by Dave Ferrell
To build any boat from scratch is a magical thing. Having the gumption to take a big pile of your own money and turn it into a pile of materials that you intend to turn into a boat goes way beyond my perception or capabilities. Taking another fella’s money and trying to do it for the first time must spin the term “nerve wracking” to incredible new heights. Nevertheless, there’s always a few pioneers who step up and make something new that the boat-building industry just can’t ignore. Here’s an example of a boat that made a difference.
Viking Yachts, 40 Convertible
Viking Yachts started when brothers Bob and Bill Healey bought Peterson-Viking Builders, a small, struggling New Jersey builder of 37-foot, wooden sportfishing boats in 1964. Today, Viking represents perhaps the premiere builder of semi-custom fiberglass yachts in the industry, with over 4,000 Vikings delivered to date. When you’ve been building boats for over 55 years, you’re bound to experience more than one game-changing milestone…and Viking Yachts has managed to revolutionize the world of sportfishing boats several times over during the five decades it’s been in business.
“The boat that propelled us the most towards where we are today is probably the 55. It catapulted us to the 61, 65 and 74…and those four boats became icons. But the 40/41 took us from being a wooden boat builder into fiberglass,” says Patrick Healey, President and CEO of Viking Yachts. The company’s very first foray into fiberglass, in 1968, didn’t start out all that promising, however.
“They started out ass backwards,” says Healey with a laugh. “They were building 38-footers with a fiberglass top and a fiberglass flybridge, but with a wooden bottom. They didn’t trust the strength of fiberglass for the hull, so they kept making the oak-planked hull. You couldn’t beat that oak-planking for strength at that time, but it was just so heavy. They built 33 of those boats and they all sported our version of the deep-v. But at 33 feet, you needed a whole lot of horsepower to get it up and going. Once it got up it could run through anything, but with 454s Cruisader and Mercruiser gas engines, you didn’t have the low-end torque to get all that weight going…so they started on the 40-footer. And that’s when Bruce Wilson came along. He worked with Bill Hall and they both came up with the modified-v. And that was hull number one for the 40.”
“They built the plug out of wood and then put two engines in the plug and ran it. They used a bunch of aluminum fuel tanks filled with water to simulate the approximate finished weight and then ran the boat in the Great Bay. It popped right up on plane and the bottom performed as it should. They then waited for a rough and ran the plug in the inlet. It was just center console with a wooden platform built with a steering wheel, throttles and gauges, and they ran it and it was an incredible sea boat. This was a much better bottom than the 33 and it eventually became the 41 with just a few modifications,” says Healey.
Those lighter, stronger all-fiberglass 40-footers made their debut at the 1973 New York Boat Show and became an instant hit. “We just got the mold done for the flybridge at Christmas, and I was just 12 or 13 at the time watching it come out,” says Healey. “It was a big deal for everyone, all of our cards pushed into the table. That boat stayed in production from 1973 until 1982, and the 41 was produced from 1983 to 1989. Between the two models we sold over 600 boats. At the peak of its popularity we were building one boat every five days!”
Viking continues to thrive by constantly changing with the times. “You have to reinvent what you’re doing to stay successful in this business,” says Healey. “You have to design and engineer your success, and that’s where our success came from. That 40 was the first boat that did for us. I’ve been here full time since the late 70s and it’s been neat to see all of the evolutions. And we are still excited about building a better boat every day and designing something no one has ever seen before.”