Sec­ond Chance



A cre­ative restora­tion brings an old Ber­tram back to life, and gets an ad­ven­tur­ous guy back on the wa­ter again.

Blake Jamieson grew up on boats. As a child and into his teens, he was lulled to sleep by lap­ping waves against the hull of his par­ents’ sport­fish­er­man. They’d cruise along the re­mark­able coast­line near their home in Van­cou­ver and into the wa­ters just south of Alaska, dig­ging clams one day, diving the next. When Blake was older, as a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, he spent sum­mers work­ing with the Coast Guard do­ing search and res­cue. When he had a few days off, he’d meet his par­ents on their boat in the rugged wilder­ness of Deso­la­tion Sound, where they’d swim in some of the warm­est wa­ters in the re­gion, kayak, fish and kick back. Blake’s par­ents would say of their son that the ocean was in­grained in him. As for Blake, he’d con­tend that when you live in this part of the world, “you get the moun­tains and the wa­ter in your bones.” And then in 2009, Blake’s con­nec­tion to the sea was sev­ered. At the age of 25 and on the day be­fore he was to start his third year of med­i­cal school, Blake was par­a­lyzed from the waist down in a moun­tain bik­ing ac­ci­dent at Whistler Moun­tain. Con­fined to a wheel­chair, he would never walk again or step onto the deck of a boat. “The bike ac­ci­dent was one of those things, a ride that went side­ways and that’s the way the cookie crum­bles,” says Blake in his mat­ter-of-fact kind of way. “So, I took a lit­tle time off to put my life back to­gether.”

Not long af­ter, a re­silient Blake was back at med­i­cal school. The work con­sumed his time and en­ergy for a cou­ple of years, yet with all the pres­sure and long hours, there were mo­ments when he deeply missed the ocean. “Any­one who boats un­der­stands the al­lure is not just about time spent on the wa­ter. There’s also a lot to be said for sim­ply be­ing able to think and dream about get­ting out there. When you don’t have that, you no­tice it. I no­ticed it most when I needed some­thing to get me through the crummy days.”

Not one to com­plain, Blake is a cre­ative prob­lem-solver. So, when he de­ter­mined that he wanted to bring a boat back into his life, he ex­am­ined the op­tions. Hir­ing a cus­tom yard to build a new cruiser with ac­ces­si­ble fea­tures would be too cost pro­hib­i­tive for this med stu­dent. He could, how-

“If you’re go­ing to re­store a boat, it might as well be a Ber­tram, be­cause the hull is so good,” says Blake. “This boat is built like a tank, and I knew it would make me feel com­fort­able cruis­ing up and down the coast.”

ever, buy a used boat and re­fit it for his needs. The chal­lenge would be fig­ur­ing out just how to do that. Blake had been re­search­ing ac­ces­si­ble boat de­sign, but he was un­able to find much in­for­ma­tion. He’d have to work with­out a blue­print.

Blake also knew he’d need help. “I was in the mid­dle of res­i­dency and wouldn’t have time to quar­ter­back the project. So, I asked my dad if he was interested.”

DDr. Bob Jamieson was not a hard sell. Blake’s dad, a den­tist, was ea­ger to help. “I’d never re­stored a boat, and it’s not some­thing I ever dreamed of do­ing, but Blake missed the wa­ter so much,” he says. “The two of us were ready to make the com­mit­ment.”

The search for a boat be­gan in early 2014, with Blake and Bob pag­ing through iden­ti­cal copies of The Power­boat Guide, which con­tained specs and de­tails for more than 1,000 used boats. They had cri­te­ria for the search. Size was most im­por­tant. “It had to be some­thing I could op­er­ate on my own,” says Blake. “Oth­er­wise I’d be a pas­sen­ger and that’s not what I en­vi­sioned.” He also wanted a state­room, head and gal­ley, so he could be self-suf­fi­cient for a week or two. And beam was key, as a wide boat would make it eas­ier for Blake to ma­neu­ver the chair in close quar­ters. Then there were the crit­i­cal de­tails, like the dis­tance be­tween the cock­pit sole and salon floor. It needed to be min­i­mal, since the cock­pit would have to be raised to meet the salon, thereby cre­at­ing a sin­gle level over which the chair could eas­ily roll.

They looked long and hard, and af­ter a cou­ple of months the Jamiesons found their boat: a 1970 Ber­tram 38 Wide­body with a 14-foot, 6-inch beam and just an 8 inch dif­fer­ence be­tween the cock­pit and cabin. Of course, the 44-year-old boat had some se­ri­ous is­sues and it would need a ton of work, but it had the fea­tures Blake wanted most, plus a solid rep­u­ta­tion. “If you’re go­ing to re­store a boat, it might as well be a Ber­tram, be­cause the hull is so good,” says Blake. “This boat is built like a tank, and I knew it would make me feel com­fort­able and con­fi­dent cruis­ing up and down the coast.”

