Congress funds presidential yacht buyback

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The 104-foot 80-year-old Sequoia would be home-ported in Washington

The 104-foot 80-year-old Sequoia would be home-ported in Washington

The $388 billion federal budget Congress passed late last year includes $2 million to buy back the former presidential yacht Sequoia.

However, the owner of the 104-footer that served presidents Herbert Hoover through Jimmy Carter says the government has yet to approach him about buying the yacht. “It was news to us,” says Gary Silversmith, a Washington attorney, investor and history buff.

Silversmith says he bought the 80-year-old yacht five years ago for nearly $2 million and has put a considerable amount of money into renovations and maintenance, including replacing much of its aging wooden hull. He says he bought Sequoia as an investment but also was interested in preserving history. “It is an important national historic landmark,” says Silversmith.

Designed by John Trumpy and built in 1925, Sequoia provided the backdrop for numerous historic events. She was used during Warren G. Harding’s administration to enforce prohibition. Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima while on board Sequoia, and later conducted the world’s first nuclear arms control summit on board. Lyndon Johnson planned Vietnam war strategy on the yacht, and Richard Nixon negotiated arms control with the Soviet Union. He later decided to resign in the wake of the Watergate scandal while on Sequoia. John F. Kennedy frequently entertained dignitaries and guests aboard Sequoia, and even celebrated his 46th birthday — his last — on board.

President Carter sold Sequoia in 1977 for $270,000 as part of his efforts to reduce government spending. In 1981 five businessmen bought her for around $1 million, hoping to raise funds for a refit and return her to the government. Sequoia was sent to the Northship Co. shipyard in Norfolk, Va., for repairs, but the owners ran short of money. She lay dormant for several years until purchased by Silversmith.

The government funds to purchase Sequoia for the Navy were included in the spending bill by Rep. C.W. Bill Young, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who was aboard the yacht last year. John Scofield, spokesman for House Appropriations Committee, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the funds were intended as “seed” money to help raise private funds to buy the yacht back so that it can be located at the Naval Maritime Museum in Washington, D.C.

Silversmith says Congress is concerned that Sequoia will end up as a casino boat or be put to some other commercial use. Although he has been approached by many companies, Silversmith says he has no intention of selling the yacht to individuals who would compromise her historical integrity. He says he has been entertaining offers from non-profit groups. The Sequoia Presidential Yacht Foundation, for example, has been trying to raise funds to buy the vessel, including at least $5 million for an endowment that would allow for her to be fully restored and maintained. The foundation’s goal is to open Sequoia to the public, as well as to make her available to the president and other U.S. dignitaries.