For one hundred years before we had Air Force 1, U.S. presidents had yachts for entertaining foreign dignitaries, congressional meetings or just plain getting away from the from the tensions of the White House. Between 1865 and 1977, ten yachts served our countries Chief Executive. The side wheel steamer River Queen, although a presidential yacht for just two years, served both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant from 1865 to 1866. The 198-foot USS Despatch served Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland from 1880 until she was run aground in 1891 and later sold for scrap. The 256-foot USS Dolphin served presidents Grover Cleveland, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt from 1893 until 1914. President Roosevelt had two other yachts commissioned, the 273-foot USS Mayflower and the 123-foot USS Sylph. The Mayflower was also used by Presidents William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson until she was sold in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover. Not to be without a yacht, President Hoover acquired the 104-foot USS Sequoia in 1931 and she was passed on to President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he took office in 1933. Wanting a larger and more stable vessel, President Roosevelt, in 1936, took delivery of the new U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Electra and renamed her USS Potomac. The Potomac served until 1945 after President Harry Truman took office and she was sold and replaced by the 245-foot USS Williamsburg. President Dwight D. Eisenhower retired the Williamsburg but kept her tender Lenore II and named her the Barbara Ann. When President Kennedy took office he renamed the Barbara Ann after his grandfather, the Honey Fitz. President Kennedy ultimately had two additional yachts, the Sequoia (back again) and the 62-foot sailing vessel USS Manitou. When President Nixon took office he changed the name of the Honey Fitz to Patricia but sold her in 1970. The Manitou was sold in 1968 and is now available for charter on the French Riviera. The Sequoia continued to serve Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. President Jimmy Carter sold her after taking office in 1977 and thus ended the over 100-year span of presidential yachts.
Of the ten presidential yachts only four remain. The USS Sequoia is in dry dock in Virginia and in poor condition, the Honey Fitz, ex Patricia, ex Lenora II, has been fully restored and is available for charters in Florida, the Manitou as previously mentioned is fully restored and available for charters in the Mediterranean and the USS Potomac has been fully restored and is available for public cruises and charters in Oakland, CA.
USS Potomac (AG-25)
During the first years of FDR′s administration the President used the USS Sequoia as his presidential yacht. However, because the Sequoia had gasoline engines and a wooden hull, concern for the safety of the President in the event of a fire led to its early replacement by the Potomac. To enable the President to move between the main and boat decks a hand operated elevator was installed in what had been the rear smokestack. FDR, crippled by Polio and wheelchair dependent, had tremendous upper body strength which enabled him to operate the pulley operated elevator.
Decommissioned after his death in April 1945, her history became a story of decline under a succession of owners. Briefly returned to the Coast Guard, the Potomac then went to Maryland for a period of about 10 years. This was followed by a spell as a ferry between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and then brought to California with the purpose of becoming an attraction at the Seattle World′s Fair. When this failed and she was about to be junked, Elvis Presley saved the Potomac by buying and donating her to Saint Jude′s. Her more recent adventures included an attempt to turn her into a floating disco and being seized by the DEA for drug running in 1980. Impounded at Treasure Island she sank in March, 1981 when her hull was pierced by pilings.
Raised two weeks later, she was sold by U.S. Customs at auction to the Port of Oakland, the only bidder, for a mere $15,000. Spearheaded by the Port, the Potomac was preserved and restored in a 14-year, $5 million cooperative effort by FDR′s son James Roosevelt, organized labor, maritime corporations and very dedicated volunteers. The fully restored USS Potomac was opened to the public on April 12, 1995 and has been cruising the waters of San Francisco Bay ever since.
As a passenger vessel the USS Potomac is a USCG inspected vessel and requires USCG licensed crew to operate her. Captains are required to have a 500T Inland Master′s credential, the crew are licensed Able Bodied Seaman, and the engineer is a licensed Chief Engineer. In 2006, a few years after obtaining my first Captain license, by chance I met the lead captain of the Potomac, Skip Eltringham, and was invited to come down and take a look to see if I would be interested in joining the crew. It takes a lot of effort from many dozens of volunteers and paid crew to keep the old girl operational and I found a great opportunity to do some volunteer work, learn more maritime and ship handling skills, and become part of the paid crew manning the one hundred or so annual public and private cruises. For the next eight years I managed to find the time to be part of the crew for more than half of the cruises and became good friends with many of the crew. When Captain Skip passed away after a brief illness in 2014, I did not know it at the time but I took my last cruise on the Potomac to spread his ashes outside the Golden Gate Bridge in March of 2014. Although it was not intentional I just never seemed to find the time to sign up for a cruise. I see the Potomac underway regularly and keep in contact with many of current and former crew so when I heard that Chris Lauritzen had upgraded his USCG license and was now one of several captains rotating through occasionally running the Potomac, I needed to find the time to get back on board the Potomac.
When the commander of the Santa Clara Power Squadron, Lindley Zink, contacted me to let me know that he had secured 30 tickets for a cruise on the USS Potomac I started to think it might be fun to tag along with his group especially if Chris was scheduled to be on board that day. As it turned out everything lined up, Chris was scheduled to be Captain, Lindley and thirty of his friends would be on board, and it looked like I could clear up my schedule for the day. Just one item left, I had to make sure that my photographer/editor/captain/wife was available to document my first Potomac cruise in five years.
