John Howell is one of those boaters who has spent most of his life on the water. The retired industrial arts teacher from Long Island, New York, has logged countless hours at sea, traveling as far as the shores of South America. Along the way, the 45-year Power Squadron member has earned his 100-ton license with a towing endorsement, skippered head boats and owned a veritable fleet of pleasure boats, mostly Bertrams of various sizes and types. Howell and his wife, Barbara, were even married on one of the boats they owned.
“I grew up on the water, and I’ve been there ever since,” says Howell, 70, who now boats out of Port Jefferson on the island’s North Shore.
With his extensive experience, it’s only natural that Howell often contemplated his perfect boat, or at least one well-suited to his needs. He would describe it as “a great cruising vessel, capable of being self-supporting for two or three weeks away from the dock.” It would be economical, easy to maintain, seaworthy and comfortable.
Howell was able to create his dream boat when he purchased a 1981 Bertram 46 Convertible in 2013 for just under $100,000. “People don’t realize what you can do with these older sportfishing boats,” he says. “They’re well-made with lots of possibilities. It’s also rewarding to save a quality older boat with upgrades.”
It required some planning and hard work to turn the 46-footer into a cruising boat, but Howell took an intelligent, deliberate approach to the project, drawing on his experience upgrading another Bertram 38 years ago.
The engines were the first thing to go. He replaced the original Detroit Diesel 8V92s with a pair of 500-hp Volvo Penta D9 diesels, and he upgraded the engine room during the transfer. “Here was an opportunity to make maintenance easier, making sure oil and fuel filters were easily accessed, putting the batteries on a secure shelf, that sort of thing.”
He then installed transfer pumps to move fuel between the forward and aft tanks. “Trim can be somewhat controlled by using the fuel and water tanks,” Howell explains. “I worked with Steve’s Marine here in Amityville [New York]. I was down there on a daily basis, going over things with Don, the head mechanic. The teamwork that went into it was fantastic.”
Howell sacrificed some horsepower with the new engines, but he saved about 5,000 pounds in weight. “I cruise at around 22 knots. My old 38-footer could do 30 knots, but it was a charter boat, and you wanted to get out there and back in a hurry.” This boat is a little different. “I slow down to hull speed, about 8 or 9 knots, and take in the sights. Fuel burn is minimal. I get trawler-like economy. But, if I have a need for speed, I still have a top end of 28 knots. She’s still a good runner,” he says.
The two-stateroom layout below is uncomplicated, and the previous owner had made a few changes, adding a queen-size bed and storage to the mid-ships cabin. “Space-wise, it is a floating condominium,” Howell says. There are two head compartments and a galley large enough for a side-by-side refrigerator. “We seldom tie up at a marina,” Howell says. “We use the galley on a daily basis, and we also have a gas barbecue.” For electric power, Howell relies on a 10-kW generator and a smaller backup unit.
Howell and his wife enjoy cruising Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, as well as voyaging out to Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard. “I have 300 feet of chain and a plow anchor, and we anchor whenever we can,” he says. “I have davits for a dinghy, and we can make runs to the beach, the dock or just go exploring.”
There is one destination that’s a little more special to Howell than the others. “You might see me out in Cuttyhunk, up there on the inside on the northeast corner with the hook thrown out,” Howell says. That’s just the kind of activity he had envisioned for his perfect boat. “With a bit of revision, a quality sportfisher can live a new life as a great cruiser or even a live-aboard. There are so many possibilities.”
A refit such as this is not for everyone, Howell cautions. It takes a focused program, careful planning and a monetary commitment. “I’ve done this before, and it’s not easy or inexpensive,” he says. “I’ve invested between $100,000 and $150,000. Now, I have a new boat at a fraction of the cost.”
Weight: 44,900 lbs.
Power: (2) 435- to 600-hp diesels
Fuel: 62 gals.
Water: 230 gals.
This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.