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Fiberglass Boats Come of Age

For a generation of yachtsmen, fiberglass boats are becoming the new classics.

January 25, 2011
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Classic Boats

I got a call from my pal Jon last week to talk about boats. If you follow my efforts in Telltales and Power Play, you may recognize the name. Jon is the fellow marine-industry pundit (a broker by trade) who is always dreaming about another boat and causing me to waste time and occasionally money doing the same. This time around he/we were thinking of the classics. Not the antiques carved out of mahogany that our fathers dreamed of, but the classics in glass that fiftysomethings drool over.

I had mentioned to Jon that a fellow I knew had dumped $100K into the restoration of a 1960s, 20-foot Bertram Baron. “Crazy, huh?” I said.

“I’m not so sure,” said Jon, sharing a similar story that had begun on a cruise to the Dry Tortugas. Jon had been dreaming aloud about the favorite boats of his childhood. A guest aboard took the bait and began to reminisce as well. “Tell me, Jon, what was the boat that you always wanted when you were growing up?” the guest asked.

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“A Donzi Hornet III,” answered Jon without hesitation. Jon mentioned one in particular he had spotted for sale a while back, admitting he’d “almost invested” — his words.

After returning to shore, Jon’s cruising pal dug up the expired listing, found the owner and, after a bit of back and forth, the boat was his. He shipped her to Florida, where she underwent a six-month restoration. “The boat is better than new — you’ve got to see her,” insisted Jon. “You’re gonna want one too!”

I explained that my particular fetish was the venerable Formula 233. Designed by Jim Wynne (inventor of the stern-drive) and Walt Walters, the 233 was born in 1962 to compete in the Miami-Nassau race against Dick Bertram’s invincible Ray Hunt-designed 31-foot Moppie. My dad bought a Formula 233 in 1968 — I loved that boat!

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I called my old friend, yacht designer Mike Peters, hoping he would cure my classic-glass fetish. Mike is well-known in the yacht-design game, but he was once the go-to guy for offshore race boats. I explained the silly dream play that Jon and I were engaged in and he grumbled, “Ahhh … I’ve been having a bit of a problem myself.” It turns out Mike had just dumped a fortune into the restoration of his Bertram 25. Friends, it gets worse. While jawboning at an antique boat show, Mike made the mistake of confessing a weakness for old Bertram race boats. This led him to a fellow by the name of Cadillac McDaniel, who Mike explained was sort of like an antiques picker. “Ahhh … well … he had a 31- foot Bertram race boat and I bought it. I’m still trying to figure out which one she is. … I think there were 10 built,” explained Mike proudly.

Back in the day, Mike had worked for Cigarette and knew race-boat legend Don Aronow well. Aronow launched Donzi, Magnum, Cigarette and a handful of other lesser-known brands; however, his very first boat company was Formula. Ever helpful, Mike allowed that one of the first Formula 233s had been parked in the restoration shop next to his Bertram. He explained that some nut like us had spent years and a small fortune researching and restoring her. Apparently Aronow had not only raced her, but she was also the very boat seen in the famous images of the Beatles boating in Miami prior to their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Hmm … a celebrity boat?

“You know Cadillac has the 1969, 23-foot Thunderbird Iroquois used in the Flipper TV show — here’s his phone number,” offered Mike. I thought of Ranger Ricks, Bud and Sandy — geez … I wonder what happened to Bud’s 13-foot Whaler? I thanked Mike for his “help.” Jon and I are planning a visit to what Cadillac refers to as his “field of dreams.” … Stay tuned!

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