The first in Bertram’s new line of outboard-powered boats sets a high bar, and offers a hint at what’s to come.
Bertram boasts one of the most ambitious claims in all of boatbuilding: “The sun never sets on the Bertram empire.” Easy to say, right? But with decades spent churning out vessels that can be found all over the globe, and a passionate client base to match, there’s some truth to that statement.
Yet it doesn’t tell the whole story, because the future once looked pretty dark. In 1992, financial strains forced the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Ferretti Group would eventually step in and revive the iconic American brand. Then, sadly, the larger-than-life founder, Richard Bertam, passed away. In the early aughts, Bertram would go on to design a couple sportfish models, but the overarching consensus was that something had changed. There were whispers that the new ownership was in the process of “Gucci-fying” the battlewagons.
In 2015, Bertram changed hands again, this time acquired by another Italian conglomerate—the Gavio Group, owned by Beniamino Gavio, an entrepreneur and owner of superyacht builder Baglietto. Here were all the same signs pointing to abject failure: a foreign group out of its element trying to bring a modern Bertram to life.
Except that isn’t what happened. Gavio could’ve moved the facility anywhere, including overseas, to keep overhead down. Instead, he chose to keep it in Florida, moving from Miami to a 120,000-square-foot facility in Tampa. “We believe that Bertram belongs to this country,” Gavio said in a statement. “[It] started in Miami, and we want to keep Bertram in Florida in order to preserve the connection with its history.” Next, the builder came out of the gate with three next-generation sportfish models that retain the same classic lines and seaworthy hulls of their original predecessors. But nobody—myself included—could’ve imagined the modern range would expand to include center and dual consoles. Well played, Mr. Gavio.
The history he alluded to was on full display this past February, as I found myself aboard the first Bertram center console built in over 30 years, the 39 CC, climbing the steep jaws of Jupiter Inlet. The sporty conditions, with 6- to 8-footers thrown into the mix, had me feeling like Dick Bertram racing aboard the Bertram 31. We were going at a steady clip, powered by triple 400-hp Mercury outboards to around 20 knots, just under their published cruising speed. The 39’s angular, deep-V design and wide beam never felt outmatched by the wave sets. Though we took some spray over the bow—this is a center console, after all—the only critique I had was that the wiper only covered about one-third of the windshield. That’s something you can reflect on from the security that comes with a stable ride.
Of course, those aren’t the conditions most owners will typically find aboard their 39. Though the boat has been designed with the hardcore offshore angler in mind, Bertram is fielding interest from a diverse group of would-be owners who will probably stick closer to the sandbar—but it’s nice to know it’s versatile enough to handle snottier seas.
The 39 I was aboard, hull one, was rigged with fishing add-ons: two pressurized, aquarium-style, 60-gallon livewells in place of the standard 40-gallon ones, with a bait prep station to port. It also came with over 20 rod holders, and a wide T-top that not only covers the console amidships, but a good portion of the walkways around the boat. Four helm chairs across will help set the 39 apart in a crowded market, as does a comfortable cabin accessed from a door next to the helm (with a separate head and shower). Together with the helm chairs, there’s enough seating for eight people to sit facing forward while under way. Forget the question of where to grab some bait. The biggest question future owners will need to wrestle with is “Do we invite family or friends?”
Bertram has engineered these center consoles from the ground up, so everything has been designed with a purpose—no growing pains here. Storage is integrated into most of the seating, including the berth and two compartments in the cockpit. On centerline, right behind a three-person bench seat is an easy-to-access locker housing the pumps, raw-water intake and a Seakeeper 3. “We’ve actually already had a service cycle on the Seakeeper, and they had no problem,” said Dan Hamilton, Bertram’s director of product development and program management. “They took the cover off, got to everything they needed and put it right back in the water.”
Hamilton is part of the brain trust overseeing the move to outboard-powered models. The last time we spoke, the 39 was still in tooling. Now, he’s hard at work on expanding the portfolio to include a 28 CC, 28 XC and 33 CC. Eventually, the range will include nine (!) different outboard models encompassing center and dual consoles from 28 to 50 feet. I asked him what, if anything, had changed on the 39. “Configuration-wise, I think we pretty much nailed it,” he told me. “We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback; some very minor changes on the interior as far as utilizing a little bit more space.”
