The wind was howling out of the Northeast at 40 knots. "Alert" was off Cape Canaveral making 5 knots to the South on a bare pole. My wife, Kate, and I were now heading unexpectedly to Ft. Pierce, Florida in our Palmer Johnson Rhodes 41' - it wasn't fun! The year was 1976. Our original destination had been the South Pacific, with a two year minimum amount of time to explore all of the islands. Little did I know that soon I would be having a job interview jogging on the beach at the famous Bath Club in Miami with the legend of Yachting (and my boyhood idol), Dick Bertram.
Dick was in his late fifties and the pace for 45 minutes in soft sand along the beach was very serious! This was followed by the attendant at the pool removing tar from our feet (a scene I will never forget), which was the prologue to 30 minutes of interval lap swimming. Performance and mental attitude came before resumes at Richard Bertram & Co., the world's largest yacht brokerage firm. "Press On" was the cry that drove the man and his company.
Over lunch Dick reminisced about the design that evolved into the first Bertram boat. While sailing off Newport, R.I. on a 12-meter America's Cup boat, "Vim", Dick sighted a Ray Hunt design running very fast and smooth in a big chop. It was that Hunt design that he built in the Miami Richard Bertram & Co. Boat Yard which became the first Bertram race boat, "Moppie". In her first outing, under extremely severe conditions, "Moppie' finished first (with a lead of 2 hours) in the Miami to Nassau race with Dick, Carleton Mitchell and Sam Griffith onboard. This victory showed the significance of the deep V design, and it became the prototype for the first Bertram production boat.
Dick was one of the top competitive sailors in the world, as well. He dominated the collegiate sailing while at Cornell, won three Bermuda races on "Fienistere", and excelled in maxi boat racing internationally. When you sailed with Dick, you watched the master and you learned!
Among his many accomplishments, Dick Bertram started Bertram yacht construction, built up one of the largest worldwide yacht insurance agencies, and created one of the foremost international yacht charter businesses. He constructed one of the largest repair facilities in Florida and a formidable undercover yacht storage facility. He started the Bertram International line of large motor yachts, built in Japan, with the 63' "Flying Eagle". In 1965, he set the World Speed Record for diesel power boats with the
36' "Brave Moppie". I could list numerous other achievements, but first and foremost Dick Bertram was the best yacht broker who ever lived and there is no close second. The class and charisma that he radiated was ·truly something extraordinary!
Working at Richard Bertram & Co. was not your average place of employment. Every other Wednesday evening there were required sales meetings. The brokers came dressed in blue blazers, with the company Eagle crest embroidered on the chest pocket, and a tie. When the boss banged on the table and said "let's get started," those were very exciting times in the boat business and we were all proud and thankful to be a part of it. "Listings! Listings! Listings! If you want to be successful, get good, salable listings!" That was Dick's war cry. Once a month he would present the top listing broker with the Golden Eagle. When you walked out of the sales meeting with the eagle, you drew tremendous respect from each of your peers.
A company creed was given to each new broker. Dick handwrote on mine, as he did with each of his brokers, "To John, Love Dick". That was just the way it was back then. There was a tremendous amount of camaraderie among the brokers. We were the best in the business and Dick was our leader. Many of us would have followed him into the sea - he was every yacht broker's role model.
We've owned for many years an 18' Marshall Catboat which Dick loves to sail with us on the north end of Lake Worth. He grew up sailing his family's cat boat in Barnegat Bay and there's no one better at the helm. Richard Bertram is now 79, and has the experience that only comes with time. When the moon is full in the north end of Lake Worth, there's a good chance the helmsman of the "Catnip" is the living legend of Yachting.
FOOTNOTE: John wrote this article for the FYBA 25 years ago!!!