Some of the 31’ Bertram lovers from the past are calling t
he new 35’ Bertram the “New 31’ Bertram” and you can see the lines of the new Michael Peters design bear a close family resemblance. There have been many debates in bars, boatyards and on boat forums about the feasibility of bringing back the 31’ Bertram. You can find old ones that need lots of work, some that have had work done that have gone into a second decline and others that are in reasonably good shape. Now, for those who can afford it, there’s a new 35’ Bertram that looks as if the old 31’ morphed into the new 35’ with a few yachty details and one of the nicest cabin interiors Bertram has ever put into one of their smaller boats.
For all the previous 31’ owners and wannabe owners who complained that the 31’ was not quite big enough, the 35’ has a more comfortable floor plan. For those who felt the old model was a great fishing boat but too spartan in interior design with too much formica and too little wood trim, the additional space was well used and the added teak trim here and there gives the 35’ a classier look. Those who are used to the efficiency and operational ease of their big center consoles will find a lot to like about the big, open cockpit that allows for quick hosing cleanups through its simple design.
How the 31’ Bertram got started – it was Richard Bertram, the boy who grew up in New Jersey, who started sailing his first boat, a 15’ Sneakbox on Barnegat Bay when he was eight years old, who saw the possibilities of a fast fishing machine created by Ray Hunt from a winning race boat. It had established itself as a fast, stable, safe hull through ocean racing. Richard Bertram started Bertram Yachts with this 31’ sport fisherman and introduced it at the 1961 New York Boat Show. His start-up timing coincided with the influx of Cuban refugees in South Florida. The refugees, some of whom had worked in Cuba in boatyards, marinas and boat building shops, already knew something about boat building, they needed steady jobs and were willing to learn what they didn’t know. They were a major reason Bertram had low employee turnover and just about zero defects in their boats.
The Bertrams of all sizes built in the 1960s were heavier boats than those built later, in the 1970s. Most early fiberglass boats were overbuilt. No one knew how strong the fiberglass hulls and bottoms needed to be. It is estimated that some time in the late 1960s the 31’ Bertram lost about 2,000 pounds, going down to 10,000 from 12,000 pounds. Blister problems affected two of the four largest early fiberglass boat builders. Of the four, Hinckley had no problems. Bertram had very few, Chris-Craft had some and Hatteras had ongoing blister problems through use of low quality resin and gelcoat that they covered by painting the hulls.
As reported in the May, 1994 Soundings about the 31 Bertram, “It has a reputation as a boat that will take you out and bring you back.” David Pascoe, in his review of the 31’ Bertram, found fault with the obvious – that the bridge was small and that it lacked storage space – but agreed with most owners that the low center of gravity with engines amidships “makes this as stable and smooth rolling a boat as you’re going to get.” He saw the 31’ Bertram as having gorgeous lines that decades later, when they become run down, “are worth dumping a bunch of money into.”
How do 31’ Bertram owners feel about their boats? I asked two men, one who now owns a 31’ and one who formerly owned a 31’ how they felt about their boats – were they just another boat or were they special? Sal often thinks about his Bertram on his way to work, what the next fixup will be, where he’ll locate what he needs to do the job, how he’ll go about it – he’s a very practical person, very methodical – and approaches the work on his boat the same way he works at his job, only with more enthusiasm, he said. After having smaller boats he loves how safe he feels going through the Fire Island Inlet, feeling secure about coming back, even if the wind and tide conditions change. He feels he can keep this boat going forever unless he wins a lottery and can buy one of the new 35’ Bertrams.
Eddie started fishing as a child with his grandfather from a rowboat out of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. He remembers the smell of wet wool as part of the fishing experience when, on colder days in the early spring or late fall, Grandpa wore an old woolen overcoat that he brought with him from Germany many years earlier. He also remembers boats he saw while he waited for a tug on his line. In the early 1960s Eddie was about ten years old when he noticed several different models of the 31’ Bertram that went past them while they were fishing.
As he grew up Eddie had enough small boat experience and enough money to buy a new small boat. After looking at what was available in his price range, he found a 31’ Bertram from the early 1960s that needed work and repowering. Eddie’s friend had a boatyard and helped Eddie restore and repower the boat. Through all the work they both did, they got to know and love the boat. Eddie would take weekdays off so they could go fishing. His friend worked every weekend at the boatyard. It was the perfect boat for Eddie until he got married. His wife was from a boating family but their priorities were size and amenities where Eddie’s were style, safety and the kind of reliable hull that would get him home safely on a bad day. The 31’ Bertram was sold to the boatyard owner-friend and Eddie now has a boat that will keep his wife interested in boating. Actually, Eddie has the best of both worlds. His friend is happy to continue fishing with Eddie on the boat he loves and he has a happy marriage.
The 31’ Bertrams were built from 1961 to the early 1980s and again in 1986 when a Silver Anniversary model came out with a teak cockpit as standard equipment. There were about 25 of these special boats in a limited edition. The 31’ Bertram was built in several configurations:-the express cruiser, the Bahia Mar, the flybridge sportfisherman, a hardtop model and the open Moppie.
In 1964 Richard Bertram left the company he started to go back to brokering boats. The Bertram company changed hands and had several different names, at one point going into bankruptcy, and was later resurrected by new owners who changed the direction of the company, building larger, more expensive boats.
Two major problems with 63’ Bertrams in 2008 and 2009 created some bad publicity that Bertram never recovered from. The problems created by shoddy workmanship would not go away and Ferretti Bertram eventually closed. In 2008 a 63’ Bertram hull suffered a hull laminate fracture, where a ten foot section of the outer skin peeled off the core, taking some of the underlying layers with it. The failure was attributed by those who saw the boat and by those who saw pictures of the boat, to bad engineering and failure in the layup process – sloppy workmanship, some said. In 2009 a 63’ Bertram sank 20 miles off Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It suffered damage to its foredeck that was torn, and caved in, as well as other damage. Ferretti Bertram, builder of both boats, said the boat that sank collided with a buoy that caused the damage and sinking.By 2014 Ferretti Bertram closed its doors.
In 2015 a buyer appeared who seemed to have a better understanding of what Bertram needed to do to redeem itself in the eyes of the boating public. Beniamino Gavio bought what was left of Ferretti Bertram. He got rid of the molds for the bigger boats and is starting off with a replica of the beloved 31’ Bertram. The new 35’ that is designed by Michael Peters with two prototypes built by Lyman-Morse in Maine, is a good start. The hull, infused vinylester resin and hand laid fiberglass with Kevlar centerline and strake reinforcement also has a structural grid that gives the hull strength and rigidity. With deep prop pockets and shallow draft (2-1/2’), you can take this boat out on the flats, go clamming and not run aground. Whoever does the grocery shopping and the transfer from the cooler to the boat will appreciate the Sub-Zero undercounter refrigeration and freezer drawers with the aircraft style flip tabs to keep the drawers from surprise openings.
Will Mr. Gavio be able to pull it off? Can you bring back an icon after all these years by expanding it, dressing it up with the best current technology and presenting it as an even better looking package than the original? The two prototypes were sold almost immediately and four or five orders were taken at the first show the 35’ attended. He seems to get it. He said he’s not building an Italian yacht. “I’m going to make an American boat,” he said. Sounds like a good start!