Photography by Billy Black
A Star Is Reborn
Bertram continues its resurgence, capturing the magic and singular drive of its heyday with the 61.
You should hear this, I thought to myself, contemplating how I’d elucidate to those not present the sounds that unfurled around the quay where the Bertram 61 sat. It had been pleasantly silent within the confines of my sleeping quarters—the 61’s full-beam master stateroom. But after I made my way on deck, the predawn air seemed to vibrate with life. I sat on the gunwale, bare feet on the dock and took in the melodies of Sanibel Marina.
The barrier island is rich in wild ecology, with the nearby J.N. “Ding” Darling National Refuge—home to 51 types of reptiles and amphibians, 32 mammal species and over 270 species of birds—occupying one-third of Sanibel. (Over half of the island is protected.) Many of its creatures seemed to be awake, jabbering away. Over the low hum of countless insects, tree frogs and other unidentifiable creatures, the grunts of roseate spoonbills intermingled with the high-pitched pizzicato of a pair of circling ospreys. A black-crowned night heron zoomed past, the wary bird flushed by my presence. As the sun rose and this little jewel of a marina came into sharper focus, the guttural, rapid-fire song of the elusive mangrove cuckoo erupted along with the chirps of unseen songbirds and splashes of baitfish breaking the surface.
Gallery: Bertram 61
In search of coffee, I walked down the marina’s neat-as-a-pin main drag lined with royal palms, trunks replete with holiday lights. A Cessna 185 received the same festive treatment, sitting on the hard as if it weren’t an oddball among the laid-up vessels. Photographer Billy Black was returning from shooting elsewhere on the grounds. “This is a special place,” he said, echoing my thoughts as he organized his gear on our way back to the 61. Thankfully, Capt. Danny Ford and mate Mike Murray had Nespresso coffee and microwavable breakfast sandwiches at the ready (add both to the long list of things that taste exponentially better on a boat) and the morning began in earnest.
I had met Ford and Murray the previous afternoon as they got the 61 cleaned and prepped for the next few days. “Two is one and one is none,” Ford said as he and Murray emerged from the engine room with the Eskimo ice machine pump the impeller jammed in what appeared to be a fatal position. Having the know-how to troubleshoot a yacht’s myriad systems and expounding on redundancy seemed to be their forte. That, and having a quiver of quotes and wide-ranging topics at the ready for any conversation. The two-man crew kept things light and fun over the next few days, a testament to Ford’s two-plus decades of fishing in places most of us have only read about and to Murray’s years as a mate and a captain in his own regard.
Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast would serve as the backdrop for bottom fishing and island-hopping aboard Bertram’s flagship. The crew had run down from Tampa the previous afternoon with Black, who joined after a tour of the yard, once the Lazzara Yachts facility. “We were able to keep some of the Lazzara team on,” Bertram Vice President of Sales Tommy Thompson told me. That included retaining wood and metal workers, marine electronics experts and painters—part of a crew that proved to be integral in the brand’s relaunch.
There are few builders with the pedigree of Bertram Yachts. During its heyday, founder Dick Bertram was a household name thanks to ads in national magazines for Rolex and a massive billboard in Times Square featuring him weathering a storm via Camel cigarettes. (“Have a real cigarette,” the ad urged readers in its apparent lack of foresight.) The C. Raymond Hunt-designed, deep-V, 31-foot Moppie would launch the then Miami-based builder into the stratosphere for most of the 1960s and well after its founder left the company.
What followed were periods of feast, famine and multiple ownerships of the esteemed brand. There were models launched that set the bar in their genre—Thompson recalls the 1980 54-footer as “the first large, high-performance fishing boat,” and a few others besides the 31 that retained a cult following. In the mid-aughts under Italian yacht conglomerate Ferretti Group, Bertram launched new models and gained some market share. Some felt—and I agree—that Bertram lost its way and never really fit in to the Ferretti Group’s portfolio.
Just when Bertram needed a lifeline it would again come from Italy, this time via the Gavio Group, the massive construction and infrastructure conglomerate and principal owner of superyacht builder Baglietto. It’s rumored that the CEO owns a 50-foot Bertram and his love for the vessel was one of the factors that led to the 2015 acquisition from Ferretti. “[Gavio] wanted to launch Bertram in the original way it was founded,” Thompson told me, explaining that the new ownership recognized Bertram not just as an esteemed name but as an American icon.
This meant starting from scratch. There wouldn’t be a continuation of any models launched by Ferretti—those molds were promptly destroyed. With the purchase of the aforementioned Lazzara yard the builder went to work restarting the business with the 35, a successful interpretation of Moppie, and followed that with the 61.
