Boat Review: Willis 65

The benefits of the Willis design go beyond offering plenty of space. This boat brings together the features that most boat buyers expect and throws in several features that you wouldn't expect.

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"The Willis 65," says builder Mark Willis, "is truly one of the most extraordinary sport-fish boats ever built." These are lofty words we've come to expect from PR types, but after a tour of the 65, it's hard to argue with this down-to-earth newcomer to Stuart's custom boatbuilding scene. This boat combines fishability with functionality in a big way.

Big is a good word to describe this 65-footer. Like its sister ship, the Lucky Punch, Willis' newest and largest boat features a spaciousness throughout that must be seen to be believed. Inside, the Willis boasts 7 feet of headroom in most areas (including the showers), as well as extra-wide 30-inch companionways and 28-inch doorways. Those large dimensions, combined with a clean, roomy layout, makes the 65 feel more like a house than a boat.

In the engine room, a walk-through entry leads to a separate pump room and engine compartment, each with 5 feet 8 inches of headroom. On the bridge, an out-of-work NBA player would find plenty of cranium clearance, as well as a spot to stretch his legs on the long bench seats both to port and forward. Even in the tower, the Willis offers impressive dimensions, both in height off the water and in an unheard-of amount of space for flush-mounted electronics.

But the benefits of the Willis design go beyond offering plenty of space. This boat brings together the features that most boat buyers expect and throws in several features that you wouldn't expect.
The cockpit of the Willis 65 is designed to accomplish the long-range fishing that the boat's 2,300-gallon fuel range allows. Cockpit lockers contain a large cold box and two deep freezers for plenty of cold storage, all lined in stainless steel and easily accessed thanks to the angled bridge ladder to port. Two circulating livewells reside in the port and starboard sides of the deck, and the centerline lazarette access hatch reveals an Eskimo ice machine plumbed to a large in-deck fish box with two hinged lids. A 24-inch offset fighting chair sits atop the beautiful teak deck, close enough to the transom for the rod tip to clear the corners. The gunwales are 3 feet 8 inches off the water.

On the bridge, all gauges and electronics are hidden underneath a power-actuated lid. When closed, the waterproof seal makes cleanup a breeze (as does the freshwater wash-down plumbed up to the tower). When open, all components are easily viewed with little glare underneath the fiberglass lid. A varnished teak pod helm amidships with single-lever controls offers good visibility fore and aft and easy maneuvering. Teaser reels are mounted above the captain's chair, on the underside of the hardtop.

The three-stateroom, two-head arrangement features a queen berth forward which raises on electro-hydraulic cylinders to reveal storage beneath. His-and-hers dressers, a full-length hanging locker and a large vanity area add to the comfort. A starboard stateroom features over/under berths run athwartships, and to port is a twin berth over a large double berth running fore and aft.
In the salon, the full-width galley offers plenty of Corian counter space, beneath which reside a four-burner range top, two Sub Zero refrigerators and two freezers. A chilled wine rack, microwave oven, pull-out drawers for dinnerware and enough pantry space for extended trips are included inside the bulkhead cabinets.

Of course, the "big" nature of the Willis 65 has a tradeoff, and in this case it's speed. With nearly 20 feet of beam and 95,000 pounds of displacement when loaded, the boat puts a big hole in the water. Still, with her twin 1,350-hp Cat 3412s, the Willis offers a respectable cruise of 30 knots at 2,000 rpm, burning 105 gallons per hour. Her top end is 35 knots at 2,300 rpm.
"We didn't design this boat as a rocket ship," Willis says. "We designed this boat to be totally comfortable, to be a great sea boat, to take you to the fish wherever they are, and to catch them once you get there."

For more information, contact Willis Marine, 4361 SE Commerce Ave., Stuart, FL 34997; 561-283-7189.