I first laid eyes on the new 45-footer from Winter Custom Yachts earlier this year at the Palm Beach International Boat Show. Tim Winters and his crew had just wrapped up the final touches in North Carolina in the nick of time for many of us get the first look.
But I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with Freq-N-Out — her name at the time. Fred Church, then the owner of a 40-foot Winter Custom express [September 2015], couldn’t resist and shortly worked out a trade deal. The 45-foot convertible soon had a new name, Morning Star III, and was in the Bahamas nearly every weekend. I caught up with her in early September; she was not only another beautiful build by Tim Winters’ crew, but also a proven fish-raiser.
“She is a 45-foot sport-fishing boat designed to be the biggest little boat we could build,” says Winter. “She’s built to do everything, from fishing in South Florida to spending the weekends in the Bahamas. The owners wanted a boat they could live aboard while in the islands and also have plenty of space to change out of their wetsuits and get cleaned up after diving. The layout and functionality with the pod system allows an owner/operator to bring it confidently into shallow water and do it all: They can take it diving, fishing or just go cruising. They can really do anything on here.”
The cockpit of Morning Star III is larger than usual for a build this size, especially when compared with other boats in her class. Primarily designed for light-tackle fishing off Fort Pierce, Florida, or over in the Bahamas, the boat’s cockpit allows plenty of space for several anglers and mates to work and move around with ease. To suggest that the owner is obsessed with fly-fishing would be an understatement, but let’s just say his fly rods are always within reach when offshore, either trolling for mahimahi or deep-dropping for swordfish. A Release Marine Battle Saddle sits in the middle of the cockpit, with a giant fish box forward on the center-line. A large livewell is located in the transom.
“My wife loves to fish with us, and whether it’s her or one of her friends on the rod, she can get hooked up and then go to town on the fish in the Battle Saddle,” says Church. The mezzanine to the starboard-side of the entryway provides plenty of seating for anglers in the cockpit in addition to storage underneath. A freezer box against the port bulkhead provides plenty of room for a variety of beverages.
Originally built with an isinglass bulkhead typically seen on day boats down in Central America, at the time of the test, Church was in the process of making the concave-shaped bulkhead solid by adding a window — a small but dramatic change.
Just like the other areas of the boat, the salon was spacious, with plenty of room for several people to spend time on the way out to the fishing grounds or relaxing back at the dock. An L-shaped settee on the starboard-side wraps around a table, with room for several to lounge and relax. A flat-screen TV is tucked away behind the teak finish work forward of the seating area. On the port side, a countertop wraps around forward with a pair of Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer combos below and microwave forward in the cabinets above the countertop. Ample drawer and cabinet space provide storage for provisions and other necessities in the galley, with additional tackle and tool storage throughout the salon. An ice machine is located within the countertop on the port side. As a finishing touch (and because they always need to be within reach), some of the owner’s fly rods are stored in racks on the headliner, so it’s a quick grab should a billfish or mahimahi suddenly pop up in the spread.
The accommodations below are finished in cherry that beautifully juxtaposes with the soft goods and countertops. Two bunks are located on the port side with a master stateroom situated forward. A locker forward of the bunks provides additional hanging storage for guests. On the starboard-side just forward of the stairs sits the head with a large shower. A closet for tackle storage is located forward of the head with room to store a full spread of stand-up rods in addition to bent-butt rods. The stateroom has storage beneath the berth with hanging closets to both the port and starboard-side and overhead cabinets on either side. The bottom line: You could spend several weeks on board exploring the Bahamas if you wanted.
Accessed through the salon floor, the engine room is quite spacious — even Capt. Matt Beitman and his 6-foot-3 frame could reach all the important ship’s systems comfortably. A Seakeeper sits forward of the engines on the centerline, and, as Church says, “I’d never own another boat without one — they work!” Winters reinforces the stringer system on all of his builds, even when a Seakeeper is not requested, just in case an owner might want to add one in the future. Noise reduction was an important build characteristic for Winters, knowing the demands of his clients, so he integrated a Soundown system into the headliner of the engine room. He also built the marine exhaust system with large suitcase mufflers to reduce noise while in the cockpit. These changes paid huge dividends; we heard little noise both inside the salon and cockpit when Morning Star III picked up to run. The Onan generator sat forward of the port engine, with the Cruisair air-conditioning system in the same position on the starboard-side.
Compact yet functional, the bridge features a single Release Marine helm chair aft of the helm with a built-in jump seat starboard of the helm pod. A bench seat sits to port on the bridge, and an L-shaped seat is located in front of the helm.
The dash features Garmin electronics matched with Cummins SmartCraft gauges to provide all of the necessary information a captain might need. The joystick for the Cummins Zeus control system is within easy reach for the captain should he want to switch from the throttles to the joystick system for docking. The pod system allows the captain to move the boat in any direction and instantly reacts to the movement of the joystick. Because the owner likes to cook on board when in the Bahamas, bottomfishing is always a priority after a day of trolling. With the Skyhook function, which allows the pods to lock in on a location and hold on top of structure, even the captain can fish in the cockpit.
Powered by twin 615 hp Cummins QSC 8.3 matched with Zeus pods, Morning Star III jumped quickly up on plane with little bow lift. Cruising at 2,700 rpm, we moved along at 26 knots while burning 45 gph. Wide open, we clipped along at 33 knots while turning 3,000 rpm. Performing a series of S-turns, the boat handled nicely and responded to all of Beitman’s commands. “We took her back from the Bahamas in 6- to 8-foot seas, and I was amazed at how well she performed — more like a 55-footer rather than a 45,” says Beitman.
When dropped down into trolling speed, the pod drives produced little whitewash, and you could easily see a fish on a flat line or on a teaser. Happy with her performance in all aspects, Beitman demonstrated her maneuverability with the pods as if backing down on a fish; she spun on a dime with just the flick of the joystick.
On the way back to the dock, Church says, “I couldn’t be happier with her.” I couldn’t agree more, and I’m anxious to see what else the young builder from Apex, North Carolina, has coming down the pipe.