Bonus Gallery: The Trip
I was aboard Hull No. 1 during its slow-burn tour of tournaments and boat shows leading to hundreds of hours on her keel with Ford at the helm. “We don’t want to push out [the 61], we want to get it right,” Ford said. Thompson echoed the builder’s dedication to preserving the name while striving for the best results. “At every single step in the build process, we considered the legacy of Bertram.”
The captain had the mains humming by 0700 and we pushed off into gorgeous San Carlos Bay. Our plan was to run north from Sanibel, past the lighthouse first lit in 1884 and into the Gulf and Pine Island Sound. Thompson had obtained local intel regarding some wrecks that might produce grouper. Eventually, we’d make it to Cabbage Key for a photo shoot and overnight on nearby Ussepa Island.
Seven of us gathered on the flybridge for the run to our first fishing hole; our septet fit, with room to spare. “There used to be two or three comfortable spots [on the flybridge],” said Thompson, “There’s six forward-facing spots here.” Captain and mate occupied the plush helm chairs, with Black and Thompson flanking the well-organized Palm Beach-style helm on settees with adjustable Release Marine chair backs allowing them to lounge. Two more reclined on the settee forward of the helm. “I fell asleep coming down, right here,” Black told me.
The voluminous theme continued once we hit the first wreck and began to fish in earnest. The 188-square-foot cockpit was up to the task, allowing four anglers plenty of elbow room, with Murray cutting bait, tying lines and offering encouragement while replenishing supplies from the starboard-side tackle station. A bulkhead-mounted Garmin chartplotter—a welcome trend—at the mezzanine seating allowed Murray to keep an eye on bottom structure and toggle through all the other features available at the glass bridge.
With a breeze kicking up to 10 knots or so, Ford put the stern right over the wreck and hit the position fix button on the joystick of the optional ($89,500) CAT Three60 Precision Control system. Immediately the mains and thruster worked in unison with GPS to hold our position with no lurching. We caught some grouper and a handful of other wreckfish. With cool temps, we took turns taking breaks at the mezzanine seating, hands thrust in pockets. When a wreck seemed to be fished out, we made our way to another.
Murray slipped away to the salon to prep lunch and several of us joined. Just as it had this morning when our group stood at the galley’s C-shaped countertop and lounged at the adjacent seating area, the huge forward-facing and side windows made all the difference to the feel of the salon. Adding to the roominess is an open layout and over 7 feet of headroom in most of the salon; it drops to 6 feet, 2 inches in the galley. I stood with Black at the countertop and watched Murray expertly prepare lunch as he waxed on about slicing sashimi (best on the day after the fish is landed), how Japanese ponzu citrus soy sauce is its finest counterpart and the joys of Dutch coffeemakers and Tanzanian Peaberry coffee. And I had been satisfied with Nespresso and a defrosted sammie.
After chasing down a wayward, zig-zagging drone—kudos to the eagle-eyed Ford, the nimble 61 and Thompson’s immaculate reception of the pricey electronics from the foredeck—we pulled into the botanical paradise that is Ussepa Island. A walk around the island among wild orchids, cacti and centuries-old banyan trees led us to a dinner where decades of photographs showed anglers smiling with massive tarpon and the largest sawfish I had ever seen. As we ate, Thompson mentioned that the 61’s hull designer, Michael Peters, was not only integral in the 61’s progress (“They offer much more than just naval architecture such as structural and mechanical engineering. And they’re close by [to Bertram HQ] in Sarasota,” said Thompson), but as a member of Ussepa Island Club, Peters had secured our reservation for the evening.
The next morning found me at the helm running south, slaloming around crab pots at a comfortable 37-knot cruise, the big deep-V carving up the light chop. Ford immediately noticed me on my toes. “We moved the console twelve inches up [on subsequent models] for better sightlines forward,” Ford said. I walked a foot up to the side of the helm and noted significant improvement. The Sea Star Optimus dual-ram hydraulic steering and Humphree auto tabs were an ideal match—she was responsive and handled like a smaller vessel at all speeds. When I buried the throttles, she maintained an average top hop of 43.3 knots and according to the builder will probably be a few knots quicker once some adjustments are made to her five-blade Veem wheels.
There’s an aura about the old Bertram that’s been captured with the 61 while she breaks new ground in design and performance. And the current team in place is determined to run the heck out of her, looking to improve on what is already a fine vessel. As Ford ticks off the number of tournaments and boat shows in the 61’s future, I question when he’ll find some rest. “Sleep when you’re dead,” he told me. Well said, cap.
Bertram 61 Layout Diagrams
Test Conditions: Seas: 2 ft.
Load: Fuel: Full, Water: Full
Bertram 61 — Final Boat Test Numbers:
Bertram 61 Specifications:
Displ.: 88,000 lbs.
Fuel: 1,720 gal.
Water: 280 gal.
Test Power: 2/1,925-hp Caterpillar C32A
Price: $3.4 million