She was sprung from a mold in 1969 at the Bertram Yacht facility in Miami, Florida. Sam James, head of the company’s racing team, was there, and he remembers her and a near-identical stable mate being trialed on Mercury Marine’s fabled Lake X before shipment to Italy for owner Vincenzo Balestrieri, a real estate developer with a passion for speed. The two would be named Red Tornado and White Tornado, and for the next few years Balestrieri and compatriot Francesco Cosentino (a distinguished politician whose service included secretary general of the Italian House of Deputies) competed in numerous European events, including the 214-mile 1969 Viareggio–Bastia–Viareggio Race, where White Tornado finished third. She won a few races, too: the 1969 Trofeo Napoli and Trofeo Rosa d’Oro among them. Unlike thoroughbred racehorses, the boats were driven hard and put away wet. They were considered disposable, with expected useful lives of just a few years.
Out of love for the golden age of offshore powerboat racing, Cadillac McDaniel, who’d been involved in racing during the ’70s and ’80s, began collecting old raceboats and storing them in his “Field of Dreams.” Snapshots taken in 2011 when he found White Tornado show the derelict hull on a trailer, backed under some palm trees along the ICW in Boynton Beach, with a couple of plastic chairs in the cockpit, as if someone made a practice of climbing up there to daydream about what it was like smashing along at 75 mph, hearing the deafening roar of the big V-8s and straight exhausts, rooster tails of competitors all around. Broken boats and broken dreams. He didn’t know then she was White Tornado, but he did know she was a classic Bertram 31, so he bought her and brought her home.
Yacht designer Michael Peters (see “Peters on (Fast) Powerboats,” Parts 1 and 2, Professional BoatBuilder Nos. 126 and 127) saw her in McDaniel’s yard. Also well aware of her pedigree, and taken by her form, Peters bought the boat with the notion of doing at least some of the restoration work. He gutted the hull and replaced the stringers and transom, but soon concluded that he had better ways to spend his time than grinding fiberglass outdoors in Florida. When he mentioned it to one of his clients, whom we shall refer to only by his first name, Nick, Peters had found the perfect person to complete the project.
Nick was introduced to me by boating writer Jay Coyle as “the most enthusiastic boat nut I have met in years. Power, sail, fast, slow, the whole deal. He’s very knowledgeable, reads every scrap of material he can on boats, and is a triple Type A personality in all he does.” Trying to entice me to contact the owner and write up the story, Coyle concluded by saying, “As an old designer I find her lines intoxicating, particularly her reverse transom. She was ahead of her time. She’s not the old-school 31 Hunt raceboat or the Cigarette-like 38 that I believe followed. . . . Perhaps she is the missing link?”
A Perfect Vision
When I contacted Nick he had not yet identified his newly acquired bare hull. But as Coyle had predicted, he had thrown himself deeply into Bertram history in a quest to find out just what he had bought. An early e-mail said, “The Bertram 31 and 32 were really the same boat. The 31 is the I/O version, while the 32 is inboard, reason being, the aft portion of the  transom was flattened to allow for mounting of the drives. I’m not sure of the actual LOA for each, but this 31/32 thing has caused some confusion in the past.” To make matters more difficult, there was one outboard 31 as well. Nick said he was off to meet former Bertram employee and raceboat driver Sam James (see “Fast Company,” PBB No. 155) for help. Contrary to reports from Europe that Red Tornado and White Tornado had been built in Italy under license from Bertram, James affirmed their construction at the Bertram plant in Florida.
Italian Marco Bertini, a historian of vintage offshore powerboat racing, a “human database” Nick calls him, corroborated James’s recollection. This set aright an erroneous newspaper article that reported racer Tim Powell had “bought a 31‘ Bertram-Nautec (ex White Tornado of the Tornado racing outfit) which had been lying at Don Aronow’s yard in Miami: it has just arrived in England to be put in competitive shape for the marathon” (the marathon being the 1972 London–Monte Carlo race). Bertini concluded that Powell had actually bought the Bertram 32 Master Moppie, campaigned by one-time Bertram (then owned by conglomerate Nautec) president Peter Rittmaster, adding that Red Tornado’s whereabouts remained unknown.
