Superb construction plus attention to quality in the little details add up to a lot of class for this high-performance deep-V convertible.

The Bertram 38 Convertible is brand new. Bertram says she's faster, lighter and roomier than her predecessor and I'm sure that's true. Bertram certainly knows the performance of their boats, as the Motor Boating 6 Sailing test equipment was initially patterned after that of the Bertram test group.

I always offer the manufacturer or dealer of the boat under test, on the spot, copies of my test data. Nothing will change later; the data is printed here as measured. Glen Kreider, a Bertram test engineer, helped hook up the fuel flow hardware, and later jotted down my numbers. No surprises. Our top speed of 22 knots (25.3 mph) was a bit below what Glen had measured, but I tested on an abominable day - 20- to 25-knot winds. My southerly radar runs toward a Biscayne Bay bridge were about 2 mph slower than the northerly series. I always feel I lose more when bucking wind and/or current that I gain running with them. Someday I'll find time to test that theory, but in the meantime, two-way averages are the best we can do. And if the data plot has a fairly smooth curve I'm satisfied that I've got good numbers - hard numbers.

Customer service manager Keith Hazell performed the helm work (including some very tricky docking and undocking procedures). After calibrating both upper and lower tachs so we could run from either station, it was off on the long Miami River run to the bay. To save time I started the storage measurements en route, instead of looking at the latest drug-runner seizures. Storage was adequate - about the same as the Uniflite 38 Convertible, even to the number of spaces. Except for some of the below-sole space (which is "undeveloped”) all the storage is well worked out and very functional. There are three wardrobes, for example, each with an automatic light.

When I loaded the test gear, I noticed 38 was a good-looking boat. Hardly a surprise. Very clean, curved sheer much like the 33 and unlike the stepped sheer of the bigger Bertram’s or the almost flat sheer of the 35.

Big cockpit. Bertram says 100 sq. ft. My rough measurement was 108. I like their style of understatement. That's class - like the fact Bertram's length is 38 1/2 feet. How easy it would have been to call it a 39.

 

Southerly runs into 20 to 25-knot wind were 2 mph slower than the northerly series, and I always feel I lose more when bucking the wind or current than I gain when running with them.

 

It's a 12-inch step up from the cockpit - you don't have to be dainty when you're backing down on that billfish. Ten-inch cleats are below the coaming; spring cleats are eight-inch; double bow cleats, ten-inch. Nonslip wherever you'd step. Up seven steps (six rungs) to the bridge. Big bench seat forward of the port side helm, another bench just starboard of the high, pedestal helm chair. The stainless wheel is almost horizontal - the instruments are near vertical. I like the layout. And a nice, big-ship feel. The grabrail over the Venturi windshield is welded, anodized aluminum. I far prefer it to stainless tube-with-fittings, and maybe even over welded stainless. It’s got that super-functional, dull-gloss look, like a tuna tower.

We easily generated a 50-mph wind over the bridge. The windshield knocked this down to 30 at helm hair level, 20 at helm face level (seated). Passengers on the forward bench got more protection: 10 mph reverse flow at head level. Strangely, passengers seated on the after bench received about the same protection. It’s the high helm seat that gave the breeze to the helmsman. An air conditioner evaporator is under that forward bench seat and giver excellent saloon air distribution through two overhead vents. Good idea.

Standard equipment is nothing to get excited about. Hatch and saloon windows have screens. Water tank has an electric gauge - all too rare. (Planing boats need a way to gauge water level so you don’t have to fill up everywhere ‘’just to be sure.’’ Without a gauge most of us haul more weight than is really necessary. Other manufacturers take note. Especially those who put in water tanks that can’t even be dipsticked.)

I like the fact that Bertram includes docklines. And the fire extinguisher system. Transom door standard. There’s no standard pricing procedures in this business. It’s up to the buyer to spend a few hours with brochures and price lists in order to be able to compare prices comparably equipped, which is the only way he can compare.

Bertram hadn’t measured actual refill (available) capacity, so we used my hard 80-percent-of-advertised estimate for time and distance. But to be fair I should note that Bertram had measured initial fill on this boat (412 gal. - exceeding the advertised 400 gal.). And Bertram’s estimate of usable fuel based on pickup tube location is 393 rather than the 320 gal. I used. If they'd measured refill I would have used their figure, but since they didn't, I remain consistently stubborn. Range figures on the graph are almost certainly quite conservative (which is part of the idea); modify them appropriately upwards if you wish. 

