"Mid Size Power Boats" - Buyers' Guide by David Pascoe

Bertram 42 Convertible

Making an Old Boat New

Bertram 42  Convertible "Marlin Monroe"  - Photo by David Pascoe
Click photo for full screen photo (172K).

For the lack of a better idea, we decided to use the eye-catching name of this boat as the title of this article. It's been many months that I've been looking to feature a fine example of a restored older boat, particularly a Bertram, but the opportunity hasn't presented itself until now. Fortunately, we have an exceedingly fine example for you here. Why Bertram? Well, mainly because there has been such a great resurgence in the popularity of these boats, along with a lot of really fine refurbishing projects that have been going on over the last few years. In fact, we've surveyed more Bertrams in the last year than we have in a very long time, probably since the mid to late 1980's. Part of the reason, of course, is the ever-rising cost of new boats, particularly those of higher quality.

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Top quality hardware makes a world of difference, especially the Ideal, dual gypsy windlass anchoring the end of a newly added custom bow pulpit, replacing the old teak pulpit. Note how the capstan is used as a mooring bitt rather than chocks. Except for the edge banding, the new white rails are nearly invisible.

A new version would probably go close to $800k. What MARLIN represents here is a way to obtain a nearly new boat while shaving off at least half that amount. Another part is that once trends get started, they have a way of building momentum. The current trend of refurbishing old Bertrams is well underway.

We all know about the Bertram mystique, of how they have this reputation for a certain machismo and all that. I've never really bought into that, perhaps because I live too close (25 miles) from the place where they were built. I mingle almost daily with them, so that the myth never had much effect on me since I know that Bertrams have warts and moles just as all other boats. This is not to say that there's nothing standing behind   the myth. All you have to do is take one look at these photos to see otherwise. You're not really much of a boat lover if you're not captivated by them at least a little.

MARLIN MONROE is the re-creation of a 1982 galley down model by Bob and Kathy Hamilton of Coral Gables. Purchased in 1994, in fine condition when they acquired it,  they spent the next nearly five years lavishing love and money on her in stages. Now, you might think by looking at the photos that they simply delivered her to a high class yacht yard and simply paid the bill to have all this great refurbishing work done. Not so, for the Hamiltons, and most especially Kathy, are real, hands-on people. Would you believe that Mrs. Hamilton, who was dressed like a corporate business executive at the time we met her, did the engine detailing work herself?  Yep, you read that right: engine detailing as in scraping and wire brushing and preparing for Awlgrip. As they say, you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands, and Kathy's hands don't look much better than mine, so there was no cause to doubt her claims.

It is said that a picture can be worth a thousand words. Perhaps true, but it's also true that photos can lie. Photos can make even a junker look good if one is skilled with a camera. Conversely, photos often can't capture the more subtle aspects of the subject, which is certainly true in this case. First laying eyes on the boat, I immediately thought the whole boat had been repainted. In fact, MARLIN MONROE was so shiny and gleaming under the morning sun that I had to look extremely close to determine that she indeed was not painted, but that her gel coat had been polished to such a high luster that it looked like a freshly painted boat by a real spray gun expert. That's just one aspect that can't really be captured with a camera.

Bertram 42 - Helm

This customized helm is about as perfect as it gets. Notice how the wheel is nearly horizontal with the engine controls set at a comfortable spacing. The rybovich chairs with "a touch of teak" adds a nice accent to an otherwise black and white scheme.

The other is the overall effort that was expended to make this yacht look no more than one or two years old. One of the first things to catch your eye is the bait and tackle center, followed by the helm console on the bridge. If you know the 42 Convertible, you know that you don't find components like these on boats of this vintage. Instead, they look like something on a brand new 43. Equally amazing was the fact that the Hamilton's did not purchase these components from Bertram, but made them themselves! Take a gander at that customized helm. When was the last time I saw a helm laid out that well, I wondered? Been a while, for sure. Simple and uncluttered, even a stranger can quickly locate a switch without having to hunt around for five minutes. And notice the positioning of the wheel: nearly horizontal with the  engine controls positioned properly to the arm and body position of the average person. Horizontal and not too close or too far from the wheel.

Check out the top photo closely. Compare this with anything currently sitting on a showroom floor. You'd have a hard time finding anything fresh out of the mold that exceeds this for overall good quality and design. It's twenty years old, but it's hard to tell it's not a new boat.  In the cockpit, and on the bridge, all the old Masonite panels were replaced with Starboard plastic panels so there  won't be anymore problems with breakage or deterioration. But it's that bait and tackle center that got my attention; it was beautifully crafted by a full-time employee of the Hamilton's, described to me as both "house and boat maintenance guy." Huh? Are you sure he isn't a former Bertram mold maker?

In recent years designers have been fooling around with all sorts of new ideas for a way to get up to the bridge. One thing that caught my attention was that this plain old ladder is still the best way. Some incorporate the tackle center, putting steps on the front of it, then a ladder on top of that. Others extend the house top way aft, so that you have to go through a hole in the bridge deck, usually causing you to bash your head in. Still others have tried ladders that have two angles in them, frequently causing you to miss a step on the way down because you don't anticipate the angle change. Yet here I found that there is no faster or easier way to get up there than with an ordinary ladder. The reinvention of the wheel often ends up square.

