You wouldn’t expect to see a sport-fishing boat in the little railroad town of Apex, North Carolina, but the folks at Winter Custom Yachts have put the landlocked town on the map in the sport-fishing world. The rigs they build have quickly gained notoriety for their fishing prowess and a reputation for delivering what the owner wants. Owners Tim Winters and Will Copeland began building their Carolina-style boats in 2005, with a focus on engineering, design and high quality. The company has produced everything from a couple of 15-foot flats skiffs to outboard and inboard center-consoles, walkaround express models with conventional and pod drives, and full-on sport-fishing boats up to 64 feet. I hadn’t had a chance to ride or fish on one until this test, so I was glad to get to Stuart, Florida, to check out one of the company’s recent efforts, the 40-foot express Morning Star III, built for enthusiastic owners with plans to fly-fish for billfish extensively.
Winter built the 40-foot express using cold-molded construction, and powered the boat with twin 435 hp Volvo Penta IPS 600 diesels. Her clean engine room came well laid out, given the amount of gear she was carrying. It can be accessed through a deck hatch, but the entire helm deck lifts up on rams for easy access to service and work on equipment. With the hatch up, it’s easy to reach the water pumps, through-hulls, the generator and the Seakeeper 5 gyro unit. The Onan generator sits forward of the engines on the centerline, with the Seakeeper to starboard. Racor filters are mounted on the outboard wall forward of the engines and are very easily accessed. The pod drives are serviced and accessed from the machinery space tunnel under the cockpit deck.
You access the cabin from the helm deck, through a companionway entrance to port. The electrical distribution cabinet is well-marked and neatly done, and it’s located within easy reach, just inside the entryway. Four steps down, the cabin opens up with plenty of headroom. Tucked under the helm deck, a bunk lies athwartships, and it also doubles as a huge storage area. Over the bunk, on the aft bulkhead wall, is a large flat-screen TV. Along the port side of the cabin, a bench seat has a removable table. The starboard aft side has open, vertical rod storage for easy and quick access.
Just forward of the rod storage, the head compartment has a full-size shower built in as an integral unit and painted out nicely for easy cleanup. A galley counter forward of the head entrance on the starboard side features a sunken cooktop, with a flush counter lid, next to a large sink. The bunk sits fully forward, with storage cabinets above it, leaving plenty of room to build in refrigerator and freezer drawers under the bunk. The interior features top-quality wood flooring and trim throughout.
The cockpit features a transom livewell with a viewing window, and a tuna door to starboard. The area has a clean and uncluttered feel, with rolled-edge teak covering boards, and a teak deck. The owners had the rocket launcher rigged with a set of controls to accommodate their fly-fishing when short-handed.
Moving up onto the helm deck, there are mezzanine modular units on each side, with aft-facing seats with huge storage bins beneath them. The port seat has a built-in insulated box that can hold plenty of drinks and ice for long weekend trips. The starboard-side center storage bin is huge, and it’s an ideal place for all kinds of things that need to be accessed regularly. Each unit also has slide-out drawers for even more storage capacity.
The boat has a centerline teak helm pod with single-lever controls, and the pod drive joystick controller is just to starboard of the helm. There are two helm chairs, with an excellent insulated cooler box into which the Eskimo ice maker dumps under the center chair. I like this; it can hold a lot and is centrally located and close to the drink box, making it easy to move ice around. The helm dash is clean and well laid out, with two 16-inch Garmin touch-screen multifunction units within easy reach and view of the skipper. Two Icom M506 VHF radios came mounted to starboard on the dash, in front of the companion helm seat, along with controllers for the Fusion stereo, Seakeeper, Onan generator, and FLIR. The Volvo Penta engine ignition panel and engine gauges are placed under the controllers, and the engine gauges can also be displayed on the Garmin screens. There also are molded-in drink holders and air-conditioning vents on the dash.
Morning Star III
The center helm offered good visibility as we pushed the throttles up and never lost sight of the horizon. The boat is very responsive and slips along easily on plane, answering helm turns and trim-tab adjustments with crispness. She really shines in close-quarters maneuvering and fish-handling ability. She is quite agile, spins willingly and backs around in both directions, and can surely come back faster than most anglers can gain line. The Morning Star III has a solid, smooth feel, and although it was calm and we didn’t put her seakeeping ability to the test, she has all the attributes of a good running boat. She also has good midrange qualities for travel; at a good cruise speed of 3,000 rpm, she makes 27.2 knots while burning 29 gph, and at a fast cruise of 3,200 rpm, she gives you 30 knots and burns 33 gph. On the pins, at 3,600 rpm, she zips along at 34.7 knots, burning 44 gph. Without a doubt, Winter Custom Yachts has produced a fine product, with robust systems, excellent fit and finish, and performance to match. I like that it’s building boats that others won’t, boats that suit the owners’ specific needs, as a custom boat should.