Anyone who fishes offshore knows a Bertram boat on sight; for more than 50 years, the company built its sizable reputation by building beautiful sport-fishers with a ride and seakeeping ability that few could match. Like most boat companies, however, the recent economic downturn hit the company hard. But, just like its boats, Bertram persevered in the face of adversity, and, after announcing a move from its traditional home in Miami, Florida, to a brand-new facility up in Merritt Island, Florida, Bertram hired one of the premier sport-fisher designers, Robert Ullberg of Ullberg Yacht Design, to help get the company back on track.
Ullberg got his start in 1991 working with Tom Fexas Yacht Design, and was the only engineer on staff who was serious about fishing. “I grew up fishing in Corpus Christi, Texas. I always wanted to solve problems. I knew I was going to be an engineer, and I knew it was going to be something to do with boats. When I finally found myself working at Fexas, it was easy for me to go to him and ask him for any assignments that involved a sport-fishing boat.” While at Fexas, Ullberg worked on Mikelson, Pacifica and Choy Lee sport-fishers, which only whetted his appetite for the genre.
After five years at Fexas, Ullberg met the woman who is now his wife, Lori Roenigk, and soon relocated to Winter Park, Florida. Since he always wanted to start his own firm, he decided that the move provided a perfect time, so he hung his shingle in Winter Park. “My goal, when I started Ullberg Yacht Design, in June of 1996, was to focus on a particular kind of boat and make them better — and that was sport-fishers.”
“Landeweer was my first client,” Ullberg says. “They wanted a 72-footer, and I quickly found out that it was too big a job for a start-up. It was just me in the office at that time, so I did a bunch of drawings, and then it went to Michael Peters for the rest of the work — which was considerable — and that’s how the 78 Garlington came about.”
After a short time getting established, Ullberg came back to Garlington/Landeweer and designed the 72 Garlington that was built in New Zealand, and the most recent Garlington, a 49-footer.
“At Ullberg Yacht Design, I was able to work with all the serious heavy hitters in the sport-fishing industry, including Roy Merritt, Mike Rybovich, Mark Willis, John Whiticar and, most recently, John Bayliss. I’m very proud of this list, and I consider them all friends.”
Bertram initially contacted Ullberg to interview him as a possible independent designer in March 2012. “For me to get a call from Bertram was fantastic. A lot of the other Ferretti brands use independent designers. For Bertram to feel comfortable enough to hire me to design for them was kind of intimidating, especially when you consider the list of designers there before me — guys like Ray Hunt and David Napier. To me, Ray Hunt put the hull in the water that made them famous, but Napier was responsible for the style. Just the thought of being a part of something like this was a huge thrill for me.”
After talking quite a bit with Bertram president Alton Herndon, and the strategic marketing director of the Ferretti Group, James Henderson, Ullberg got an unexpected call — Bertram wanted Ullberg to join its team full time as vice president of engineering and product development.
“It took me about four weeks to make the decision,” Ullberg says. “But after some serious reflection there was really only one answer. Bertram is entering a new chapter in its history, and for them to ask me to be a part of it, for what I am and what I do, it was honor for me to accept.”
Ullberg now faces a host of new challenges in his new position. “One of my main challenges is not to embarrass myself! I have to design the next generation of Bertrams that will appeal to the Bertram fans, yet at the same time, integrate a more modern look. I have to make a brand-new Bertram that everyone will instantly recognize as a Bertram. Whether they are old-school guys or new school, when they see the new boat go by, they will say, ‘That looks like a Bertram,’” Ullberg says. “I’m trying to put something from every design into the new boats. The whole idea is to produce a sport-fishing machine that is just as badass as they were in the ’80s.”
He knows that there’s a lot more involved than just giving the line a mere face-lift. “There’s a lot of engineering to do. The trick for me is to find the perfect balance between ride, speed and efficiency. We have some new construction processes under way that will take some weight out of the boat without hindering its robustness.”
Ullberg also plans on incorporating a lot of suggestions from the captains and mates who use the boats. “The most useful suggestions and comments I get come from mates, because they are neck-deep in it every day. They can tell me when a lip catches too much water, or if it would be nice to put some storage in a particular place. Sport-fishers are probably the most technical watercraft in the world, outside of patrol boats. Tournament guys will run boats on the pins to try and get back to the dock to beat a weigh-in — no other boats besides racing boats do that, or have to.”
The first Ullberg boat is in the works right now, and he showed off some preliminary sketches at the Miami Boat Show. “The new boat is in the 60-foot range, a fantastic tournament size with a perfect cockpit, a nice-size salon and a three-stateroom layout. We plan on debuting the boat in 2014,” Ullberg says.
Ullberg plans to restyle the legendary Bertram 54 into a 55-footer, and then move up incrementally to 65, 75 and
over 80 feet.
Bertram is on the move again, and Robert Ullberg’s designs should illuminate the path. — Dave Ferrell