THE 48 MAY BE BURGER’S SMALLEST YACHT, BUT IT’S NOT SHORT ON CHARACTER. BY KRISTA KARLSON PHOTOGRAPHY BY JIM RAYCROFT
Known for its exquisite superyachts, Burger Boats obliged a client’s custom request to build its first 48-footer.
On a sunny summer weekend in 2016, a Green Bay-based boater was swimming behind her Apreamare in Lake Michigan. A couple with a golden retriever approached in a dinghy and complimented her boat. She complimented their dog, Penny, and invited them aboard for a tour. “As [the man] is climbing the steps up to the cockpit, he says he works for Burger Boats,” she recalls. She practically leapt for joy. She had always admired Burgers, but never wanted a superyacht. The man touring her boat was Ron Cleveringa, vice president for sales and marketing at Burger Boat Company. She asked whether he would ever consider building a 48-footer. “Sure, why not? We’re a custom yard. We’ll do whatever you need,” he said. Monday morning there was an email in his inbox: She was ready.
Burger Boat Company traces its roots to 1863, when 24-year-old Henry Burger started a nondescript shipyard on the shore of Lake Michigan. He built small commercial fishing boats before transitioning to freighters. During World War I the Navy commissioned several military ships, including sub chasers and thirteen 90-foot wooden tugs. After the war, the company followed demand for luxury yachts built with steel, introducing the first all-welded steel auxiliary ketch to the United States in 1938. Come World War II, the builder met demand for more military ships, transitioning back to yachts during peacetime.
Now best known for its superyachts, the builder saw the proposition to build a 48-footer as an opportunity to draw on its 150-year history of versatile craftsmanship. It was also a chance to appeal to a new generation of yacht owners, says Cleveringa, including owners who have a large yacht in, say, Florida, and want a smaller boat for their second home in, say, Martha’s Vineyard.
Two weeks after her chance meeting with Cleveringa on Lake Michigan, the prospective client met Burger Boat Company President Jim Ruffolo and toured the Manitowoc, Wisconsin facilities. “To think that I could have my beautiful new boat built just two hours away from me by Wisconsin builders and artisans was so compelling,” she says. “It wasn’t a hard decision.” She signed a contract with the company in the fall and got to work designing her dream yacht. Throughout our conversation she referred to her 48 exclusively as “my beautiful boat.”
Burger employs 100 craftsmen, and for some of them, it’s a family operation. An image on the company’s Facebook page shows daughter, father and grandfather smiling widely and wearing matching blue hard hats. “Quality craftsmen are easy for us to find because we’re a destination for people who want to work in the boating industry,” says Cleveringa.
“A carpenter could work in a cabinet shop and build cabinets all day long, or he could work at Burger where every day is different. Their craftsmanship really gets to shine.”
One of the 48’s signature features is the Vripackdesigned slide hull that reduces slap in choppy water and lends the vessel fuel efficiency. In addition to the damping hull, a Seakeeper 6 gives the 48 stability, one of the owner-operator’s must-haves on account of Lake Michigan’s volatile weather.
Another must-have for the client was quality lighting. “I didn’t want to feel like I was walking into a tunnel,” she says. She tapped Celeste Wegman, who had designed her home, to design the interior for Hull No. 1. Electric sliding windows to port and starboard give 11 square feet of views on either side of the salon, and the electric retracting glass sunroof creates seamless indoor-outdoor living. The windshield is a single piece of glass. “You should have seen the look on the [glazier’s] face when we said, ‘Okay, here’s the windshield,’” Cleveringa laughs. Each of the two heads, one in the owner’s cabin amidships and one adjacent to the VIP cabin forward, has its own skylight. All that glass means maximum natural light and plenty of ventilation.
The owner has been operating boats since she was 8 years old, when she spent summers on a 56-foot Chris-Craft with her mother. Technology has come a long way since then, and she’s getting used to the state-of-the-art features on the Burger 48. She watched YouTube videos and read as much as she could about the joystick and twin 600-hp Volvo Penta IPS pod drives before christening her boat this summer. Docking in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she has a slip, can be challenging with changing wind speeds and directions. But she says with everything at her fingertips it’s actually been quite easy.
Hull No. 2, which will have a Luiz de Basto-designed interior, is set to be completed this winter. Ever adaptable, Burger is exploring the possibility of a big sister for the 48—somewhere around 60 feet—which Cleveringa says will have similar DNA.
On the day we spoke, the owner of Hull No. 1 had only owned her boat for about a month but was preparing for a dinner party the following week. The evening would start with an hour-long cruise around seven islands at sunset, with hor d’oeuvres in the spacious salon before returning to the dock and serving dinner at her house, just a short distance away. She’s also planning trips around the lake to cities on the western shore, a luxury afforded by the new yacht which has a longer range (300 nautical miles at 28.5 knots) than her previous boat.
I ask whether she gets comments from onlookers for being a female owner-operator. “I get every kind of comment,” she says. She’s humbled by the compliments on how well she handles the boat, and sometimes people say they’ve never seen a woman run a boat before. A skilled boater, she still feels childlike amazement when she sees the royal blue hull at the marina. “Every time I walk down the dock my heart skips a beat and I can’t believe it’s mine,” she says.
There’s a long pause on the other end of the phone when I ask why she loves being on the water. Finally she says quietly, “Oh, my. Why does one love breathing the air?”
The 48 Cruiser was christened in June. Ample glass in the salon and belowdecks makes for seamless indoor-outdoor living (opposite).
The salon and helm are on a single level, allowing the owner-operator to interact with guests. The salon has ample natural light (below).
Each of the two heads has a skylight. Two spacious cabins make the 48 Cruiser comfortable for longer adventures (below).