• Published:January 5, 2016
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Bertram Yachts is under new ownership. The venerable boatbuilding company that fell under hard times in recent years has new owners and is focused on the company's rich tradition to define its future.

When Beniamino Gavio bought Bertram in April 2015, the new owner said he wanted to return Bertram to its roots. Little translation was needed: Think American-made classic. Think Harley-Davidson. Think Chevrolet.

“I’ve heard of a lot of analogies,” said Tommy Thompson, Bertram’s Product Development Manager. “A sport-fisher is an American product. It needs to be utilitarian. Bertram was always at its best when it was built and designed by Americans, for whatever reason.”

The Gavio Group expanded its list of nautical assets last April when it bought Bertram from Ferretti Yachts, an Italian boatbuilder that has a long tradition in yachting circles, but struggled to capture the essence of the Bertram brand. Also in the Gavio yachting fold are Cerri Cantieri and Baglietto.

In September 2015, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilders, located in Maine, signed on to build Bertram’s prototypes. In October 2015, Thompson and Susan Davids, General Manager, were brought onboard to lead Bertram’s management team in its Fort Lauderdale, Florida, office.

“Mr. Gavio has said he doesn’t need to be the biggest boat builder in the word, he just wants to be the best,” Thompson said. “So we’re not targeting any of our competitors like people would think.”

Although Bertram’s new ownership appears to have created quite a buzz in the boating community, skeptics point to issues with Bertram boats built under Ferretti. In 2008, a Bertram 63 in Palm Beach suffered a massive hull failure and catastrophic delamination, which led to accusations of shoddy workmanship. In 2009, a Bertram 63 sank off the coast of South Carolina. News of both incidents swept across the Internet, creating message board mayhem. Bertram’s reputation for dependability took a big hit.

“You know what’s a shame about that, I love that 63,” Thompson said. “Of all the Ferretti-era Bertrams, that 63 was my favorite boat. In general, that boat was the right size. That hull problem was a production issue. I can’t speak to it. For whatever reason, they failed.”

Despite what may have caused the issues with the 63 under past ownership, one can’t help but wonder if the new Bertram owners can recover from the public-relations fallout.

“Everyone will give you a second chance in life,” said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. “What you do with that chance will be the difference in whether you’re successful or not. You can’t take a chance of missing the mark.”

Thompson is optimistic that Bertram will re-establish its reputation for fine craftsmanship. It’s out with the old and in with the new.

“All of the Ferretti-era molds are gone,” Thompson said. “They’re all crunched up.”

Bertram has enlisted a group of top-notch companies to assist with the production of its first hull. They’ve signed on with renowned yacht designer Michael Peters for the hull shape. Lyman-Morse, a longtime boatbuilder based in Maine, will build the first Bertram prototypes. Composites Consulting Group (CCG), experts in the field of fiberglass and hull materials, will also be involved in the project.  

“We’ve got Michael Peters. He can get it right. Number two, we’ve got Lyman-Morse, who can build boats as well as Bertram can. There’s a checks-and-balances there,” Thompson says. “There’s no question this boat has to be right.”

The first boat under the new Bertram regime will be the Bertram 35, a slightly bigger sibling of the original Bertram 31 Moppie, the boat that the company’s founder, Richard “Dick” Bertram, won the 1960 Miami to Nassau race with, shattering the course record despite the rough seas. The revolutionary deep-V hull design cut through the Gulf Stream chop with ease. The Moppie, named as a tribute to Bertram’s wife, became an instant hit. By 1971, Bertram had built 1,000 31-footers.

Thompson hopes the Bertram 35 will spark a similar cult-like following. The company expects the first 35 to hit the water this summer.

“We’re looking at July,” Thompson said. “It’s a smaller boat, but we should be relatively close to that schedule.”

The 35 is expected to hold 300 gallons of fuel and hit 40-plus knots at wide-open throttle. The base model, he said, sells for $695,000.

Thompson said the ideal timeline is for the third and fourth 35 to be built at Bertram’s own production facility, but the company is still scouting locations. Regardless, the 35 should be on display at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. A Bertram 31 was on display at the 2015 event.

“We wanted to get people’s attention, to see that throwback,” Thompson said. “The reception to the design was fantastic. I won’t say that surprised us. To be honest with you, the styling was easy. It’s a 31. We knew we had a good shape to work from. The trick is to get it right. That’s where our focus is, getting the details right, too.”

The response to the little Bertram has been overwhelming with “hundreds of emails.” So, the interest is there. Now Bertram has to deliver.

“In the end, we’ve got to get it right,” Thompson said.