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Brownell 26

Illustration by Jim Ewing

Off Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, 4:30 a.m. The predawn chill of late October is intensified by a bitter wind. Whitecaps dot the gray-green waters around the Elizabeth Islands. It’s a perfect morning for striped bass.

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A small, sturdy boat manned by a few figures in oilskins fishes close in, right off the shore. It haunts the troughs behind the offshore bars, delves into the surging gullies of foaming water around kelp-covered boulders, swirling with currents.

These are the places where frenzied stripers come to feed. Birds call overhead as the big fish dart and dash in the chaotic waters.

Cold and chaos — that’s what the fish like. And to get at them, the fishermen needed a boat that could deal with those conditions. The Brownell 26 was one of many New England bass boats built from the late 1950s through the early ’70s, specifically for striper fishing.

Fred Brownell had designed and built a few coastal fishing boats at his yard on Buzzards Bay in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. In 1957, the design firm Eldredge-McInnis drew the lines for a 26-foot bass boat that Brownell would build of double-planked mahogany on white oak frames. It had a full keel, a big cockpit, dual controls, an aft tiller and a powerful engine to give it what one admirer called the “heft to handle the breakers.”

It was, as author Nim Marsh wrote in Nautical Quarterly No. 12, a “remarkable vehicle developed to pursue and bring to bait the striped bass.”

An immediate hit with the most avid bass fishermen, the Brownell 26 served as a standard for New England bass boats for the next two decades. A modified version known as the Sakonnet 26 was built by Moss Marine in Fall River, Massachusetts, and it survives today in fiberglass as the Fortier 26.

“Designed by fish,” as Marsh put it, the Brownell 26 was a “truly superlative little powerboat.”

February 2015 issue