Beneath these classic lines hides a thoroughly modern boat.

One of the joys of this job is occasionally coming across a truly fine yacht. Not that we don't see a lot of great boats, but try comparing a really great Chevy with a Rolls (for instance). There are cars, and then there are cars.

The yacht pictured here is an 86-foot aluminum Burger semi-custom raised pilothouse motor yacht. We've never tested a Burger before, less because the company's excellent reputation is assumed than because we tend to go for the new and exciting - and Burger, with its conservative, traditional approach, represents the Old Guard in the yacht business. But then, we all have a blind spot.

Always checking out the new and exciting tends to be an exhausting business, so it was with some relief that we came upon a boat that, at least on the surface, appeared old and familiar. This particular Burger, Beth-a-Belle, has those classic, traditional lines characterized by a broadly flared, upsloping bow, pronounced sheer, teak railings, square windows and a house pretty much square, except for the slightly raked forward portion. (How times have changed: that look used to be modern and streamlined. Now everyone's going for the Italian, willow-in-a-gale approach.) The low-key, elegant exterior alone was a huge relief; at last, a yacht in which you didn't feel the need to arch backward as you moved forward. Inside, the yacht feels warm and comfortable. Cozy. The only thing missing on Beth-a-Belle is a stone fireplace and a bearskin rug.

Powered Luxury - Twin MTUs drive Beth-a-Belle past 20 knots.

Not that there aren't flaws in this boat. The saloon telephone, hidden vertically behind tamboured doors, was a little difficult to dial, the galley tile is a bit flashy, and my own preference is to sit while at the wheel (the only pilothouse seat is a bench against the aft bulkhead). Major complaints, relatively speaking.

Beth-a-Belle, like most custom yachts, is an extension of the owner's personality. In this case, the owner (who asked to remain nameless) is a prominent eastern businessman, a quiet family type given to short cruises along the coast, intense bouts of reading on sofas, and intimate dinners aboard. His hobby is yachting, and he has owned a number of boats over the past decade or two, each called Beth-a-Belle. A portion of his home, in fact, is patterned after a yacht interior. This is his second Burger, the first being an 80-foot model he felt was a tad too small.


The hull is a Jack Hargrave design that the naval architect did for Burger over a decade ago, which Burger now owns the rights to. John McMillian, a Texan who recently bought Burger Boat Co. from the Burger family, had modified the design for his own yacht, Anna Marie, another 86-footer that had a smaller power package. The basic hull of Beth-a-Belle is similar, except that she has a wider beam (by almost two feet) and some differences in her superstructure (e.g., sidedecks going all the way aft). Both yachts reflect the same classic appearance that distinguishes most Burgers.

The beam was widened in part to accommodate the new higher-horsepower diesels developed to accommodate a market that wanted to go faster and still keep a shallow draft. The location of the Burger yard in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, meant all Burgers had to have a shallow draft and a low superstructure to negotiate the waterways to the ocean. (Going through the St. Lawrence Seaway is a longer, costlier alternative.) Thus all Burger yachts have superstructures under 20 feet (masts taller than that are hinged to come down) and draw under six feet. Because of her heavier MTU 8V-396TB93 diesels, (and the need for a wider waterplane to carry the heavier displacement), Burger widened Beth-a-Belle to maintain that shallow draft.

Family Boat - Comfortable main saloon features combined wet bar/entertainment center. 

The interior is the creation of Hartford-based Jack Bursack Designs. Bursack had worked for the owner before, having designed the yacht-like lower level of his home and the previous Burger, and had a comfortable relationship with the owner. "He gave me certain words to describe the new boat," said Bursack. "Words like 'cozy', 'warm and comfortable, without being overly pretentious.' He and his wife didn't do a lot of entertaining, and what they did tended to be small and intimate. They didn't need a party boat."

They had two dogs, so they wanted interior materials that could easily be maintained. They also wanted a lighter wood than the dark teak that had been in the previous boat, so Bursack panelled the entire boat with birdseye maple, accented with teak and cherry at strategic locations. The head countertops are solid (and heavy) marble, while the head walls are covered with marble veneer. Keeping the yacht light was not one of Bursack's primary concerns.


