Richard Bertram

Richard Howard Bertram was born on Feburary 4, 1916 in East Orange, New Jersey. He learned to sail at a young age with his parents. At age 8 he got his first boat—a 15′ Sneakbox—and entered his first race, on Barnegat Bay when he was 10. Racing became one of his favorite pastimes. While he was at Cornell University, he started the Cornell Corinthian Yacht Club, and won the intercollegiate sailing titles in 1936 and 1937. Then in 1946 he married Katherine Ivins. The next year he moved to Miami, FL, winning the World Lightning Class championships in 1948 and 1949. there he also opened Richard Bertram & Company, a successful yacht brokerage firm. With his suscessful business he continued to race powerboats and winning races. He helped sail the Finisterre to victory in the 1956 Newport-to-Bermuda “Ocean Race,” a 635-mile race, considered one of the world’s toughest competitions. He won it again in 1958 and in 1960, earning a reputation as a capable deep-water racing contender.

His love for competition wasn’t limited to sailing. In 1956, he teamed up with two ex-WWII Air Force pilots, race-car promoter Sherman F. Crise and Miami boatyard owner Sam Griffith to create a 185-mile offshore powerboat race from Miami to Nassau. The “World’s Most Rugged Ocean Race” featured a treacherous course across the Gulf Stream from Miami to Cat Cay and the “Tongue of the Ocean” between Chub Cay and Nassau.

Griffith, considered the father of modern offshore racing, and Bertram won the 1956 inaugural Miami-to-Nassau race in a ­wooden 34′ Chris-Craft. They finished in more than nine hours, averaging less than 20mph.They repeated their victory in a wooden 35′ Enterprise the following year, this time taking almost 11 hours to finish in 30-knot winds and blinding rain.

Although powerboat racing already was a popular sport, most races were lake regattas, which were kind to the smaller, flat-bottomed boats in use then. However, these popular boats were too slow and ill-suited to a rough ocean environment. It all changed after bertram discovered the deep-v hull.

Four days of high winds churned the water before the 1960 Miami-Nassau race, creating ideal conditions for these hard-core competitors and their boat, with winds blowing steadily between 15 to 25 knots. The deep-V Moppie performed admirably; after leading the entire way, it crossed the finish line in exactly eight hours. Moppie would have finished even faster had a compass not failed, which forced the crew to stop and take time-consuming sun bearings.

After Bertram’s racing partner Griffith died in 1963, friends held a memorial race from Miami to the Bahamas and back on February 4, 1964. Bertram won in a 31′ Bertram named Lucky Moppie, his first win as a driver. Later that same year, he won again driving the same 31′ Bertram in the third Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio race.

By that time, he had not only established himself as a ­champion-caliber offshore powerboat racer, he had become a celebrity. A billboard in Times Square featured him advertising Camel cigarettes. He appeared in ads promoting Rolex watches and was featured extensively in the boating media as an accomplished powerboat and sailboat champion.

After the Whittaker Corporation purchased the company in 1968, James continued the factory racing tradition and went on to have his best season in 1974—taking the checkered flag in three races.
On April 28, 2000, Bertram died, leaving behind a boatbuilding legacy and colorful past. The Bertram factory was never used as a food warehouse.