Graham Stevens, a Brit who’d photographed many European powerboat races of the 1960s and ’70s, wrote Nick in reference to some old newspaper images: “I took those photos near Cowes at the start of the Wills International Race on 14th June 1969. It was the first time boats fitted with MerCruiser sterndrives coupled to 475-hp [356-kW] MerCruisers had appeared in England, and we had nothing to touch them. They were so fast, that both Red and White Tornado boats stopped halfway round the course for a fag and a yarn before setting off again to beat the rest by 30 minutes.”
Determining his boat’s true identity was a process, says Nick. James said some early Bertrams were painted and some gelcoated, but only one Bertram 31 had white gelcoat, and that was White Tornado. Nick knocked off some surface paint on his boat, finding white gelcoat underneath. Still, James’s time with Bertram was years ago, memories fade, and Nick turned to his European allies for confirmation.
Bertini and Stevens had photo and newspaper collections that helped unravel misinformation such as Red Tornado being shipped to Florida for the Miami–Nassau race, and entering as White Tornado, even having her number 89 painted on the hull. Ultimately, they concluded that Nick’s boat was indeed White Tornado. To fill in the years between the early ’70s and McDaniel’s acquisition of her, Nick hired a private investigator to find the interim owners, but dropped the quest when the investigation figured she had possibly spent at least some of that time as a drug runner.
Descendants of Moppie
The Bertram 31/32 descended from the original Ray Hunt–designed Moppie, the well-known winner of the 1960 Miami–Nassau race. “The two new Bertram competition hulls are not radically different from the Hunt configuration,” wrote Frank Rohr, in a 1967 MotorBoating magazine article introducing the first two of this iteration, My Moppie and Master Moppie. “They are, rather, logical engineering extensions of that flashing deep-V design, drawn this year by veteran racer and Bertram engineer Russ Specht.
“According to Specht, the new 31‘ Moppies are different in that their entry is keener, sharper. They also have a hopefully more advantageous length/beam ratio, which should improve speed in a seaway. The traditional Moppie lift strakes have been refined in size, and there’s been a subtle improvement in their placement on the hull. Deadrise, at this writing, was still a deep secret, this dimension being as jealously guarded by powerboat designers as are rudder shapes by America’s Cup contenders.”
In May 1967 the new Moppies were set to race in the first Bahamas 500 race. “A major and public difference, however, between the new Moppies and their peers in the Bahamas 500 is in engine layout,” wrote Rohr. “Offshore race boats with inboard or I/O power usually have engines mounted side by side behind the cockpit, to keep weight aft and props in the water when planing. But Dick Bertram’s My Moppie and Pete Rittmaster’s Master Moppie have an offset tandem arrangement, with one engine aft of the cockpit with a standard V-drive, the other forward of the cockpit and equipped with a Z-drive. Both are slightly off center [on either side of the center stringer].
“The latter, to the layman, would show a drive shaft hook-up to a small Pandora’s box of gears.… This unusual arrangement, according to both drivers, has two great assets: (1) Shafts can now be laid advantageously deep in the hull, and as close together as practicable. This has paramount import in the low-flying bombs offshore racing has developed, for when boats leapfrog wave-crests at 50-knot speeds, props that leave the water race wildly and destructively, contributing to great engine attritions. (2) There is far better engine accessibility.”
Nick notes that by moving weight and the center of gravity forward, the staggered engine arrangement made the 31s and 32s better rough-water boats, as they tended to stay more level when airborne.
Bertram was running a pair of 427-hp (320-kW) MerCruiser inboards; Rittmaster had twin Chrysler 426-cu-in “hemi-heads.” In the 512-mile race that followed, Odell Lewis took first place at the helm of the Maritime 32 Mona Lou III. Rittmaster finished fifth, and Bertram, after leading for the first 100 miles, had to drop out after a rod speared an engine crankcase.
These early Bertram 31/32s were managed by James as the factory racing team. Twelve were built between 1967 and 1969, and were cutting edge at the time.
