A Vintage collectible and proven fish getter, the Bertram 31, gets a modern day make over.
Original article by Jan Fogt
First published in Florida Sportsman's Popular "One Man's Dreamboat" Series, (December 1995), in which they spotlight highly
Individualized fishing boats that are designed or outfitted to meet the Owner's particular needs
and fishing style. Jan Fogt is the author and has kindly granted permission to reprint this great article. Thank you Jan!!
Boat-less for almost a decade, Murray was happy enough to be chartering in Nova Scotia, Venezuela, St. Thomas and Costa Rica. Then Melanie
suggested they buy a boat. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It hadn't occurred to me to get back into a boat but when she said it,
without even thinking, I knew what I wanted was a Moppie 31."
Though unmistakably Bertram, the Finest Kind just doesn't look like your daddy's Bertram. Not cosmetically thanks to
a custom finish of soft blue on the hull sides and ice white on the superstructure, nor in the cockpit or interior. This 27-year-old classic
31 changed hands (in 1991) and was torn down and remade from stem to stern.
Ed Murray purchased the boat for less than $40,000 and spent another $175,000 bringing it up to the standards of his dream. And it shows.
The layout and design of the finest Kind proves Murray is still a big-game fisher-man at heart, even though he occasionally deep drops for grouper
and snapper while vacationing in the Bahamas. Still, the new boat has caught several blue marlin to 600 pounds, including a pair last summer
that Murray's fiancée Melanie Erickson caught off Palm Beach.
Moppie, for those not privy to the culture of big boat and tournament anglers, has been the standard moniker for the 31 Bertram since the hull first
appeared in 1961. The first 31 built was named Moppie, which was Richard Bertram's wife's nickname. The name soon became synonymous with
the 31 in particular and in general, with Bertram Express boats, those models without fly ridges and with the helm in the cockpit. The boat represented
a major step forward in design when it appeared.
"The soft way it rode in heavy seas was really miraculous," explains Richard Bertram, praising designer Ray Hunt's trend-setting,
deep-vee design. Hunt's concept of carrying the vee and dead rise all the way to the transom to eliminate pounding, along with the unusual addition
of longitudinal strakes for lift and to deflect spray out and away from the boat, made the hull revolutionary for its time.
"By every test we gave her, it was obvious he had achieved a major break-through in hull design," said Bertram. Famed for its fish-raising
characteristics and seaworthiness, the 31's layout is what sold Murray. This too is the legacy of genius. While Bertram and Hunt were tweaking
the hull design, bluewater fishing legend Capt. Tommy Gifford, who had one of the first 31s, was offering input on fishing features.
"There aren't many boats around with a helm and cockpit like the 31," Murray says. "It's one of the few boats you can run and
fish at the same time, eliminating the need for others to help you crew. The Moppie always seemed like it would be the perfect day-fishing boat."
As well, with his days as a "chamois captain" long past, he liked the fact that the 31 was one of the great wash-and-wear
boats. After building the successful and well-known Murray Brothers tackle business, then turning his charter operation over to his sons,
Murray didn't intend to spend his free time maintaining a boat. He intended to do what he was known for-hands on fishing.
Wanting a 31 is one thing, locating one for sale proved to be a bigger challenge than he anticipated. In the last (ten) years the 31-foot Bertram has
become as collectible as a 67 Corvette and just about as pricey. A cult boat with an international fan club of 1,100, the 31 foot Bertram recently
turned 35 years old, and if anything is more popular now than when it first came out.
It took Murray two months to find a Moppie in good condition. Then it took five more to get it ready. "The first thing we did was to gut the boat,
removing decks, hardware, glass, all hatches and doors, engines, you name it," he said. Even the old cockpit sole was chucked and replaced with a
contoured design that drains through new scuppers that empty under water, preventing seepage when the boat is backing. Between the new scuppers and
a crown in the sole, water now flushes from the cockpit in a matter of seconds.
The boat came with a pair of new fresh-water cooled, 350-horsepower gas 454 Crusaders, with 1 1/2 to 1 reduction and
new steering. Rudders, struts, stuffing boxes and mufflers and exhausts were mechanically perfect, so they were retained. But cosmetically,
"she was awful." Dull fiberglass was ground to a chalky patina; patched and painted with custom blended Awigrip by Eagle Eye Yacht Finishers,
until the entire boat, with the exception of interior appointments, was "varnished" white.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Moppie has always been a simple elevated helm station atop the starboard engine box, and a curved windshield.
But what the helm lacked was storage. Murray wanted space for electronics such as GPS, loran, plotters and digital depth and water temperature gauges that
are so necessary for locating breaks that marlin and tuna are likely to occupy.
To accommodate all that equipment he designed a mini-command bridge from which he can easily monitor his electronics while trolling. He settled on a
Rybovich-style helm station to incorporate the changes he wanted to make. "It's similar to what I enjoyed on the 45-foot Rybovich I last ran,"
says Murray, who also chose a Rvbovich machined Steering wheel and Panish controls and gauges as much for their stylish looks as their reputation for flawless
operation. The adjustable helm chair, which was painted to match the blue of the hull, has everything to do with function as well as comfort.