Another outstanding feature are the rub rails. Rub rails? Yep, rub rails. Not really glamorous stuff, rub rails, but the ability of old, bent up rails to ruin the appearance of an otherwise nice boat is amazing. One of the things that I've railed against about Bertrams for years was their use of those awful aluminum extrusions that corroded something awful, that were nearly impossible to replace, and  end up detracting horribly from the appearance of these yachts as they get older. It was a large task, to say the least, but the rails were replaced with 2" x 2-3/4" plastic with SOLID stainless edge banding. It's bolted every 8 inches so that there's no way it's going to look like an old washboard in a few years. This plastic has proved highly durable, and which I now consider as absolutely the best stuff ever to use for rub rails. As you can see, it has a tremendous effect on improving the appearance, in part by reducing some of the clutter of the lines.

In addition to that, they replaced the old teak bow pulpit with a fiberglass pulpit, then adding a dual gypsy Galley Maid windlass -- a real windlass, not just a rope retractor. Notice the proper positioning of the cleats on the deck so that they can be used either for tying off the anchor rode, or in using the windlass as mooring bit for dock lines as you see in the photo below. All too often little thought is given to cleat positioning so that they end in less than ideal locations.

We didn't get many good shots of the interior because between my self and engine surveyor Ron Doerr, the salon was strewn with our survey cases, tools and other junk, turning it into a general shambles by ourselves. If you're familiar with the 42, one of the first things you'd notice about this is that they somehow managed to make the interior bigger. Well, not really, it just seems that way because all the old brown formica is gone. The really strange thing is the brown has been replaced with white mica, only it's done in a way that doesn't look like mica. All the teak trim, plus that large, boxy entertainment center up under the windshield, was refinished in a very light liming -- as in limed oak. So lightly, in fact, that it gives the appearance of antiquing, rather than the heavy liming so popular today that mainly turns the wood white. The important feature about this is that the wood can take some wear and tear without looking clapped out.

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The make-over of this galley is one of the more startling transformations. Notice how the layering and instepping of the countertop has increased the floor space and eliminated the sense of cramping. Originally, there was an upright reefer where the stove is  now. This was achieved by using SubZero under counter units.

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The head receives the same treatment with white mica and a mirror.

You can see the color of it in the photos of the galley, the one part of the interior that was completely rebuilt. Notice how the white mica reflects the light to make the galley seem much larger than it really is. This really amazed me, for my feeling about the galleys in both the 42 and 46 has always been that there was something just not right about it. The way they redid MARLIN MONROE completely eliminated that feeling. Though it's the same old space, this galley is esthetically pleasing.  Rather than having a continuous, same plane counter top, they fashioned it in three steps horizontally, and one step vertically. Originally, the countertop was as wide as that section that contains the hot plate at the forward end. Making those steps gives another 10" of floor space in way of the sink, something that makes a remarkable difference without really sacrificing any useable space because those 10" were originally behind the sink.

If you like the looks of the boat, you'll like the performance even better. Still powered with her original 6V92TI's at somewhere around 500 hp, we clocked upwind speed at 29.8 knots downwind and 28.4 upwind with winds at around 15-18 knots. Both engines had just been completely rebuilt and were at peak performance, plus the boat was light, having an estimated 2,000 lbs. of loose equipment removed. She'll cruise at a nice 20 knots with the engines loafing at 1800 RPM on long trips where fuel range is a major consideration. Set ups like this continue to prove my point of the great advantage in overpowering. Well, not really overpowering, it's just that far too many boats today are underpowered, or merely powered right on the edge of bare minimum. It points to the fact that if you don't have it, you can't use it. Pushing the throttles forward, she just leaps out of the water. Unlike marginally powered boats, there's none of that sense that she's struggling to get going, to get out of the hole. Up and out. Zoom. Check out the wake trail in the nearby photo.

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Zoom. At 29 knots the wake closes far behind.
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The Bertram electric panel: The way things ought to be. This is what a well designed panel looks like.

Okay, so now we arrive at the bottom line. What does it take to create something like this? But first, let's consider what it would take in dollars and cents to just go out and buy a yacht like this. A new boat of this calibre is going to run something like $800,000. We estimate the amount invested in MARLIN MONROE to be around $400,000, including purchase price, roughly half the price of a new boat. There isn't much need to question the economics of the project, particularly when considering what a show-stopper she is. This boat turns heads in a way that a new Hatteras or Viking never could, simply because she's an old boat that stands head to head with anything fresh off a showroom floor. Twenty years old and it looks brand new  . . . . no, better than new.

Of course, projects like this are time-consuming. No doubt about it, it's obviously a labor of love that could be carried out successfully only by someone who loved it and knew what they were doing.  The refurbishing that was done here was done with a practiced eye on the cost as well as the esthetics. If you wanted to hand the job over to a yard, the cost would have been double. Instead, the owners knew how to find skilled people to do high quality work, and had the time to manage them, a major criteria for projects like this. Nor should the advantage of having the boat docked in their back yard be understated. Of course, if you've seen many of those home improvement shows on TV, then you've got a good idea of what it takes. The difficulties with renovating boats and houses are about the same.

Congratulations on a job superbly well done. MARLIN MONROE should be good for another 20 years.

Posted May 5, 1999

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