One thing about Burgers: attention to detail, and the craftsmanship, is remarkable. (One expects such expertise, however, in a yard over 125 years old catering to a demanding custom clientele.) All the doors, moveable panels, cabinets, and stowage drawers have the smoothest action I've seen. The centerpiece of the saloon, for example, is a kidney-shaped sole-to-overhead wet bar/entertainment center. The entire affair is sealed shut by 6'-tall tamboured doors made of a lightcolored birdseye maple, each strip of which is hand-made, and the whole thing glued onto a canvas backing. The doors slide along on teflon tracks, no roller bearings, yet the entire affair slides easily and without catching. This is the sort of craftsmanship one gets for $3.4 million ($2.7 million without the extras).

There is a clean, uncluttered look about the interior, partly because virtually all the cabinetry and environment controls are hidden behind flat or tamboured panels. Light switches, telephones, a.c. controls, etc. are hard to find unless you know where to look.

Birdseye maple brightens the master stateroom.

The MTU engines each deliver 1,249 horsepower that, in our test, drove the yacht up to 20.2 knots at 2140 rpm, cruising most efficiently at 2000 rpm. (The true speed may be somewhat higher, however, since during our test one stabilizer was not functioning properly.) Capt. Mark Greichen said the yacht will make 11 knots at 1500 rpm with only one engine. Nice to know in a pinch.

As might be expected of a well-designed 86-footer, Beth-a-Belle is a smooth yacht under virtually any but the worst conditions. The day I took her out, the seas off Palm Beach were a moderate four feet, enough to get some idea how she handled. She is a full displacement boat, round-bilged forward, with chines developed over the aft 40% and a small (less than 10 degree) deadrise at the transom. Thus, while she is not meant to break speed records, she tracks well, and is not a roller.

Stability was further enhanced by two nine-sq.-ft. Naiad stabilizers. In a hard circle turn at almost full throttle, she felt exceptionally stiff, and she resisted rolling in a beam sea, even with the fins at less-than-ideal levels of performance. No matter which way you turned - into, broadside, or away from the seaway - she had the same solid feel, and responded quickly to the helm.


The pilothouse helm station lacks for nothing (except a helm chair). Dominating the arrangement is the C-Plath autopilot and Datamarine Link system monitoring wind, speed, and depth. Satnav, Northstar loran, Furuno color radar with plotter, weatherfax machine, Mitsubishi cellular phone, Furuno Skanti SSB, Sailor VHF, Cybernet loudhailer, and extensive monitoring systems (including MTV-supplied panels overhead) complete the navigational and communications package. Television monitors check the engine room and the area abaft the transom. The MTV-supplied throttle controls are hydraulically operated, therefore aren't mechanically synced with identical controls on the flying bridge. To switch helm stations, Capt. Greichen marks the hydraulic pressure on the active controls, moves to the other station, adjusts those controls to the identical pressure, and finally kicks in the engines to the new set with no loss of rpm.

Under the forward part of the pilothouse is a crawlspace that holds two accumulator tanks for the air compressors, refrigeration compressors, engine-room exhaust fans (which kick hot air out of the boat above the bridge), and wiring for computerized monitors. A thoughtful touch is the extra-long wires leading to the major helm station instruments, allowing the instruments to be pulled completely out of the panel and comfortably repaired.

Pilothouse systems are compact, accessible. 

Access to the flying bridge is up some portside steps and through a hatch. The helm station topside contains duplicates of the major instruments below, including the C-Plath autopilot, Datamarine Link system, Cybernet loudhailer, Northstar loran, Sailor VHF, and controls for the stabilizers, bow thrusters, and hydraulic throttles. A Furuno daylight radar, nestled in its own watertight compartment, and two Crown, Ltd. helm chairs (each at $6,000!) complete the fixtures. Two 12-inch searchlights, one port, one starboard.

Cushioned benches, hiding extensive stowage space, line both sides of the bridge lounge area, which is normally covered by a large Bimini top. Just forward of the mast is a wet bar containing a V-Line refrigerator, an ice-maker, soda dispenser, and stainless steel sink with hot and cold fresh water. Abaft the lounge area is a 17' Boston Whaler with a 90-hp Yamaha outboard to starboard, and a small Zuma sailboat to port. A 2,500-lb. Mar-Quipt centerline davit can launch both boats on either side. Fender stowage and a life raft between the boats.


The saloon accurately reflects the owner's desire for comfort and hominess, augmented by a variety of lighting effects and a warm decor. The bar and entertainment center, located center forward, contains a 25-inch Sony television (which doubles as a monitor for the engine-room and aft-end TV cameras), a Technics cassette tape recorder and compact disk unit, and a Panasonic VHS - all on the right side of the unit. Below, behind hinged panels, are drawers for disks and cassettes with dividers (everything has a place - nothing rattles around). A switch controls television reception between cable and two types of antennas. The left side of the unit contains the mirrored wet bar, with a Sub-Zero ice-maker, and a line of liquor dispensers behind the sink. 

