USS Sequoia (presidential yacht)
Sequoia in Washington Marina in 2008
|Builder:||Mathis Yacht Building Co., Camden, New Jersey|
|Owner:||United States Department of Commerce|
|Acquired:||by purchase, 24 March 1931|
|Out of service:||1933|
|Name:||USS Sequoia (AG-23)|
|Owner:||United States Navy|
|Commissioned:||25 March 1933|
|Owner:||Secretary of the Navy|
|Out of service:||1977|
|Struck:||1 October 1968|
|Fate:||Sold at auction 18 May 1977|
|Displacement:||90 long tons (91 t)|
|Length:||104 ft (32 m)|
|Beam:||18 ft 2 in (5.54 m)|
|Draft:||4 ft 5 in (1.35 m)|
|Speed:||12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)|
USS Sequoia (yacht)
|Architect||Trumpy, John; Mathis Yacht Building Co.|
|NRHP reference #||87002594|
|Added to NRHP||23 December 1987|
|Designated NHL||23 December 1987|
USS Sequoia is a former United States presidential yacht used from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter, who had it sold in 1977. The ship was decommissioned under Roosevelt and lost its "USS" status at that time, but by popular convention the title is still often used. NorshipCo, a Norfolk-based shipbuilder and dry-docking company, repossessed the yacht after its owners, Presidential Yacht Sequoia Foundation, failed to pay the $3 million it cost to renovate the vessel. Sequoia was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The yacht is 104 feet (32 m) long, with a wooden hull, and was designed by John Trumpy Sr., a well-known shipbuilder. It includes a presidential stateroom, guest bedrooms, a galley and dining room, and was at one time retrofitted with an elevator for Franklin D. Roosevelt (Lyndon Johnson had it removed and replaced with a liquor bar).
In June 2000, she was sold via auction on Bid4Assets, to Gary Silversmith who took ownership that September. In November 2004, she was sought for repurchase by the US government, but the owner declined the offer. In December of 2014 Sequoia was hauled out of the water and placed in storage at a commercial boat yard awaiting resolution of a court case involving her ownership. In November of 2016 the yacht was transferred to new owners after lengthy litigation. As of July 2017 the yacht was still in storage.
Sequoia started out as Sequoia II, a private yacht built for $200,000 in 1925/1926 at a Camden, New Jersey shipyard. She was built for Richard Cadwalader of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who sold her to William Dunning, the president of the Sequoia Oil Company in Texas.
U.S. government service
Sequoia was purchased in 1931 by the United States Department of Commerce, for Prohibition patrol and decoy duties. Bootleggers would see what they thought was a rich-man's yacht and boat over to offer to sell illegal liquor, and then undercover police would arrest them. Herbert Hoover, an avid fisherman, had decommissioned the presidential yacht Mayflower in 1929 as an economy measure, and borrowed Sequoia from the Commerce Department as an unofficial yacht during the last two years of his presidency. Hoover was not personally a supporter of prohibition and drank while on the yacht.
In 1933, Sequoia was transferred to the United States Navy, where she was commissioned and given her USS status, serving officially as the presidential yacht for three years, until replaced by the Potomac.
She was decommissioned as an official Navy vessel under Roosevelt during WWII, supposedly because Churchill would not drink liquor on a Navy boat, and she remained decommissioned since. A more likely reason is that alcoholic beverages are prohibited on commissioned U.S. Navy ships and by being "in service", rather than commissioned, the users of the Sequoia could technically not violate the prohibition.
From 1936 through 1969 Sequoia then became the yacht of the Secretary of the Navy. During this period Sequoia was used by presidents and other high-ranking government officials. From 1969 through 1977 the yacht was dual-use for the Navy and executive branch officials including the president.
At Jimmy Carter's direction, the US government sold Sequoia at auction in Manalapan, Florida on 18 May 1977, for $286,000, as a symbolic cutback in Federal Government spending (annual cost to the US Navy was $800,000) and to help eliminate signs of an "imperial presidency".
Notable events aboard Sequoia include:
- Herbert Hoover sailed her to Florida
- Dwight Eisenhower lent her to Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit to the US
- John F. Kennedy held strategy meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and had his last birthday party on the yacht
- Richard M. Nixon negotiated the SALT I arms treaty with Leonid Brezhnev and Anatoly Dobrynin, and later made the decision to resign the presidency
- Gerald Ford conducted Cabinet meetings
- Ronald Reagan met all 50 state governors at the gangplank
- George H. W. Bush met with Chinese premier Li Peng
And some seem to be legends:
- Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower planned European war strategy.