"The chair puts me eye-level with the Port-to-starboard dash," explains Murray.
Behind the Lexan sliding doors rest not only his electronics, but charts and extra terminal tackle. There also is an overhead electronics box
beneath an oversize Bimini top. "Not being as young as I once was, I just can't ride the tuna tower all day. The helm station, however, is high
enough off the water so I can easily spot fish and shallow spots I might go aground over, yet it's stable, so it doesn't beat me up.
"With the elevated helm he's one step From the cockpit, an arrangement he says is superior in every way to a fly-bridge, especially for a boat this size.
"Lacking the weight of a fly-bridge, the boat is from the cockpit, an arrangement he says is not as top heavy and handles better in rough seas," he adds.
"Though designed as a day-boat, we tried to incorporate
as many features of a big sportfisherman as we could," explains Murray, "including a full-size fighting
chair and tuna door." Other improvements include Hynautic steering, air conditioning and an electrical panel as sophisticated as anything
on a 65-footer. The old 175-gallon fuel tank was replaced with a 272-gallon tank that extends the boat's range for fishing the Out Islands of the
Bahamas chain. But more than just adding range, Murray says he also got improved handling and dryness with the extra weight.
Since the boat (was) 22 years old, it was a given the wiring had to go, said Murray. He added a new 3 KW Onan generator under the helm, between the
engines. This not only powers the Cruiseair cooling system, which Murray wanted for Out Island cruising and fishing, but it also powers the electric reels.
These see a lot of use; controlling fishing kites when live-bait sail-fishing; for retrieving wire lines when deep-dropping for yellowed eyes and grouper in the
Bahamas; or trolling for monster wahoo from Thanksgiving to Christmas off Bimini.
Although the Moppie has a reputation for being wet at times, his is no longer that way, says Murray, who solved the problem by changing the
attitude of the hull with his custom additions. The Finest Kind sits higher in the bow than the standard Bertram 31, thanks to the added weight
of the fuel tank, generator and the full-size fighting chair in the cockpit.
The dual-control tuna tower built by Pipe Welders, features full electronics and a buggy top and Rupp double-spreader outriggers. It was designed to
facilitate navigation in tricky Bahamian waters and for long island-to-island runs, and "for those days when we do fish hard, we can be competitive," says Murray.
Wahoo and kingfish action can be almost as good off the Palm Beaches
in the early to mid-spring, especially deep baits run off a Z-wing or downrigger. Murray prefers the Z-wing, "because it's a cleaner application than a
downrigger and easier to use." The Z-wing, which can be used with two baited lines, hangs overboard on a parachute cord with a release clip. He also
likes the fact the Z-wing can be fished closer to the boat than a traditional downrigger ball, "which makes my Exterminator plug all
the more deadly for wahoo."
Another Murray trolling technique is his choice of teasers, which he runs from a Rybovich teaser reel mounted above the helm station.
"That reel is one of the great fishing features on the boat, because it allows me to reel in both teasers off one reel," explains Murray.
His choice of teasers is a throwback to the tournament winning ways he learned off his native Long Island, where he became a tuna fishing legend
in the late 1950s and early 60s. The deadly teaser rig he's using for both sailfish and marlin is a spreader bar, which he loads with a variety
of artificial baits such as plastic squid, Lil' Hookers or flying fish.
The spreader bar, which looks like a coat hanger with a bar in the middle, is black spring steel so it has an action of its own. He normally
rigs the teaser with two small flying fish four or five down the middle. With the overhead teaser reel he situates the spreader bar so
the baits are laying on the water, just clipping the surface. "It's an irresistible rig for marlin, yellow fin tuna and dolphin" says Murray.
The Finest Kind may have everything a large boat does, but the feel of running a smaller boat, at least to Murray, took some getting used to. "
In a following sea the boat runs beautifully. But our first crossing to Bimini, the seas were quartering on my starboard bow and it was wet and rough,
but the boat more than took it. It's a great sea boat. It's easy to fish and clean and it raises fish. This boat is like a small scorpion with a
very big stinger."
Ed Murray breaks grandson Matthew in at the helm station.
04/04/2003 Entry: "There is no greater passion than that of a fisherman.
Edward J. Murray (April 2, 1935-April 2, 2003)"
A sport fishing pioneer and innovator, Ed touched the lives of fishermen around the world. Whether for kids on a bridge fishing with a shrimp, or the countless adults whom he helped catch their first Blue Marlin, he lived to share his passion.
So for all of the things he taught us about fishing, we really learned that he loved people and he loved life. And in this life there is no purer joy than that of a 'father and son just fishing off a bridge with a shrimp'. We loved him and we've only begun to know how much we will miss him.
Frank, Cookie, Jeff, Paul, Vincent, Lynn, Mike, Lauren, Matthew, Paulie, Brandon, Rosemarie, Linda, Melanie