Bottle stowage underneath in a specially designed drawer, and glass stowage overhead. Each glass has its own plexiglass holder and stands in a recess in the bottom of the cabinet.

Master head has a combo shower/bath/jacuzzi.

Portside in the saloon are chairs, a couch, a glass coffee table, and side tables. An extra bank of lights over the couch is meant to make it an ideal spot to read in, a particular concern of the owner. Starboard, a round card table occupies the aft part, next to a tamboured panel that slides back to reveal the saloon telephone, air conditioning, light and volume controls. Just forward is a special type of circular staircase. The balustrade swoops out from either side, protecting the staircase with curving cherrywood arms and glim panels. Etched glass artworks, lit from underneath, occupy the horizontal triangular spaces on either side of the staircase. Valance and rope lighting complete the indirect lighting effects Different parts of the room can be cooled to different temperatures. (If you're sitting in sunlight, just tweak up your side of the room.)

Abaft the saloon is an open deck area, about the right size for four or five people to sit and watch the lntracoastal pass by on a moonlit night. Side decks run the length of the boat. The swim platform is solid - not slatted - teak, possibly because the aluminum supporting structure is strong enough to withstand waves crashing up from below. The lazarette holds the water-maker, batteries, hydraulic machinery for the davit, the steering assembly, extra props and a shaft.


There are companionways going forward both sides from the saloon. The port companionway leads to the pilothouse. Along the way, opposite the port entrance, is a hanging locker with a stainless steel pan to hold water from wet foul weather gear.

The starboard companionway leads past the starboard cabin entrance (opposite that is a powder room/head) to the galley and the dining saloon further forward. The galley is large and brightly lit. Corian countertops, with a built-in blender. Garbage disposal, Kitchenaid trashmasher, GE dishwasher, four-burner electric stove (another Burger touch: the oven handle is solid cherrywood), Amana microwave, massive Sub-Zero fridge, telephone/intercom, Kohler faucet with interchangeable heads and flexible hose. Stacks of plates are held in place by vertical, plastic-coated rods.

In some ways, the dining saloon is the most interesting part of the yacht. Softly lit with an unusual brass chandelier that is as much a work of art as a light fixture, the space feels like a quiet, intimate nook somewhere in a back room of a posh restaurant. Another piece of art, an embossed brass panel, lines the forward bulkhead. Both pieces, plus the etched glass in the saloon, are the work of a Russian emigre artist, Yuri Abdurakhmanov, and were brought over from the last Burger the owner possessed.

"One thing about Burgers: their attention to detail and craftsmanship is remarkable. '' 

The aft bulkhead contains a built-in buffet, with arched cabinets sole to headliner on either side of the counter. Mirror on the aft bulkhead. Behind the hinged panels are drawers and shelves for the china, flat and stemware, each one in its own cushioned space. To starboard is a small wine rack. The centerpiece is a large glass table bolted to a rectangular base that slips over a block of wood bolted to the deck.

A stairwell between the galley and dining saloon takes you to the crews's quarters and the engine room. Bursack paid special attention to crew comfort: captain's stateroom to starboard, with a double berth for Mark and Sandy Greichen; two fore-and-aft singles in their own space opposite portside. Two heads and a lounge in the forepeak.


The engine room is large enough to walk comfortably around the two MTUs. Exhaust ports go through the bottom, with gases pulled out venturi-style at speed, with side ports for exhaust at slow speeds. Rubber gaskets under all components, including small tire-like affairs under the generator supports that allows the generator to shimmy and shake all by its lonesome. Sort of weird, but they work, and if a tire goes flat (you keep it pumped up) there are steel backup supports. Two water pumps. Cruiseair chilled-water air conditioning. Gleason shorepower reels with 70 feet of cord; the reels didn't work right the day we were there, and the cords had to be reeled in by hand.

The main electrical panel has become a Burger signature: the craftsmen are so meticulous that the panels in most recent yachts have become attractions in themselves, displayed behind an acrylic panel.

