Second Time Around

Battle Ready

What do you do when you find a used boat in a guy’s swimming pool after a hurricane? You buy it and start a new career, of course.

Chuck Butler went to the Miami boat show in 1992 and got the idea of starting a charter-fishing business in southern Florida. “I’d been on these charters myself. I saw what kinds of boats worked,” says Butler, 60, who grew up fishing the rivers around his native Tulsa, Oklahoma. “I started leaning toward a Bertram from the beginning. I’d fished them off the Pacific coast. I knew I wanted a higher-class boat with some size and stability, and all the amenities.”

He came across a 1977 Bertram 46 Convertible in South Miami and arranged to see it. Hurricane Andrew had passed through the area, Butler recalls, and left the boat in the owner’s pool; his house was swept away. “There was the boat,” Butler says. “But it wasn’t damaged at all, so that was kind of a selling point to me.”

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So was the $175,000 price, and the deal was made. “It was in great shape overall, the price seemed good, and it was available,” the charter captain says.

Butler has since become a well-established figure in the competitive Key West charter fishing fleet. And that Bertram 46 he bought 20 years ago? It has been going out 150 to 180 days a year, every year, pleasing Butler’s clients and the skipper the whole time. “The customers really like it,” he says. “It handles great. It’s big and it’s stable. For people who don’t know much about fishing, they don’t have to worry about the boat. And it’s got all the comforts, too.”

Butler recalls some banner fishing days. “Sailfishing…when it’s really rough and the fish are biting really good, that’s when I think to myself, ‘I am really glad that I’ve got this boat’,” he says. “There’s no doubt that the boat is stronger than I am.”

Power comes from her original 871 Detroit Diesels, rated at 435 hp apiece and rebuilt along the way. Sea-Clusion cruises at 11 to 15 knots, using about 2 gallons per nautical mile. Top speed is 15 to 19 knots, although Butler seldom pushes her that hard. “I’ve gotten past that stage of ‘Let’s see what she’ll do,’” he says.

Fishing off Key West demands a lot from a boat in terms of wind and weather and what kind of fish are biting. On any given day, depending on the season, Butler runs out anywhere from five to 25 miles. In the summer, the Bertram works deep waters well offshore. Wood’s Wall is a popular spot where swordfish and dolphin prevail in waters 1,000 feet deep or more. In the winter, the boat works the reefs and wrecks closer in—The Airplane, The Submarine, The Destroyer—in waters 300 to 400 feet deep, home to grouper, red snapper, amberjack, mackerel, sailfish, and tuna.

The water could be as calm as glass or the wind could be blowing 20 knots, but seakeeping is never a problem. “Handling is more a driver thing than a boat thing,” Butler says. “The 46 has its quirks. It’s a little squirrelly backing up, but you give it a little of this and a little of that, and it’ll go straight for you. Once you learn, once you get used to the weight and how it responds, you can make this boat spin on a dime.” The four-bladed props help, too. “The more blades, the better you back up,” says Butler.

The cockpit has plenty of fighting room, and the driver, up on the flying bridge, has great visibility and good communication with the anglers below, “though they don’t usually listen to me,” Butler says.

Customers like Sea-Clusion’s comforts, with her two-cabin layout, one full head, and a second, smaller one. She’s also got a fully rigged galley-down. On the rides out and back, his clients can move around, go up to the flying bridge, hang out in the cockpit, take a nap, or relax in the saloon. “And the full-size bathroom is a big hit,” Butler says. “Better than one in a [center] console.”

The Bertram 46 Convertible is first and foremost a fishing boat, and its deep-vee hull, wide beam, and big cockpit combine to give it a reputation for exceptional seakeeping and fishability. The flying bridge helm offers good visibility, a large dash for instruments, and bench seating forward. Standard power was originally a pair of 435-hp Detroit Diesel 871s that grew to about 600 hp by the end of the boat’s production run.

The 46 is also a comfortable, well-outfitted boat with a variety of layouts developed through the years. The original boats have a forward stateroom with a large V-berth and their own compact head to starboard. Down a short companionway there’s a port-side cabin with twin berths and a somewhat larger head compartment with a separate shower. The galley-down is to starboard, equipped with a three-burner stove, a sink, and a refrigerator/freezer. Later models were known as the MK II and MK III, and the upgrades included replacing the original double saloon doors with a single sliding door, the addition of a transom door, and a fiberglass cockpit liner.

The Bertram story is well known—Dick Bertram, of course, started the company in 1960 with the first production deep-vee sportfisherman, the standard-setting Bertram 31. A decade later, the Bertram 46 Convertible made its debut, the Miami builder again setting the bar, this time for big sportfishing yachts. Hailed for her performance in rough water, as well as her overall handling and fishability, she came with high-end amenities to go with a versatile series of two- and three-cabin layouts. Production continued into the late 1980s. Used models are readily found, and prices run from about $50,000 for rough boats to $200,000 and more for later models. A more recent, completely new version of the 46 Convertible was produced for three years in the mid-1990s and several are currently on the market in the mid-$300,000 range.

All in all, it would be hard to improve on the Bertram. “I’ve run this boat in 35-knot winds and 12-foot seas—and caught fish,” Butler says. “It’s a hell of a boat and I’m glad to have it.”