12/06/04 — The Sequoia: The elegant old presidential yacht

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The Sequoia: The elegant old presidential yacht

The U.S.S. Sequoia — the “President’s Yacht” — was built in 1925 and was used by 10 of our presidents. Older citizens may remember seeing newspaper pictures and newsreels showing President Frankin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and other world leaders conferring aboard it as it cruised on the Potomac.

The Sequoia is a 104-footer that can accommodate 49 passengers and provide dining space for 22. Its shiny mahogany and teak speak of elegance.

The nation was proud of its presidential yacht.

But in 1977, Jimmy Carter was determined to introduce to the world a Spartan lifestyle, beginning with the presidency. It was reported that the first lady had worn a homemade gown for the inaugural ball. The couple had walked from the Capitol to the White House after the swearing-in.

President Carter declared the Sequoia was a luxury the nation could well live without. He sold the presidential yacht.

It escaped public attention for several years.

Eventually, it was purchased, restored and refurbished by Washington attorney Gary Silversmith, a man with a great appreciation of history.

It is used from time to time for wedding cruises and receptions, for political fund-raisers and other affairs. But Silversmith is highly selective, determined not to see the dignity of the great old vessel demeaned.

He calls it “the most important piece of America not owned by the government.”

But some want to change that. Congress has appropriated $2 million to buy it back. “Seed money,” one congressman was quick to explain when Silversmith waved off the offer as “cheap.”

He says he paid $1.9 million for it four years ago and has spent hundreds of thousands restoring it. It has been appraised at $9.5 million, according to Silversmith.

A Minnesota Democrat scoffs at buying back the Sequoia at any price, claiming our combat soldiers are ill-equipped and that the money also would be better spent on cancer research, building highways, etc.

Proponents say the yacht should be placed permanently at the Naval Maritime Museum in Washington. Still others among us might feel that it should be returned to service as the President’s Yacht — as it was intended.

But the important thing is that it is treasured and kept in good condition, and is allowed to grace the nation’s waterways for periodic exercise. This beats its being sold as “surplus” as it was in 1977, and sold again and again like a worn-out and outmoded old firehorse doomed to spend its days pulling yet another ice wagon.

Published in Editorials on December 6, 2004 10:43 AM