A Special Sea Trial.
After years of admiring this boat from afar, the day had finally arrived. I snuck out of work early on Thursday for a sea trial with the Bertram 28’s owner, my surveyor and my dad. We all knew there was some rot in the corner of one of the engine mounts that offered pause and reason for concern, but only a sea trial would reveal the extent of the damage and how soon it would need to be addressed. Was it solid enough that we could cruise comfortably for the first season? That question made me toss and turn at night. The test would also reveal if the boat was properly powered—the boat’s powerplants are 2014 remanufactured Ford 302s, not exactly what those in the business would call popular. Would these gas motors provide enough power for the relatively heavy sportfisherman?
Pulling up to the marina I saw Chris, the boat’s owner, sitting sullen on the tailgate of his pickup truck looking at the boat in the slip in front of him. “I’m just sitting here thinking: This sucks,” he says as I approach for a handshake. We make small talk for a bit while we wait for the surveyor to arrive. Once the team is assembled, complete with two guys named Chris and two named Dan, we make quick work of the lines and head for the Connecticut River.
I watch the owner’s hands as he maneuvers the boat out of the marina to try and gauge the boat’s maneuverability while my dad and the surveyor look over the engines.
We find deeper water, and the surveyor and owner begin running the boat through the rpm range to record official test data. It feels so strange to be farming out this portion of the test; as the editor-in-chief of Power & Motoryacht, I can’t shake boat-tester’s guilt.
It was clear that the boat’s owner was concerned about handing over the helm during the test. I understood his reservation to a degree; after years of stewardship, you don’t want someone running your boat aground while flexing their machismo. Still, we came this far, and I wanted my dad, who is not only my best boating advisor, but also a gear head with experience on these foreign-to-me engines to feel how it drives. My dad ran the boat for a bit. I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth ride and how good the engines sounded, but I was even more surprised by the 27-knot top end and nice 22-knot cruise.
The surveyor watched the engine mount closely, took temperature readings on various points of the engines and gave me a thumbs up.
When the surveyor had everything we needed, we thanked the owner and told him we were good to head back to the dock. The three of us conferred on what we were seeing, or more importantly, not seeing. The engine mount, while in definite need of repair down the road, looked solid enough to enjoy a summer of cruising before being addressed. And those Fords impressed my crew.
The surveyor, who by nature kept his opinions close to the vest and tended to dwell on the negative broke character, gave me a nod and said, “yeah, I think this would be a good boat for you and your family.”
I looked over to my dad, who returned the affirming nod. Two of the most knowledgeable boat guys I knew gave it a thumbs up. As for me, I’d fallen in love with it months before; I was an easy sell.
The boat buying process is a funny thing. There are so many small steps that make it seem like it takes forever, but once you finish the sea trial the deal is done with a swift flick of a pen on a check. On Friday morning I would be bringing her to her new homeport of Essex.
As the previous owner and I signed the bill of sale, the surveyor recited the oft-used boating cliché that the best days in a boater’s life are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell it. I smiled and said, “I don’t know; I feel a lot happier than him.”
I’d gotten to know the previous owner a bit throughout the process. I learned that at one point he loved the boat like I do now. He did an impressive job repowering her and replacing the fuel tank, and he got new canvas for the flybridge just a couple years ago. But at the end of the day, he found himself using his center console more than the Bertram, and he knew that boats don’t do well when they’re not being used. The pandemic buying boom proved a good time to let her go.
When I reflect on the boat buying process and what I learned, more than anything it’s how important being on good terms with the previous owner is, especially when there is no broker involved.
Even for this simple boat, I bothered him with three visits, a survey, a sea trial and a dozen questions in between. We traded nearly 40 text messages. He was honest with me about the boat and gave me really useful background.
He also had the opportunity to break our handshake deal earlier in the spring and take a cash offer from someone who didn’t even want a sea trial, but he didn’t waver from our deal. Buying and selling something so personal, like a boat, can sometimes get messy—that’s why brokers are so important in the boat business. I’m glad that wasn’t the case this time.
I’ve long had this belief that you never really own a boat—you just become its temporary custodian. It’s your job to take care of it so it takes care of you, you work on it and in the end, you hope to find it a good home and leave it better than how you found it. When the deal was done, I thanked the seller for making this process so smooth and for all the work he put into the boat. I told him I would continue the job.
“I know you’ll take on projects like I did and make it your own. I know I’ll see you again.” —Daniel Harding Jr.