We are all familiar with Air Force One. And, while our new President Elect is no stranger to private jets, yachts, and the yachting lifestyle, did you know that in addition to the official presidential airplane and helicopter, there was once an “official” presidential yacht?
She was named the USS Sequoia, and she was used by Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon, among other presidents, to host family, friends and dignitaries. However, the once luxurious and stately vessel dubbed “America’s most famous boat,” has been wallowing in disrepair in a Virginia shipyard for decades, and will require millions of dollars in repairs before she could be returned to her former grandeur and possibly set sail once again. In 2016, after a protracted court battle, the Sequoia was “sold” to an investment group for an “adjusted price of zero dollars.”
Court Rules in Favor of Former Owners of Presidential Yacht
The historic yacht was designed and built in 1925 by John Trumpy and the Mathis Yacht Building Company of Camden. The 104-foot, mahogany-hulled motor yacht could sleep six and accommodate 40 revelers for cocktails on the spacious aft-deck or 22 guests for a formal dinner in the salon. Trumpy yachts represented the pinnacle of seafaring luxury in their day and were sought out by titans of industry like DuPont, Chrysler, Firestone, and Dodge for their speed, range, and comfort.
According to USA Today, the Sequoia has changed hands several times in the years since President Carter had it sold at auction in 1977 for $286,000. It fell into disrepair before it was purchased and restored by its current owner, Gary Silversmith, a Washington lawyer and real estate developer. Silversmith said he paid $1.9 million in 2000, and sank millions into repairs. For a time, Silversmith offered the vessel for charters along the Potomac River until it was pulled for additional repairs.
Silversmith engaged with Washington D.C marine restoration company, FE Partners. Silversmith and FE Partners then fell into a legal dispute involving the cost of repairs, which party was responsible for maintenance and dockage fees while repair estimates where being worked out, and ultimately, who would own the vessel once she was completely restored. During the legal battles, the once magnificent vessel continued to rot in the Virgina shipyard. Marine experts testifying at the proceedings, estimated the cost of repairing the national landmark to seaworthy condition, ranged from $400,000 to upwards of $4 million if the hull needed to be significantly rebuilt.
The judge in the case, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III, ruled that, “under the contracts, Silversmith was obligated to maintain the vessel such that it was safe, structurally sound and fully equipped for its intended use as a Potomac River cruise vessel.” He concluded that, subject to certain clauses in the contract, since Silversmith did not meet these obligations, FE Partners could take possession of the presidential yacht, owing nothing to Silversmith in exchange. “FE Partners is committed to restoring and preserving the Sequoia in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard so that future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy the storied past of this magnificent yacht,” said Richard Graf, general counsel of FE Partners.
Joining FE partners in their efforts to restore the Sequoia to her former glory, is the Washington, D.C. based Equator Capital Group and members of an undisclosed Indian family with “connections to the mining and shipping industry.”
Representatives of the joint venture said that they plan to move the yacht to McMillen Yachts in Newport, R.I. for repairs. This will be no small feat but Michael Cantor, managing partner at Equator Capital Group, is determined to see Sequoia sail again. He speculates that journey will require a specialized crane to remove the yacht from the marine railway to a boatyard staffed with at least 20 historically trained shipwrights who will need to source three specific types of wood for the keel, frame, and hull. The price tag for the restoration could ultimately reach into the millions of dollars, but to Cantor the cost and effort are worthwhile to preserve what he views as the most significant piece of American history in private hands.
Among significant events in the Sequoia’s history; Franklin Delano Roosevelt hosted Winston Churchill on her deck, JFK celebrated his last birthday on board, and Nixon spent a night in 1974 downing a bottle of whiskey at the ship’s piano before resigning from the presidency in the days that followed.
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Operating a motor yacht can be costly. You can reduce your expenses, and avoid costly repairs by keeping her well maintained. On Demand yachting from FYM can help. If you would like to learn more, or if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, do not hesitate to contact our Yacht Management specialists, or call us at (954) 900-9968.