It was 7:45 a.m., and Peter Truslow, the new CEO of Bertram Yachts, was already at his desk in the company’s 120,000-square-foot Tampa Bay, Florida, waterfront yard.
At many other shipyards, the CEO’s early morning presence may seem like business as usual, but for the countless fans of Bertram Yachts, Truslow’s pressure to manage a growing order book is cause for celebration.
The Bertram brand has been a staple of America’s boating landscape since April 1960, when a 31-footer called Moppie knifed through 8-foot seas and 30-knot winds to finish the 172-mile Miami-Nassau race a full two and a half hours ahead of her nearest trailer. Her hull was designed by C. Raymond Hunt, whom Dick Bertram had sought out to create a deep-vee that extended the length of the hull instead of flattening near amidships, the way other hulls did at the time. Moppie’s performance in the Miami-Nassau race made the Bertram name legendary and forever linked the nickname of his straight-haired wife, Pauline, with a turning point in production boatbuilding history.
The Bertram 31 became one of the most popular sportfishing boats in the United States. In the decades to come, Bertram’s product line would extend to yachts as big as 80 feet, and the Bertram-Hatteras Shootout would grow into a fishing tournament that lured some of the proudest boat owners in the nation — some to compete, some simply to show off their rides.
And then, it all came to an end. After surviving a bankruptcy filing at the time of the U.S. luxury tax on yachts in the early 1990s — which left the once 1,200-strong yard with a work force of just 30, being sold into Italy’s Ferretti Group in 1998, introducing new models during leadership changes and seeing the death of retired patriarch Richard Bertram at age 84 — Bertram Yachts closed its leased plant on Merritt Island, Florida, in the summer of 2014. Lifelong fans of the brand worried that their late-model Bertrams would be the last ever to roll off the production line.
In 2015, when Italy’s Gavio Group bought the company from the Ferretti Group, American sportfishing fans weren’t sure what to think. Gavio Group is the parent company of Baglietto, a builder known for fast, sleek superyachts that don’t typically cruise out to the canyons in search of tuna. For die-hard anglers off Cape Hatteras and Bimini, the new owner was another Italian company taking charge of their beloved U.S. brand.
This autumn, those fans will have a chance to set their eyes upon the future of Bertram Yachts. The new team has been assembling its staff in the United States. It added Truslow at the top in May. About 25 employees are now on the payroll, with another 25 expected to be hired by year’s end. They’re gearing up for production of the Bertram 35, a 40-knot battlewagon that marked the builder’s renaissance with her premiere at the Newport International Boat Show. It also will be at the United States Powerboat Show in Annapolis in October and the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in November.
Hulls No. 1 and 2 of the Bertram 35 are being finished at Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding in Thomaston, Maine, while hull No. 3 (and all future Bertrams) will be built in Tampa Bay. That’s why Truslow, the 52-year-old former president of EdgeWater Power Boats, is at his desk so early in the day, keeping watch not only on the marketing and construction of the first new model, but also on the whole of the company’s health.
“We’re working on eight boats from 34 to 84 feet in the service yard — let me show you,” he says, directing me to the floor of the former Lazzara Yachts factory. “We want to get the message out that we’re not only a boatbuilding operation, but also a maintenance and service yard for yachts. We have 70- and 160-ton Travelifts, but the greatest asset we have in Tampa is the people. This is going to be the finest service facility on the Gulf Coast.”
About six months from now, with additional craftsmen on staff, Bertram should be building one boat a month in addition to handling that refit work, Truslow says. The company has taken deposits on nine 35s so far — evidence that longtime fans of the brand have every intention of supporting the comeback.
“The 35 has really hit a nerve with experienced boaters,” Truslow says. “It’s a classic-looking, beautiful Bertram — unmistakably Bertram — but designed and developed in a completely modern way.”
Michael Peters Yacht Design in Sarasota, Florida, penned the 35 and the new Bertram 60, which is now on the drawing board (see “Choose Your Favorite”). “They understand what we are trying to do,” Truslow says of MPYD, whose reputation extends from luxury yachts to offshore raceboats. “They have a complete set of capabilities: They are the engineers of the entire boat and are very much part of our team. When you think of Bertram you think of offshore performance, so we need the offshore design expertise of [a firm] like MPYD.”
Bertram’s vice president of production, Earl Blackwell, says Florida’s base of skilled workers is also going to benefit the yard as it ramps up production. “We’re fortunate because the average experience of the workers is 20 years,” says Blackwell, who has worked for powerboat and sailboat companies, including Chris-Craft, Glastron and Island Packet. “Nothing is easy about starting a boatbuilding company, but we feel really positive about reaching that high level with the quality people we have and the ownership.”
Truslow agrees, explaining that the new ownership looked at sites in Georgia, North Carolina and other parts of Florida before selecting Tampa Bay for its operations. “We’re hiring world-class people,” he says. “Many are from Lazzara, but we’re also seeing people from Island Packet, Wellcraft and other local builders. These folks are coming to us, looking to join the team. We knew Tampa would be a good location for Bertram, but it has turned out to be excellent in terms of employees and the number of local suppliers available to us.”
The shipyard includes 800 linear feet of bulkhead space and a channel about 300 feet away where sea trials on new Bertrams can be done, and where existing yachts of all styles and brands can arrive for service and repairs. “We can haul 100-footers — and do it practically,” Blackwell says.
Truslow realizes that he and the Bertram team still have a lot to prove, and they intend to begin with the debut of the 35 at this fall’s boat shows.
“We want to take care of the customer, starting with boat production in a methodical, semicustom approach,” he says. “I think Bertram owners — and Bertram lovers — will be pleased with the quality, performance and style of the boat.”
Choose Your Favorite
Moppie started it all, and has remained beloved, but for a certain enthusiast, the Bertram 54 was the ultimate design. She was a dependable sea boat with a big cockpit for fishing and a luxurious interior for the family. The new Bertram 60 will represent a reimagined and updated 54. “It’s a modern interpretation of the 1980s Bertram 54, with updated naval architecture from Michael Peters Yacht Design in Sarasota,” says Bertram CEO Peter Truslow, adding that the first 60 is scheduled for completion by the end of 2017.
“Most of the design work is done,” Truslow says. “We’re still gathering feedback from industry experts and customers on the details of the design.”
The 60’s accommodations will include three staterooms, with a full-beam master. Twin 1,925-hp Caterpillar C32 ACERT diesels will power the 60 to a projected top speed of 40-plus knots. Bertram Yachts, (954) 401-1070. bertram.com
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.