MULLICA TOWNSHIP — The Vikings have conquered the Mullica River. Now, they’re looking for help.
The owners of Viking Yachts, the high-end boatbuilders based in New Gretna, on the Bass River in Burlington County, recently closed on the purchase, for an officially reported $999,999, of the property and production lines of the former Ocean Yachts.
Those 80 or so acres and 88,000 square feet of buildings are off the Mullica River in the Weekstown section of Mullica Township, about 12 miles by road from Viking’s headquarters.
The owners call their latest addition Viking Mullica, but the Ocean Yachts name hasn’t disappeared from the water. In February, Egg Harbor Yachts announced the Egg Harbor City-based builder had bought Ocean Yachts’ trade name, engineering and most of its molds.
But Viking did get one model and mold based on an Ocean Yachts design as part of its property purchase. And in August, Viking started to build its first 37-foot Billfish models at Viking Mullica.
“We redesigned a number of things, changed some of the lines and the cockpit,” says Peter Frederiksen, a Viking spokesman. “We wanted to make sure people … knew right away it was a Viking.”
John Leek IV is general manager of the new Viking Mullica plant. He’s also the grandson of the late John Leek Jr., or Jack, who founded Ocean Yachts in 1977 near his home overlooking the Mullica River.
The 36-year-old general manager, who started working at Ocean Yachts as a kid, says he was closely involved in the family’s planning of the Billfish.
“I had a lot of pride in what (Ocean) did” with the boat, Leek says, standing in a production building where about 25 workers are now building those early Billfish models, on schedule for a February unveiling in Miami. “But I can honestly say that I’m really pleased with the changes they made. … We did it the Viking way.”
He’s also happy to say that many more workers are about to join that early crew, which includes the last 12 workers left at Ocean Yachts before the sale. As the first 37-footers get near the finish line, he expects to have 50 workers at Viking Mullica by December.
Plus, the company plans to start a second Mullica production line in January, to shift work on three more Viking models — in lengths of 42, 48 and 52 feet — to its new plant. Leek says they’ll need 90 more workers in all sorts of trades then, so they’re looking to hire now.
“Electricians, machinists, carpenters,” fiberglass workers and more are on his needs list, Leek says. And the company’s website, vikingyachts.com — its preferred route to get job applications — says Viking has openings in almost two dozen more boat-building specialties.
The company always prefers skilled workers, but Leek says Viking will train people to do things the company’s way.
“There absolutely is experience around,” Leek agrees, because the national recession and other economic troubles have put many local boatbuilders out of work.
Now, with the closing last week of Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, South Jersey has lost an additional 2,800 jobs. And more than 10,000 casino jobs have disappeared since 2014.
At times, ”Viking and others in the (boat) business struggled because we lost out to what were perceived to be better jobs in the casinos,” Leek said. “But people who have been learning and doing trades in Atlantic City could be a good fit” at building boats, he adds.
One more good fit is that by buying Viking Mullica and shifting work on some of its smaller models to the new boatyard, Leek says the company gives itself more room in New Gretna to focus on bigger boats.
They now include several models up to 92 feet long, which normally retail for $10 million to $12 million, a spokesman says.
For more job details, see vikingyachts.com or call the company at 609-296-6000.