"When You Go Bertram . . . You've Arrived."
You Always Envy, Now You Will Own
Extremely deliberate. This owner has created his vision for FALCON to be true to her original design. Her high condition throughout makes her truly ready to run. Highlights are the flybridge belly rail by Bausch Towers, Glasstech exterior and interior decks and V berth, 2005 new aluminum fuel tank with cold tar epoxy, all aluminum window frames removed and a Holmsey front window fabricated with custom fiberglass side windows installed, Pompanette bridge bench in 2012, IMRON hull in 2000 and upper structure in 1990 by Raybo, original Bertram steering wheel and helm board restored plus VDO gauges in 2009, new bimini top in 2015, marine breaker panel, Seastar hydraulic steering, twin Marine Power 454 ci carbureted engines with closed cooling at 1,200 hours.
"Nothing in power boating has equaled the continued worldwide popularity of the Bertram 31. . . . continually in demand regardless of age or condition," reports Power Boat Guide. The legendary Ray Hunt deep-V hull design delivers outstanding sea keeping abilities.
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Its neat, its cool, Ray Hunt designed it, and everyone loves it even if they wouldn't own one. And despite the fact that Bertram made 3 additional variants of the 31 hull, when you hear people talking about the Bertram 31, this is it. Possibly the most famous sport fishing boat ever built, continuously in production for 25 years right up to 1986, with the last year dubbed the "Silver Aniversery Edition."
We get a lot of requests for a review of this boat, but we have to wonder where the requesters have been living for the last quarter century. We didn't think a review would be necessary. Still don't, for that matter. But when we stopped by the Merritt Boat Works in Pompano recently and saw this one being gussied up, we took a look see and a few pix. Merritts, of course, is one of those places where, if you have to ask the cost, you are probably in the wrong place. But someone had sprung the sluice gates open on this little beauty, starting with a new paint job.
Its one of the few you'll see with a full tuna tower, whereas most with towers will be a marlin tower which is probably a much better choice for a small boat. All that weight up top can make a boat, well, a bit wobbly. This is a fishing boat and you shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that its good for much of anything else, except scuba diving, for which use it also excels. I once did a Bahamas trip with four guys for a week. intending to sleep aboard, after two days we were off in search of hotel rooms. The cabin is good for storing stuff and taking a leak, but not much else. Its mainly for the hale and hearty, for there is no escape from the sun and weather on this boat unless you want to relax in a box.
There is plenty of horizontal space, but little vertical space. As you can see in the above photo, there is no depth to the hull; its designed to place you close to the water -- and that's all. Storage? Forget it. What little there is won't keep anything dry. If you are 6-2 and 240, you probably won't like this boat much; its better scaled to smaller people. Like 5-8 and 160. A lot of folks think that this boat is built like a tank. Its not. The weights varied over the years from 10,000 to 12, 000 lbs., very light for a 31 footer. Actually she's 30'-7".
At that weight she does okay with smaller engines, which are desireable from her limited fuel capacity standpoint. But who the heck wants small engines in a boat like this? Damn the torpedoes, etcetera, full speed ahead. Chop a hole anywhere and you'd be surprised at how thin the laminate is. Fortunately her builders knew how to get strength from thin laminates. And they did. Although they're not beyond stress cracking along the toe rails, which is quite prevalent. The early models had wood decks and you know what that means . . . .
Its a wet boat. Big time wet, because its got a full bow with little flare. And its a southern boat, because I sure wouldn't want to be out in cold waters in this one. You won't stay dry even on the bridge. Speaking of which, on the older models is much too small. The side coamings are a good 14" on each side, making it terribly cramped with a bench seat (which was standard) or two chairs. Notice on this one there is only one pedastal chair. On later models the bridge was mercifully widened.
The very wide (for her time) 11'-2" beam without chine flats means that shes not as deep veed as you'd expect of a Bertram. She does very well, but she's not going to carry 22 knots into a three foot head sea. You'll get by with 16 kn, and can do 22 in two footers with a bit of kidney crunching. But her real strength is sea kindliness at trolling speeds. This is not a boat that does whip-snap rolling or pitching to throw you off your feet. That's a critical feature for any serious fishing boat where the ability to remain standing up is so important. Her VERY low center of gravity and engines amidships makes this as stable and smooth rolling a boat as you're going to get.
