The sun rises on Bertram's 72 their biggest and best yet...

THE PEOPLE at Bertram Yacht go too far. In design, in engineering, in construction, in the overall quality of their boats. They make perfectionists seem slovenly. It's the kind of attitude on which empires are built.

And with their latest creation, the 72' Convertible, they've gone too far again. In essence, we have a motoryacht that performs and handles with the alacrity of a brazen, high-horse-power fishboat. She even looks like a convertible from afar, and when you get close you fully appreciate the overwhelming proportions.

This boat started out as a sixtysomething-footer. The first all-new model since the builder's 1988 debut of the 43, it was to be a logical move up for all of those Bertramphiles in 50s and 54s, as well as for those who might be shopping other marques or custom yards. But before they were finished, Team Bertram had stretched the envelope to 24 yards. The result is a magnificent, no-compromise, $2-million-plus fiberglass ship that rivals anything in the world, whether it be a production or custom yacht. On this basis alone, the 72 just might prove to be one of the most important vessels of the decade.

ROCKET SHIP – MTU 12V396-TB93s deliver 39 mph. note bow thruster; vent system, and spiral stairway.

With an overall length of 72'6" and a waterline length of 63', this is the largest Bertram. But clearly, her significance goes well beyond size. She represents the Bertram - and perhaps the large fiberglass yacht - of the future. As such a showcase, she has been spared nothing.

The 72 may be Bertram’s first step into near-custom yachtbuilding, but you'd never know it by looking at hull number one, which premiered this past February at the Miami International Boat Show. The yacht's lines are fluid and the fiberglass work is top-drawer. Her engine room holds a pair of specially groomed 12-cylinder MTUs that produce a total of 3,746-hp.

During our sea trials, the MTUs propelled this 60-ton yacht to almost 40 mph, making her perhaps the fastest production boat of her type. Yet when we were finished testing, the engineering department was still considering ways to push her even faster. But then, that's the way things are at Bertram.

FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION

While building the 72 was a concerted team effort requiring countless man-hours, Lee Dana, Bertram’s Senior Vice-President of Engineering, is widely regarded as “The Father Of The 72.” During the gestation period, Lee traveled worldwide to gain insight on everything from American’s own home-grown behemoths to Holland's Feadshjps.

A veteran with more than 40 years of boat-building experience, Lee has a reputation as a tough, almost curmudgeonly figure around the Empire's Miami headquarters. Like so many of the people at Bertram, he is proud of the company's heritage, but he understands that the sea couldn't care less about heritage, and that engineering holds the key to success. That makes Lee hard to please. Yet should some new technology or hardware offer him a way to build a better Bertram, he's ready to embrace it.

Just look at the construction of this boat. There's nothing old-fashioned about it.

The hull is cored with pre-impregnated end-grain balsa sandwiched between uni-directional fiberglass skins. Vinylester resin, which is considerably more water-resistant (and more expensive) than standard polyester resins, is used for laminating the skins together, and the entire mass is vacuum bagged to provide enormous strength yet no excess baggage. Bertram has extensive experience with these materials, but nevertheless continues to test what goes into each boat.

The 72’s major structural bulkheads are likewise cored with balsa from Baltek. Some builders construct bulkheads with glass over plywood that's cut and splined to fit the appropriate spaces. There’s nothing wrong with that, but aboard the 72 the balsa sandwich saves one-third of the weight of plywood, and since it’s molded from a single continuous sheet, strength is enhanced tremendously.

More strength comes from tying together the fore and aft engine room bulkheads with the cored hull sides and foam-cored stringers. End-grain balsa coring is also used in the cabin and salon soles, salon and flying bridge aft bulkheads, and for the foredeck, salon, and flying bridge hardtops.

Equal attention was given the 72's running gear. Turning 36"-square four-bladed Nibrals on four-inch Aquamet 22 shafts meant a colossal amount of water would pass by the propellers. To assure the smoothest possible flow, maximize speed, and minimize vibration, the forward ends of the struts are faired to meet the hull, which has 14 1/2 degrees of deadrise at the transom. Stainless-steel rudders were fabricated because typical bronze castings don’t offer the strength, or the fine definition required for high-speed running.

During our sea trial, she topped out at nearly 40 mph. Engineering is still looking at ways to make her faster.

