WASHINGTON – The 104-foot,80-year-old yacht Sequoia,which carried at least eight U.S. presidents and their guests on Potomac River cruises before it fell on hard times,comes back to life in a book written by its former skipper,Giles M. Kelly.
Kelly documents the life of America's “grand yacht” and its untold stories in his book “Sequoia: Presidential Yacht.” Kelly was the yacht's skipper from 1983 to 1988 after the government sold it.
Like Boston's historic vessel,the Constitution,and Baltimore's Constellation,the Sequoia deserves preservation and celebration,Kelly said. He read excerpts from the book to about 20 visitors at the U.S. Navy Museum on Tuesday.
He said President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited British Prime Minister James Ramsey MacDonald to be his first guest on the Sequoia in 1933 to discuss the Great Depression and Adolph Hitler's rising threat in Germany.
The book also notes that the yacht witnessed President Harry Truman issuing the order to drop the atomic bomb on Japan,ending World War II,President John F. Kennedy's last birthday party in 1963 and President Richard Nixon's arms control treaty negotiations with Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev.
Kelly said Nixon was the most frequent visitor to Sequoia,using it about 100 times. Nixon was aboard the Sequoia when he informed his family of his plans to resign from the presidency in 1974.
Kelly added that tall tales have also circulated about Sequoia,including myths of a supposed meeting between Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to plan the D-Day invasion.
Assembling Sequoia's history was a challenge because the Navy Archives could find logbooks for only two of the yacht's 44 years of naval service,Kelly said.
Kelly instead relied on interviews with former guests and crew members,published reports and his firsthand experience.
Sequoia was built in 1925 in Camden,N.J.,for a private owner. The Department of Commerce bought it in 1931,and President Herbert Hoover made Sequoia the official presidential yacht in 1933.
No one is sure how Sequoia got its name,perhaps from Sequoyah,inventor of the Cherokee alphabet,or from the mighty California sequoia trees that reach a height of 300 feet,Kelly said.
Through the years,Sequoia has undergone renovations to fit the tastes of the presidents it served,he added.
An elevator was installed to accommodate Roosevelt's wheelchair,while President Lyndon B. Johnson had the shower stall raised to accommodate his 6-foot-4-inch frame and had larger doorknobs installed to fit his hands.
President Jimmy Carter auctioned Sequoia out of government service in 1977,saying it was “unjustified and unnecessary.”
It fell on hard times until a major refitting in 1986 and ultimately cruised to 100 cities in 22 states during a 1988 fund-raising tour.
Ann Stevens captured many of the book's photos during her husband's watch as the skipper. Historical photos showing presidents onboard the yacht are also included.
The Sequoia's owner,Gary Silversmith,recently refurbished the yacht now docked at the Gangplank Marina just off the Potomac River,and it is available for tours or private parties.
The cost of preserving the wooden boat is “exorbitant,” Kelly said,adding that the yacht's historic significance should be enough reason for the government to pay for it.
Congress last year assigned $2 million so the Navy could acquire Sequoia,but the Navy is not interested in buying the yacht for financial reasons,said Kelly,who is a member of the board of the directors of the Sequoia Presidential Yacht Foundation,a group seeking to endow and operate the Sequoia.
Navy spokesman Lt. Jon D. Spiers said the Navy is “considering options” but has not made a decision about the Sequoia.
“Many individuals who have known this special vessel have enthusiastically shared with me their memories of her and join with me in hoping this story will help to ensure her preservation and celebration for many years to come,” Kelly wrote.