RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Yacht of Presidents: The USS Sequoia

The Sequoia Sails into a New Century: New photo & updates

U.S.S. Sequoia
The Sequoia underway

It was 1996, a perfect Indian summer day in October. Mark and I were in Alexandria, Virginia, following the suggestion of a RoadTrip correspondent who'd suggested a restaurant on Cameron Street, near the Potomac River.

As we watched the light of the setting sun play on boats in the marina, our eyes fell on a yacht bearing a seal. The craft in front of us was none other than the USS Sequoia, the Presidential Yacht. By remarkable good fortune, we had appeared on the scene the very day the newly refurbished Sequoia was making her first public appearance in decades. Almost lost after her decommission in the seventies, the Sequoia had been meticulously restored.

Mark and I were treated to a tour of the USS Sequoia that unforgettable afternoon, a rare peek into a remarkable and unique piece of American history. We felt privileged to have the chance to walk on decks that had hosted every president from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter, and to sit in the same salon where John Kennedy celebrated his last birthday. Best of all, our serendipitous arrival in Alexandria allowed us to meet the people who are preserving the Sequoia's heritage for the future. Ben Brown and Giles Kelly had just formed a non-profit foundation dedicated to her preservation and operation. Thanks to their efforts, the USS Sequoia had been officially designated a "National Historic Site."

Sequoia salon
The main salon, with its
twenty-guest Chippendale table

Originally built in 1925 by Trumpy Shipyards, the Sequoia is a masterpiece of luxury wooden boat building. We joined Brown and Kelly in the main salon where a long Chippendale table seats twenty guests for formal dinner parties. They explained how they needed to raise several million dollars to keep the yacht in good repair and operational. Brown said, "We invite our major contributors to have a dinner cruise with their friends aboard the Presidential Yacht, usually to Mount Vernon and back." Kelly, who is a retired navy captain added, "We try to run the yacht 'navy style' as when she was in presidential service. We even render the honors, as is required of all naval vessels, whenever we pass George Washington's tomb."

As we continued our tour, we saw photographs on display of the various presidents from Hoover to Ford on board the Sequoia. They were either conducting business, relaxing with friends, or partying. "The Sequoia provided a convenient way for Presidents to entertain their foreign visitors when they came to town," Kelly told us. "She was also a good place to strike up deals with Congressional leaders in private."

Below the main deck we visited the four staterooms. The whole ship seemed remarkably modest for the presidents of a super power. "Although she served eight presidents," Brown explained, "She was not always designated the Presidential Yacht, but often was known as, 'The Secretary of the Navy's Yacht,'-- but that did not stop Presidents from borrowing her!" Kelly pointed out the step down to the shower in the Presidential suite. He said the shower floor had to be lowered for President Johnson, who was so tall he otherwise could not get his head under the shower head easily. We also heard how Johnson had a little bar installed in the space where an elevator had once accommodated President Roosevelt and his wheel chair.

Although our real-life paths have not crossed the Sequoia's since 1996, we continue to keep in touch with the foundation that is ensuring her future. The yacht spent the winter of l999-2000 being spruced up for her return to her traditional home at the Washington Navy Yard, where she can be seen close to the Navy Museum. Among other things, Sequoia serves as a hands-on training ship and educational center for young Naval Sea Cadets.

March, 2000


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