GERMAN SPOKEN HERE

Lee Dana’s “fatherhood” of the 72 also extends to the engines. The MTUs were his idea. The significance here is that these are not only German engines in an all- American boat, but that these are unusually demanding powerplants.

Typically, a boatbuilder manufactures a boat and literally drops in the engines. Need more speed, dump in more iron. But there’s nothing typical about this 72 or the MTU 12V396-TB93s.

To operate efficiently and at full power, these engines have very specific breathing and exhaust requirements. Engineers from MTU American headquarter in Sugarland, Texas, worked closely with the Bertram team to see that these requirements were met.

There are, for instance, four louvers on the front windshield, that are part of the engines' forced-air induction system. With the watertight ship's door closed on the engine room's aft bulkhead and the blower blasting 4,000 cubic feet of air per minute, you feel like you're standing in a 20-mph wind tunnel. In fact, so much air moves through the engineroom that it actually feels cooler with the door closed than with it open. Awesome.

(If you don't want the Bavarian iron, you can get a pair of DDC 16V-92TAs that develop a total of 2, 700-hp. But Bertram prefers to send them over with MTUs, and frankly, in this case I'd be hard-pressed to argue against them. You'll want the power to run your "empire" and the MTUs deliver the muscle.)

BREATHTAKING Command station is 21st century.

BIG BOAT, BIG SYSTEMS

The engine room definitely is a heart of the 72. And it has more in common with a ship than with most pleasureboats. Just like the massive MTUs, each piece of equipment is installed neatly and accessibly. It has to be this way when you consider the volume of mechanical and electrical aboard the 72. Ship's power consists of two Onans, a 20kw and 30kw. Air conditioning is a pair of Cruisair units using chilled water, not the usual direct-expansion Freon system — again, a ship-style system. The advantages of the chilled water are many on a boat of this size, not the least of which are greater flexibility and redundancy. For example, the 72's a/c system allows you to cool and heat different cabins at the same time. And the capacity of the system is sufficient so the 2 1/2-ton unit can cool or heat adequately, should the main five-ton system fail.

Diesel fuel is filtered in a triple bank of Racors for each engine; the system also has an alarm to alert the captain if water is present in the filters. The fuel manifold also permits a filter change while underway.

The fuel system itself is interesting in that the three tanks are interconnected with a gravity feed. An alarm sensor helps prevents spillage from overfilling the 2,570-gallon capacity. Fill pipes are three-inch.

Other ship-like systems include sea chests for raw water to cool the engines and gensets; emergency lighting that automatically activates in the event of a general power failure; discharge boxes at the waterline to reduce the number of through-hull fittings; lube oil reservoir and waste tanks; engine-driven compressed-air system for clutch and throttle controls; and trolling valves.

Bertram has placed as much equipment as possible in the stand-up engine room, and while the space is packed, the use of white Formica and fluorescent lighting helps the sense of space. Compared to a typical motoryacht, the Bertram’s engine room is crowded, yet there wasn’t any equipment I couldn't reach. The dry environment will probably enhance systems’ longevity.

Bertrams are known for flattening out rough seas. The 72 simply ignores them and races ahead on her mission.

LUXURIOUS SURROUNDINGS

I'm a fisherman, and I skippered Bertrams for many years. And frankly, the interior on this boat doesn’t look like any of the Bertrams I've known. The pickled maple is beautiful, the leathers and fabrics exquisite. But aboard a boat? “Don’t worry," says Pierre Pierce, Bertram’s company captain, “some people may have forgotten that boats are made for going to sea, but Bertram hasn’t.”

There are volumes in Pierre’s words. For openers, interior designer Marty Lowe worked very closely with Lee Dana’s group in determining the materials used inside, and saving money wasn’t the primary criteria. Lee just wanted to make sure that the interior could not only hold up, but also wouldn't weigh so much that it compromised performance. The result? Lee got his muscle and Marty got her look.

The overall theme is bird's-eye maple, with all the veneers coming from the same tree for the matched appearance throughout. With a delicate off-white, pickled finish, the maple complements the rich gray Fountainhead countertops. Toe-kicks and countertop edges are one-inch bull-nosed maple that is either glued or fastened from behind; no exposed screwheads to mar the flow of craftsmanship. Drawers have dove-tail joints.

