IN THEIR WORDS
Henry Depew grew up around boats, and he’s still surrounded by them. Today, the 64-year-old retiree from Shell Point, Fla., and his wife, Judy, need just about all the fingers on both their pairs of hands to count up the 19 paddle-, sail- and powerboats they’ve owned over the years.
“Boating is simply relaxing,” says Depew, who’s covered Florida’s west coast from Sarasota to DogIsland and Carrabelle.
The current Depew fleet includes a duck boat, pram and Puffin, along with an old stalwart they’ve had for around 16 years. That’s their 1985 Sisu 26, a Down East-style cabin boat with working roots. And while the waters of ApalacheeBay, off Tallahassee, are far from its Maine coast origins, the Sisu fits the Depews almost as if they’d designed it themselves. It’s a great boat for their race committee work, it cruises nicely with its single diesel, and when the urge for an unplanned spin around the harbor comes on, it’s an easy boat to say yes to.
They paid less than $30,000 for the boat in 1991 and have added a few things here and there, generally just enjoying it ever since. Built of fiberglass, she rides a traditional round bottom lobsterboat-style skeg hull, has an inside steering station in the wheelhouse, and cabin room below for two berths, an enclosed head and a small galley area.
The Sisu name was familiar to the Depews, having owned a 22-footer for a number of years before deciding to go bigger. “We liked the 22 very much,” says Depew, a past U.S. Power Squadrons commander. “The Sisu 26 gave us more room, a more comfortable ride and smoother action when at anchor in 10 to 15 knots of wind — sailboat racing weather.”
That’s crucial, because the 26 spends a lot of time on the race course. And though rooted in commercial fishing, it makes an ideal committee boat. “A nice item with the Sisu is the large, open cockpit area behind the cabin bulkhead,” says Depew. “[There’s] room for the lawn chairs we set out after starting a race, and space to hold temporary racing marks and the like.”
He’s also able to keep the boat in the shallow canal waters at his waterfront home. “One of the advantages of this boat is usability in shoal waters,” says Depew. “Average depth outside the bars in ApalacheeBay is 12 feet. We can use it anytime the [local] shoals are covered.”
Under way, the Sisu’s tall bow and plentiful forward freeboard help “considerably” when the wind and sea builds, Depew says. “The boat handles quite well in rough seas and the heavy squall lines that come through our area in the summer. You simply throttle down and go where you want.”
Power comes from a single 100-hp diesel, giving their boat a modest 6- to 8-mph cruising speed. (Other Sisus are more highly powered.) “Although a bit slow, it gets us from point A to point B,” says Depew. “And, being a diesel, it’s very fuel-efficient.”
Electronics include a fixed-mount VHF radio with a hand-held for backup, a Loran-C receiver and GPS. “Loran is the best for finding temporary marks when the seas get up,” says Depew. “The GPS gets us close, but the Loran gets us next to a small racing mark.”
There’s been some upkeep and modernizing over the years. The middle window in the wheelhouse was replaced and hinges added to open and close. The exhaust pipe is new, and two fiberglass storage areas were added in the stern area to hold the extra anchor chain, towing assembly, engine oil and the like.
As most boaters do, the couple sometimes thinks about buying a different boat — maybe a catboat or a multihull. But the 26-footer was bought to provide comfort, room and safety on the water, as Depew puts it. And it does so quite nicely, according to the pilot.
“The Sisu stays. There is really no need to change,” he says.
The Sisu 26 profile comes right out of a Maine coast calendar. The round-bottom lobsterboat hull shows a tall bow with a short foredeck, trunk cabin and large wheelhouse that’s enclosed on both sides on Depew’s boat. (This can be fully enclosed with an aft curtain.) The sheerline drops evenly to its low point along the cockpit, where a lobster trap would be hauled, before picking up just a bit at the stern, the better to ward off a following sea.
The helm and fiberglass instrument console are to starboard, behind the heavy, triple-panel windshield. The engine room is under the wheelhouse sole, leaving the cockpit free of an engine box. The companionway is on centerline, leading down three steps to the compact cabin. There’s a V-berth forward that, with an insert, is convertible to a large single. The head compartment (with sink and hand shower) is to starboard.
Across the way is the galley area, with counter space for a sink and stove top, and room for a below-counter refrigerator and such add-ons as a microwave or coffee maker. Four ports let in light and ventilation.
The builder offered a variety of superstructures, including an open-side lobsterboat-style wheelhouse and an open bass boat with a soft top. Owner and designer modifications during the Sisu’s production run have resulted in boats with some differences in draft, and there are both shallow- and deepwater versions on the used boat market.
With so many Sisu 26s built, they’re easy to find in the used-boat market up and down the East Coast. Prices range from around $60,000 for a later model to $25,000 for an early version. A 1979 model set up for lobstering was for sale in Maine for $27,500, with an open-side wheelhouse and 135-hp diesel. A 1980 open-side model was for sale in Massachusetts for $26,500, powered by a 135-hp diesel and rigged for lobstering with a pot hauler on the starboard side. A 1986 soft top bass boat version was going for $44,900 in Maine, with a 250-hp gas engine, red canvas top, helm and companion seats and a swim platform. Fishing gear includes a tackle center, chair, color fishfinder and cockpit washdown. A 1986 full wheelhouse model with a red hull was listed at $59,999 in Massachusetts, with a turbo-charged 240-hp diesel, cabin heat, shore power and a full slate of electronics, including radar and forward-facing sonar. A similar version built in 1993, was listed as $54,500 in South Carolina, with new carpet, cushions, interior varnish, sound system and depth finder.
The Sisu 26 — the name comes from Norse mythology — was designed along lobsterboat lines by Royal Lowell, of the multigenerational Lowell family of Maine designers. Their influence over Down East commercial and pleasure boat design and construction is still felt today. Lowell-designed boats over the years include models under the nameplates Bruno-Stillman, CapeDory, Duffy, Jarvis Newman and Wesmac.
Production of the 26 began in the late 1970s and peaked in the 1990s, according to Jamie Lowell, nephew of the designer. He estimates that between 250 and 300 of the 26s were built by Portsmouth Boat Works in Dover, N.H., and they were popular as both work and pleasure boats. The smaller Royal Lowell-designed Sisu 22 also proved a winner, according to Jamie Lowell, outselling the 26 over the years.
Though the original builder has gone out of business, the Sisu 26 is still available today from the Lowell Brothers yard in Maine as new construction. And there’s an updated version of the boat launching this spring called the Lowell 26. Phone: (207) 846-4878. www.lowellbrothers.com
LOA: 25 feet, 11 inches
BEAM: 9 feet, 8 inches
DRAFT: 2 feet, 9 inches
WEIGHT: 7,200 pounds
HULL TYPE: round bottom
PROPULSION: single inboard
from 100 hp to 240 hp
TANKAGE: 80 gallons fuel,
10 gallons water
ORIGINAL BUILDER: Portsmouth Boat Works,