Blake’s dream boat would need a dream team to put it to­gether, so Bob reached out to a few pros he knew could make it all hap­pen: elec­tri­cian Al Mor­gan, fab­ri­ca­tor Greg Sharpe, me­chanic Cyrus Sayeghan and Loum-N-Vu, who did fiber­glass work. Bob was 65 when the project got un­der­way, and his ex­perts—“the guys,” as Blake called them— were close to his age. To get a rise out of his dad, Blake would jok­ingly com­pare the crew to the char­ac­ters in Red, a movie about a CIA agent who brings his for­mer colleagues out of re­tire­ment for a spe­cial as­sign­ment. When Bob asked the men to help out on the Ber­tram, he an­tic­i­pated it might take a year or two. It took four. But as Bob and Blake would dis­cover, the guys brought their A-game ev­ery day.

Work be­gan af­ter the Ber­tram was trans­ported to a yard that was easy for the whole crew to get to, es­pe­cially Bob, who’d stop in to check on progress each evening af­ter work. Dur­ing this time, fa­ther and son would of­ten talk mul­ti­ple times a day. “I’m one of those lucky peo­ple who can say my dad is my best friend,” says Blake.

The first year was the most chal­leng­ing, as the team tack­led the hard­est jobs. There were the en­gines, of course. The orig­i­nal 270-hp in­boards had to come out and the en­gine room (its floor greasy from four decades worth of oil that had col­lected un­der the diesels) had to be prepped with an Awl­grip fin­ish for new 480-hp Cum­mins, the mounts for which were made by Bob’s crew. Th­ese in­boards had been care­fully se­lected. Blake wanted as much horse­power as he could get from propul­sion that would fit the di­men­sions of the en­gine room. Height was key, since the salon floor could not be raised. “I was hold­ing my breath the day the en­gines were in­stalled,” says Bob. But in they went, which thrilled Blake as the re­power would pro­duce a top speed in ex­cess of 30 knots; a big jump from the 18-knot pace the boat was do­ing with the orig­i­nal iron. “I knew I’d need the speed to be able to use the boat af­ter work in the sum­mer, when I’d have just

a few hours to run in the light and get where I needed to go,” he says.

An­other ma­jor un­der­tak­ing was the re­hab of the cock­pit. The orig­i­nal wood sole was torn out and re­placed with Nida-Core struc­tural hon­ey­comb fiber­glass, cho­sen for its strength and light weight— even the hatches were en­gi­neered to be light so that Blake could eas­ily lift them. This up­date, and oth­ers, al­lowed the team to strip many hun­dreds of pounds from the boat. They pulled out end­less runs of wire (“We had piles of it,” says Blake) and, at a later date, the fly­bridge with its driv­ing sta­tion was re­moved.

Peo­ple who know Blake say he’s an idea guy. He cer­tainly had a lot of them for the Ber­tram. “I’d draw some­thing out on a nap­kin and talk it over with Dad, who would share it with the guys. There were times I felt bad, be­cause some of the stuff I came up with was just out­landish. But Dad was able to take the good ideas and make them real.” A case in point: the swim plat­form at the stern. A key el­e­ment of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, this ca­ble-driven de­vice trav­els a sig­nif­i­cant dis­tance up and down the tran­som and en­ables Blake to get on and off the boat when it’s docked. Bob, Blake and the guys spent more than a year de­vel­op­ing and test­ing vari­a­tions of the plat­form, and it took a lot of trial and er­ror to get it right, which they even­tu­ally did. “But then I had this idea to put ramps on the port and star­board sides, pieces that would slide out when the boat was in a slip and cover the gap that would some­times open up be­tween the plat­form and the

dock. At first, the guys looked at me like I had some­thing grow­ing out of my head. But even­tu­ally they built an el­e­gant sys­tem.” Time and again, Blake and Bob were chal­lenged to make what they needed, since it was of­ten dif­fi­cult to find the right sys­tems and fea­tures. At the helm, for in­stance, Blake needed a cap­tain’s chair that would travel from a height of 19 to 40 inches, so they fab­ri­cated a seat with a mas­sive pis­ton to do the job. Then Blake re­al­ized he’d need a tele­scop­ing steer­ing wheel, one that he could pull to­ward him. “With this type of project, you go in know­ing you’ll spend a lot of time search­ing for parts on the in­ter­net, but I just couldn’t find the wheel I wanted. So, we made one. We welded a bracket for a wheel onto the type of slid­ing mech­a­nism used for a seat. Now, my wheel extends 18 inches from the dash, which for me makes a big dif­fer­ence.”