What a pleasure to see so many old faces when I boarded the ship. Captain Tom Howard has taken over the Senior Captain duties and I was delighted to see he was also on board. Tom became involved with the Potomac a few years before me and has enjoyed a long association and has watched many folks come and go while training captains and deck crew both young and old. While Captain Tom and I swapped sea stories, the rest of the crew boarded the passengers and prepared to get underway.
During the two hour cruise that took us from the Potomac′s berth at Jack London Square in Oakland, under the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, around Angel Island, a close pass by the Jeremiah O′Brien at SF45, along the San Francisco City front, and back to Jack London Square, I had the opportunity to grab a chair in the restored commanding officers quarters to catch up with Captain Chris. The Lauritzen family has been in the Delta for over 100 years with family owned and operated maritime businesses. In 1905 Chris′s grandfather and brother purchased a small ferry and ran passenger service from Rio Vista to Antioch. They built the family business to a fleet of seven boats ferrying passengers and cargo all around the delta from Sacramento to Stockton and all of the islands in between. I asked Chris when he obtained his first USCG licensed and his response got a chuckle from me. “In 1972 I had been working on the tugs for several years and my old man told me to ‘go get a license,′ so I did.” In the 1970′s the family business included four tug boats operating in the Bay and Delta. The family namesake, Irene Lauritzen, was built by Colberg Boat Works of Stockton in 1970 and is still in operation today. Another of the family ventures since 1959, Lauritzen Yacht Harbor is located at the foot of the Antioch Bridge in Oakley and is home to many yachtsmen. The yacht harbor is a family business and managed by Chris and his sister Margaret. The marina offers trailerable dry boat storage, in-water berthing, tractor launching, a fuel dock, holding tank pump-out, fish cleaning station and clean restrooms. In short, a full service marina conveniently located for both Bay and Delta boaters.
When not on site at the yacht harbor, driving the Potomac, or working as a board member for the Ironhorse Sanitation District, Chris spends time at his second home in Bodega Bay where he keeps his fishing boat and volunteers for the Bodega Bay Fire Department Marine Unit. Chris and I share the love for all things nautical and cannot imagine a day that does not involve boats or water.
Everything Old Is
During the Potomac′s extensive restoration her original engines were replaced with similar engines of the same type. The “new” enterprise DMG26 440 horsepower direct reversing engines were salvaged from a WWII era tugboat and were donated by Crowley Maritime. Direct reversing means that there is no transmission and therefore no neutral. The engines are either running in forward, reverse, or off. Using compressed air the cams are shifted and the engine started in the reverse direction.
In between chatting with old friends and wandering the old familiar decks I met two recent California Maritime Academy graduates and was reminded of the key role the Potomac played in my early days. The Potomac offers a great opportunity for anyone to learn and develop their maritime skills or mentor others.
Heading back down the estuary I look over my shoulder and coincidentally see the American President Lines container ship President FD Roosevelt secured to the dock and unloading containers. Built in 2010 she is one of the newer 1,000-foot container ships that visit Oakland regularly between ports of Los Angeles, Yokohama Japan, and Busan China carrying 6,600 TEU (tare equivalent units).
The Potomac can take up to 120 passengers on a cruise and many groups book outings for weddings, corporate parties or for a simple afternoon on the Bay. The Santa Clara Power Squadron had 30 members from their group and other squadrons have also enjoyed two-hour cruises. What a great way to socialize with friends, learn a bit of history, and enjoy a beautiful day on San Francisco Bay.
Keeping the USS Potomac ship shape is no trivial task. The Presidential Yacht Potomac is run by more than 100 men and women who staff this Historic Landmark and all of the organization′s programs and activities. The opportunities for volunteers span a wide range from ship′s maintenance, speaker′s bureau, IT specialist, newsletter editing, cruise staffing, dockside tours, office and administrative positions and educational programs. Maintenance work is usually performed on Mondays and Tuesdays by volunteers from staff, crew, and others; there is always something that needs to be repaired, upgraded, maintained, or painted. Many docents are needed to staff the cruises to provide in-depth information to the passengers. If the USS Potomac and the FDR era interests you, you want to be the person to foster that interest in others or want to increase your own knowledge, then be part of USS Potomac. Would you rather get your hands dirty and help maintain the USS Potomac? Maintenance volunteers are always welcome. Are you a licensed mariner? Come down and see what the Potomac offers. For more information visit their website at https://usspo tomac.org/
Time for me to sit back, pour a good glass of port and light up a fine cigar while I reminisce about my time with my mentor Skip aboard the USS Potomac and plan for a little summer of boating fun of my own. Be extra careful on the water as now is the time the boating activity is at its peak.
Until next month please keep those letters coming. Have a good story to tell, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I love a good story. H
The Association for the Preservation of the Presidential Yacht Potomac Mission Statement:
“To preserve and protect the Presidential Yacht Potomac for use as a classroom and museum dedicated to imparting to present and future generations the continuing impact of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era.”