Up to the main deck, aft to the saloon stairwell and down again to the staterooms, master aft and two guest staterooms forward. The master, full width, included a king-sized bed against a wall mirror spanning the entire stateroom, providing an effective illusion of great space. (Most of the mirrors in the boat are real glass, at the owner's request.) The bedside tables are box-like units, the tops of which are covered with more sliding tamboured panels. The only way the books, phones, doodads, etc. inside can fall out is if the boat turns upside down. Forward to starboard, a large walk-in cedar closet and wall safe. Hinged doors reveal more shelves, a dozen starboard, five portside. A nice touch, here as elsewhere in the yacht, are curved countertop edges. No sharp corners to bang against. More stowage under the bed. Television and VCR. To port, a small vanity against the side bulkhead, just abaft the master head, containing a full bath/shower/jacuzzi.

The companionway forward includes a washer/dryer and a mirrored linen closet between doors leading to the guest staterooms. Each has two single beds, another recessed, tamboured table, cassette radio, television, telephone/monitor, 4'-wide cedar closet.

All in all, an extremely pleasant, refined yacht, distinctively traditional but very modern under the skin. If you're the aggressive type who likes to display your power in all aspects of your life, you might not go for a yacht such as this. On this boat, you should enjoy getting there, just as much as being there, for while she definitely has speed, she isn't a high-performance yacht.

Her comfort is unsurpassed for the use she is meant for - small, intimate gatherings of family and friends in a cushioned but relaxed atmosphere. If you're of the Old Money variety, enjoy elegant living, and prefer embedding yourself in a couch reading the Sunday Times, check out Burger 86; they're on your wavelength.


Most boats under 60 feet use the same type of freon-based direction expansion (DX) air conditioning units commonly found in homes. Larger boats, however, often rely on chilled (or "tempered") water a/c systems.

Unlike the single-stage DX air conditioners, of which there may be two or more separate units in the boat, chilled water a/c uses a single cooling unit that circulates low-pressure cold water through tubes to second-stage air handling units in various compartments. Some makers (e.g., Sail Kool and Cruisair) also have reverse-cycle heating capabilities.

The Refrigerator - The 80,000 Btu Sail Kool air conditioner can freeze an 11-foot boat with ease.

Although Btu for Btu they are more costly than DX systems, chilled water air conditioners are thought to be more maintenance free, use about the same amperage, weigh about the same, and allow greater ftexibility to determine how cool to keep each compartment. Thus, if a standard freon compressor burns out, that area would be warm. But with a chllled water system, if you lose a compressor, you can select the area to turn off or raise the temperature in some areas to compensate for the load change.

Having at least two compressors also allows flexibility when shorepower turns out to be a variable. If the shorepower is enough for only one unit (the six-ton, two-compressor Sail Kool model uses about 55 amps), you can still adequately cool a 72-foot boat or super-cool just a portion of it. 


Production no longer limited as facilities expand.

It's hard to keep family traditions going, especially after five generations, and Burger Boat Co. has been no exception. Several years ago Henry Burger, who was nearing retirement, sold the company to Texan John G. McMillian after it became apparent the children had other interests. McMillian had become interested in Burger as he became acquainted with the company during the construction of the 86-foot Anna Marie. After several years at the helm, McMillian seems intent on two things: maintaining Burger's high construction standards, and enlarging the company to meet a higher demand.

Last fall, Burger purchased the Lantana Boatyard in Lantana, Florida, south of Ft. Lauderdale, where it plans eventually to move its headquarters. Until this new purchase - the first major business move since Burger began building boats in 1863 - production had been limited to four or five boats a year at its Manitowoc, Wisconsin facility. Manitowoc had presented several problems. Yacht deliveries could be made only during the four months when there wasn't ice in the rivers. Yachts with a clearance over 20 feet had to traverse the long St. Lawrence Seaway or have special hinges installed on anything over that height to go under bridges.

The 12-acre Lantana facility will give Burger the capacity to build three to seven more yachts per year of unlimited length. A 160-footer, which may be the largest aluminum yacht built in the U.S., is now in the design phase.

"We're now interested in a wider segment of the yachting market," says Roy Sea, the company's sales executive. "We will always have our following for our traditional Burger yacht. But I wouldn't be surprised to see us build motorsailers again. And we have proposed very seriously on high-speed motor yachts."

Part of Burger's excellence is due to its craftsmen, people with perfectionist Midwestern attitudes whose families have been in the same business for generations. Keeping those craftsmen will be a major task. Up to a quarter of the 230 employees currently at the Manitowoc yard will be moved to Florida (on a voluntary basis). The rest will be made up of existing employes at Lantana and new hires.