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Classics: Marlin

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came.

Illustration by Jim Ewing.

These are the words of President John F. Kennedy, addressing the crews of Weatherly and Gretel in Newport, Rhode Island, during the America’s Cup in 1962. JFK’s passion for the sea is well documented. In photos, he looks most at ease on the water, spending time with family and friends.

One of his favorite boats was a power cruiser named Marlin. Purchased by the Kennedy family when JFK was a young senator, Marlin became a Cold War conference room for the president as he dealt with complex postwar issues.

The 52-foot powerboat — with a double-planked, mahogany rumrunner hull — was designed by Boston naval architect Walter J.

McInnis for Ford Motor Co. heir Edsel Ford. She was built at the F.D. Lawley yard in Quincy, Massachusetts, and launched in 1930, powered by twin Chrysler Royal engines. (Marlin was repowered twice, the Kennedys replacing twin 6-cylinder Sterling Dolphins with a pair of Chrysler V-8s.) The original design showed an uncovered bridge. There was a stateroom for the owner, crew quarters and a galley abaft the forward cockpit. The boat also sported a fathometer and a ship-to-shore radio.

Ford sold the boat in 1935 to the Schenley Distillers family. Commandeered by the government, she was used for coastal patrols during World War II. She later was sold to the Yellow Cab Co. of Massachusetts, which put her at the disposal of the state’s governor.

The Kennedys acquired the boat in 1952, and it served the family for almost 20 years. On becoming president, JFK often used Marlin for meetings and discussions with U.S. and world leaders. He was on board with his advisers in August 1961 when he was informed that the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was erecting the Berlin Wall.

Marlin was donated to a university in 1970 and sold at auction. The 87-year-old boat today turns heads in the Mediterranean.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.