A beat-up 13-foot Boston Whaler gave third-generation boatbuilding brothers Sean and Justin Healey their first taste of fishing freedom in the coastal waters around Ocean City, N.J., at around age 12. Other fishing boats joined the Healey family through the years, including a couple of Wahoos, a Regulator, a Jupiter and a Contender.
Growing up the sons of Viking Yacht Co. president and CEO Pat Healey and grandsons of the brand’s co-founder Bill Healey, Sean and Justin have never been far from the water, or the New Gretna, N.J., factory where Vikings have been built for 55 years. Now they’re stepping up.
The brothers have spent the last couple of years developing a new brand called Valhalla Boatworks, which will build high-performance offshore center consoles. A sister company of Viking Yacht Co., Valhalla in September launched three models, the V-33, V-37 and V-41, into what continues to be a booming segment.
The models are the result of nearly 20 years of research, development, and waiting for the right time to launch into the market. “This isn’t something we suddenly decided to do,” says Sean. “Don Gemmell, a member of our design team, and my dad started thinking about these boats 17 years ago. They drew up a couple of designs and wrote a business plan.” Unfortunately, Sean adds, an economic downturn forced the project to the back burner. “It just wasn’t the right time, so they shelved the idea,” he says.
In 2016, Viking Yachts purchased the Ocean Yachts property near the Mullica River in Egg Harbor City, N.J. and began building its 37 Billfish there. With the purchase of the new facility, Sean and Justin floated the idea with their father of building the new line of center consoles there. By 2017, they convinced their dad it was time to move forward with the creation of Valhalla Boatworks.
“I was at the Miami boat show in 2018, and I saw Michael Peters of Michael Peters Yacht Design walking down the dock,” Pat said. “I asked him, ‘What’s your workload look like?’”
Peters, who had designed the running surfaces on Viking’s motoryachts, told Healey he was between projects. “How’d you like to design three center console boats with me?” Pat asked.
The rest, Healey says, is history.
Healey said he and his sons wanted the new Valhalla models to run on stepped hulls. “That’s where we see the future of center console boats heading, and Michael Peters’ innovative Stepped V Ventilated Tunnel is a perfect match for these new boats,” Pat said.
Trade Only Today joined Viking Yacht director of communications Chris Landry for a tour of Valhalla Boatworks’ Mullica facility. Workers are prepping resin infusion lines for the boats’ structural grids, hulls, and other components. The boats are 100 percent composite; there’s no wood in the hulls.
“We’re doing all of the hull, structural grid and deck assembly here,” Landry said, “but we’re manufacturing pipework, hardtops and some other components at our New Gretna facility, which allows us to take advantage of our vertical integration and economy of scale.”
The Mullica production line looks well-organized for being so new. “The boys had a large responsibility getting this all up and running,” Landry said. “They spent a lot of late nights not only on the designs and features of these boats, but also getting the factory up and running.”
Sean and Justin said they have spent a considerable amount of time over the years working at the New Gretna plant inside, outside, and upside-down in boats. “We’ve been coming to the plant since we were little kids,” Sean says. “I think we both came out of the womb wearing Viking shirts,” he jokes.
“Our grandfather would drop everything when we came up to the plant as kids,” Justin adds. “His and my father’s passion for the business was totally contagious. We got the ‘Build a Better Boat Every Day’ bug early on.”
The brothers performed virtually every job on the line as they grew into the family business, from laminating fiberglass and spraying gelcoat to doing joinery work and installing heads.
“You can’t ask an employee to do a job if you’re not willing to do it yourself,” Justin said. “It’s really important to our family that the employees feel valued and know that you’re in it as much as they are.”
Justin and Sean were closely involved with the creation of the Valhalla models, as were Viking vice president of design and engineering Lonni Rutt, design manager David Wilson and Southeast sales manager Ryan Higgins. “There were lots of late nights and weekends getting the plant set up, doing design work and just making it all fit and work,” Justin said, “but it’s all been highly rewarding.”
Out on the water, the boats planed easily, ran as fast as 65 knots and cruised comfortably over a moderate current-driven inlet chop. When Sean pulled the V-41 into a turn at 35 knots, the design advantages became apparent. Spinning around with the helm hard over, the boat felt as if it were on rails. Making this happen with a stepped hull is unusual. Done wrong, stepped hulls can lose grip with the water in tight turns.
“We had a great team involved in this whole process, but Sean and Justin put their hearts into it,” Pat Healey said. “As a father, it was great to watch.”
“They’ve worked up the company line just like I did,” Healey added. “No free rides. You’ve got to earn your way in our company.”
The new brand has already sold 70 hulls, with more orders being taken. The three Valhallas will be shown at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Sean and Justin are excited about what the future holds for Valhalla Boatworks. “My brother and I are proud of what we and the team accomplished here,” Sean said, “and we can’t wait to introduce more models.”