Walls and overheads are covered with scratch-resistant, off-white pearlized simulated leather. They tell me the material is tough enough to clean with acetone. The fronts of the galley lockers and many other vertical and horizontal surfaces are covered with Vitricor clear thermoplastic sheeting that lets the off-white color below show through with great depth. Lightweight mirrors are used throughout to visually enlarge the areas and to save pounds.

By systematically saving weight wherever possible, the pay-off comes back in many creature comforts. Through, the galley is outfitted with top-end Thermador and General Electric appliances; the salon has a first-rank Bang and Olofsen stereo system; the 27" Sony rises out of the counter on a hydraulic lift; the clear acrylic hi-lo table rises at the push of a button a moves in toward the sofa for a comfortable dining position. 

Holding all of the ambience together are special touches like hidden air-conditioning registers and returns, and computer-controlled lighting system consisting of halogen, fluorescent, and rope lighting. As a safety feature the rope lighting is on two circuits: 32v and 110v. If the boat sustains a 110v power failure, the 32v rope lighting automatically activates, helping you find your way around the interior — a significant safety feature when you consider the scope of this vessel.

The 72 can be ordered in a number of standard interior configurations as well as custom layouts. Our test boat, for example, had a three-stateroom, three-head arrangement. A fourth head is just outside the saloon door above the cockpit deck for fishing excursions.

WHITE ROOMS – lounge area on flying bridge; master suite has engraved mirror bulkheads and Jacuzzi; antiseptic, stand-up engine room.

WHALE HUNTER

The 72 has the pure convertible look which means a cockpit. Would you want to fish from a boat this big? Well, consider this: The cockpit (16’9"w x 9'2" l) has a transom door, bait-prep center, and the owner’s choice of a freezer or livewell. Actually, Bertram will make the cockpit to your liking; so in effect, yes, you could fish from this boat rather nicely. I know I'd rather fish from a boat like this than from some yacht with cockpit added on. One look at the 72’s profile will convince you of that. You’ll also have the convenience of aft controls behind the flying bridge bulkhead, and trolling valves to keep those monster MTUs from overpowering your fishing platform.

OFFICE LOUNGE

The enclosed flying bridge looks as much like an apartment as it does like a command center. There are leather covered lounge seats and a wetbar for guests. The captain and navigator get a pair of Keiper coach seats. By one glance at the dash with its multiple banks of MTU gauges and alarm systems, electronic inventory, massive a.c. and d.c. electrical panels, and you know you are looking at the 21st century. And it looks great!

Of course, getting used to this grandeur takes some doing. During our test, Capt. Pierce at the helm used a portable radio transmitter to follow the movements of his wife Anita, and Brian Nemeth on deck, and Bertram’s engineer Armando Vilaboy in the engine room. Judicious use of the optional ($56K) Hydra-Power System lnc. bow thruster combined with responsive Kobelt air controls and Warner steering transformed this big white beast into a gentle, well-mannered leviathan.

It’s so quiet in the air-conditioned bridge that you barely notice you’re traveling nearly 40 mph at max throttle. And you’re so high up that it’s hard to judge speed or the size of the seas. I was aboard for one of the sea trials and conditions were winds out of the southeast at 25-plus mph and seas 4 to 6 feet. It felt like we were on a millpond. Charging offshore, we shook the radar antenna loose from its mount, and for a few moments weren’t sure what the noise was. Appurtances and equipment are most likely to suffer if you don't throttle back, because while other Bortrams flatten the rough stuff, this one simply ignores it. But step outside and the feeling is simply awesome. I loved it, and still smile when I think about all that power.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Because there’s really no standard 72, the base price of the boat with the MTUs is listed at a touch over two milion. Whether she has MTUs or DDCs, is used as a fishing machine, or simply seen as a sleek alternative to conventional motor yacht,  she is an awe-inspiring vessel — in styling, design, engineering, construction, and performance. She’s far from the hardcore Bertram fishboats we’re used to seeing everywhere from Cat Cay to Kona. In fact, she’s as much a motoryacht as anything else.

But she proves beyond any doubt that Bertram can build a large yacht that rivals anything - fishboat, motoryacht, anything — in the world. They don’t call it an Empire for nothing.