says. “With the right con­di­tions, the right pre­vail­ing winds, the mar­lin fish­ing is just as good here as any­where in the world. It’s more con­sis­tent than Costa Rica. We can have 20-bite white mar­lin days here ev­ery sea­son. We can catch big blue mar­lin here and reg­u­larly do, ev­ery sea­son. And it’s no fuss for me. Fish a few days, jump in the car and drive less than an hour from Cape May, and I can sleep in my own bed.”

Healey en­joys all kinds of fish­ing as long as it’s light tackle and some­thing is pulling drag. And he’s al­ways had a boat. Af­ter the 16foot Thun­der­bird came a 17-foot Well­craft with the bot­tom bro­ken out of it, which was bought from an in­sur­ance com­pany. He fixed the 17-footer and fished it af­ter high school, from age 18 into his

20s, when he went to St. Joseph’s Univer­sity in Philadel­phia.

In 1990, he bought a 1966 Al­glas Wa­hoo cen­ter con­sole, re­ju­ve­nated it and used it to “whack the striped bass” in the in­lets near his home on Great Bay, near At­lantic City, New Jer­sey. “That was the boat I first took my sons, Sean and Justin, fish­ing on,” Healey

says. “We would crush floun­der in the bay. I started them at a young age, and it in­spired them to be­come great fish­er­men in their own right. They are ex­cel­lent striper fish­er­men and love fish­ing the lo­cal floun­der tour­na­ments.”

The next boat was a 1998 26-foot Reg­u­la­tor that com­pany own­ers Joan and Owen Maxwell cus­tom­ized for Healey, adding a teak helm pod with sin­gle-lever con­trols, just like those used aboard a Vik­ing. Then came a 31-foot Jupiter that he up­graded at the com­pany ma­rina and, most re­cently, a 35-foot Con­tender cen­ter con­sole parked be­hind his houses in South Jer­sey in the sum­mer and Florida in the win­ter.

Healey bought his sons their first boat when they were 11 and 12, a tired, old 13-foot Bos­ton Whaler. “It was a wreck, so when I gave them the boat, I gave them each a tool­box along with room at the ma­rina where they could fix it them­selves,” Healey says. “We put a 25-hp Yamaha on it and named it Dou­ble Trou­ble.”

To­day, the boys have a 25 Con­tender bay boat and use it to ter­ror­ize the fish in the South Jer­sey es­tu­ar­ies, when they aren’t on one of the Vik­ing demo boats fish­ing the bill­fish cir­cuit.

Healey’s wife, Leanne, is also an ex­cel­lent an­gler and has caught ev­ery­thing from in­shore stripers and floun­der to off­shore bill­fish. She also loves tak­ing cock­tail cruises around the bay when Healey doesn’t have the boat out fish­ing. And their daugh­ter, Kaytlin, is in pos­ses­sion of the Whaler, which was re­named Sweet Thing in her honor. “I need to look out my back win­dow and see a boat,” Healey says. “It helps me keep my san­ity.”

Sean and Justin are re­cent col­lege grad­u­ates and work­ing at Vik­ing, learn­ing the way their fa­ther did, spend­ing time at ev­ery level of the op­er­a­tion, hav­ing started at the bot­tom sweep­ing the floors. Like their fa­ther, they are full of ideas for new Vik­ings. And when it comes to fish­ing, they just can’t get enough.

Healey’s ob­ses­sion with bill­fish was 25 years in the mak­ing. White mar­lin re­main a fa­vorite.

The Vik­ing fish­ing team is com­posed of Healey and com­pany em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing his two sons. Off­shore fish­ing has served as prov­ing grounds for the boats.

Healey’s love of off­shore fish­ing started when he was a teenager.

Healey’s sons, Justin (left) and Sean, fish hard and are now part of the fam­ily busi­ness.

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