BELFAST — After sitting under wraps beside Belfast Harbor for almost three years, a floating piece of presidential history is finally nearing its bow-to-stern restoration.

Delayed by the pandemic, work on the USS Sequoia is expected to begin in the spring, Todd French told the Bangor Daily News. Meanwhile, French & Webb, which will do the work, has created a three-dimensional model of the vessel because the original design plans couldn’t be found, and has assembled materials, including longleaf pine from the Southeast and white oak from Denmark.

“It’s slowly happening, but the needle is moving,” French said.

For now, the Sequoia remains under a tarp at the private boatyard on the Belfast waterfront.

The Presidential yacht USS Sequoia sits under a tarp behind the French & Webb building in Belfast. Photo by William Carroll

The Sequoia is a 1925 motor yacht that served eight presidents before being sold at auction by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

French & Webb, a custom boat building company, was tapped for the restoration by Equator Capital Group of Washington, D.C., then its owner. The current owner is FE Partners LLC, a joint venture between Equator Capital Group and another private investment firm.

Strict guidelines must be followed because the vessel is on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the physical work begins, probably in the spring, the restoration of the Sequoia should be a three-year project, French said.

As previously reported in The Republican Journal, the historic presidential yacht cruised into Belfast Harbor the afternoon of Oct. 21, 2019. A tugboat gently “pushed” the barge into place over the course of several hours and when the ship glided past the rock wall, throngs of onlookers broke into cheers.

The yacht was secured to a steel beam platform with large wheels. Once the steel ramps were unloaded with the aid of a large crane, the Sequoia was pulled off the barge and onto dry land. The yacht spent that night in the Nautilus Restaurant parking lot before a Belmont Boatworks team returned next morning to move it a few hundred feet to an area behind the French & Webb building on Front Street.

Work on the 94-year-old yacht will be extensive; the Sequoia has fallen into disrepair over the years. A 2016 dailymail.co.uk article noted that the 104-foot Sequoia was overrun with “raccoons and trash as it rusts away in a dockyard in Deltaville, Virginia.”

The U.S. Bureau of Navigation purchased Sequoia in 1931 and used her to patrol the Chesapeake and Delaware bays as a decoy vessel to attract would-be bootleggers. President Herbert Hoover brought the yacht into presidential service later that year and used it for meetings and pleasure cruises.

The Sequoia has served every president from Hoover to Ford as a “floating White House” and relaxing retreat. President Kennedy celebrated his 46th and final birthday party on the Sequoia, President Nixon held a summit with Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev and decided to resign the presidency while on the yacht, President Eisenhower developed his “New Look” defensive policy there, and President Johnson lobbied for civil rights legislation and made decisions about the escalating the Vietnam War while aboard.

 

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