Bringing a Bertram back - Soundings Online

Andrew Cooley long had it in mind to set up his business as the go-to for the restoration of deep-V hulls pioneered by Bertram Yachts in the 1960s. The owner of Cooley Marine Management in Stratford, Connecticut, he mentioned his idea to a good friend, Steve Shaw, who was once Cooley’s boss at Derecktor Shipyards. Shaw connected Cooley with Justin Bass (shown above with his wife, Sandi), who was recently retired and looking to transition from his Tiara 42 into a smaller, classic-looking Bertram. “Justin is gung ho and I’m very gung ho,” Cooley recalls. “We hit it off.”

The two found a Bertram 31—one of the originals, built in 1969—at Seaward Boatworks & Charters in Warwick, Rhode Island. “They had stripped the boat and done some of the initial fiberglass work,” Cooley says. “The boat was pretty well gutted, which made it attractive. We didn’t have to go through the demolition process.”

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After a survey to ensure the hull was sound, Bass bought what was basically a fiberglass shell, and Cooley transported it to his yard. Thus began a labor of love on a boat with lines that, Cooley says, “are some of the prettiest out there.” The history of the design resonates with him. The running bottom is by C. Raymond Hunt, remembered most for his mid-20th-century development of the deep-V hull that informed future designs in the boat industry.

Cooley Marine Management is, of course, part of that industry. It’s a boutique yard that specializes in one-off projects, taking a custom approach to refits and restorations. Cooley himself was born in Pensacola, Florida, the son of a U.S. naval officer; his earliest memories are from days spent on the water, progressing to offshore yacht racing and Atlantic crossings. After earning a degree in urban planning in the early 2000s, he went into boatbuilding, starting as a sailmaker and advancing to operations management at Derecktor’s Bridgeport, Connecticut, location. He became well-versed in new construction and refits, managing recreational and commercial boat projects.

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Derecktor closed its Bridgeport yard in 2011, and Cooley was the last one out. “I literally locked the gate,” he says. “Then my phone started ringing.”

On the other end of the line were captains, port engineers and other operators who still needed services. With former Derecktor foreman Joao Paulo, Cooley started Cooley Marine that autumn as a mobile outfit, doing everything from paint jobs to overhauls. “We weren’t afraid to tear a boat apart and put it back together,” he says. “Our ability to provide shipyard services helped us get a reputation as the go-to guys.”

After a couple of years working out of the back of his truck, Cooley leased a 2,500-square-foot bay at Brewer Stratford Marina (now a part of Safe Harbor Marina). Since then, he has doubled that space, and he now operates as a painting and composite repair subcontractor for the Hinckley Company. With 10 full-time staffers, he focuses on custom solutions, and his customers extend down the East Coast and beyond. The year-round repair and refit center can accommodate vessels up to 70 feet, and the company provides project and operational support for owners, management groups, captains and crew, and shipyards.

The Bertram 31 project that began in June represents a desire to expand another side of the company. “We look at this as a huge stepping stone, projecting us to the next level of being a restoration business,” he says.

Ultimately, the 31 will be named Old Fashioned, a tribute to what Bass and his wife, Sandi, admire in the design. They live in Norwalk, Connecticut, and have boated for more than 20 years. They fell in love with this 31 Bertram sportfish model several years ago.

Andrew Cooley says this Bertram 31 is the first in a portfolio of cool, classic boats refit with high-tech systems and features.

Andrew Cooley says this Bertram 31 is the first in a portfolio of cool, classic boats refit with high-tech systems and features.

“One night in Montauk, I went for a dinghy ride and saw a Bertram for the first time,” Bass says. “I loved the look. I had Sandi see the boat at least 10 times. One day, we bumped into the owner. He said it was a great boat and really customizable.”

Bass had retired from his career as an orthodontist and was looking for a project. Sandi, a furniture buyer for a retailer, was game. The first decision, if they were to downsize from their 42, was how to outfit the 31. That took months of discussions. “This thing is as custom as it gets,” Cooley says. “We often say we took his Tiara and compacted everything he wanted into the Bertram.”

Ultimately, the Basses want simple comforts for multiday cruises to places like Nantucket and Newport. The galley can be minimal—a microwave, a small refrigerator and a big cooler—given that they plan to grab dinner onshore. A V-berth is fine below, and a portside convertible settee provides an extra berth in the salon. There will also be a basic head and a second helm station, along with the galley, in the salon’s starboard side.

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“There was a lot of back and forth,” Cooley says of the planning discussions. “We needed to move the lower helm station forward, which took some space away from the V-berth. That was a compromise.” A galley counter abaft the helm would block where the helm seat would normally be. The innovation? A flip-up counter that becomes the helm seat.

The location of the head, abaft the lower helm, was also problematic: It would block the helmsman’s rear view. Instead, Cooley explored the use of a “smart glass” bulkhead. It’s transparent when the head isn’t in use, and it becomes opaque with the flip of a switch. Another interesting feature will be the curved windshield, produced in partnership with Burke Design and ProCurve Glass Design. “It will be three pieces of glass, but will have the appearance of a single wraparound piece of glass,” Cooley says. “The idea is to have a sleek, modern look on a classic boat.”

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Overall, the restoration will include high-density rigid foam board skinned with E-glass. The sandwich is stiff, light and easily machinable. Production manager Andrew McNab says the original hull has held up well. “The fiberglass cloth was very heavy, and they used tons of it in the laminates,” he says. “Today, with computerized design and engineering capability, laminates can be engineered to the nth degree. In the 1960s, if you had doubts, you just added more cloth.”

Delivery of Old Fashioned is scheduled for this summer. For Cooley, the combination of a cool, classic boat with high-tech solutions is revving his engines. He envisions the Bertram 31 as just the start of a portfolio, with boats being done on spec and commission, that will drive his company in exciting directions. “There’s a tremendous amount of passion and excitement in this,” he says. “Having an owner like Justin has made this a special endeavor.” 

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.

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