After buying the gutted boat from Michael Peters, Nick hired TNT Custom Marine in North Miami to rig the boat, which by necessity required the company’s involvement in the structural repairs. Owners Mike Thomas and John Tomlinson (currently Class 1 World Champion) specialize in high-performance boats. They recommended several area shops to do the fiberglass and paint work; after visiting several, Nick settled on Guardado Marine in Opa-locka. Eddie Guardado has developed a reputation for expert custom paint jobs, fiberglass repairs, and custom work of all kinds, including advanced composites, much of it on high-performance powerboats and state-of-the-art raceboats.
Work commenced over the winter of 2013–14. Peters had already removed all the stringers with a grinder and replaced them; Guardado removed the rest of the interior structure, specifically the partial bulkheads (frames), which were tabbed to the hull, and the remaining 2×2 (51mm x 51mm) ribs formed over wood, which had rotted. Epoxy and vinylester resins were employed, depending on application.
When White Tornado was converted into a pleasure boat, an athwartship deck section forward of the cockpit had been removed to allow access forward; this was replaced with a new piece made by taking a form off the deck camber. The old engine hatches served as templates to lay up new parts. The original deck had a balsa core, which had rotted due to poorly executed modifications over the years. The decision was made to improve stiffness and longevity by glassing in Divinycell core to the underside—always a tricky job. Guardado: “We wedged a piece of plywood with 2x4s and wedges. It was easy and efficient. The core and skin were vacuum-bagged with release ply.” After curing, the deck was faired, primed, and painted white with Awlgrip’s Awlcraft 2000 acrylic urethane.
A number of new parts had to be fabricated, such as the engine hatches, which had to conform to the camber of the deck, and the console for which Oscar Guardado made a custom plywood plug and mold.
Once the topsides were faired, the boat was painted with black primer and set in the sun for a week to post-cure and better show any imperfections. After painting with Awlcraft 2000, multiple clear coats of Imron MS1, supplied by Axalta, were sprayed.
Chris Dilling of Grafik EFX, working from Guardado’s shop, was retained to paint the graphics on the deck and hull. Working from old photographs, he scaled them digitally, replicated the colors, and printed the patterns on vinyl sheets, which were CNC cut and taped to the hull as templates. Paint was Spies Hecker, again supplied by Axalta.
After roughly 2,000 man-hours in Guardado’s shop, White Tornado left October 1, 2014, and moved to TNT Custom Marine for rigging.
As noted in Rohr’s magazine article, the original boat had staggered inboard engines, one forward of the other, but at some point side-by-side engines had been installed. Nick decided to reconfigure the stringers for staggered engines as originally built.
Thus arose another in a series of questions Nick had to answer concerning the restoration: Just how original and authentic did he want the boat to be?
For starters, there was little point investing in old technology, such as carbureted engines. Nick ordered Mercury Racing 520s and Bravo XR Sport Drives. The 520-hp (388-kW) naturally aspirated fuel-injected V-8 engines weigh 1,218 lbs (553 kg) and feature digital throttle and shift controls. Nick said they come standard in Mercury Racing Blue, but he had the factory paint his black. They arrived at TNT in December 2014, were recalled in February for new intake valves, and finally installed in the boat by early April 2015 under the supervision of chief rigger Gary Brinker.
Mercury’s Integrated Transom System features integral hydraulic steering and control over the drives. “Normally,” says Nick, “the hydraulic steering would be external to the drive with a tie-bar; in this case the rams are integral. Digital throttle and shift. No cables. Electronic. It’s modern.” As he pointed out, what would be the value in installing a 1969 engine or a crash box? On the original boats, that meant the engines had to be shut down between forward and reverse. Despite being like the original, such equipment would be inefficient today. Nick: “Because it was a raceboat there are no hull identification numbers. Unlike a Ferrari, there are no engine numbers affiliated with the hull. They were going to repower multiple times during a season, send the engines back to Mercury to rebuild, and throw the hulls away. They knew they’d be obsolete in a year.
“They ran two-blade props. I’m not going to run two-blade props,” he added, saying the new props are four-blade 26“ x 151⁄4“ (660mm x 395mm) Mercury Bravos. “And I want the transom to look original. Try to get the exhaust to come out in the same place. Same flappers.”