Power was the diesel package, Cummins V8s, 555 cu. in., 270 hp @ 3,000 rpm. The test boat was propped perfectly, you'll note. Fuel consumption was modest, reaching only 27.3 gph flat out. Speeds were modest also, but even so, economy is good for a boat this size at about 0.8 nautical mpg. The boat was run with about a one-degree down tab (Boat Leveler), as my helmsman preferred. I checked with tabs off at 2,600 and measured 7.3 degrees instead of the 6.2 with the slight tabs. The 800 to 1,000 rpm angles are shown as measured. The "funny" number at 1,000 was probably due to the awful weather but maybe not. 

The saloon is about 10’ x 10 1/2' plus the "air space" just abaft the windshield. The test boat had the optional lower helm portside ($3,700 — includes three articulated electric wipers). The straight-line galley is along the starboard side. The effect is very conventional. Rectangular Neat and clean but without the visual interest of, for example, a one step down galley with a cabinet "room divider” structure. It's also very functional, however, although I'd prefer a double sink to the single on the test boat (Bertram is considering the change). Single lever faucet. Headroom was 79 inches. The under counter refrigerator is 4.8 cu. ft. (my measure) and you can order a matching freezer installed alongside. Very nice. There's a three-burner Princess range and oven. Glazing is tempered, my personal preference.

The 38 has two heads. That is, one full head to starboard, with sink, shower, toilet, porthole and vent fan, plus a toilet in the owner's stateroom forward. Big V-bunks (38" x 74"), 4-inch cushions, the toilet hidden under a hinged seat, but not otherwise enclosed. There's also a sink and mirror. It's not like a full separate head, but I think it makes sense. Whether you use it or not, it doesn't take up much space. Two portholes and a hatch, all screened. The midship stateroom is to port, a very adequate upper-lower arrangement, 30” and 32" wide, 77" long, 4-inch cushions and a porthole. The rope locker has a bitt to tie to. Of course.

Deadrise at the transom is 17 ½ degrees; constituting a pretty good "V" angle for a boat this size. But that's really what the word “Bertram" means. The ride was fine, as would be expected; I couldn't fault the handling in any way.

Engine access for routine maintenance is good. I had no trouble setting up my fiber-optic tachometer gadgetry to bounce light off the crank pulley of each engine. Bertram does the mechanical stuff superlatively. Sea cocks, of course.

The only thing I noted in the engine compartment that I didn't like was the lack of a fuel line water separator. Nothing but the engine-mounted filters. When I asked how come, the answer was that dealers or owners had strong personal preferences and Bertram was allowing them to make their own choice. I personally think Bertram should fit what they think is the best system (as they do everywhere else) and not count on dealers or owners to finish engineering the boat. If it gets torn out later so be it. What is it, a hundred bucks or so? At least every boat would have a good filtration/separation system.

One of the nicest features of this boat is its quietness. Just look at those sound level numbers. The highest level recorded, in the cockpit, was 84 dB, A scale. Excellent. In the saloon, 82; bridge, 76. Maximums!

Great job of sound control. How is it done? With an engineered sound material, a composite structure consisting of a foam absorbing layer, a dense barrier layer and a decoupling foam (the part that's bonded to the bulkhead or overhead).

This is the system I was enthusiastic about in my “Noise Handbook" (September 1977). A number of firms make these composites; the one used for the test boat is manufactured by Specialty Composites. While propulsion engine noise is well controlled, the Onan 7 1/2-kw diesel generator is not in an Onan "Sound Shield." Not really noisy while motoring along, the under-cockpit generator would be a bit much for a quiet anchor age.

Generator and air conditioning together, 57 dB forward cabin (OK for sleeping), 60 dB saloon (quiet), but 69 dB in the cockpit (probably meaning unhappy neighbors if you're on the hook and they're nearby). Clearly the intent is to cool the boat and the refrigerator while trolling or traveling; presumably, you're expected to plug into shore power when you shut the Cummins V8s down. Maybe there's not room for the generator sound enclosure. If not, perhaps Bertram could offer an optional composite treatment to the cockpit sole and bulkheads.

The 38 starts as a base gasoline-powered boat at just over $90 thousand. Add $23 grand for diesels (how much extra fuel would that buy?) for a total slightly over $113 thousand. Add a gaggle of options (including some fishing stuff, and other items you may not need) and the test boat approaches the $150,000 mark. 

The 38 Convertible is good-looking, superbly built, and rather expensive. I know of no better engineered boats, and that kind of engineering, quality and quality control doesn't come for free. When the seas are building and you've still a long way to go, the price is likely to seem downright reasonable.