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A different kind of houseboat
WB No. 240


TUSITALA has been regularly maintained and, though she still needs some work, is in the water ready to use now.

Launched as Elizabeth for Mr. and Mrs. John J. Sesnon, this yacht changed appearance dramatically in the 1950s when MIT-trained marine engineer Thomas Rowlands enclosed the upper deck to form what amounts to a “second story” containing the galley and dining area, and added a new wheelhouse atop the old one with a flying bridge above that. Either configuration, early-and-slinky or later-and-stately, looks unusual, and to my eye, really very appealing.

This is an exceptionally roomy craft, partly due to her generous beam and original cabin that runs across the entire width of the hull. Small twin engines placed well aft also contribute to interior spaciousness. In lieu of side decks there are narrow catwalks port and starboard, and what was once the cabintop became a second deck after it was enclosed. All in all, this craft received a smart and good-looking modification.

Despite having an East Coast designer (one of the best, in fact), the boat was (and still is) set up with plenty of shelter—perfect for cruising in the Pacific Northwest where it rains often. She came out as a close collaboration between owner Sesnon and designer Henry J. Gielow, intended primarily as a floating home—but one that “does things,” according to what Taft Morgan said of her in his 1908 Pacific Motor Boat article. Even before he’d been aboard and written about Elizabeth, as she was then named, her owners had “nosed around the shoals and rocks and tortuous channels from Seattle to central Alaska” during the first season afloat.

As a backup to her original pair of 16-hp Frisco gas engines, three sails could be set on two masts. But they’re long gone; she’s no longer a motorsailer. More reliable diesels now drive the boat. Still extant, however, is a good deal of the lovely raised-panel interior. Photos show staterooms and other spaces to be very well outfitted and nicely cared for. She’d be perfect for elegant living aboard or for long cruises in sheltered waters.

Although I’ve never laid eyes on this interesting vessel, I understand she’s in good condition. The photos I’ve seen bear this out, particularly ones of the 2012 rebuilding of her stern, a major project that included replacing seven frames, fourteen planks, and the V-shaped transom. The rest of her is structurally solid, according to the owner, but she lists refastening, small cabin leaks, replacement of two deck drains, two 2″ teak toerail repairs, and rebuilding the original wheelhouse as other items needing attention. In her words, “Mostly what she needs is regular maintenance… My biggest problem with the boat is that I work full-time so I don’t have the time to devote to her that I want or she deserves.”

TUSITALA Particulars:

  • LOA     58′
  • Beam    16′
  • Draft    4′2″
  • Power    two 54-hp diesels
  • Doc. No.    205138
  • Designed by Henry J. Gielow
  • Built by Anderson Boatyard, Seattle,
  • Washington, 1908

From where I sit, this is indeed a deserving vessel.    

Tusitala lies afloat in Poulsbo, Washington. For additional information, or to arrange an inspection, contact owner Pamela Olson at But before you do this, be sure to look at her exceptionally-well-done video about Tusitala,

Maynard Bray is WoodenBoat’s technical editor.

Send candidates for Save a Classic to Maynard Bray, WoodenBoat, P.O. Box 78, Brooklin, ME 04616.