Winter Custom Yachts 65: Boat Review

First Light is the largest North Carolina-built custom express

September 11, 2018

When an extremely knowledgeable boat owner knows what he wants, he seeks out a builder who can turn those concepts into reality. North Carolina’s Tim Winters was tasked with creating a dream machine to accommodate a family of four, plus crew, for anything they might want to pursue. First Light was designed to be the epitome of an express design, with a big-boat feel and a yachtlike interior. It is safe to say she did not disappoint after her two-and-a-half-year build.

winter custom yachts first light
Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo

As I walk down the dock to see First Light for the first time, it seems she is versed in optical illusion. From afar, her massiveness is shadowed by the design. Without scale, the Winter 65 looks like a typical North Carolina express, flared in the bow with those beautifully rounded lines that are easy on the eye. But get up close and she shines like a rare gemstone.

See our sneak peak at First Light here.

winter custom yachts first light fighting chair
The Winter 65 cockpit teems with amenities and is set up for virtually any kind of fishing activity. Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo


Once aboard, the size of the cockpit really comes to life. There are absolutely zero details missed. In both sides of the covering boards, hidden away in cut-out hatches within the gunwales are two large sets of tuna tubes containing two tubes each. In the transom, there is also a set of four tubes that are incorporated into a 70-gallon oval-shaped livewell. The port-to-starboard in-deck fish box runs 94 inches under the fighting chair, with an access hatch on either side, plenty large enough for a big load of canyon yellowfins or bigeyes.

A pull-out grill is located low on the deck bulkhead on the starboard side, and flying gaff storage runs under the helm deck with cockpit access, and yet all of this is cleverly concealed as just another vertical hatch. In an area where things can get small in a hurry, First Light‘s cockpit has a place for everything close at hand.

winter custom yachts first light deck helm
Winters took the inside-out approach, bringing the luxury of a salon to the helm deck. Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo

In addition to a bait freezer and drink box in the mezzanine, there was one thing that really wowed me: Pompanette fashioned a day bait box in the chair rocket launcher where the drawer would normally be. The top of the tray lifts up, revealing an insulated space for rigged-bait storage — convenient for those who grow weary of the mates asking them to raise their feet each time they need to retrieve a bait from the mezzanine cooler.


In order to meet the visibility requirements, the mezzanine seating is very high, offering great views of the cockpit action. To starboard is an aft steering station with a teak helm pod and single-lever controls. To port, a couch dressed in light-gray outdoor leather mimics the same tones throughout the interior. With two layers of air-conditioning vents that blow out from the top edge of the mezzanine seating, as well as from between the cushions, baking in the tropical sun while keeping a sharp eye on the spread is no longer required.

winter custom yachts first light cockpit
The helm defies you to find a blind spot while standing behind the massive console. Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo

Helm Deck

As you enter the helm deck, the first thing you notice is the incredible visibility. The entire area is enveloped in a rigid acrylic glass enclosure, where every corner of the boat’s exterior can be seen. A large U-shaped couch sits to port, with substantial storage underneath, and above the couch, midline in the hardtop, is a Palm Beach Towers custom pod that accepts a huge rod-storage drop-down that easily accommodates light- and heavy-tackle outfits.

A Release Marine teak coffee table, which also lifts up, can be extended with leaves for alfresco dining. To starboard, cabinets with custom amenities including a rigging station, refrigerator and two large freezers all sit atop a teak-adorned deck that downplays the glaring sun in such a large, open space.


Moving forward and up two steps is the helm console, decked out with three of the largest Garmin multifunction displays I’ve ever seen. A fourth Garmin MFD is housed in a forward-facing drop-down box in the hardtop, where the helmsman can monitor it while looking aft. Three teak Pompanette helm chairs fit perfectly in the area, which was designed for long runs in air-conditioned comfort.

winter custom yachts interior lounge
The nine-foot overhead and light color palette makes the salon roomy and inviting. Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo


As you head below down the spiral staircase, the salon opens up into a cavernous space, totally unexpected of most express models supporting a three-stateroom two-head layout. The 6-foot-1 owner insisted on a roomy feel in the salon, and the 9-foot overhead transcends anything you have ever seen in an express style. The walnut steps are open-backed and floating, with maple inlays that echo the doors and the shell inlay in the coffee table.

The interior has so many beautiful details, you find your eye wandering to seek them all out, making decorative connections with each one — painstakingly achieving the owner’s wish for a timeless, contemporary feel. The stainless staircase banister is wrapped with brown stitched leather, as are the door handles throughout, and the wall coverings are individually stitched soft-white tiles, adding to the richness, as each one ties in with the other. The beautiful walnut veneers are placed in a horizontal orientation, which makes the space feel even wider than it is. “We wanted a yachtlike feel below,” says owner Anthony Johnson. “And we think we nailed it.”


Read Next: The Anatomy of a Modern Sport-Fisher

winter custom yachts interior stairwell
The floating spiral staircase is undoubtedly one of the many modern features found below. Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo

Downstairs, a light-gray L-shaped couch is to port, with a Pullman-style bed that disappears in the portside wall. An open galley with white marble countertops, many hidden compartments and dual-use drawers lies to starboard, making it both clean-looking and user-friendly. Moving aft, there are two double over-under bunk rooms — one on each side of the boat — with a washer/dryer closet between.

Heading forward past the couch, a spacious head with shower lies to port as you enter the massive walkaround queen master stateroom. Accentuating the modern feel of the interior are the subway-style glass cabinet tops (which also appear in the heads), while the under-cabinet lighting is reminiscent of a New York City hotel room.

Because the only hatch is located on the foredeck, Johnson wanted to maximize the natural light. He was able to open up the space by putting the shower all the way forward, using a single frameless shower door attached to glass panels that extend from either side of the door. This allows the natural light pouring through the hatch to illuminate the interior — brightening the whites and grays in a comfortable, almost midcentury feel.

winter custom yacht 65 foot first light
With no detail overlooked, the engine room is a real jaw-dropper. Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo

Engine Room and Performance

The Winter 65’s ride is genuinely that of a big boat, sporting dual MAN V-12 1,550 hp engines that seem to levitate the hull on plane in one smooth stroke. Additional sound-dampening panels in the engine room overhead allow for normal-tone conversation while underway, and I noticed no shuddering, rattling or squeaking anywhere. The vessel is well put together, quiet and comfortable; we cruised along at almost 38 knots with the cockpit-enclosure door open.

Her polished 3-inch Palm Beach Towers pipework supports a massive hardtop, outriggers and standing platform, adding to the sparkle and shine of the largest express to come out of North Carolina. Dual Northern Lights 25 kW gensets easily power the vessel plus the Seakeeper 16 gyrostabilizer and all the refrigeration with no problems. First Light is also equipped with universal ANG power converters that are able to accept and supply power to the boat in any country.

First Light is big, fast and comfortable, with Winter Custom Yachts meeting all of the owner’s requests to a T. “I always felt out of the action on a bridge boat,” says Johnson. “And I wanted to be able to interact with my family while we are fishing and traveling. I think we have been able to do that with First Light. I’m very happy with it.” And so am I.


LOA: 64′ 11″
Beam: 18′ 10″
Draft: 5′
Displ.: 74,000 lb.
Fuel: 1,875 gal.
Water: 250 gal.
Power: Twin 1,550 HP Man V-12
winter custom yachts first light floor plan
The Winter 65 is laid out to sleep up to eight persons. Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts
winter custom yachts first light on the water
First Light will winter in South Florida and spend her summers in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic area. Courtesy Tom Spencer / Fish Hunt Photo

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