Winn Willard, President of Ray Hunt Design, Reveals his Obsession with Hunt Yachts’ Surfhunter 25.
An industry game-changer and pragmatic boat engineer, Winn Willard was on his first boat at age 5. Today, whether cruising Buzzards Bay on his Hunt Yachts Surfhunter 25 (the original Surfhunter model) or evolving Ray Hunt Design, his passion for the life aquatic remains deep. An accomplished naval architect and yacht designer with a staggering amount of boat designs in his portfolio, Willard has recently returned to his own favorite design — purchasing and captaining a Hunt Surfhunter 25 he named Creola.
“I’ve always wanted one,” Willard says of his new boat. “It’s an early hull we’ve updated over the years, and it’s a real sweetheart. In my opinion it’s the best 25-footer rough water boat out there. Period.”
Why is this design his favorite? It’s anchored in the history of Ray Hunt Designs and Hunt Yachts. Based in New Bedford, Mass., and founded in 1966, the 56-year-old Ray Hunt Designs is a naval architecture firm famous for a high-deadrise hull form known as the Hunt Deep V — helmed by Willard’s prescient vision. The result? A solution for performance, seakindliness, comfort, and safety in rough seas, all of which are readily apparent in the Surfhunter 25.
“Hunt Yachts was created by me and a couple other partners,” Willard further explains. “It was developed and then sold to Hinckley in 2013. We take pride in the boats that carry the Hunt name. They must be the best in terms of rough water performance, because that’s what we are known for. The Hunt boats have more deadrise and aggressive Hunt design. They are, and will continually be, the best rough water boats out there.”
Willard’s penchant for boat building runs in his family. He grew up in Plymouth, Mass., right on the beach. He explains that since the age of 5 he “was always messing around with boats.” A carpenter and boatbuilder, Willard’s Dad built him is first boat — an eight-foot pram. “To keep me occupied, he would start up the little outboard motor, put me in the boat with my life jacket on, and throw out the anchor,” Willard explains. “I could putt-putt around my little boat as far as the anchor line would let me or before I’d run out of gas. My love for the water went from there.”
After attending college at the University of Michigan — one of the few places at the time that offered a degree in naval architecture — Willard went on to business school at Babson College and returned home for a part-time summer job. Back then, Boston was a hub for aspiring boat designers. “I took a roll of drawings under my arm, went to Hunt, and said, ‘Hey, need a draftsman?’” Willard says. “Ray Hunt’s partner hired me on a part-time basis, so I was going to school in the morning and working for him in the afternoon. One thing led to another and it’s essentially the only job I’ve ever had.”
Throughout his career he’s led an incredible amount of boat designs. He’s concepted sailboats, 100-foot motor yachts, even a 10-foot jet ski for Honda. He’s designed for Chris-Craft, Boston Whaler, Regal, Robalo, Cruisers Yachts, Four Winns, and many others. Yet what makes him most tick? “The more interesting boats are the custom yachts — when owners come in and want something special,” he says. “Those have been fun. But we also do commercial and military boats. And those are especially interesting because they have a job to do. In some cases, people’s lives depend on them. We continue to design boats all over the country and they sell themselves. That’s really rewarding.”
When asked why he thinks Ray Hunt Design is considered a true innovator, he quickly responds with the fact that the V-shape hull was the major pivot. “There was a total paradox shift with Ray Hunt Design,” he explains. “In the 1960s, all motorboats were typically flat bottom boats and had awful handling characteristics. Ray used to demonstrate with his early boats. He would take the boat up to high speed and then take his hands off the wheel and tie his shoelaces. And people would think, ‘Oh my God, don’t let go of the steering wheel!’ But the boat would keep going straight because of its design. It’s a recipe we continue to evolve throughout the years. We update, improve, and adapt to what’s going on in the world. Hinckley Sport Boats and Hunt yachts are more aggressive and a little higher deadrise, with the V shape in the hull, so they will go through the water as smooth as possible.”
Today, you’ll find Willard aboard Creola (named after a Jimmy Buffett son), cruising Buzzard’s Bay with his wife. He also cherishes rides to the Elizabeth Islands. “It’s like you’re in a different world,” Willard says. “There are no lights, no noise. And at the west end of Nantucket, it’s shallow water and you can go to Madaket. The city lights obscure the sky, but when you get out sto those places you realize there are a lot of stars up there. I’m very happy to just sit on my boat and stare at the stars.”
And why, after all these years of boat engineering, did he come back to the Hunt Surfhunter 25? “Being a designer and an engineer, I appreciate boats, cars, and machinery, for what they can do and how they perform. A Hunt boat is by far the best rough water boat. I wouldn’t want to own anything less.”