It’s one thing to pour over renderings. But being on the deck of a model that signifies a seismic shift of things to come is proof of the company’s commitment. I proceeded down the steps into the cabin to investigate. I had to duck a little upon entering, but once I was standing next to the queen-sized bed, sink and integrated cooler in air-conditioned comfort, I had more head room than I knew what to do with. It’s a space that, frankly, wouldn’t look out of place on the Bertram 35. Though the double sunpad above takes up a chunk of head room over the berth, it’s peanuts compared to what you might find squeezed into another center-console cabin. Color me impressed—and so were Hamiltons’ young daughters on what would become a three-day delivery from Tampa to Stuart. “I mean literally at 35 knots they’re sitting down there playing video games,” he said laughing. “I always assumed no one would be down there while you’re running. They were down there half the time.”
While I wasn’t about to test my stomach’s fortitude doing the same, I did seize the opportunity to get behind the helm. Once through the inlet, the seas were calm, which let me open up the triple 400-hp Mercury Verados to their full power. Bertram tapped Mercury Marine as the exclusive engine manufacturer for their outboard-powered models, and in return, Mercury is providing constant feedback on how to best optimize the engines. At 2000 RPM, or 8 knots, the boat jumped onto plane, while 2500 RPM, or 13 knots, put the nose down. From there you’re off to the races. The boat was most comfortable cruising around 30 knots, but the most impressive feature was an economical cruising range that topped 35 knots and only tailed off when—surprise, surprise—we hit wide open at 43 knots with a two-thirds load.
Inevitable comparisons will be made with the Valhalla Boatworks’ stable of high-performance center consoles, but those are misplaced, according to Bertram CEO Mark Paulhus. Instead of going after the offshore-performance crowd, or the tender crowd, Bertram has set its sights on a larger swath of the market who use these boats as a primary vessel. “It’s interesting because fundamentally, when we started this, that’s where everyone thought we were going to go. They were like, ‘Oh, these guys are going to go up against Valhalla, Yellowfin and the other guys in that market,’” said Paulhus. “We did a lot of research that said that’s a segment we could be successful in; we could differentiate ourselves in a super meaningful way against those other brands. But there’s less you have to work with.”
“You notice we didn’t put quads on the 39,” added Vice President of Sales Tommy Thompson for emphasis. Though it remains to be seen which Bertram will sport the new 600-hp Mercs. My guess is we won’t have to wait too long to find out.
Bertram will always have a leg up on the competition based on name recognition alone. Thompson said he’s being contacted by interested clients from all over the world, including Australia and Italy. He’s seeing interest from owners who grew up on the Bertram center consoles of old, like the 20 Sportsman. “They’re tickled to death to see a new center console from our company, because they’ve always wanted an excuse to buy one and we’ve given them a great one,” he said. “But I like to see the guys who come up to us not knowing it’s a Bertram. For them, it’s got nothing to do with the name. They’re just walking up to check it out because it’s a good boat.”
Paulhus is now charting the future of the brand. My ears perked up when he mentioned signing a bigger distribution network that would blanket the Northeast, Great Lakes and West Coast. There’s also talk of expanding the portfolio to include walkarounds—a melding of sportfish features (a flybridge, larger cockpit, etc.) with outboard power typically found in the custom market. “That could change a little bit going forward, but I don’t think I’m too far off from reality,” he explained.
This will all be possible thanks to the construction of a new 200,000-square-foot facility—roughly three times the size of the current one—in the Port of Tampa. With a $15 million injection into R&D to develop increasingly larger outboard-powered boats, Bertram’s future looks bright. Indeed, it isn’t too hard to imagine a new wave of Bertrams finding their way all over the U.S. and eventually the world.
The empire has never looked stronger.
Displ.: 22,080 lbs.
Fuel: 500 gal.
Water: 60 gal.
Standard Power: 3/300-hp Mercury Verados
Optional Power: 4/400-hp Mercury Verados
Base Price: $750,00