Sequoia in the Thames Regatta, New London, Connecticut, June 22, 1934
Sequoia in the Thames Regatta, New London, Connecticut, June 22, 1934
Former presidential yacht USS Sequoia, the “floating White House” to commanders-in-chief for half a century, arrived in Belfast on a barge October 21. The yacht is scheduled for a “stern-to-bow” restoration at French & Webb Boatbuilders.

Built in 1925 in Camden, New Jersey, for a banker and heiress, Sequoia was sold to the U.S. government in 1931 and served presidents from Herbert Hoover through Gerald Ford, amassing a trove of lore along the way. Kennedy celebrated his 46th and final birthday aboard the yacht. FDR hosted the British prime minister to discuss the Depression and ways to avoid war with Hitler’s Germany. A melancholy President Nixon allegedly played “God Bless America” on the Sequoia’s piano after deciding to resign over Watergate.

The yacht has been in private hands since 1977. In 2000, it was purchased by Washington, D.C., attorney Gary Silversmith, who surrendered the boat in 2016 after a judge ruled that he had borrowed money to fix the boat but not invested in the repairs. Prior to the final ruling, the Sequoia sat at a boatyard in Deltaville, Virginia, for four years, falling into disrepair.

A Delaware Court of Chancery judge likened the situation to King Solomon’s famously bad recommendation to cut in half a child claimed by two women: “The Sequoia, an elderly and vulnerable wooden yacht, is sitting on an inadequate cradle on an undersized marine railway in a moribund boatyard on the western shore of the Chesapeake, deteriorating and, lately, home to raccoons.”

Equator Capital Group, a Washington, D.C.-based private equity investment partnership, has owned Sequoia since 2016. The yacht was moved to Cambridge, Maryland, where, in 1935, President Roosevelt sailed on Sequoia to dedicate the Choptank River Bridge, an early WPA project. Last week, a tugboat towed the historic yacht on a barge up the coast, through New York Harbor and, after a stop in New London, Connecticut, to ride out the nor’easter, to Belfast, arriving at the public landing to a crowd of 400 onlookers.

Todd French of French & Webb called Sequoia an “American treasure” and said “the great depth of Maine’s talent in the maritime trades, combined with the City of Belfast’s commitment to its working waterfront, make Belfast the ideal setting” for its restoration.

The project is expected to take four years, during which time the ship will be next to the French & Webb workshop on the Belfast waterfront. After the restoration, Sequoia will be based in Washington, D.C., as “a floating venue to teach American presidential history and to promote conservation and ocean conservation causes,” according to materials provided by Equator Capital Group.

According to its website, Equator Capital Group invests in sustainable real estate and resort development, film, philanthropic activities, historic assets (Sequoia is one of two boats in The Equator Collection, along with a former Kennedy family boat, Tenovus), utility-scale solar electric projects on degraded mining company owned land, and a line of ecologically sustainable cleaning products made from fermented pineapple.

Speaking on October 21, Michael Cantor, managing partner at Equator Capital, described the financial backing for the project. “We’re philanthropic; we make donations to charity, but this is not quite that,” he said. “It’s our own money; it’s to preserve the history for the U.S. It might generate some money, but that’s not what we’re thinking about right now.”