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This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Sea Magazine and is reprinted with their permission.
   Sibling Rivalry

                         by Matt Gurnsey
Bertram 28,  Go Boating America        
The Bertram 28 actually outsold its better-known 31-foot ‘big brother’

In the early 1960s, Ray Hunt designed the first true deep-V hull for offshore racing, and the legendary Bertram 31 was born. So important was this development that in the 1970s, Chris-Craft, a company that had always designed its hulls in house, hired Hunt to design two sportfisher models.

While Hunt went on to design a number of larger boats for Bertram, the 31 continued to be the company’s best-selling boat for 20 years. In the wake of this success, Bertram turned to David Napier to design a smaller sportfisher to add to the growing fleet.

Where the Bertram 31 was designed with a 22-degree deadrise, Napier did Hunt one better and designed the Bertram 28 with 23 degrees of deadrise at the transom. Napier also drew a more rakish stem for the new boat, and he put additional flare in the bow to keep it from sharing the 31’s shortcoming as a wet boat. This flare allowed water to break against the hull and move outward instead of climbing along the hull side and being blown onto passengers.

This was not an easy task, as any new boat would inevitably end up being compared to its “big brother.” However, Napier was successful -- and more than 2,800 Bertram 28s were built between 1971 and 1994. That’s more than the entire production run of the 31.

Napier, as Hunt before him, would go on to design boats for Bertram for a number of years, maintaining the builder’s legacy of hardcore fishing boats that could handle seas that would keep other boats in port.

While the basic profile maintained the Bertram “look,” the rounded windshield of the 31 was replaced with a more conventional two-piece design, and the 31’s narrow matching flybridge design was discarded for a more angular shape. Only 2 inches narrower, the 28 uses its 11-foot beam for added stability at rest, overcoming the tender tendencies of deep-V hulls.

Construction is typical of Bertram: The 28 is built with solid fiberglass, and lots of it.

Bertram was one of the pioneers in fiberglass construction, and by the time the Bertram 28 was designed, the company was well versed in the idiosyncrasies of the material. Laminate surfaces in the cabin, and even on the aft bulkhead, are designed for easy cleanup and low maintenance, although the plywood core can get wet and rot away, if it is allowed to.

Overall, the boat is designed to appeal to the testosterone-laden male of the species, and no real attempt is made at appealing to Ms. Angler. The Formica-style laminate décor was finally replaced with light oak in 1983, as more fashionable interiors became common, but the boat remained primarily a platform for fishing.

     Bertram 28... Born to Fish

At the heart of the Bertram 28’s battlewagon design is an almost 9-foot-long cockpit with plenty of room to handle lines, and even to install a fighting chair. With 85 square feet of fishing space, the 28 has more room than almost any other boat in its class, and it offers nearly as much as the 31 Bertram.

Additionally, the Bertram 28 has a second level over the engines. Unlike the split engine boxes on the 31 that are as high as the sidedecks, the 28 eliminates the walkway between the engines in favor of a step-up deck space. This space is separated from the main cockpit by unique rails, probably designed to help keep passengers from tripping while negotiating the cockpit.

If there is any shortcoming to the Bertram 28’s cockpit, it may be that it isn’t deep enough. The coaming hits most people at or below knee level -- and, with no aft rails, fishing off this boat requires you to be steady on your feet. You don’t feel too secure when you’re reaching way out over the sides to net a fish, although those half rails at the engines do give you a good place to hang on.

The screwed-in side panels in the cockpit seem out of place on a Bertram. Otherwise, the Bertram 28 offers excellent fishability on the business end of the boat.

Engine access is good, with large hatches above each engine, and a smaller hatch on the centerline for quick fluid checks.

Like its larger sibling, the Bertram 28’s deep-v hull requires more power to get on plane than a boat with less deadrise. However, unlike the 31, the 28 makes do with small-block power plants.

A cruising speed of around 20 knots is typical, and top speeds near 30 knots are possible. Additional gear and a tower will negatively affect those figures, but most boats will achieve fuel economy of around 1 mile per gallon. Optional (but rare) diesels will cruise at speeds above 25 knots and will burn less fuel.

Above the engine hatch, you’ll find steps to the flybridge. Roomier than the bridge of the 31, many Bertram 28s offer “step-over” bench seating, which allows one more person to sit on the bridge.

This is not a large bridge, so the captain may spend a fair amount of time alone here. That’s just as well, since most of the action takes place in the cockpit -- and the skipped has an excellent viewing point to take in all the action here.

At the helm, dash space is limited, and the engine controls are positioned at an awkward angle. Creative placement of new electronics may be in order, since many of today’s “big screen” LCD displays will be a tight fit.

At the forward edge of the deck over the engines, there’s a well with a single step. Taller people may need to duck down to enter the cabin.

While many may describe the interior as Spartan, this is a functional space, and it is nearly as large as the cabin in the 31. The space to port is split between the galley (forward) and stand-up head compartment (aft).

While it is not huge, the galley will allow preparation of most basic meals, and the crew won’t go hungry. The head provides enough room for the business required of it.

The sistership to the Bertram 28 Flybridge Cruiser is the 28 Sport Fisherman (1971-1983), which eliminated the aft bulkhead and moved the head forward and under the V-berth -- a functional, if less civilized design.

To starboard, there’s a dinette with seating for four -- and sleeping room for two adults, if they’re friendly. With windows on all four sides, the cabin feels somewhat bigger than it actually is.

An optional lower helm takes the place of a hanging locker forward of the dinette. While it may be nice in cooler weather, this helm is a tight fit, and it is pushed as far forward as possible.

With the angle of the windshield, the lower helm feels even more cramped than it actually is, and it leaves almost no room for electronics and radios. The larger 31 has more room here, but most skippers will rarely use the lower helm anyway.

Overall, the Bertram 28 combines all the strengths of the larger 31, improves on some areas and has established itself as a boat worthy of the Bertram name. While there was always the risk of being forever in the shadow if its bigger sibling, thanks to Bertram’s solid construction, superior workmanship, and Napier’s fine hull shape, the Bertram 28 has carved out its own niche and has earned a unique place in boating designs.

Never rivals, the 28 and 31 Bertram siblings remain equals, and together they have stood the test of time. Both are two of the most sought-after boats on the used market.

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