The cockpit deck is a whopping 14 feet long, although the engine boxes take up the forward third. Even so its a huge deck where even a full tournament chair won't cramp the action. But the cockpit depth is also a little disconcerting from the standpoint that it will hit the average sized person just at, not above the knee. There's a real problem here when leaning over the gunwale to grab a leader, as your foot wants to slip and send you over the side. The Blackfin 29 and 32, whose designers I suspect more or less copied the 31 SF, corrected this by adding another 4 inches of gunwale height. It makes a world of difference.
This is also a very simple, uncomplicated and easy boat to maintain. It just doesn't get much easier than this because there isn't much there, and what is there is easy to reach. Its the kind of boat to own if you don't use your boat much because there's so little there to go to rot and ruin. Note the emphasis there, guys?
Unquestionably what made this boat such a big seller are her gorgeous lines. Here it is three decades later and it is still just as attractive to contemporary eyes as ever. Once again proving that good design is timeless. In the last ten years a lot of these boats went into decline and you could pick up a run down copy pretty cheap. But they're making a comeback now and prices are escalating, though there's still a few bargains to be had. This is definitely a boat worth dumping a bunch of money into.
For a project boat, they don't get any easier than this. Just remove the engine boxes and the engines come right out. The decks are loaded with hatches and a very large removable section over the fuel tank in the center on models with glass decks. They're easy and inexpensive to paint, and with a new AwlGrip job these boats can really sparkle. If you're going to buy one, spend some money on paint. It will look absolutely like new and you'll never regret it. Even if you have to finance it. Accented with teak covering boards, or even a teak overlay on the cockpit, the boat really shines. But while teak has justifyably gone out of fashion because of high maintenace, the teak deck looks incredibly good on this boat, nicely setting off all that whiteness.
Owning one of these is about pride in ownership. Its about people who love fine boats. If you haven't fallen in love with her (Oh, yeah, it is a HER!), go buy a lesser breed. Don't disgrace the Gods of the Sea and yourself by buying and neglecting one of these classics.
Not a family boat, this one's for fishinfanatics and boat nuts only.
Bertram 31 Sportfish
It was one of those perfect fishing trips that Bertram 31 owners love to talk about. Bob Levesque, his son, Tyler, and six others headed out from Madeira Beach, Fla., around 9:30 p.m., in his 1970 Bertram 31 SportFish in fine weather, with tanks full and rods ready. “It was a full moon, and we cruised out slowly,” says Levesque, 74, a building contractor. “We got out to the fishing grounds around midnight and started fishing right away.”
Conditions were ideal, and they caught their limit in mangrove and red snapper in no time. “We went back to bed for a couple or three hours, got up and started fishing again,” says Levesque. This time, they got into grouper, red and black, with equal success. “By the time we headed back in around noon, we had our limit. It’s an ideal boat for this sort of fishing.”
But Levesque does more than just fish his 31. Thanks to an extensive redesign and rebuild — what’s called a makeover in reality TV parlance — he and his wife, Carol, enjoy the cruising life, too. The boat can just as easily spend a weekend at the South Seas Plantation Marina in Captiva, Fla., as take the guys out fishing 40 or 45 miles offshore.
“The 31 is a classic. It runs good in a sea, especially in the Gulf [of Mexico], which we like here,” says Levesque, who’s lived and worked on Florida’s west coast for more than 60 years. “It’s perfect for fishing, but now, with the interior redone, it’s a perfect boat for cruising, too.”
Redone is an understatement. Levesque bought the 31 SportFish, a former Virginia Beach patrol boat, for $30,000 in 2003. “I probably have $250,000 in it right now,” he says.
Working first with Viking Boatworks in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2003 and then in 2009 with Elite Marine in St. Petersburg, Levesque gutted the boat completely, including removal of the lower station and the Bertram’s distinctive curved windshield. With a clean slate, Levesque designed and had built an entirely new cabin layout, starting with a bigger berth forward. “The whole bow is a bunk, with 6-inch cushions and nice Sunbrella fabric,” he says. “I glued polyurethane to the side of the hull and covered that with carpet material, so it’s soft and it deadens the sound.”
The main cabin, opened up without the helm station, now has a comfortable L-shaped sofa and a bigger galley area. The marine head is tucked away under a folding seat. The design, says Levesque, added significant space and headroom. Amenities include air conditioning, new cabinets, plastic-teak flooring and new fixtures throughout. “It’s the biggest 31 you’ve ever been in,” he says.
