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Andrew Cooley always had it in the back of his mind that he’d do classic boat restorations. “It’s something I was always planning for,” the owner of Cooley Marine Management in Stratford, Connecticut, says.

At 44, Cooley already has a long boating history. By age 6 he was sailing by compass through Maine’s fog and after graduating from college he crossed the Atlantic on a Westsail 32 with his dad, a retired Navy officer. He became a sailmaker at Doyle on Long Island, worked as a yacht rigger for Derecktor in Mamaroneck, New York, and worked his way up to service manager at the yard’s Bridgeport, Connecticut, location. He started Cooley Marine when Derecktor closed its Bridgeport yard in 2011, working out of a Volvo stationwagon and a Chevy Astro van with Joao Paulo, another former Derecktor employee.

Builder Andrew Cooley and owner Justin Bass hit it off right from the start. 

Builder Andrew Cooley and owner Justin Bass hit it off right from the start. 

Much of Cooley Marine’s work is large-scale repair and refit projects. Cooley’s crew of 13 will do big fiberglass jobs after boats go on the rocks, and outfit the interiors of large boats, installing the insulation, the floors, the ceilings and the furniture. But Cooley really wanted to do a classic boat restoration and that opportunity finally presented itself in 2018 when he was introduced to Justin and Sandi Bass of Norwalk, Connecticut.

Justin—an orthodontist, a longtime boater and the owner of a Tiara 42—was looking for a retirement project. “We hit it off right away,” Cooley says. “He wanted a Bertram. He’d never ridden one, but he loved the look of them.”

The Bertram 31 was completely stripped.

The Bertram 31 was completely stripped.

In Warwick, Rhode Island, they found a good project hull that another builder had started working on but halted. It was a 1969 Bertram 31 Fly Bridge Cruiser with the famous C. Raymond Hunt deep-V hull, known for its superb seakeeping ability, notorious wet ride, giant cockpit and spartan interior. “It was completely stripped down,” Cooley says. The previous builder had already done some work and the boat included rebuilt gas engines. “It was a good place for us to start,” Cooley says.

Cooley and Justin figured they’d clean it up, install seating and do a refit of an older boat that had already been demoed. “That’s how the whole concept started,” Cooley says. “We sat in it until we figured it out and then we started working in earnest.” They then realized that more demo work needed to be done, so they took it down to the stringers, still intending to use the original gear.

The stainless steel was custom built

The stainless steel was custom built

They had done almost a year of design work when, in 2019, Cooley told Justin they could keep going down the road they’d started, or they could make an entirely new boat. Justin asked how much that was going to cost. Cooley gave him an estimate and Justin said, “Let’s do it.” They decided to go for a total upgrade with a new engine package, gears, throttles, props, electronic controls and a full glass wraparound windshield. In essence, it would be a restored classic with modern features, what people in the car world call a restomod. “The goal was to take everything to the next level,” Cooley says.

They were moving right along when Covid hit. “It was an uncertain time,” Cooley says, and remembers how Justin was very gracious. “Justin said, ‘I know you’re not making a lot of money on this boat so if you need to put it on hold, we’re good.’”

The original bow chock was re-chromed.

The original bow chock was re-chromed.

To keep the lights on in the shop, Cooley and his crew turned their attention to a sudden influx of repair work. People who had never boated before were buying boats and then having accidents. The repair business at Cooley Marine boomed. By 2021, when Cooley knew the company was on solid financial footing, he turned his attention back to the Bertram. They worked steadily for the next 18 months—still dealing with supply chain issues. In September 2022, the boat, now named Old Fashioned, hit the water.

The final result is a stunning throwback to a 1960s classic, but with modern amenities and technologies.

The blue glass

The blue glass

Instead of the rebuilt gas engines that came with the boat, they chose twin 270-hp Nanni diesels and upped the props to four-bladed 20-inchers on 1.5-inch shafts with new stainless struts. “She’s probably gonna move along a little faster than she was intended,” Cooley says. He expects the boat to do north of 30 knots. Cooley would have loved to put V-8s in the boat, but the smaller French-made four-cylinder engines, which were installed by Kraft Power of Pompton Plains, New Jersey, are incredibly fuel efficient. At a 24-knot cruise they burn only 7 gph per engine.

To house a generator, they created a three-piece, full-beam bench seat aft in the cockpit with the center box holding a NextGen 3.5-kW unit. Other than the hull, which had lost most of its Bertram parts, only five original elements made it back onto the boat: the rudders; the unique Bertram bow chocks (which were re-chromed); the port and starboard steps up to the flybridge; the aluminum rubrail, and a navigation light that they sent out to be repaired.

