First Light is the largest North Carolina-built custom ex­press


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.

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.


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.

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 rigged­bait 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.


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 for­ward­fac­ing 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.


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.”

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 user­friendly. 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.


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.


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