On the exterior, the side windows and aft bulkhead were redone, and the old windshield area was glassed over, giving it a convertible sportfisherman look. Power comes from a pair of 350-hp MerCruiser 454s, rebuilt by Bill Spradlin at Bernie’s Auto and Marine Service in Largo, Fla. Top speed is 40 mph, but Levesque says he usually cruises, or “lopes along,” around 25 to 27 mph to get the most from his fuel. That puts his favorite fishing grounds within an hour or two, at most, from the beach.
“We fish out in the Gulf at different spots, anywhere from a 270 [degree] course west to a 220 [degree] course a little south,” he says. “In the winter, when the fish move in closer, we go out to about 12 miles, where the grouper move into the rock piles. In the summer, we go out to 60 feet or 90 feet of water to as far as 130 feet for the bigger grouper and the mango and red snapper. That’s 40 or 45 miles out.”
Cruising usually keeps them closer to the coast. Favorite haunts for a weekend getaway include Captiva, 90 miles to the south, nearby Bradenton and St. Petersburg, and on up to Tarpon Springs. “The boat really doesn’t have room for a generator, and we don’t have one,” says Levesque. “So we stay at marinas and plug into shore power, and we have our AC and TV. ”
It’s the best of both worlds, Levesque says, fishing and cruising with his one-of-a-kind Bertram. “We have taken it to the Abacos in the Bahamas for two weeks and to the Tortugas,” he says. “We’ve run the 31 in all kinds of nasty seas, fishing in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. I have been around the water for 60 years in all kinds of boats, and I rate the 31 Bertram, for cruising and fishing, far above its competitors.”
The popularity of the Bertram 31 — one of the best-selling U.S. production boats of all time — starts below the waterline with designer Ray Hunt’s deep-vee hull (23 degrees of transom deadrise) and lifting strakes. This helps give the boat the rough-water handling serious anglers admire. Bertram was also a pioneer in fiberglass boatbuilding, and the 31 is sought after for its solid construction as well as its fishability.
The look remains contemporary, with the swept-back, wraparound windshield and clean lines. Several variations of the 31 were offered through the years: Flybridge Cruiser, SportFish, Bahia Mar, Express, Moppie and Sedan. The Flybridge Cruiser (1961-1983) — among the more popular models — has a head compartment and a small galley, including a sink and under-counter refrigerator, to starboard, a dinette to port and a V-berth forward. The SportFish (1961-82) adds a lower steering station, moving the head forward under the V-berth. It has a similar galley to starboard and dinette to port.
The cockpit, with the familiar engine boxes just abaft the cabin bulkhead, is large and uncluttered, with room for a fighting chair. The compact flybridge has excellent sightlines.
The Bertram 31 debuted in 1961 and quickly became a world-changing boat, thanks to its Hunt-designed deep-vee hull, which gave it an edge in rough water over its contemporaries. Its seakeeping, along with fishability and solid fiberglass construction, kept it in production for more than 20 years, and more than 2,000 were built. A “Silver Anniversary” edition came out in 1986. Following financial troubles caused by the early 1990s luxury tax, Bertram Yacht was purchased in 1998 by the Ferretti Group, and today produces a fleet of high-end luxury sportfishing boats. Prices for used Bertram 31s vary widely. Restored models run up to $150,000 to $175,000 and up. Older boats needing TLC can be had for as little as $20,000 to $40,000. Keep in mind that old 31s might have fiberglass fuel tanks and that’s an Achilles heel because the boats have lasted so long. The ethanol in gasoline can cause older fiberglass tanks to fail.
LOA: 30 feet, 7 inches
BEAM: 11 feet, 2 inches
DRAFT: 3 feet, 1 inch
WEIGHT: 10,600 pounds
HULL TYPE: deep-vee
POWER: twin gas inboards
TANKAGE: 170 gallons fuel (222 gallons post ’71), 18 gallons water
DESIGNER: Ray Hunt
BUILDER: Bertram Yacht, Miami,
Phone: (305) 633-8011.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.
|Fishing with a Legend|
the Bertram 31
by Capt. Mike Holmes
There have been so many advances in offshore fishing boats over the past 30 years that it would seem grossly unfair to compare today's super-specialized sportsfishermen with those craft who pioneered the genre. New hull materials and designs, vastly improved power plants, addition of "built-in' fishing equipment like in-deck fishboxes and live wells, bait prep stations, wash-downs, and cabinets for all the new electronics have pushed the envelope of fishing technology to the limits. The older sedans, raised bridge cruisers, and boxy flybridge boats designed for generic boating just don't measure up.