The Basses loved the old-fashioned look of the Bertram 31, which inspired the boat’s name, and wanted to retain the 1960s feel. Although Justin liked the look of wood, he was adamant that he did not want wood maintenance anywhere, so Cooley brought in Lou DeFusco to create a faux teak transom and flybridge helm pod. “That detail adds a whole other level,” Cooley says.

The final result makes Justin Bass feel like the king of the world.

The final result makes Justin Bass feel like the king of the world.

For Justin, the refit has been his retirement project. He spent a great deal of time researching details for the boat (he is still on the prowl for a 1960s outboard for the dinghy), but he and Sandi also got help from a good friend and former patient of Justin’s, interior designer Kimberly Pratt of Kimberly Ann Interiors in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Pratt is an experienced boater and fisherman, but even though she had never done the décor for a boat before, Justin says she was fearless. “She told me, ‘I’m gonna make it look just like a house. I don’t care.’” Sandi is in the furniture business, so she and Pratt joined forces. “They just went to town,” Justin says.

He recalls that Andy McNab, who was the original project lead for Cooley Marine until he retired, was not keen on all of Pratt’s ideas. But when McNab saw the stainless steel flybridge handrail that Pratt had designed, which flows right out of the blue glass visor that wraps around the flybridge, McNab told Justin, “She just earned every penny you paid her.” All the custom stainless was done by Charlie Marques of Mystic Stainless in Mystic, Connecticut, including the railings and the reversible backrest supports for the flybridge bench seat. “It became a work of art,” Cooley says. “Charlie was like, ‘It has to be like a Moto Guzzi.’”

To make the details on the boat pop, Paulo painted the boat’s exterior in snow white and the interior in stark white to create a canvas for the color. To provide a 1960’s vibe, orange accents abound. The cushions on the giant stern bench seat and the two large sun pads on the engine covers are orange striped. The boat’s name and the Old Fashioned graphic on the transom are outlined in orange, and the boat would also get an orange boot stripe.

But at the end of the day, it is the boat’s blue wraparound glass that makes her unique. The original Bertram had aluminum-framed glass sections all around the lower helm station. Cooley and his crew removed the old glass and frames and worked with Burke Design of Centerville, Massachusetts, to engineer a new composite structure that could hold glass and still support the flybridge. The Cooley crew then created mullion frames and a flanged recess and brought in ProCurve Glass Design of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, to make the curved and straight laminated blue reflective glass panels.

The idea for the glass color came courtesy of the Basses, who while in Chicago noticed a building wrapped in blue glass. They liked it so much they asked Cooley if the Bertram could get something like it. “It looks like the boat is wearing Costa wraparound sunglasses,” Cooley says. “It sets this thing apart.”

On a sunny day, the glass eliminates the need to wear sunglasses when looking out and gives the interior a more spacious feel. Cooley was concerned that the boat was going to feel small inside, so at the helm they increased the cabin’s headroom to 7 feet by taking the liner up to the flybridge controls. Permateek’s light Mediterranean teak on the sole maintains the bright interior. Air conditioning—the windows don’t open—keeps the interior cool.

Besides the forward V-berth, there is a portside convertible settee, but the Basses intend to mostly eat and sleep ashore during overnight trips, so the galley is tiny and in essence just a small fridge. The head is another story. Typically, the Bertram 31s had a Porta Potty-style head under the forward V-berth, but because the Basses wouldn’t be cooking aboard, they wanted to use the starboard aft space in the upper cabin for a proper head.

To prevent the head and shower from blocking the view aft from the helm, Cooley turned to magic glass technology and went back to ProCurve to have the forward and door windows energized. Now, when someone is in the head and hits the switch, the glass turns opaque and prevents anyone from seeing inside.

Cooley isn’t sure what the whole project cost. “I don’t even know,” he says. “I’m afraid to look, but for all intents and purposes this is a new boat. It’s completely modern with a classic proven hull design that nobody else has. It’s ridiculous what’s been done, but once it went to a certain point you can’t go back and cut corners. You can’t half-ass it. What we’ve done with the 31 is to show what we can do.”

Justin is tickled pink too. The Basses still own the Tiara 42, but once they’ve used Old Fashioned for a while, they want to see if the Bertram can be their one-and-only boat.

Sitting on the flybridge bench with the seatback flipped to face the massive cockpit down below, Justin can’t stop smiling. “I dreamed about this spot,” he says. “This is just how I imagined it. Now I need to work on my peach-flavored Old Fashioned.” 

This article was originally published in the November 2022 issue.

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