IN THEIR WORDS
Dan Briggs has been on the waiting list for a slip at the town wharf in Mattapoisett, Mass., for 24 years, though not for much longer. “I’m next in line,” says the 52-year-old marine surveyor, who boats with his wife, Lori. And when he finally does tie up at the dock, it’s going to be in a Mattapoisett-built boat. His 1968 33-foot Brownell is an Eldredge-McInnis-designed express-style fishing boat built by the 51-year-old family-owned Brownell Boat Yard.
The Briggses bought the wooden vessel last year for a little less than the $80,000 to $90,000 it was worth on the market. “The owner wanted it to go to a good home,” says an appreciative Briggs, a Mattapoisett native.
As so often happens, it wasn’t the boat the couple had set out to search for. “We’d gotten away from boating for a time, and we’d started looking at small to midsize powerboats, something like the old Ray Hunt Surfhunters I recalled,” says Briggs. “[The Brownell] was more boat than we were looking for, and we thought we couldn’t really afford it. But it was a nice boat, in great shape, and I’ve been around Brownells all my life.”
In fact, Briggs is steeped in local boats and boating, something that gave him confidence in buying the 37-year-old Brownell. “We lived near the Brownell yard, and as a kid I used to watch the boats go by on trailers,” says Briggs. “I actually apprenticed at the yard while I was in high school.” Briggs and his father also ran their own boatyard in town in the 1980s.
David “Fred” Brownell’s boats are still known for their quality construction, says Briggs. Brownell often built a prototype for his own use, analyzing how it ran. “He also used the very best materials throughout the boat: solid floor timbers, bronze hardware and fasteners,” Briggs says. “And they were designed and built to go out harpooning swordfish, going from Mattapoisett to Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard, where they fueled up and then went offshore for 24 hours of fishing. They’re rugged, no-nonsense, simple and utilitarian — all things I admire in a boat.”
Besides reputation, condition was another factor. The owner — whom Briggs knew — had moved from a 26-foot Brownell to the 33 in 1995, restoring the bigger boat that year and maintaining it well since. “It’s also one of the better [33s], with a lot of teak and varnish, which was unusual for Brownells,” says Briggs.
The couple admittedly thus far has gone easy on Jolly Tar. From their home port on the western shore of Buzzards Bay, it’s an easy run to Cuttyhunk and Martha’s Vineyard. Power comes from twin 270-hp Crusader gas engines, and cruising speed is around 14 to 21 mph. Briggs says he hasn’t quite found the sweet spot yet. “It uses about 18 gallons an hour at 2,800 rpm. That’s not bad,” he says.
Briggs and his wife got a taste of the Brownell’s rough-weather performance at the start of the Marion [Mass.] to Bermuda sailboat race in June. The wind piped up to 30 knots in the afternoon, raising whitecaps on Buzzards Bay. As the offshore ocean racers reefed mainsails and set working jibs, the Brownell easily stemmed the familiar chop of its home waters on its modified-vee bottom, says Briggs. “These boats are known for their seakeeping,” says the former delivery captain. “And driving the boat, it was like it was running on tracks.”
It’s also well-laid-out, from the simple, uncluttered deck to the functional cabin with its V-berth and galley down, and enclosed standup head. In the older models it was the builder who ended up working on the boat after it was sold, says Briggs, so Brownell wanted things laid out where he could get them. “He built boats for himself, too, remember,” says Briggs.
The previous owner had new fuel tanks installed, rewired the boat, and replaced some of the planking. Briggs says he may upgrade the fuel system, but there’s nothing major that needs to be done to Jolly Tar, now in its fourth decade. Even the blue Formica galley countertops from the 1960s are staying. “That’s real period stuff,” says Briggs. “I wouldn’t change that.”
Briggs’ Brownell 33 is an express-style boat with a galley down and cabin forward, a midships helm station on a raised bridge deck (with engines underneath), and a large cockpit for fishing or lounging. Layouts are custom but follow a simple pattern, with a traditional V-berth in the enclosed forward cabin that has drawer and shelf storage, a hanging locker, and room for a small settee. The midships galley is to starboard and generally is equipped with a sink, stove, oven or microwave, and refrigerator. There’s an enclosed head compartment to port, with room for a sink and shower.
The helm station is to starboard on the bridge deck, placed amidships to give the driver good sightlines over the bow. The engines are located under hinged hatches, which lock in the open position, in the bridge deck sole. Side decks and an uncluttered foredeck help make the Brownell 33 easy to get around on.
The hull is constructed of two-ply diagonal mahogany planking with oak framing and flooring. The shape is a modified-vee, with a sharp entry forward and flattening to a wide planing shape aft with minimal deadrise. Flybridge versions of the Brownell 33 (and the nearly identical 32) also are popular.
Brownell boats are coveted by a tight circle of aficionados, and they generally don’t last long on the used market, according to owners. Most are bought and restored, so they’re often in good condition after being well-cared-for. Since they’re built in Massachusetts, most boats are found in the New England area. An Internet search turned up a 1972 cold-molded Brownell 33 flybridge cruiser in central Massachusetts, rebuilt in 1997 and powered by a pair of 170-hp Yanmar diesels, for $140,000. New gear includes a 6.5-kW Westerbeke generator; new fuel, water and holding tanks; new galley appliances; and redone plumbing. Extras include upgraded electronics and a half-tower with full canvas enclosure. A 1977 cold-molded Brownell 33 single-diesel express in southern Massachusetts for $135,000 is in “excellent condition,” with a newly redecorated and refinished interior and a white Awl-Grip hull. There’s also a full enclosure for the express-style helm station.