The Ultimate in Recycling - Revisited
Few boats on the water today share the same storied history and devout owner loyalty as the Bertram 31. Over the past several years, these mighty little workhorses have enjoyed a resurgence of interest that borders on cult status. All over the world, eager buyers are snatching up old 31s and restoring them from the hull up, with modern diesel power, generators, air conditioning and all manner of electronic equipment. Many of these renovations end up costing 10 or 20 times what one of the classic hulls brought when it rolled out of the Bertram plant in the early Ď60s.
The appeal of these boats is a powerful one-two punch. First, they were built so solidly and with such a remarkable hull design that they still perform as well as anything ever built in their size class. In addition, they have a proven track record of catching fish: Marlin includes them in its list of the top 10 sportfishing all time. As a bonus, a freshly painted and refurbished 31 looks the part as well, delivering a combination of classic lines and fishing functionality that has never been successfully reproduced in a boat of its size.
One of the first things Norberto Ferretti, the new owner of Bertram Yachts, is said to have done after taking over the reins of the company was to buy and fully restore a 31. This obsession is not his alone. There are SO many 31 lovers out there that an entire cottage industry has sprung up to help owners find parts, swap tips and relay both their successes and failures in the "lost weekend" world of restoration. Everything from new emblems and logos to new decks, flybridges and even hull modifications are available. The clamor for information even spawned a Web site devoted to the 31 and its fans: Bertram3l.com. Enthusiasts from all over the world visit the site to discuss their project boats and to swap parts and advice.
They also get a lot of helpful information from site manager Capt. Patrick McCrary, who started the site two years ago to help Bertram 31 owners and to promote his professional restorations of the craft. McCrary also builds updated modifications for Bertram 31s, such as integrated transom livewells, custom steering pods, oversized rudders and engine air induction kits.
Regular visitors to McCrary Ďs site even started a 31 Bertram Rendezvous on Block Island, and in 2001, the First Annual Uncle Vic International Invitational. Sponsored by "Uncle" Vic Roy of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and held out of Port Eads, the UVI is open to all Bertram 31 owners and guests.
Several boatyards across the country now specialize in restoring and updating 31s and In Florida, two friends got together over a couple of 31 s and started Classic 31, LLC, a company that caters to do-it-yourselfers and offers decks, cabin bulkheads, hull tunnels and other upgrades/modifications. Partners John Alvaís and Ray Cabreraís love affair with the model went so far as to convince them to plan and build a custom boat called the Classic 31 that will be very similar to the original Bertram 31. They even use a twos-piece mold like the originalís. Highly customized and with big Cat power, the Classic 31 will combine todayís advanced materials with the 31ís classic hull design.
A Man and His Bertram
Enough money given to the right yard can turn any old 31 into a gleaming, like new fishing machine, but how much fun could that be? The 31 makes a perfect project boat for the do-it-yourselfer, even for someone with little prior experience with inboard boats like me, for example.
When I bought my 1962 model 31 Express several years ago for what now seems a ridiculously low price, it was in fairly sad but useable shape. I fished it for nearly two years before mechanical problems with the gasoline engines and transmissions began to get the better of me. Rather than continue to repair things as they broke and keep fishing, (which would have been entirely possible), I elected to begin the restoration project that was born in my mind when I first saw the boat. Along the way, I gained an education into all things boat related; painting, fiberglass work, mechanics and other shipís systems, most of which were either replaced, refurbished or rebuilt.
One thing I love most about refurbishing a boat involves scrounging for used equipment at bargain prices or even as no-cost discards. When it comes to boat gear, one man's trash can definitely he anotherís treasure, and I know several fairly wealthy owners who enjoy "dumpster diving" as much as I do. As a side bonus, a lot of the older equipment you come across reeks with the history and tradition of sport fishing. The hunt for good "boat stuff" becomes an enjoyable and educational pastime in itself.
Nearly every coastal community supports a business or two selling used or salvaged boating equipment, and most boatyards have scrap yards and leads to items their customers are willing to part with.
Because I started with a classic hull, fitting it out with equipment from the same or even earlier eras whenever possible seemed the logical route to follow. Before I began the mechanical transformation my boat, I was collecting and installing pieces of the puzzle. From an update on an old wooden Buddy Davis, I got a pair of triple spreader Rock-a-way outriggers, mounting bases and supporting arms for $50. Cut down to 24 foot double spreaders, they look great on my 31 and are a cinch to operate.
My fighting chair, also built by Rock-a-way with a cast aluminum frame, footrest and ratchet-down back, came complete with cushions in a second-hand shop for $50.
At the helm, the original Bertram instrument panel lay flat and was difficult to read at times, so I fashioned a larger, angled panel housing from a teak-and-holly sailboat hatch but kept the stainless instrument panel for the original look.
The original helm bench seats were a hit ragged, but I was able to work a deal with my marina owner for the helm seats he had just replaced on a custom 72-foot Halter, which also turned out to he the source for my electric head.
After I removed the glassed-over plywood deck, I found a shipís carpenter who had a quantity of 1/2" thick teak planking left over from another deck job. For under $350, plus the cost of plywood backing, resin, caulk and some labor, I fashioned my own teak deck. It may not look completely professional, (I learned an awful lot about decking as I did the job), but it feels good under bare feet, and I had complete control on the size and placement of the hatches.