Because the boat would not be competing in long-distance endurance races, there was no need for 400 gal (2,269 l) of fuel in four tanks, two of which were cylinders mounted outboard of the engines. “I wasn’t doing that!” Nick says firmly, alluding to the potential for an accidental explosion. Instead, four aluminum tanks totaling 220 gal (832 l) were installed, two under the cockpit/helm and two under the forward hatch. He wanted the external appearance of the boat to be as authentic as possible, but he didn’t need four fuel fills. Consequently, two deck-fill fittings service all four tanks; under each of two caps are two hoses, one to a forward tank and one to the aft tank. So two of the fills on the hatch are for aesthetics only and aren’t connected to anything.
Nick retained the air scoop and was fortunate that former racer Errol Lanier had given him an original fuel cap, which TNT machinists duplicated in billet aluminum. “They were shiny,” Nick says, “so TNT roughed them up to look like cast aluminum and then anodized them black. The originals were spray-painted black, but paint has a tendency to corrode, so we decided to anodize instead.”
Similarly, TNT machinists made control handles to look like the original Morse handles, and cut special splines in them so they’d fit Mercury’s control boxes.
Instrument gauges are mostly analog from Stewart Warner, though some have different external marks to mimic the originals. Because they are analog, TNT had to go outside for software that enables Mercury’s digital engine controls to “talk” to the instruments. Nick tucked the SmartCraft VesselView display under the cockpit coaming, out of sight but easily accessible. The unit displays a long list of engine information, including basic engine parameters such as oil pressure, voltage, and seawater pressure, as well as boat speed, trim angle, steering angle, fluid levels, engine maintenance records, and much more. Nick fully appreciates the advances in technology, but at the same time says, “I’d like the boat to look as original as possible.”
Consistent with that aim, Miami Prestige Interiors (MPI) was retained to re-create the pleated cockpit helm and wraparound seating, which again required researching old photographs. MPI’s Reinier Lopez did a 3D scan of the cockpit area, which was translated to CAD drawings. The original boat had no helm seat, just a bolster, but Nick challenged Lopez to design a foldaway seat that would provide comfort when needed and disappear to preserve authenticity. The red upholstery, in harmony with the beautifully cambered windshield-less deck and bold graphics, is stunning.
Two weeks before White Tornado’s official relaunching, Nick and John Tomlinson had taken her out on sea trials. “Everything checked out,” Nick says. “No leaks. Everything was perfect.” So this day, October 28, 2015, Nick turned the helm over to Michael Peters and the old guard—Cadillac McDaniel and Sam James, the former head of Bertram’s race team, now 77, and still active in his home shop making all sorts of composite parts for airplanes and other go-fast machines.
Tomlinson took the helm first, running White Tornado up to her full speed of 79 mph (127 kmh) on the Intracoastal Waterway. James said that was top speed in her racing days, too.
Then James was offered the helm. Peters, in his Sightlines column for Power & Motor Yacht, wrote: “I could see a transformation in his face, his eyes, as he gripped the throttle. The years peeled away as the speed increased, and Sammy got her up to top speed. Those of us in the boat, at that moment, were more thrilled about watching Sammy run White Tornado through her paces, than the boat itself.”
James’s fingers were glued to the wheel. Peters says riding White Tornado on her home Florida waters made him feel like he was going back in time, that watching James was “like seeing Phil Hill running a vintage Ferrari GTO at Sebring again. Who says you can’t go back in time?”
Later, after the launch party, after all the hullabaloo died down, Nick and his 13-year-old daughter took White Tornado to the Keys for a week, “Just buzzing around. It was great.
“Sammy asked, half-jokingly, why I didn’t buy a new boat,” Nick told me. “He didn’t understand what I was doing. I’ll put more money into this boat than it will ever be worth.”
But to see her today: priceless!
Even Sammy conceded: “She sure looks a lot better than she used to when she was racing!”
About the Author: Dan Spurr is Professional BoatBuilder’s editor-at-large. Learn more about White Tornado online at whitetornado.com.