- Harry S. Truman decided to bomb Hiroshima (the decision was made during the Potsdam Conference)
She had a number of owners over the next 25 years, due in part to the expenses associated with the maintenance of a wooden-hulled vessel. Some owners sought to offer Sequoia for charter, and others were non-profit groups seeking to maintain her for historical or other reasons.
The Presidential Yacht Trust, a non-profit organization, acquired her in 1980 and sponsored an eight-month, 6,000-mile "comeback" tour, but this group went bankrupt three years later. The vessel lay derelict for nearly a decade. Around 2000, Japanese buyers had a contract to purchase the vessel, due to some connections the ship has with Japanese history, but a private American buyer, Gary Silversmith, stepped in and made a counter-offer before the Japanese contract was signed. Sequoia was purchased for $2 million in September 2000, after a shipyard had her renovated at a cost of over $3 million. Sequoia underwent additional restoration, and was available for private charters. She operated from Gangplank Marina in southwest Washington, D.C.
In 2012 Sequoia's owner arranged for a $5M USD loan from a newly formed company that was a joint enterprise of a D.C. based merchant bank and an India-based mining conglomerate, where the yacht was offered as collateral. The agreement quickly fell into dispute with the owner claiming that the full loan amount was never received and the lender charging that the vessel's debts and deficiencies had been misrepresented and that it had been fraudulently induced into making the loan. The parties became involved a lawsuit in 2013 with the case eventually being ruled in favor of the lender after alleging that the borrower's legal team had fabricated communications, destroyed evidence, and attempted to intimidate witnesses and Sequoia would be sold to them for $7.8M USD less liabilities and expenses. An independent counsel was appointed to oversee the sale of Sequoia but the lender claimed that there were additional liabilities which exceeded the vessel's purchase price and her owner failed to keep her in good working order. On July 30, 2015 the presiding judge ordered the lender to decide within 60 days whether or not it will buy Sequoia. The lender argued that it had until 2017 to decide on its purchase option since the original term of the 2012 loan was for five years.
In a court hearing on May 11, 2016 the cost to restore Sequoia to seaworthy condition ranged from the owner's estimate of $310,000 USD by a local boat yard to an estimated $4.2M USD by a Rhode Island restoration yard. The higher estimate cited rot in the hull, cracked structural blocks, and other mechanical replacements. The owner countered that the yacht, "definitely needs work, but it doesn't need to be rebuilt". The hearing ended with the presiding judge considering hiring his own independent maritime surveyor to evaluate the yacht's condition.
On November 14, 2016 the court reached a decision that Sequoia would be sold to the lenders, FE Partners, for zero dollars. The court took into account the loan amount, liens and liabilities on the yacht, and that it was necessary to completely rebuild her hull which would cost an estimated $2.7M USD. While all of these expenses exceeded the original $7.8M USD option to purchase the yacht, the lender agreed to exercise their option for a minimum of zero. It was determined that Silversmith had fraudulently obtained the loan and failed his contract requirement to keep Sequoia in good working order for her intended purpose: a charter cruise ship on the Potomac River. "...The Sequoia, an elderly and vulnerable wooden yacht, is sitting on an inadequate cradle on an undersized marine railway in a moribund boatyard on the western shore of the Chesapeake, deteriorating and, lately, home to raccoons...The adjusted Exercise Price is zero dollars. The parties should provide a form of order consistent with this Letter Opinion, and inform me of any reason that this matter should not be closed."- Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III In a statement after the hearing a legal representative for FE Partners stated that his client "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." However one week later FE Partners petitioned the court to reconsider the zero exercise price as their calculations placed the exercise price at $8.56M USD below zero. As of July 2017 the yacht remained in storage. The new owners estimate that removal of the yacht would require a specialized crane and reconstruction of the hull required three different types of wood.
- American Defense Service Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- National Defense Service Medal with star
- List of official vehicles of the President of the United States, which includes the other presidential yachts
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- This article includes information collected from the Naval Vessel Register, which, as a U.S. government publication, is in the public domain. The entry can be found here.
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- Media related to USS Sequoia at Wikimedia Commons
- Official website Equator Capital Group - Presidential Yacht Sequoia
- Photos and descriptions of U.S. Presidential Yachts