IN THEIR WORDS
People buy and sell boats for a variety of reasons. Chris Bellinzoni wanted to go a little faster, be a little safer. He figured buying a new boat with fresh power would give him both.
But then he realized something: Aside from its speed, he liked his 1982 Fortier 26. A lot.
“I thought about buying a new boat, but really I had the boat I wanted,” says Bellinzoni of Baldwin, N.Y. “All that was lacking was the performance and reliability of a new engine. So I kept the boat and repowered.”
The Fortier is an Eldredge-McInnis design that combines Down East and bass boat characteristics in what the builder calls “an honest sea boat for fishing and cruising.”
“That’s just the way we use it, a fishing boat and a family boat,” says Bellinzoni, 46, a vice president of commercial sales for office supplier Staples. “Shark fishing is my passion, and my son and I do a lot of it. But the four of us [including his wife and 15-year-old daughter] also spend weekends on the boat at Fire Island. This boat holds our family together.”
Bellinzoni bought Four Bells in the fall of 1995 for $26,000. “I wanted to move up to a boat that could go farther offshore,” he says. “A friend of mine looked at this Fortier 26, and he passed on it. But he called me, told me I should look at it.”
It apparently wasn’t an impressive sight. The Fortier had had the same owner for 13 years and suffered from what might be called benign neglect, according to Bellinzoni. “The engine had only 800 hours on it after 13 years,” he says. “The teak was gray, the cushions were cracked, the hoses and belts were shot. It looked tired.”
But somehow the boat “resonated” with him. He liked the traditional look, and he knew about the Fortiers’ reputation as a sea boat. “They’re kind of a cult around here,” says Bellinzoni, a member of the 67-year-old Freeport (N.Y.) Tuna Club. “In fact, there have been five Fortier 26s in the fleet, including one bought as recently as 2002.”
In the end, it was the cockpit that convinced him. It’s big, taking up about two-thirds of the boat’s 26-foot, 9-inch length and 10-foot beam. Bellinzoni saw himself fishing for shark and trolling for bass with all that room. “Looking aft, I saw it had this huge cockpit,” he says. “It was equal in size to some 35-footers I’d been on. I saw a real fighting platform.”
There was more to like, too: a fully protected keel and running gear — a major selling point that paid dividends not long ago. “I ran aground one day, missed a marker, and we slammed into the bottom pretty hard,” says Bellinzoni. “I hopped over the side, checked the gear, and there was no damage whatsoever. So we went bluefishing the rest of the day. That wouldn’t have been the case with exposed running gear.”
There was an aft station with throttle and shift lever, as well as a tiller. And that tiller came in handy when a steering cable broke offshore. “I just steered on home [with the tiller],” Bellinzoni says.
He has done a few things to make the boat his own. His favorite accessory is a custom helm station that includes a seven-drawer tackle box and two-door locker that holds about every lure he’s got. He’s also added radar, mounted on an arch, and a hardtop with drop-down curtains.
The biggest change was the repower. Bellinzoni went from a naturally aspirated 145-hp Isuzu diesel to a 240-hp Yanmar. “The Yanmar weighs 300 pounds less, and it’s added 10 knots to the top speed,” says Bellinzoni. The Fortier cruises at 19 to 20 knots at 2,800 to 3,000 rpm. “That’s where it sits best and where it rides best,” he says. “And I’m getting about two miles to the gallon.” He’s also added a trolling valve.
The Fortier isn’t just about fishing, though. The four Bellinzonis (hence, the name Four Bells) spend a lot of summer weekends at the dock of the Kismet Inn on Fire Island, sleeping on the boat and dining ashore. “This model Fortier has an enclosed head, which was discontinued in later models in favor of a portable head,” says Bellinzoni. “That was another big selling point.”
And what boat owner doesn’t like to have his or her vessel admired at the dock? “Hardly a Saturday night goes by where someone doesn’t come down to the boat around cocktail hour and comment on her looks,” he says. “I’ve got a lifetime boat.”
Fortier uses a closed-cell foam core sandwiched by hand-laid fiberglass in both the hull and deck, including the trunk cabin, of its boats. That’s topped with a skin coat of vinylester resin. The 26’s cockpit is around 16 feet by 9 feet, which gives some 140 square feet of space. The only obstruction is an engine box, which can be used as seating or as an additional surface. Optional fishing-related gear includes an aluminum-frame fiberglass hardtop, fishbox (matched to deck color), saltwater washdown and rod holders.
The steering station is placed to starboard behind a distinctive teak windshield with wind wings. To save cockpit space, helm and passenger seats are optional. Accommodations are complete, though the cabin is necessarily small. The layout consists of a V-berth with cushions and galley with room for a head (with holding tank). Galley gear includes a sink with running water, a built-in icebox, and a two-burner alcohol stove. A refrigerator and shore power are options.
Standard power is a 200-hp Volvo diesel, fed by two 50-gallon fuel tanks.
Built today by Fortier Boats of Somerset, Mass., the 26 can be readily found around New England and Long Island, N.Y. Models from early in its 27-year fiberglass production run sell for around $50,000 on up. Here are a few examples from the Soundings classified pages: a 1981 model with a 1989 340-hp Chrysler gas engine, galley and head, and new canvas for $49,000 in Massachusetts; a 1982 with a Perkins diesel, aft steering station and controls, canvas package, and GPS, VHF and radar for $50,000 also in Massachusetts; and an “exceptionally clean and well-cared-for” 1982 with a 200-hp diesel, varnished teak trim, and full electronics for $60,000 in Connecticut. Boats from the 1990s tend to be more costly. A 1992 model in Connecticut was priced at $93,500 in “mint condition,” with a 200-hp Volvo diesel, hardtop with canvas enclosure, full electronics, and teak transom with dark blue AwlGrip hull.
LOA: 26 feet, 9 inches
BEAM: 10 feet
DRAFT: 2 feet, 6 inches
HULL TYPE: modified-vee
propulsion: single gas or diesel 140 hp and up
weight: 6,500 pounds
TANKAGE: 100 gallons fuel,
20 gallons water
BUILDER: Fortier Boats, Somerset, Mass. Phone: (508) 673-5253. www.fortierboats.com
The Fortier 26 traces its roots back to the mid-1950s, when Brownell Boat Works, a Massachusetts builder, began turning out a wooden open 26-foot striper-fishing boat designed by Eldredge-McInnis. Since then, the basic fishing boat lines have been altered by various builders and designers, including Alan McInnis, who adapted the boat for fiberglass construction in the late 1970s.
The 26 is designed to handle short, choppy seas and has a reputation among anglers as a boat that gets you there and brings you back. Features of the hard-chine hull include a fine entry with a deep forefoot, keel and running gear protection (including a bronze shoe supporting the rudder), and enough weight to keep the boat in the water to reduce pitching and pounding.
Around 350 boats have been built, attesting to the design’s popularity. Today, the Fortier 26 and its 30- and 33-foot sister ships are built by Fortier Boats of Somerset, Mass.