As with most things in life, however, there are exceptions.
Wander through any marina in any offshore sportfishing port in the world, from Kona to Bimini, and one boat will likely be more in evidence than any other - the amazing 31 Bertram. With lines both unchanged since 1960 and unmatched by any boat since, low profile, wide beam, huge cockpit, and strictly business-like appearance, the "mother-of-all-deep-vees" is still a dominant force in offshore sportfishing. A profile of American industry stressing the results of quality, innovation, intelligence in design, - and pure class in a production commodity would do well to use "the 31" as a prime example.
I would be surprised to find a serious offshore fisherman anywhere who was not familiar with the 31 Bertram, or a charter captain who hasn't had experience with one at some time in his career. Most "boat people" are also aware of the rich history behind this craft. The story of how Dick Bertram had C. Raymond Hunt design the first wooden-hulled, "Moppie", for his personal use after watching a Hunt designed deep-vee yacht tender perform during the Americas Cup Races, then ran it in the 1960 Miami to Nassau offshore race with famed boaters Carlton Mitchell and Sam Griffith as crew is a part of boating lore.
For those who don't know, however, the first wooden-hulled 31 shattered the race record, finishing many hours ahead of the second place boat, a 24 foot deep-vee powered by a prototype stern-drive
and driven by boating genius Jim Wynne - which was itself hours ahead of the rest of the field. Even more impressive, this first Bertram ran in very rough seas, yet easily bested the previous record for smooth water in this contest.
The next year a fiberglass version of Moppie considerably bettered Bertram's own record, - and prompted him to go into production with the boat. The speed and sea-keeping ability of the 31 drew tremendous attention from a clientele ranging from charter fishermen to the Aga Khan. Although Bertram sold the company early on to remain in the yacht brokerage business, this was the boat that built the company that still bears his name, and began a legend in the world of power boating.
Like many serious boat nuts, I've always thought the 31 to be one of the best looking craft ever built, - and I had longed for years to be able to run one, to experience first hand all the things I'd read and heard about for so long. My dream was realized years ago when my friend Mike Cryer asked me to captain on his newly purchased MYOTT, a rather unique version of an already unique boat. The 31 was built in several versions, flybridge cruiser with cabin bulkhead, flybridge sportfisherman with an open cabin layout, the wide-open Bahia Mar with only a windshield and cuddy, a very rare express or sedan type configuration, and the hardtop model with a small cabin containing a minimal galley, vee-berth and stand-up head.
A year of running this boat on dive and fishing charters allowed me to develop my own opinions of the 31, discussing the boat with charter skippers and boat yard owners helped reinforce some of them, and added insight in other areas.
Any discussion of the 31 has to center around that remarkable hull. The original deep vee offshore design, the 31 has 23 degrees of deadrise at the stern, tapering quickly to 25 degrees in the bow. The running strakes and chine "spray rail" have be come industry standards on boats of this type, but few other vessels have been built to the same level of strength. The 31 was laid up in a two piece mold, then the two halves glassed together. There are two "stringers" running the length of the hull on either side of the centerline fuel tank - otherwise the hull supports the deck - and itself - on its own. In the entire history of the boat - and we're looking at over 36 years of hard use in the world's toughest ocean situations - there has never been a hull failure.
A surveyor told us of doing a damage appraisal last year on a 31 caught between a concrete bulkhead and a jack-up rig and pounded all night. The pressure on the hull was enough to pop the deck 2 inches above its normal position, but there were no stress cracks or structural damage. A Freeport skipper came off plane in his 31 just on top of the barely submerged rocks of the jetty expansion a few years ago, peeling one running strake completely off the boat from bow to stern. The hull itself was not cracked or punctured - the only place it took on water was where the rudder posts were jammed into the boat.
Although seldom mentioned in print, even those who love the 31 Bertram admit that there are two quirks inherent to the hull that we could well live without. The first is that the 31 has a reputation as a "wet" boat. This may partly be attributed to the fact that operators of 31's tend to run hard in rough seas that might turn others away, but it is also due to the deep vee and wide beam, and even more so to the low profile and weight of the hull.
