The former presidential yacht Sequoia is coming home to Washington in early May, with its prospects for once more serving presidents seemingly bright.
The 106-foot motor vessel was unceremoniously sold in 1977 by President Carter as an unnecessary perquisite of the presidency. More recently, the yacht has bounced from one owner to another, reaching its nadir when federal marshals seized it in a dispute over a $1,300 fuel bill.
Now, the Presidential Yacht Trust, a bipartisan group of business and political leaders, has taken title to the yacht, raised $700,000 toward its restoration, commissioned a 28-minute movie about its recent seven-month voyage and hopes it some day again will be used for presidential cruises along the Potomac River.
"Our purpose is to restore and preserve it as a national monument, much like Mount Vernon," said Travis B. Stewart, a retired Washington lobbyist who serves as the trust's board chairman. "The ship is really now first class. The Navy inspected it and was very pleased with it."
In recent months, the 60-year-old Sequoia, docked in Marineland, Fla., has undergone a face-lifting of sorts, and it has a new hull, deck, transmission, propeller, shaft and galley. More work is to be done.
"Wherever we had a problem that would interfere with its seaworthiness, we've fixed it," Stewart said. "It's kind of the Rolls-Royce of yachts."
Last year, the Sequoia sailed around Florida to Houston, stopped back at the New Orleans World's Fair, journeyed north on the Mississippi River, docked in Chicago and moved east through the Great Lakes. Film crews recorded some of the trip's daily stops, while news clips of the Sequoia's storied past were spliced in with a narration by actor Martin Sheen. The resulting movie is called "An American Odyssey, the Voyage of the Sequoia."
When the yacht trust was formed, the goal was to raise $8 million to restore and operate the Sequoia, a figure Stewart now says "was a little overstated." The new goal is $3.5 million to $4 million on top of the $700,000 already raised.
Josh Lanier, the trust's executive director, said the trust recently borrowed $2.1 million, using $1.5 million of it to buy the yacht from California businessman Richard Arndsee. The rest was kept for operating expenses.
Lanier said some dignitaries may use the Sequoia this summer, while at other times it will be used for fund-raising efforts.
President Hoover first declared the Sequoia a presidential yacht. Franklin D. Roosevelt met Winston Churchill on board, President Truman played the Sequoia's piano, President Kennedy celebrated his last birthday aboard, and President Ford entertained Soviet cosmonauts there