In the cabin, I salvaged all the teak trim for my new mahogany paneling off a scrap pile. The teak-and-holly cabin sole came from a 1954 Wheeler that had partially burned. From a trashed Luhrs, I gained a 12,000-BTU reverse-cycle marine air conditioner, and I got a Norcold refrigerator from a Chris Craft. The original dinette table and cushions were missing from my boat, but I replaced them with cushions from another Chris Craft and a mahogany table that a friend donated. A Pullman couch from yet another old Chris Craft replaced my old V-berth cushions, creating a double berth up front.
On an aborted trip bucking 10-foot head seas from an unexpected storm, I discovered the source of all the leaks in the cabin -- aftermarket Plexiglas replacement windows. To eliminate the deluge I covered the front cabin windows with two layers of 3/4" plywood, one inside, one out, and glassed over the outside. Recently a big cooler full of ice broke loose on the bow deck of a friendís 31 and crashed through the front windows I doubt this will ever happen to me.
The shelf in front of the previous windows now turned to wasted space, so I built custom cabinets and shelves for a microwave to port and storage starboard. I even had enough room to mount a small TV/VCR on a stainless swivel radar mount.
Although the 31 Bertram earned its early reputation as an offshore racing hull, power upgrades to new, lightweight diesels from Cummins and Yanmar improve economy and cruising speed, as well as dependability. The 6BTA Cummins in 210- to 300-hp versions represents the top choice for most 31 conversions. Luckily, the same basic 5.9-liter engine is also a popular choice for Dodge pickups and other light trucks, although in a de-tuned version to coexist with automotive transmissions. Because Dodge put a lot of these trucks on the road, a large number of them end up in wrecking yards where low-mileage engines often languish, waiting for a purpose in their remaining useable lifetimes. Fortunately, these fine little power plants fit perfectly under the engine cover of a 31 Bertram.
H&H Distributing, a company in Angleton, Texas, manufactures a marine conversion kit for the 5.9, which includes a water-cooled exhaust manifold and turbo housing, heat exchanger, raw-water pump, marine bell housing, flywheel, and all necessary gaskets, brackets and fittings. Engines from 1994-97 Dodge trucks were 12 valve editions running 160 to 180 hp in trucks equipped with automatic transmissions and up to 215 hp for 1997 standard-transmission trucks.
An aftermarket horsepower boost kit for the Bosch injector pumps allows you to increase horsepower in increments up to 275 hp, and well over 600 foot-pounds of torque. H&H also offers a raw-water-cooled aftercooler to further enhance the engineís performance.
H&H recently introduced a conversion kit for the 1998 and later model 24 valve Dodge truck Cummins engines, the only one available for this power plant. For my redo, I chose to run a pair of 5.9s boosted to 250 hp utilizing the H&H aftercoolers.
In the conversion from gasoline to diesel power, I replaced struts, shaft logs, transmissions, strainers and fuel filters with all new components. My shafts came from trade-ins that a machinist friend refurbished, while the struts were specifically built for Bertrams by Buck Algonquin Marine Hardware, (302.659.6900). My boat now sports 1 1/2 inch diameter main shafts and 501 1A transmissions from Twin Disc providing a 1.44:1 gear ratio.
With Cummins marine engines in a B31 hull, 1.5:1 transmission and 20 or 21 inch diameter props, you can expect the performance of the 250-hp version to be nearly linear to rpm versus knots of speed above 1,700 rpm: 2,000 rpm = 20 knots, 2,400 rpm = 24 knots, up to a top end of 28 to 30 knots at 2,600 to 2,800 rpm.
Bertram owner Trent Smith of California installed a pair of 1997 215-hp Dodge truck Cummins engines marinized by H&H, and is reporting 24 knots at 2,400 rpm and a top speed of 28 knots at 2,800 rpm with 1.44:1 gears and 20-inch props. With 200 hours on the engines, he also reports a burn rate of 1.5 mpg -- not bad for a pair of junkyard engines. The cost of Smithís engines with new Twin Disc gears was around $23,000 for the pair, which is significantly less than the cost of brand-new marine engines.
Of course, these converted truck engines carry no factory warranty and shouldn't be considered equal to new marine engines. Still, they have definite advantages for do-it-yourselfers, and those on a tight budget. Many parts such as alternators and starters, fuel pumps, and belts can be purchased for these converted engines at the corner auto parts store for significant savings.
An unexpected benefit of doing the engine work myself came in the form of an education. 1 mentioned earlier that Iím not considered to be extremely mechanically inclined, yet I installed most of my engines and running gear. In the process, 1 learned where all the troublesome parts are located, as well as how to maintain and repair or replace these crucial parts.
Every time I leave the dock on my restored 31 Bertram, a big chunk of boating and sportfishing history sails with me. With other enthusiasts all over the world following similar routes, the lessons we have learned from the pioneers of the past will remain close at hand. In addition, if there is a candidate more worthy of a recycling award than the classic Bertram 31, refitted with a reclaimed salvage diesel and carrying original fishing gear from the glory days of blue-water angling, Iíve yet to find it.