26 Sisu / Lowell 26
By Jack Hornor
Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
Sisu is a Finnish word that loosely translated into English means to "to have guts," not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain and endure. After nearly 30 years of utility for just about everything from offshore tuna fishing, to commercial lobstering to finely finished yachts, the diminutive 26-foot model has certainly proven she has "guts" and endurance. The Sisu 26 has proven to be one of the most capable seagoing powerboats built.
The design is by third generation New England boatbuilding/designing brothers Royal and Carroll Lowell - the grandsons of legendary boatbuilder/designer Will Frost. The influence of their grandfather, who is generally regarded as the originator of Maine lobster-style boats, is certainly apparent in this design.
Built by Sisu Boat Inc. of Portsmouth, NH, the 26 Sisu was introduced in 1979 and remained in production until the company went out of business in 1988. Her principal dimensions are 26 feet in length overall, 9-foot-8-inch beam, 3-foot draft and a displacement of approximately 7,500 lbs.
Sisu offered the boat in a number of configurations including an open express, lobster boat and cabin cruiser (pictured). They also offered her in a variety of stages of completion from basic hull and deck to a completed yacht-quality cabin cruiser. It was not uncommon for other boatbuilders to purchase hulls and decks and finish them to their own specifications. Because some of these craft were not finished and put into service until after Sisu went out of business, sometimes 26 Sisu models show up for sale that are newer than 1988.
After years of being out of production, it is fitting that fourth-generation brothers Jamie and Joe Lowell have recently updated the design of their father and uncle and are now once again offering this design as the Lowell 26.
All 26 Sisu models are constructed of fiberglass composites although, whether at the whim of the builder or at the request of customers, I have seen slight differences in construction methods. For example, most hulls were constructed utilizing balsa wood core from the deck edge to the turn of the keel although on occasion the balsa core was terminated at the waterline. Structural reinforcement is provided by plywood bulkheads that are resin coated and securely attached with woven roving fiberglass cloth and polyester resin. Decks and superstructure are likewise fiberglass composites with plywood and balsa reinforcement. These methods are not fancy or high-tech but they're proven, in many cases, by years of commercial service that can subject a vessel to more stress and abuse in one year than recreational boats are likely to see in 20 years.
Careful attention does need to be paid anywhere fittings are mounted through balsa cored composites to ensure that water has not migrated and caused core damage. Depending on where and how vessels were used, some degree of elevated moisture content and osmotic blistering can be expected below the static waterline.
The cockpit of the express and hard top workboat models of the 26 Sisu measure nearly 14-feet long by 8-feet wide and, except for a motor box, is virtually unobstructed. The cockpit deck is cambered with large freeing ports in the transom so that water drains quickly.
A variety of enclosed and partially enclosed sedan models were built some with raised bridgedecks to eliminate the protrusion of a motor box. The decks along the cabin side are only about eight inches wide and there are no side rails for support, although a hand rail is provided on the cabin top. The foredeck is sometimes open and sometimes protected by a stainless steel rail and most yacht finished models have a short bow pulpit for convenient storage and handling of ground tackle.
Depending on the service and wishes of owners, the small cuddy cabin may be outfitted with the bare essentials of a couple of shelves and a port-a-potty, finished to a fine yacht standard with V-berth, small galley and a fully enclosed head or just about anywhere in between. The accommodation space is small and when set up as a cruiser, necessitates a V-berth that is barely six feet long, cramped head and minimal galley facilities.
Because the 26 Sisu served so many different segments of the market she can be found with an equally divergent variety of auxiliary power options, both gasoline and diesel. Many of the boats used for commercial applications were powered by four-cylinder diesel engines ranging from 50 to 120 hp and operating in the eight- to 12-knot speed range. However, I know of at least one boat with a 300-hp gasoline engine that will do nearly 30 knots wide open. This is the extreme, not recommended and may be unsafe in a boat that was never intended to go this fast. From a practical standpoint, this should be considered an eight- to 18-knot boat and powered and operated accordingly.
In my used boat searches i have found prices typically reflect the level to which these boats are finished. The 26 Sisu remains a sought after boat for commercial as well as recreational use and should continue to hold its value for years to come. This is a boat that combines solid construction, traditional Downeast design and proven seakeeping ability in conditions that most of us hope we're never caught in.
Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.