Life doesn’t stay the same. Boats don’t, either. Dug Stowe has had his Bertram 31 for almost 20 years, and it has made the transition from a “fishing with the guys” boat to a family cruiser that’s a perfect fit for his companion, Kerri, and their 2-year-old daughter.
Stowe, who is 48 and lives is Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, bought the iconic deep-vee boat 18 years ago as a fishing platform to replace his center console. “I didn’t have a specific goal in mind when I bought it; I just wanted a stock Bertram 31 that ran well and was comfortable,” he says. After spending the night in the middle of Fisher’s Island Sound at anchor in the fog, on a boat without shelter or electronics, “I wanted to have something more than a center console.” As he puts it, he decided to take charge of his boating destiny. “I wanted to do more than just catch bluefish and stripers,” he says. “So I decided to buy a platform that I could do basically whatever I wanted with.”
Just out of business school, Stowe in 1999 paid around $22,000 for his 1969 Bertram 31 Flybridge Cruiser. “There were a couple of Bertrams in our harbor [in Mystic, Connecticut] , and they struck me as a very good-looking boat,” he says. “Of course, I knew their reputation.”
But buying the boat was just the beginning. “It was in bad shape,” Stowe says. “It had twin 440 Chrysler engines, which should strike fear into any knowledgeable boater. We drove it from Swansea [Massachusetts, where it was purchased] to my home port in Mystic, and to this day I don’t know how we got it there.” In subsequent inspections, Stowe says, he found many “scary things,” including rotten plywood and worn-out engine parts.
The Bertram was gutted “from the firewall back,” repowered, rewired, repainted and fitted out with up-to-date electronics to make it the reliable, comfortable boat he wanted.
Then Stowe started to go to Bertram rendezvous. “I noticed that the Bertram 31 seemed to have two things. It has a cult-like following, and it’s a boat that people really like to modify. I started seeing what people had done with their 31s — I was intrigued. I saw the possibility to create something unusual.”
Stowe decided to make his Bertram ready for “another 25 to 50 years of use,” fixing the leaking side windows, changing to a solid windshield, stiffening the flybridge, solving the engine problems he’d been plagued with. “I needed a real plan,” he says. “I had a boat that was deserving of the investment. I said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s save up the money to do it right.’ ”
The first phase involved gutting most of the interior, then rewiring and plumbing, installing teak soles and decking, updating the galley systems and gear, and adding new electronics. Stowe repowered with twin 240- hp Yanmar diesels, replacing a pair of rebuilt gas power plants. At 3,100 rpm, the boat makes 23 to 24 knots, burning about 11 gallons an hour. “That’s hard to beat,” he says.
Stowe has since added custom touches and cruising comforts to his Bertram: a renovated flybridge, a teak cockpit sole, a custom hardtop, underwater lights, a new head system and air conditioning.
The boat has lived up to its name, Alchemy, Stowe says. “It’s defined as the creation of something unusual from something usual. … It’s the perfect name.”
Over the years, Alchemy has proved itself as a fishing boat, running offshore to the canyons for tuna, blue marlin, mahi and sharks. Now it’s the family cruising boat. “We’ve just recently discovered the beauty of Long Island and the back side of Shelter Island,” he says. “[Long Island] Sound, Watch Hill [Rhode Island], we know almost every nook and cranny. Spending the night, catching a fish or just going for a drive and enjoying the scenery — that’s what it’s all about.”
As for his young daughter, Olivia, “she loves Daddy’s boat,” Stowe says. “When she’s up on the flybridge, she falls asleep on me.”
It won’t be long before she’s steering Alchemy from the flybridge. “I’ve been boating all my life,” Stowe says. “I remember rowing around the harbor in a dinghy, fishing on Fisher’s Island Sound, water skiing — and how awesome it was. Now we’re going to go back to some of those places with my daughter, and it’s all going to be done over again.”
LOA: 30 feet, 7 inches • BEAM: 11 feet, 2 inches • DRAFT: 3 feet, 1 inch • WEIGHT: 9,600 pounds • HULL TYPE: deep-vee • PROPULSION: twin gas inboards (original) • TANKAGE: 175 gallons fuel, 18 gallons water
The Bertram 31 rides a fiberglass deep-vee hull with 24 degrees of transom deadrise. A low center of gravity, hard chines and a tall bow contribute to the superb seakeeping characteristics of this legendary fishing boat.
The open cockpit has room for a fighting chair, tackle boxes and bait stations. Many 31s are customized with outriggers and other fishing gear. The two cockpit engine boxes are often used as seats, sunpads or work areas. On the Flybridge Cruiser, the main helm is on the flybridge, reached by a cockpit ladder. The helm station is laid out with a bench and a dashboard for gauges and electronics. There’s also a guest bench seat.
Below, the cabin layout is simple, with accommodations for four. The original layout has a V-berth forward (with insert) and a marine head underneath the berth. The galley, with a sink and under-counter refrigerator, is just aft and to port. The dinette, convertible to a bunk for two, is across the way, to starboard. An optional lower helm station was offered.
The Bertram 31 is one of the most successful designs in the boating annals. After its debut as an open express in the early 1960s, the “31 fleet” grew to four models, prized for their large cockpits and accommodations for four. More than 1,000 Flybridge Cruisers were built. Other models include the Express Cruiser, Bahia Mar and Convertible “Moppie.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue.