First and foremost, I want to go on the record and let everyone know that I am not a writer. I started my boating career as the son of a commercial snapper fisherman and built my own boat-washing empire at age 12, scrubbing charter boats in the Florida Keys. I later worked my way up from mate to captain, and now I run offshore fishing machines all over the world. I’m also a part-time boat broker, so I volunteered to do boat reviews for Marlin in order to get to ride on the latest, and possibly the greatest, boats currently splashed. I figured that this would give me a front-row seat to see all the great design and technology changes. So when the call came for me to do a review on the Winter 38, a builder and boat that I was not familiar with, I jumped on the opportunity without even asking about the details.
Once I was on the phone with the boat’s builder, Tim Winters, arranging the time and place of the sea trial, I soon found out that the boat in question was an express-style boat. I’ve run a few express boats over the years, and I’ve found them to have some major pros and cons — I’ve never really been a big fan. Then I found out that the boat came equipped with Volvo IPS600 pod drives, something else that comes with major pros and cons, in my opinion. The boat didn’t have a tower and probably didn’t even have a transom door. I felt like I was going to do a review on a tricked-out snapper rig.
As it turned out, this little Winter 38 blew away a lot of the preconceived notions I held about both express-style boats and those powered with pods.
I’ve been fishing down south for the last 10 years, so I’d never seen a Winter boat before, and I’d not heard much about this builder. However, as soon as I walked up to the boat, I could tell what part of the world it came from. She has those distinct, beautiful Carolina lines that a lot of us fall in love with. I noticed immediately that this boat boasted an extremely high level of fit and fairing, with a very clean yacht finish. Even some of the big-name builders could not compare.
One of the boat’s owners, Jason Fletcher, greeted me at the dock as I admired the boat. As we talked about why the boat had no tower, and why they went with pod drives, a young man climbed out of the engine room. I figured he was the mate on the boat, but, to my surprise, he turned out to be the builder, Tim Winters.
Winters started his boatbuilding career at Shearline Boatworks. During his time there, he was involved in the construction of more than 15 different boats before he struck out on his own to start his own shop. Working with Jesse Rhodes of Rhodes Yacht Design, he’s now built 10 Winter Custom Yachts boats, ranging from 16 to 62 feet, and currently has five under construction on the shop floor — including one for a very discriminating boat buyer and fly angler, Nick Smith, of Old Reliable fame.
The cockpit sports mezzanine-style seating with a stainless-steel-lined refrigerated built-in fish box, and it does have a transom door large enough to pull any big one through. As you walk forward into the helm area, there is a large L-shaped settee to port, with a copilot seat made by Release Marine just forward of that. A tackle center with a built-in barbecue grill sits on the starboard side. The helm sits all the way forward on the starboard side and boasts a Palm Beach-style helm pod with single-lever controls and another Release chair.
|Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts|
After a quick walk through, I stuck my head in the starboard aft lazarette hatch, and found that the bilges were as nicely faired as the topsides. All of the wiring and plumbing looked to be extremely well organized and easy to get at for replacement and/or maintenance. The engine room offered two different access points; you could either flip a switch that powered two actuators to lift the helm floor, or you could go in through a hatch just forward of center in the helm deck. I chose to take the hatch instead of lifting the floor. Once in the engine room, things got a little tight, but I could easily access all of the filters, and you could get to everything on the generator. I found it surprisingly easy for such a small boat — even without lifting the whole floor.
Next I ventured down below into the forward cabin. The head and shower combination lies to starboard, just behind the small galley. To port, there’s a double bunk with storage underneath, and two more bunks in a V-berth configuration with even more storage. To aft, under the aluminum ladder used as steps, was another bunk that also doubled as storage if needed. In all, four people could sleep comfortably in the air-conditioned cabin. The interior furnishings and cabinets were covered in solid cherry trim and cherry veneers, with a solid cherry-and-holly floor and soft-padded walls and headliner throughout. The quality and look made for a lush, big-boat feel — something you don’t often get in a small fishing boat.