After learning his craft in Florida, Prince returns to Great Lakes roots
The windows in Bill Prince’s second-floor office looks out on Port Washington’s bustling marina.
It is suitable inspiration for the award-winning boat designer and naval architect who caters to the boating passions of customers around the world.
Bill Prince Yacht Design opened in August, the 36-year-old’s answer to a dream of having his own design firm.
Over the past 11 years, he has designed power and sailboats from 26 feet to 197 feet in length.
“The joke is that a yacht is any boat you can’t afford,” he said.
Prince grew up in the Minneapolis area and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Milwaukee School of Engineering.
While a student, he won the National Marine Manufacturers’ Association Yacht Design Competition, which attracts designers from throughout the United States and Europe.
“I knew I could make amateur designs of boats so I decided to enter in the professional division and ended up winning it,” Prince said.
He then decided to pursue his boat-building dream. Prince worked for three years at the offices of Michael Peters Yacht Design in Sarasota, Fla.
“I went to Florida because I wanted to learn from some of the best naval architects and designers and approached Michael Peters when there wasn’t even a job open,” he said.
Prince wanted to gain experience designing sailboats, so he became a design engineer for Ted Hood, a former America’s Cup winner and renown sail maker who now owns Ted Hood Yachts in Newport, R.I.
Finally, he accepted the position of design engineer at Island Packet Yachts in Largo, Fla., where he was involved in all aspects of yacht development and construction.
During those six years, Prince was involved in virtually every aspect of designing and building high-end power crafts that cost between $350,000 and $1 million.
“I got plenty of skinned knees and sawdust under my fingernails,” he said.
After all of those career stops, Prince was certain he had found his calling.
“This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 12 years old,” he said. “I now realize boat designing is equal parts engineering and art.”
When he set off to start his own design firm, Prince said, he wanted to move back to the Midwest where he and his wife Amy could feel comfortable raising a family.
“We looked from Chicago to Sturgeon Bay, and Port Washington really appealed to us as a place to set down roots,” he said.
With a global client base that includes customers in Canada, China, Korea and Kuwait, Prince said he came to a sudden realization.
“In this modern era, it would be a futile exercise to try to pick the ideal location anywhere in the world,” he said.
Cell phones and e-mail means he is in within easy contact of any customer.
Computers play a crucial role in the design process, too. Prince noodles around with some paper sketches, but does most of the serious work using customized software that is similar to the programs used in creating 3-D animated movies.
He uses on-line access to a bank of off-site computers that perform all of the calculations needed to complete the sophisticated illustrations.
“I have some customers who want to see the working drawings, and others who only want to see what their boat will look like. I can send them a CAD file that shows an animated version, complete with moving
water,” Prince said.
He said he relishes the challenge of designing boats that are so much more involved than cars.
“A boat has to provide everything you need to survive, from water, plumbing and electricity to structural integrity required to get through 10 to 20-foot seas anywhere in the world,” Prince said.
The luxury boat industry has felt the sting of the recession, but he said there are pockets of wealthy people who can still afford the best boats money can buy.
Prince said he worked on plans for a super yacht that was in development for five years. The 175-foot boat was never built, but more than $1 million was spent on designing it.
Prince said he anticipates most of his work will be on more modest boats, either custom designs or plans to be used by production boat-builders, but he believes there will be plenty of interest as the nation’s
“Ultimately, I can see two to six people working out of this office. We have room to expand,” he said.
BILL PRINCE FINDS the sun-drenched offices of his Port Washington boat-designing business an ideal inspiration. Bill Prince Yacht Design deals with seafaring clients around the globe. Photo by Mark Jaeger