By Terri Madden
The waters of San Juan, Puerto Rico, have been home to many Bertram yacht enthusiasts ever since Richard Bertram opened a 25-acre plant in 1962. I have had the good fortune to hone my skills and deliver full interior projects for several of the various models.
From the moment one steps aboard one of these classic vessels there is an appreciation as to why the Bertram 50 convertible, which debuted in 1986, was dubbed “the slickest Bertram yet” by Boating magazine.
The Caribbean is well known for tournament fishing, and in 1995 Bertram introduced the Moppie 46, which was capable of speeds faster than 37 knots. It was well suited for fishing tournaments and cruising down-island. Simultaneously, the 54-foot convertible interior was redesigned, whereas the classic hull was left intact because, as the company notes on its website, “you don’t change perfection.”
It is no wonder, then, that after a history of 50 years, these vessels have a predominant presence on tropical waters. And now a second generation of owners retrofits these vessels, and our expertise is called upon to refurbish and improve upon the original seating—for the safety and stability of the owners, regardless of the location or conditions out on the ocean. In this article, I will detail the decisions, design changes and conclusions for fresh new looks on a sofa of a 2001 Bertram 51-footer and a 1996 Bertram 50-foot vessel.
My first impression from the moment I step aboard a 50-foot boat doesn’t have to be my lasting impression. I delight in planning and fabricating a functional and contemporary style that maintains the integrity of the vessel’s classic lines. Collaborating with customers is sometimes like dancing a tango, yet it is an essential component whereby the final outcome reflects the taste of the owner. There has been an explosion of suitable marine materials in fabric, vinyl and leather that fabricators can offer for a basic, as well as dramatic, effect in the marine environment.
For the creative minds of marine fabricators, the sofa is generally the most frequently used piece of furniture on a boat, and the materials particular to the Bertram class of vessel command an elegant statement. Yet, they must withstand usage by passengers and crew who might even live aboard the boat. Captains generally have to provision the boat for getaways and fishing excursions and store those and other items under sofa cushions. These areas must be easily accessible, and the exterior material takes the brunt of everything from fishing poles and grocery boxes to refreshments. Yet in less than a few hours, it must make a Cinderella-like transformation for owners and guests.
You might be contacted for a retrofit on a vessel as soon as the owner takes charge of it. Sometimes he or she simply doesn’t like the manufacturer’s design, or the boat is showing the effects of being a display model. In this case, the “style” may still look current and just a change of material will suffice.
I have generally been contacted to re-do the interiors when a boat changes owners, and the boat is 5 to 15 years old. Materials might be worn and the style looks dated. Generally, the sofa on a 50-foot boat is L-shaped to provide maximum seating in a tight space. Some vessels have a rectangle sofa on both the port and starboard side. In this case, there might be less work involved since smaller sofas can be easily transported to your shop and side-by-side alignment isn’t necessary.
This is your opportunity to improve upon the design, especially if the frame is good.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you approach the job:
- Will you make design adjustments?
- Style adjustments: Contemporary or traditional?
- Will you modify the existing frame, design/location/type of modifications?
- Is the overall look sleek, pleated or oversized?
- Are corners pleated to save time or seams fabricated with accent topstitching?
- What will be the cushion style: rollover fronts, banded sides, matching or contrast piping?
- Are sofa corners with or without arms?
- Are the seat and back cushions designed with a flat surface, or a hi-lo combination of foam and contours?
- Will memory foam toppers add comfort to the arms?
- Surface materials: fabric, vinyl or leather?
- Thread: Contrast accent or matching color? Thread size?
- Material combinations and types of materials. Pattern alignment, stripe, plaid, geometric? Combinations of quilted and solid sections increase the level of difficulty.
2001 Bertram 51-footer
This boat was used frequently for fishing and entertaining, and the customer contacted Sand Sea and Air to replace the seat covering with Ultra Leather (vinyl) as part of a complete refurbishing project.
Upon inspection, it seemed odd that the sofa arms were unusually high, as well as narrow, for the proportion of the sofa. The owner liked our idea to widen the arms, lower the arms by approximately six inches, and insert memory foam across the top of the arms for comfort. The seats had deteriorated through frequent use and travel to nearby islands, so we chose new high-density seat foam to replace the worn out foam. All of the seat cushions were reversible, and the original foam was wrapped with a new Dacron topper for a plush look with a refined style.
The new contour on the arms was noted at the boat and the section was cut off from the top of the original arm frame after the original material was removed. Sampling and patterning was necessary to position the material on the sofa back where it had to be “filled-in” and extended to meet the top of the new lower arm.
1996 Bertram 50-foot
This client had grown up on a 50-foot Bertram, and he had fond memories of his time spent aboard. Our reputation had won us the opportunity to transform this boat.
His recently purchased 16-year-old yacht had a navy sofa that looked “old-fashioned”; he and his wife were delighted to know that the “bones” of the L-shaped sofa were in good shape. The pillow backs that attached to the back and the arms of the frame were removed, and we scheduled mock-up visits for the new design and material selections. Local designer Pili Boou was a tremendous asset in collaborating the “new look” with the customer and Sand Sea and Air.
A rollover design was selected for the individual seat and back cushions to soften the overall appearance, whereas cushions with side bands, with the rectangle lines of the frame, would have looked too boxy. We put an extra layer of foam on the back frame and fabricated individual higher “pillow-back style” cushions for more comfortable sofa seating.
Terri Madden owns Sand Sea and Air Interiors Inc. in San Juan, Puerto Rico.