When President Carter announced yesterday that he considered the expense of maintaining a Presidential yacht "unjustified and unnecessary," and had ordered the Sequoia to be sold at public auction, he joined a long line of Presidents of the United States who have condemned as wasteful luxuries the yachts of their predecessors. ordered the U.S.S. Mayflower -- which had been used by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and William Harding -- to be de-commissioned, because he considered it an unnecessary "luxury" at a maintenance cost of $300,000 a year.
In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that he was retiring the Williamsburg, President Harry Truman's yacht, because he considered it a "symbol of needless luxury" and it cost $600,000 a year to maintain.
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he "had no requirement for the use of" the Honey Fitz or the Patrick J., the two Presidential yachts used by President John F. Kennedy, and wanted them retired, at a savings of $10,000 a year plus crew expenses.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon ordered that the two yachts used by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson be sold at public auction, to save the maintenance costs of $200,000 a year.
So with all that selling and saving, how come each of those luxury-hating Presidents, and every President in between, has passed hours cruising on the Potomac River or beyond in his very own Presidential yacht?
In fact, the U.S. Navy has operated Presidential yachts -- often two of them per President -- during every administration since Rutherford B. Hayes.
The explanation of abolishing and simultaneously employing Presidential yachts is that a variety of vessels have been re-assigned, borrowed and returned, and re-named by Presidents.
The Sequoia, which is the yacht President Carter is getting rid of as a luxury, was first used as a Presidential yacht by President Hoover, after he got rid of the Mayflower as an unnecessary luxury. Between then and now, it has gone back and forth between the White House and the Pentagon -- where it was used as the Secretary of the Navy's yacht -- like a ferry boat.
Another aspect of the yacht situation which tends to rock back and forth is the amount of savings to the taxpayer when a yacht is taken out of Presidential service. The White House has said that there will be several thousand dollars saved when the Sequoia goes, but that depends on whether you calculate into the cost the salaries of Navy and Coast Guard people assigned to the yacht. In figures given by previous Presidents, "maintenance" sometimes includes and sometimes does not, service salaries which must be paid anyway.
Also, almost every President has had one or more yachts refurbished at several thousand dollars' cost, although President Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, once snapped at reporters that he hardly thought it cost much to paint the name "Honey Fitz" over the name "Barbara Anne" on President Eisenhower's yacht.
Changing names, traditionally considered to bring bad luck to a vessel is another Presidential habit.
The Sequoia, named "Savarona" by its original owners in 1924, was named "Sequoia" in 1928 when purchased by a Texan who hoped that his new oil company "would grow like a California redwood." That name has remained unchanged.
But when President Eisenhower got rid of the Williamsburg as a luxury, he acquired two other Navy yachts, the Lenore II and the Margie, and rechristened them the Barbara Anne and the Susie E., after his granddaughters.
Eisenhower's press secretary, James Hagerty, also tried every hard to change the name "yacht" to "cabin cruiser," and corrected reporters who gave that rich-sounding name to the luxurious, 92-foot craft.
During the Kennedy Administration, the Barbara Anne became the Honey Fitz, and the Susie E. became the Patrick J., the new names being for President Kennedy's grandfathers. At the beginning of his administration, Kennedy announced that he had use for only one yacht but the Kennedy family did, in fact, make use of both.
After President Johnson announced that he had no use for either of the two yachts, he did, in fact, use the Honey Fitz, although he did not rename her.
Before President Nixon announced that he was getting rid of the two yachts as needless luxuries, he renamed them after his daughters, so that the Honey Fitz became the Patricia and the Patrick J. became the Julie.
It was immediately after having them sold that President Nixon again made the Sequoia the Presidential yacht, which she had been for Presidents Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. She had also been used for private and state entertaining during other administrations.
But the most intense presidential use came when the Watergate scandal was breaking. President Nixon spent more and more time on the yacht as his administration drew to a close. Yacht records show that there were 53 Presidential trips made on the Sequoia in 1973 and 1974, in contrast to 8 to 12 a year from 1968 to 1972. (The records for 1969 are missing.) President Ford made four trips on her.
And where does the Sequoia go from here.
Well, the Secretary of Defense will be offering her for sale, and the highest bidder can do what he wants with her.
The Williamsburg, President Truman's yacht, served two years as a floating restaurant in New Jersey, and is now in Philadelphia, being refurbished with Truman memorabilia, and scheduled to open as a private club called the Commodore Club within the next month.
When the Patricia and the Julie were offered for sale, President Nixon tried to stipulate that they could be used "for personal use only" and "not be made into gambling casinos or for some other notorious use."
When not a single bid had been submitted, the White House withdrew that condition to the sale. The Patricia (formerly the Honey Fitz, formerly the Barbara Anne, formerly the Lenore II) operates as a charter boat out of Greenwich, Conn.
Her name is now The President.