Bertram 39 Center Console
With its new line of center consoles, the storied builder embraces a new category, but not for the first time.
The plans Bertram has supplied me on manila paper suggest that the builder never intended to have them scrutinized by the public—or, God forbid, a journalist. I know this because in the bottom right-hand corner, the words DO NOT USE have been hastily underlined. What I’m looking at is labeled a “sales drawing,” and it’s a center console. The features are similar to what many have come to expect from the iconic offshore sportfish brand, with plenty of rod holders and livewells to go after big game, and a deep-V hull to handle the snottiest of seas.
Curiously, shirking Mercury’s high-performance outboard engines, the builder decided to power the boat with a 160-hp MerCruiser. That’s because the file is labeled August 31, 1967.
The 20 Sportsman was one of the first forays Bertram made into center consoles. Rare even for its day thanks to a limited production run, it remains a classic, sought after by collectors and Bertram aficionados in equal measure. But outside of those knowing groups, the company’s modern image is dominated by battlewagons. It would be understandable for a layman to forget that Bertram ever had a hand in building smaller boats designed by Ray Hunt, center consoles very much included.
Gallery: Bertram 39 Center Console
“They were a brand that served very broadly the entire market, everything from runabouts to cruisers to fishboats,” said Bertram CEO Mark Paulhus about the company’s past. “So while it might seem a bit divergent for us right now to step into outboards, it’s completely consistent with Bertram’s heritage.”
In line with that thinking, big things are afoot at the builder’s Tampa facility. While Bertram’s resurgence is still in the beginning stages, having been acquired by the Gavio Group in 2015, it’s off to a fast-paced start by adding an expansive outboard-powered portfolio to the mix. How expansive, you might wonder? According to the builder, the plan is to build nine different models encompassing center and dual consoles from 28 to 50 feet over the next four years—eventually adding a slew of smaller boats like the 20 Sportsman. That rapid pace begins at the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show in October, where the 39 and 28 center consoles will make their debuts.
Of course, the builder is very much late to the game in producing the next generation of fast, fishable center consoles. The move is reminiscent of another production sportfish builder taking the plunge. Viking poured resources into a new company, Valhalla Boatworks, and debuted three center consoles in 2019. What decisions led Bertram to pursue a similar goal? According to Paulhus, discussions began in earnest last summer, when the company green-lit a renewed focus into this long dormant segment. Soon after, it was agreed that $15 million would be funneled into R&D exclusively to build outboard-powered boats.
When asked about the timing, Paulhus conceded: “It’s safe to say we’re late to the game in terms of outboards. But this is interesting because it’s given us an opportunity to sit back and say, ‘Well how do we position our product in a way that can complement other brands that may already be in a dealership?’” For that, they turned to their growing network of dealers, utilizing their input to tweak what the first center consoles would ultimately become. They also spoke with owners at the Miami boat shows. “In general, I would say customers are super supportive of the direction we’re going,” added Paulhus, “and feel we are in fact filling that niche that we wanted to fill with a product that caters to the serious fisherman in a premium segment of the market.”
Maybe you’ve already come across the video of the 39 making the rounds on social media? In the video, renderings are explored in detail, set to an upbeat backing track reminiscent of a Coldplay song. The first thing that might stick out to you is the four wide helm seats. It’s rare, unheard of even, to see that in this segment. At 40-feet, Valhalla’s flagship has only three, as does the Boston Whaler 420 Outrage. To see a similar arrangement, you’d have to go up in LOA to super consoles like the HCB 65 Estrella.
Those four helm chairs are the result of a beamier boat from stem to stern. At 13 feet 2 inches the 39 has almost 2 feet (or more) on most of its competitors. That was very much a conscious decision, according to Dan Hamilton, director of product development and program management. Not only does it align with the Bertrams of today and yesterday, sportfish and smaller, but nowadays, with dedicated compartments for a Seakeeper, generator and sizable berths, weight is a growing concern for center consoles. At 20,000 pounds, the 39’s displacement at full load is no small factor, but a broader beam all the way aft mitigates the added weight and should allow for a smooth ride. “This boat is designed specifically to handle all the weight that’s going onto it,” said Hamilton. “If you don’t bring the beam back, and if you don’t bring the beam out a little bit, you end up with a wetter ride essentially because the hull can’t support the weight.”
“We’re steering clear of the stepped hull because we’re not after an 80 mph boat; we’re after a boat that’s true to the core of Bertram, that’s a great offshore boat, comfortable in all conditions,” said Paulhus. “So it’s going to be a deep-V, and heavier and wider than almost everything out there.”
Together with Bertram’s in-house engineering team, the 39 is the product of partnerships with Vectorworks Naval Engineering and Yacht Design Works. This collaborative approach will be utilized for the entire range, with Vectorworks developing running surfaces, mechanical and electrical, and Yacht Design Works contributing to the boat’s ergonomics, general arrangements and styling. Features include a 500-gallon fuel capacity, twin 40-gallon livewells (with an option for twin 60-gallon livewells) and an optional Seakeeper 3.
Following in line with Bertram’s heritage, they are staying true to a commitment to Mercury Marine as the exclusive engine manufacturer for their outboard-powered models. In return, Mercury is providing constant feedback on how to best optimize their engines. After a full computational fluid dynamics analysis on the hull, the projected top end with the standard triple 300 engine configuration puts the 39 in the low 50-knot range. From there, triple 400s put it in the upper 50s, while the 450s place it in the low 60s.
But speed isn’t just regulated to the water. With the Gavio Group interested in growing the Bertram brand in the immediate future, they are looking to secure 25 acres in Tampa for a new site, and building somewhere in the ballpark of a 200,000-square-foot facility there. All production will be moved to this new facility. The move-in date is slated for early spring 2022.
“We’re going pedal to the metal,” said Hamilton. “We’ve got a ton of development in the next four years.” With that said, I couldn’t resist: I wanted to know if outboards will make their way onto the new sportfish too. His response? “We’ve been getting a lot of requests for outboards on the 35, and ultimately I think that it’s going to happen.” Paulhus tempered expectations, saying not before the 2021 Miami show. But it’s being considered.
Few builders in the marine industry invoke as much brand loyalty as Bertram, so it’s safe to assume the initial reception will be rosy. But only time will tell how these center consoles are received. Paulhus remains optimistic about the future. He pointed to deposits that have already been made, sight unseen, on the 39, and a production cycle that could eventually churn out over 300 center consoles a year. “I’ve never felt more confident that I have a boat that is delivering on the vision of who that consumer is than I do right now with this 39,” he said. “As somebody that comes from 35 years of product development, that’s a great feeling.”