The turbos are shrieking like a pair of five-year-old boys with whistle pops, the mate's eyes are bugging out of his head, and our passenger's face is getting green. But I don't care. I will not back off the throttles. Why? It's just too much fun pitting 575 horses against each other and spinning 14 tons of boat at whirl-a-dizzy speeds. Besides, I have a good excuse: This is my job.
The chop is barely a foot, so I need to make some waves if I'm going to discover how Bertram's latest 36' fishboat will handle rough water. After completing a few spins, I crank the power-assisted wheel all the way, tap the throttle into forward-a tap is all it takes with these buttery-smooth electronic controls-and start a series of doughnuts. It takes only one minute to create the desired washing machine effect. Next, I put the 360 Open on an even keel, scream away from the mess at wide open throttle, pull an about-face, and aim for the center of the heaving water. Cowabunga, dude! (Hmmm, what's the greenish slurry around that passenger's feet?) I tell everyone to hold on tight as we hit the heavy chop and…oh, never mind. My manmade perfect storm doesn't rattle the 360 Open one bit. The deep-V hull just ka-chunks right over it.
RED MEAT. The 360 Open flattens waves using a classic design that made Bertram famous: a deep-V hull built with lots of weight. Yes, I know, many boatbuilders try to shave off every possible pound to make their boats run faster. But all other things being equal, a heavy boat squashes bumps better than a light one. How heavy is the 360 Open? A whopping 28,224 pounds. Calling it hefty is an understatement. But you can also call it a change of heart. The last time Bertram built a 36, it displaced 18,700 pounds. Cabo's 35 Express ($423,300 with twin 540-bhp Cummins diesels) weighs 19,500 pounds, and Stolper's 380 (just under a half-mil with twin 540-bhp engines) tips the scale at 18,500 pounds. Granted, the Stolper is a more performance-oriented boat-it's 6 mph faster than the 360 Open. However, despite being heavier, the 360 Open runs neck-and-neck with the Cabo, which tops out at 41.8 mph. The fit-and-finish of all three boats is top-shelf. The Stolper has a custom interior and sleek, Palm Beach-style looks. The Cabo has the best engine room interior in the industry and the shallowest draft among this group (3'0").
And the 360 Open? It boasts a slew of goodies previously unseen in a production boat in this class. For example, the forward stateroom has complete privacy. It's separated from the rest of the cabin by a swinging double door that can be secured open or closed. Most boats such as this have only a privacy curtain or a sliding barrier that makes overnighting with guests feel as if you're camping in a tent with your neighbors. A bait freezer in the cockpit is also standard on the 360 Open. Although you expect a bait freezer on a 50-footer, this is the first boat under 40' that I've tested to include a standard unit that's large enough to chill a flat of horse ballyhoo.
Another first for the 360 Open involves its bridgedeck seats. There's room for four passengers to sit on twin forward-facing bench seats. Most boats have an L-shaped seat on the passenger's side, which looks great on the showroom floor. But have you ever tried to ride on the long fore-and-aft running section while charging into a head sea? It's a serious struggle to stay in one spot. Of course, unless you happen to enjoy speaking to the back of someone's head from the aft seat or craning your neck around from the front, forward-facing seats limit sociability, right? Think again. Bertram solves this problem by using flip-back seats. Flip the forward seat back toward the bow and you have a dinette-style arrangement. What's more, a table swings down out of the inwale, in between the seats. Flip the aft seat back forward, and you have an aft-facing bait-watching settee for two. Flip them both back when it's time to cruise. The folks in the rear seat want to enjoy the view as you cruise? No problem. Raise and lower these seats by pressing a bottom, so everyone can look over the bow. Brilliant.
Are we having fun yet? Absolutely. But there's a lot more to look at. Belowdecks, you'll discover lots of daylight thanks to windows running the length of the main cabin. (Haven't seen those on a new fishboat in a long time, have you?) And check out the head. Instead of one of those all-in-one shower/commode boxes usually found on a boat this size, the 360 Open has a separate shower stall. No need to towel off the cabinets and sole after jumping out of the shower from a post-fishing spritz.
One more cool feature in the cabin is the pull-off panel on the bulkhead forward of the berth, which allows access to the rope locker-good thing, too, since you can't get to it from the bow. That was one of the few things I saw topsides that I didn't like. When the winch gets a wedgie, you'll need someone to help you to work it free.
HAMMER TIME. Why is this Bertram so different from the company's previous 36' fishboats? The influence of the Ferretti Group, Bertram's parent company, is evident. Instead of updating Bertram's old 36 design, Ferretti started fresh. The goal? To build a new 36-footer that had traditional Bertram quality and performance in a modern design. The result? A wave-stompin' Bertram ride in a sleek package-along with a few unexpected perks. Have you ever seen a 36' fishboat with air conditioning on the helm deck? Me neither. But this boat has a vent above the electronics flat that will always keep you cool. Want a natural breeze? You got it, thanks to the electrically actuated center windshield vent. And when was the last time you saw an inch-thick sliding cabin door, tough enough to withstand a 300-pound oopsie? Never? No wonder; usually we see those flimsy plastic sliders that crack the first time your Bubba-in-law loses his balance. What about a stainless-steel windshield frame taller than the captain and with Awlgrip supports? Rare, you say? Weaker windshields are the norm on most boats, but not here.
Construction techniques are comparable to Bertram's big boats. The stringer grid is foam-cored molded fiberglass bedded in Plexus. The deck hatches are perfectly finished inside and out, yet thanks to resin infusion, they're light and easy to handle. Also, there are teaser reels and a locking rodbox molded into the hardtop overhead. Hmmm, wait a sec-there's a full-length rodbox built into the hullside just above the dinette, too. Seems we have another first for a boat in this class: dual rodboxes, with enough overall stowage to house a half-dozen Internationals as well as a half-dozen spinners. Firsts. That's what this Bertram is all about.
EXTRA POINT: Look closely at the fiberglass back of the helm station. See that slight curve? Bertram molded it into the unit so you could sit on top of the livewell and use it as a bait-watching station while leaning against the glass without bruising your spine.