Mark Willis the President of Willis Marine Inc., has always been drawn to the water. Growing up in Rhode Islands Narragansett bay, where he started saltwater fishing as a child. Now based in Stuart, Willis has become a cutting edge boatbuilder for over a quarter century.
Willis didn’t immediately plan to become a boat-builder. That came later. However, the engineering degree he earned at a western Pennsylvania university certainly turned out to come in handy. Instead, right after graduation, Willis answered an ad posted in the National Fisherman and headed to Ft. Pierce, Florida, to become a professional fisherman. Here, he worked on fishing charters seven days a week, repeating this grueling pace each summer on a boat off North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras. North and south, it was all billfishing – blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish.“I always stored in my mind what I’d like to improve on a boat,” Willis says. "I had my captain's license by the time I was 19". He got the chance to do this in 1982 when he built a 30-foot spec boat for himself. Over the years, Willis has seen an evolution in boat building materials and design. For example, engines have higher horse power (HP) now and the HP to weight ratio of the vessel creates an extremely maneuverable fishing platform. Creature comforts have improved too. Air-conditioning in the cockpit is now standard rather than a luxury.
“My customers have owned many boats and they know exactly what they want,” he says. “They even know right down to the engine or generator, plus how they want the layout and why. It can be challenging, but it’s something we really enjoy.” Blazing new territory is something Willis is known for. He’s installed the first retractable sonar with engine room access. He also was one of the first to work with pneumatic actuated systems on power yachts."When Willis launched his career as a boat builder in the 1980s, it allowed him to enjoy the opportunity to fish recreationally." “I’ve fished with a lot of my owners,” he says. “We’ve traveled to fish, for example, off Venezuela, Costa Rica, St. Thomas and in the mid-Atlantic.”
Willis has enjoyed a couple of great fishing days that he will always remember. One happened in Venezuela aboard the 65-foot Willis, NuCo2 with owner Ed Sellian. Willis caught two grand slams – two blue marlin, two white marlin and two sailfish – in one day. He also released over 50 sailfish in one day off this same vessel while in Costa Rica.
One of Willis most fun fish stories stars fellow boat-builder and former professional captain, Paul Spencer.
“Paul was captaining a charter boat out of Oregon Inlet one day when he hooked up a huge blue marlin,” Willis tells. “He didn’t have a mate aboard, so he called over to my captain and asked if he could borrow me to help take the fish. The two boats got close and I jumped in and swam over. Several hours later, we managed to boat the 650-pound blue. I then jumped in and swam back over to my boat to finish out the day.”Willis enjoys tournament as well as fun fishing. He’s fished the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin or ‘Boy Scout Tournament’ three times, twice on NuCo2 and last year on Brooks Smith’s 68-foot Bayliss, Uno Mas. The Uno Mas team, which included Willis as angler, released six blue marlin to finish third best boat. In the future, Willis says he’d like to fish in Bermuda. Then again, he’s come to enjoy fresh water angling on Lake Okeechobee and Lake Kissimmee. “It’s never rough out on the lake,” says Willis. “It’s real peaceful.”
Our in-house naval architects and marine engineers utilize the latest technologies in 3D design and manufacturing. Willis Marine has invested in state of the art software and manufacturing equipment to compliment our traditional craftsmanship. These capabilities allow owners to finalize preliminary designs through 3D visualization and ensure that the vessel is completed in accordance with the design. A complete 3D assembly of the vessel is created and then used to build actual machined parts through our machining company Markcam Inc. This process of computer design and CNC machining greatly reduces change orders, increases overall accuracy and eliminates delays.