Imagine if the highly polished mahogany cabin walls of the Presidential yacht Sequoia could talk what they could say of the private conversations of some eight American presidents with powerful leaders from around the world for the period 1933 to 1977. The Presidential yacht Sequoia is probably the most historic American yacht ever built.
The Sequoia was designed by a familiar name in American yachting, Johan Trumphy, in 1925. She was built by John Mathis & Company and was originally owned by banker Richard Cadwalader who sold it to Texan businessman William Dunning.
At 104 feet she could sleep six and provide a party for 40 people. Like so many of the Trumphys, they were boats built for millionaires like the DuPont’s, Chryslers, Firestones and the Dodge family. The U.S. Government purchased her in 1933 to be used as a decoy ship to catch rumrunners during prohibition.
President Hoover thought so much of the yacht he used a photo of it on his 1932 Christmas card, perhaps not the wisest idea when the country was in a deep depression. President Roosevelt liked to fish for perch on the Potomac River. One time he met the yacht Sequoia at Deltaville Virginia so he could fish some of the many wrecks in the Chesapeake Bay. Franklin D. Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound so he had an elevator installed. Lyndon Johnson had the elevator removed and a bed installed in its place.
President John F. Kennedy was a lifelong sailor, so it is no surprise that he used Sequoia often. Kennedy speechwriter and aide, Theodore Sorensen said, “On board, either the family or the presidential cruiser the president read history or biography or fiction, chatted with family and friends, waved at passing boats, watched local sailing races and enjoyed the distance between himself and the Secret Service” Kennedy celebrated his 46th birthday on Sequoia.
Jack Valenti, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson said; “Lyndon Johnson used yacht trips on Sequoia to hash out Vietnam strategy and lobby legislators to support his Great Society domestic reforms. “The Sequoia was a rostrum from which he was trying to persuade congressmen and senators,” Richard Nixon used the Sequoia more than just about any of his predecessors. The 37th president reportedly made as many as 100 trips aboard the yacht, including one in which he met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to negotiate the SALT I nuclear arms agreement. When the pressure from Watergate got too heavy, Nixon also used Sequoia as a hideout from the controversies of the Watergate scandal. It was one of the final cruises in August 1974, the embattled president reportedly informed his family of his decision to resign before retiring to the ship’s saloon, quaffing a glass of scotch and playing God Bless America on the piano.
President Jimmy Carter was not happy with the $ 250,000-year cost of running the Sequoia. He had also promised during the campaign to cut costs. He ignored the history associated with Sequoia and ordered her to be sold in 1977. He told the Secretary of Defense “Despite its distinguished career, I feel that the Presidential yacht Sequoia is no longer needed,”
The Sequoia was eventually sold and used as a charter party boat in Washington DC commanding $10,000 for a one-day charter.
Then after nearly ten years she became embroiled in a legal dispute between the group of owners and people who had loaned money to the group. While the court reviewed and reviewed the case, the Sequoia was high and dry at the Chesapeake Bay Marine Railway in Deltaville, VA. Meanwhile, raccoons found their way into Sequoia and nested in the mighty old yacht. They noshed and nested as the court cases dragged on. The case was finally settled, and the judge ordered that the Sequoia be sold to Equator Management Associates for the sum of 0.00 dollars.
For a long time, it appeared the Sequoia would eventually just crumble into oblivion, but that was not to happen. FE Partners a joint-venture between Equator and an Indian family acquired the yacht for $0. With the stipulation they restore it. FE Partners’ mission is to provide funding to preserve assets significant to US history.
The first step was to move it from Deltaville, Virginia by barge to Maine. Wolfe House & Building Movers were tasked with moving the yacht from Virginia to the Maine-based yard French & Webb using an ocean barge. It is estimated the restoration will take years to complete. The incredible job of getting the Sequoia onto a barge then towing it all the way to Maine then getting it off without damage was a herculean task.
Wolfe arrived at Chesapeake Marine Railway in Deltaville, VA with a giant barge. On the barge were massive, wheeled beams. The beams were placed under Sequoia and she was rolled off the marine railway where she has sat for several years and onto the deck of the Wolf barge. Once Sequoia was secure, the long trek up the coast under the Verrazano Bridge and up the East River was begun. When the Sequoia arrived at Belfast, she was docked in the French and Webb yard where a building will be constructed to cover the Sequoia. There will be a viewing area where visitors can watch the work in progress. Todd French of French and Webb was quoted in the January 2020 issue of Soundings Magazine, he said “The public is connected to it,” French says. “We’ve had so many people show up and look reverentially at this project; it’s like people are just in awe, taking pictures. It’s like they’re coming to church.
It is estimated it will take at least 30 months to complete the restoration at which time the Sequoia will again ply the waters of the Potomac River. There is a great video of the Sequoia being loaded onto a barge at the Chesapeake Bay Marine Railway. YouTube, USS Sequoia – Presidential Yacht Relocated.