The USS Sequoia, a historic yacht used by presidents and known by many as “the floating White House,” is being barged to Belfast for a years-long stern-to-bow restoration that is expected to restore the ship to its former glory.
The 104-foot yacht is scheduled to arrive in Belfast Harbor at noon Monday with an official public welcome to the city at 3:30 p.m. after the boat is off-loaded from the barge to the restoration site on the waterfront. Todd French, the owner of French & Webb boat builders in Belfast, is the project manager for the Sequoia restoration.
“We are thrilled that French & Webb has been chosen to rebuild this American treasure,” French said in a Friday statement about the restoration from the ship’s new owner, the Equator Capital Group. “The great depth of Maine’s talent in the maritime trades, combined with the city of Belfast’s commitment to its working waterfront, make Belfast the ideal setting for Sequoia’s historic restoration.”
The ship, a National Historic Landmark, began its attention-getting trip north by barge last Sunday in Cambridge, Maryland. In Manhattan, the Sequoia circled the Statue of Liberty, cruised under the Brooklyn Bridge and was the subject of television news helicopters, according to Equator Capital Group. Because of last week’s nor’easter, it sought refuge in New London, Connecticut, the same port where President Franklin Roosevelt had signed dozens of bills from the ship’s rear deck 85 years ago.
That’s just one of the chapters in the Sequoia’s storied history. The ship, which was designed by wooden yacht expert John Trumpy, was built in 1925 in Camden, New Jersey, for Emily Roebling Cadwalader, the granddaughter of John Roebling, the chief engineer and original designer of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The yacht, made of long-leaf yellow pine, mahogany and teak, was purchased by the U.S. Bureau of Navigation in 1931 to be used to patrol the Chesapeake and Delaware bays as a decoy vessel to attract would-be bootleggers, according to Equator Capital Group. Later that year, President Herbert Hoover moved the ship into presidential service, and started using it for meetings and pleasure cruises.
Over the years, it was also used by presidents Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.
Kennedy celebrated his 46th and last birthday on the Sequoia, accompanied by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, friends and two orchestras. Roosevelt hosted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the ship, where the two discussed ways to avoid war with Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Johnson was on the Sequoia when he pressured members of Congress to pass his landmark civil rights legislation and plotted his next moves in Vietnam. And a melancholy Nixon played “God Bless America” on the yacht’s piano after he decided to resign the presidency.
The Sequoia returned to the private sector in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter ordered the ship sold at auction. A Rhode Island businessman purchased it for $286,000, with the intention of charging visitors $2 apiece to see it. Carter later joked that selling the yacht was one of his worst decisions as president, according to Equator Capital Group.
In recent years, the ship’s own history has been troubled. It was the subject of a six-year legal battle, and at one point was occupied by a family of raccoons, according to Equator Capital Group. The Sequoia was trapped in legal limbo for four years at a small boatyard in Virginia, according to the Equator Capital Group, the Washington, D.C.-based private equity investment firm that bought the ship in 2016 from its former owner. This March, the group won a $700,000 settlement against the boatyard.
“And Sequoia was freed,” Equator Capital Group said.
Equator Capital purchased the boat for the group’s Equator Collection, which provides funding to preserve and maintain maritime assets that are significant to the history of the United States, it said.
Michael Cantor, the managing partner of Equator Capital Group, said that the team of boat builders and craftsmen will do a plank by plank restoration.
“In four years, and hopefully sooner, Sequoia will be seaworthy and ready for Americans to once again enjoy the former presidential yacht’s storied past,” he said.
For their part, Belfast officials are delighted that the ship is coming to their city.
“Belfast will take great care with this historic yacht,” Belfast City Councilor Eric Sanders said last week.
Thomas Kittredge, the city’s economic development director, said the ship should be a “tremendous draw” for visitors during its long restoration.
“The city of Belfast is beyond enthusiastic that the Sequoia’s owners will restore this esteemed vessel right here at Belfast’s traditional working waterfront,” he said.