An ambitious plan to restore the iconic former presidential yacht USS Sequoia should finally start next spring, nearly four years late. Once the private retreat of US presidents and used to host diplomatic and political functions, the ship currently sits in a parking lot covered in boat wrap in Belfast, Maine.
The yacht, also commonly known as the “floating white house” which has served eight US presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, was carefully loaded onto a barge and moved from Virginia to Maine in October 2019. Boatbuilder French & Webb was hired by the ship’s owners to undertake a painstaking restoration of the famous yacht which, when built in 1925, was one of the largest personal yachts in the world.
Arriving in Maine in 2019 for restoration (photo French & Webb)
Today, Sequoia, which is a treasured piece of American history, is still awaiting the start of the stem-to-stern restoration project. French & Webb attributes the delay of the restoration project to COVID-19 but also reports that preliminary off-site work has been carried out.
“It happens slowly, but the needle moves. Although it’s a bit of an eyesore on the waterfront right now, it’s here, it’s protected – and it’s going to happen,” French & Webb owner Todd French told the Bangor Daily News. last week.
He added that although little work has been done on the yacht, a lot has happened behind the scenes in preparation for the physical restoration work. He told the newspaper that preparatory work included using modern laser technology to create a complete three-dimensional model of the boat and sourcing wood and rare materials in an environmentally friendly way.
Designed by Norwegian-born naval architect John Trumpy, the ship was built by Mathis Shipyard in New Jersey for Emily Roebling Cadwalader, heir to the engineering family that built the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Six years later the yacht was acquired by the US government first used as a decoy to capture contraband traffickers then banned alcohol but quickly adopted by President Hebert Hoover to become the new presidential yacht. Measuring 104 feet long, her shallow draft made her ideal for presidents as she could navigate the Potomac River to reach Washington, D.C.
Operating as a charter boat in Virginia in the early 2010s (former owner USS Sequoia Presidential Yacht)
At its peak, Sequoia served eight presidents, from Herbert Hoover to Gerald Ford, before being sold by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 as part of a cost-cutting measure intended to end what he called the era of the “imperial presidency”. Some of the yacht’s memorable events included frequent trips by presidents from Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, Harry Truman holding atomic weapons talks with the leaders of Canada and Britain after World War II, and Lyndon Johnson who tasted and dined with political leaders while seeking support for his legislative agenda. Roosevelt hosted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Nixon met Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev aboard the ship. Presidents have also used the yacht as a personal getaway, including John Kennedy celebrating his last birthday on board and Nixon playing the piano as the Watergate scandal unfolded.
Following its sale by the US government, the yacht became a tourist charter boat on the Potomac River but changed ownership several times. In 1987 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. She was caught up in a protracted legal battle in the early 2010s before a judge finally decided the dispute in 2016 in favor of a private equity group backed by Indian investors. Three years later, she arrived in Maine for restoration.
The work should last three years. When the restore is complete, the Sequoia is expected to return to Washington where it will be used as a floating location that supports ocean conservation causes and as a US presidential education center.