The Ber­tram hit the wa­ter for its first test run in the sum­mer of 2015. At that time, the boat was still very bare-bones—the swim plat­form, for in­stance, was just a rough ply­wood pro­to­type. “She wasn’t pretty, but I’ll never for­get how it felt to get back onto the wa­ter,” says Blake. “That was one of the best days of my life. And it was a fan­tas­tic mo­ment for Dad and me. We did a few turns around English Bay to make sure all was work­ing well, and then went up to Gam­bier Is­land in Howe Sound so I could get the hang of run­ning and dock­ing the boat.”

In some ways, it was a life-chang­ing sea trial for Blake, who once again felt the sense of ad­ven­ture, ac­com­plish­ment and free­dom ex­pe­ri­enced by those who sit at the helm of their own boat. He was thrilled, even though he knew there was a lot more work to do.

Over the years, Bob and the guys have con­tin­ued to mod­ify and im­prove Blake’s Ber­tram, which has been in the wa­ter ev­ery sea­son since that first run in 2015. This sum­mer, the boat will be cruis­ing the Pa­cific North­west look­ing and run­ning bet­ter than ever. “We’re still get­ting a few things di­aled-in, but a lot of it is just fin­ish­ing,” says Blake. “The ac­ces­si­bil­ity part is taken care of.”

The key ac­ces­si­bil­ity fea­tures that were added early on in­clude an elec­tric lift that rises from the state­room be­lowdecks up to the salon, and an in­no­va­tive gal­ley de­sign. “The gal­ley was a big job,” says Blake. “The guys set it up so I can wheel un­der the sink and reach ev­ery­thing, even the pull-out draw­ers for the fridge.” The gal­ley was built as one mod­ule, but it cov­ers a por­tion of the en­gine hatch. So, to en­sure quick ac­cess to that hatch, all wa­ter con­nec­tions have quick dis­con­nects. Blake sim­ply re­leases those cou­plings and pulls the whole unit out of the way.

On the list of Blake’s fa­vorite new fea­tures for his Ber­tram is Jet Thruster, a ma­neu­ver­ing sys­tem that uti­lizes wa­ter pres­sure. It’s a good choice for this Ber­tram, which, said Blake, couldn’t ac­com­mo­date a tra­di­tional bow thruster be­cause the hull is so thick. “It al­lows me to hold the boat against the dock when I need to throw a line, and

to push off when I don’t have help. It gives me more con­fi­dence to move the boat on my own.” He’s also en­joy­ing the re­mote-con­trolled fea­tures that make boat­ing eas­ier and more com­fort­able, from the Maxwell wind­lass sys­tem to the SureShade bi­mini in the cock­pit. And re­cently in­stalled Im­tra’s ZipWake sys­tem, dy­nam­i­cally con­trolled tabs that ad­just trim au­to­mat­i­cally. “We have a lot of logs in the wa­ter out here. It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter for me to keep my hands on the wheel rather than worry about trim,” says Blake.

NNow 33, Blake is a board-cer­tified ra­di­ol­o­gist. Hav­ing just fin­ished a fel­low­ship in MRI, he’s be­gun the search for work. But even with the de­mands of a new ca­reer, he hopes to have some time to spend aboard Night Float, which is the name he gave his Ber­tram. It’s the term med stu­dents use to de­scribe be­ing on call for seven nights in a row. “That was a grind,” says Blake, laugh­ing. “I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self, man, if I’m go­ing to go into this pro­fes­sion, I bet­ter get my­self a boat.”

He’s proud of the Ber­tram and of the guys who helped him bring it all this way. In fact, he’ll of­ten share pho­tos of the boat on his In­sta­gram ac­count, @doc.on.wheels. And those pho­tos, it seems, are in­spir­ing oth­ers.

“I hear from guys who have fa­thers with Parkin­son’s and from those who were in the mil­i­tary, the wounded war­riors. They have ques­tions about the boat. I say ‘Send me an email and I’ll tell you all I know.’ It would be great to get more guys in chairs on the wa­ter. For me, the Ber­tram is a dream. It keeps me mov­ing for­ward.”

The re­fit in­cluded the ad­di­tion of tran­som doors (above) and a lift that makes it easy for Blake to get from the cabin to ac­com­mo­da­tions.

Dr. Bob Jamieson, shown here with Blake at the Royal Van­cou­ver Yacht Club, helped man­age the project while his son fin­ished med­i­cal school.

Blake at the helm of his re­pow­ered Ber­tram that now does 30 knots at WOT.

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