The 31 tends to make its own path by shouldering through a sea, and it will kick up some spray. The other problem with the 31 is that Bertram saw fit to equip the boat with tiny little racing style rudders. Combined with the keel-like effect of the deep vee, this makes steering with the rudders less than responsive. In tight docking maneuvers, turns are best accomplished using gears and throttles.
On one engine, the boat steers in a circle, away from the side with power. Turning the steering wheel has very little effect. After being in this situation a few times, more experienced skippers told me that it is possible to drag a bucket or sea anchor and at least force the boat to run straight. A more permanent solution is to replace the stock rudders with oversized units.
Most 31's are powered with big block gas engines. 454's will push a clean hull to top speeds approaching or exceeding 40 mph, but do burn considerable fuel - it takes a lot of power to break that deep vee loose. Factory diesel options ran from 453 Detroits to 504 Cummins and 3208 Cats.
The big Cats push the boat to speeds comparable with gas engines, but are very heavy for such a low profile hull. There are at least five 31's in Freeport, Texas, repowered with 6BT250 Cummins engines, a relatively light inline 6 cylinder diesel rated at 250 hp. An owner of one such boat told me he runs 29 knots at 2200 RPM (the engine max is 2800), while getting 1.3 mpg.
Bertram no longer produces the 31, which might be because all of the old ones are still in service, but her influence can be seen in everything from the modern offshore racing hulls to the topside lines of the 32 Blackfin. Many of Blackfin's hulls are very similar to the 31, possibly due to the fact that founder Carl Herdon worked for Bertram in the early days. Herdon also bought Bertram two years ago, before briefly reselling, and rumors are that he may have kept the molds to the 31 for possible rebirth in the Blackfin line.
Looking down off the bridge and watching the bow split the waves in a good sea I can identify with Dick Bertram, and all the hundreds of charter skippers who made their reputations on this boat. Being aboard is to relive a part of boating history, like driving an early Corvette or Shelby Cobra around a twisting course.
Good old boats - especially those built heavily of fiberglass - never die, they just keep fishin'. The 31 Bertram has the distinction of being a legend in its time, and its time is far, far from over.
The Sailor's Stinkpot.
The revolution in power boats began with sailors. Men with little tolerance
for things that don't really work well at sea.
During a rare moment's rest at the '58 America's Cup Trials, some of them
spied a power .boat that skimmed through ocean
swells off Newport while other boats were slowed
to a walk. She cushioned her way through head
seas instead of slamming down on them. She kept
a straight course in following seas instead of
One sailor did something. He talked to the
amazing stinkpot 's designer, another sailor. Two
years later, the Bertram deep-V hull was born.
And made history by taking the roughest Miami-
Nassau power race ever run. In record time.
Boating became a whole new ball game.
Our first model, the classic 31: is still back-ordered. And everything since
has been built to its-standards. Overbuilt for strength. With husky hardware in the
right place. Immaculate wiring. Hand-laid hulls. Glistening finish. Sea-tested.
Today the soft, dry ride and agility and quality of a Bertram are taken for granted.
And often imitated. But it is still true that nobody builds them like Bertram.
Because we start with the sailor's concern for function, and with a professional's
contempt for anything mickey-mouse. So our boats work well at sea. For a long time.
Performance specificationsSubmitted by Paul Gozewski (Capy)
Separate curves were generated for Diesel power and Gas power, although the curves are on the same graph. Slip was calculated by dividing the actual distance traveled by the combination and dividing by the theoretical travel (negating friction forces). Slip is the first measure of vessel performance. Lower % slip is more efficient. Horsepower is the rate at which work is done, and work is the acceleration of mass. Horsepower without a corresponding torque is useless.
The first chart shows slip vs diameter which really makes the case for large wheels. the gas boats cannot spin these wheels due to half the torque output of a diesel. although the cruise speeds are similar (chart 2), because their "small" wheels spin twice as fast. The gas combinations pay a huge penalty in efficiency, due to high slip.
Note in chart 1 The slip for Richard Miller's vessel is approximately same at cruise and at max speed, this suggests correct propping, while large differences in slip between cruise and max, suggest over propping. Consulting a marine engineering handbook, slip should decrease by 2-4% at maximum speed, for maximum cruise speeds to be obtained. Once a certain speed is obtained >40 knts, diameter should be reduced to overcome drag.
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