The story of how Bertram yachts began is a legend in boating history. In 1960, Richard Bertram won the Miami-Nassau powerboat race in his prototype 30-foot Moppie with a deep-vee hull designed by C. Raymond Hunt. The rough seas and gusting winds prevented all but two boats from finishing the race that day. The other boat was also a vee-hull, slightly shorter at 24 feet. The Moppie, named after Bertram’s wife, was wooden with a 24-degree deadrise from bow to transom. Instead of pounding the seas, the vee-hull knifed through the water.
Bertram built a 31-foot fiberglass version that he entered in the Miami-Nassau race the next year and again won. There was so much interest in the performance of the deep-vee hull that Bertram went into business, establishing Bertram Yacht, Inc. The Bertram 31, a fiberglass vee-hull boat, was launched in 1961. The Bertram 31 is now a classic boat with a dedicated following. The Bertram31.com website provides a meeting place for all Bertram fans, links to other sites and information about classic Bertram boats.
The Bertram 38, also of fiberglass construction, is the third in the line of classic boats produced by the company. Second was the Bertram 25, which followed the Bertram 31 in 1962. The first Bertram 38s were produced in 1963, with thirteen Fly-Bridge Cruisers made that year. A number of models were introduced during its 24-year production, including several versions of the 38 Convertible, the Salon Cruiser, the Fly-Bridge Cruiser, the Sport Fisherman, the 38 Special and Special Express. The original Bertram 38 was designed by Ray Hunt. Later 38s were designed by David Napier.
The Bertram 38 Convertible was introduced in the late 1960s, reconfigured once in the early 1970s and again in 1978. After the launch of the Bertram 38 Sport Fisherman, two more versions were introduced between 1969 and 1987. The Bertram 38 II was produced from 1969 to 1974, and the Bertram III from 1977 to 1987. The Bertram 38 Special was launched in 1984. A total of 162 Bertram Is and IIs were made, 331 IIIs and approximately 50 Specials.
The Bertram 38 and Bertram 38 II hulls had a 22-degree deadrise, which performed well in heavy seas. However, the boats rolled at low speeds or when at anchor taking waves on the beam. The later Bertram 38s had a modified hull with a 20-degree deadrise and widened chines to lessen the rolling. The earlier Bertrams were wet boats.
The Bertram 38s were designed as sport fishing boats, solidly built to perform well in rough seas and return home safely, but without decorative frills. The redesign of the 38 in 1969 modified the superstructure without changing the hull design, resulting in aesthetic improvement. Other features of the 38 include twin inboard motors, a wide cockpit and efficiently designed galleys and staterooms.
The spacious cockpit was 110 square feet on the Bertram 38 II, and 100 square feet on the III. The 38 II sat five people facing forward on the fly bridge; the 38 III accommodated six. The lower helm in the saloon was standard on the 38II, but optional on the 38 III.
The original 38s had a 14’ 5” beam, 3’ 6” draft and 26,000-pound displacement. They held 350 gallons of fuel and 100 gallons of water. The later 38s, both convertibles and specials, had 13’ 3” beams, 4’ 2” draft and 27,000-pound displacement. The beam was reduced to make the boat less wet and increase speed. The 38 Specials had the same hull as the 38 III Convertibles, but used balsa coring on the bow side of the engine bulkhead in the hillsides.
The twin inboard engines were often diesel but had a gasoline option; gasoline-powered MerCruisers were fitted on many 38 IIs. Cruising speed was approximately 20 knots for gasoline powered engines, and a bit less, 16 to 18 knots, for twin diesels. The Bertram 38 IIIs also offered a gasoline engine option. Standard motors were diesel Cummins 555s. Horsepower improved with the Cummins 903s. Later models were fitted with Caterpillar 3208s, with a cruising speed of 23 to 25 knots. The large engine rooms were accessible under the bridge deck through a hatch in the sole. Generators were under the cockpit. Although access to the generator was not difficult, water sometimes penetrated. Some owners report a tendency for the units to rust.
The 38 offered two staterooms, a forward V-berth that slept two, and a port-side cabin with upper and lower berths. A stall shower, sink and marine head were standard. The galley was in the saloon, L-shaped in the 38 II and Pullman-style in the 38 III. Ample storage was included in the saloon, staterooms, along the sides of the cockpit and under the sole.
Bertram outfitted its boats with high-quality, sturdy fittings such as double-clamped hoses and fire-retardant, custom-molded fuel tanks. Its Cook Chemical gel coating was top-notch, although somewhat likely to suffer stress-cracking. After more than 30 years, some boats still have the original gel coating. The hulls occasionally blistered, but most have been without serious problems.
The earlier 38s did not have great speed because the deep-vee affected horsepower. The new design of the Bertram 38 IIIs resulted in a faster boat. The interiors of the original 38s were not posh and many have been upgraded by their owners, replacing plywood and formica with higher quality materials. The many Bertrams still in use today attest to the rugged durability of the boat. As one owner commented, by building such a sturdy, long-lived boat, Bertram was its own worst competitor.
The 38 was followed by the Bertram 37 Convertible. Other models in the fleet include the 21, 26, 28, 30, 33, 35, 42, 43 and 46. A portion of the company was traded in a leveraged buyout in 1985, creating three new companies. Bertram Trojan, Inc. took over Bertram Yacht. In 1998, Ferretti S.p.A. acquired Bertram. Since that time, several new models of Bertrams have been introduced. The Bertram legend continues.