Description of boat
- Length: 92' 3"
- Beam: 16' 6"
- Draft: 4' 10"
- Cruising Speed: 12 knots
- Weight: 88 tons
- Built: 1931 by Defoe Boat Works in Bay City, Michigan
Background report on the yacht "Presidents"
Owners are listed individually, below.
A financier best known for his controversial career as Board Chair and sometime President of Montgomery Ward from November 1931 to May 1955, Sewell Avery was a great lover of the sea and boating was one of his favorite hobbies. He commissioned the original building of the boat by Defoe Boat Works, naming the yacht after his daughter, Lenore. He cruised the boat on Lake Michigan in the waters near his private estate in the Les Cheneaux Islands.
Credited with helping Montgomery Ward to reverse losses sustained during the Depression, Avery began clashing with the government (c. 1935) over new wage and price provisions stipulated in President Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration. The disagreements continued for years and resulted in seizures of Ward plants; perhaps the most famous of these was Avery's refusal to leave the Ward building (1944), requiring that he be physically removed (he was 70 years old at the time) by two Army soldiers. Eventually, the Federal Government seized Avery's boat, ostensibly for use as a wartime vessel; many viewed the siezure as yet another attempt to "provoke" Avery.
UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
According to the U.S. Coast Guard's records, the boat was purchased from Mr. Avery on August 15, 1942. Known as CG-92004, the boat was reconditioned at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, MD and declared ready for duty on January 9, 1943. That year she was assigned to coastal picket duty at Rockaway Point and Fire Island and in the latter half of 1944 was used as a training ship for submarine crews in Portsmouth, NH until resuming her patrol picket duty at Rockaway Point in May 1945.
On June 23, 1945 the boat was assigned to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. where she became a tender for the U.S.S. Potomac. Her permanent transfer to the Navy became effective November 28, 1945.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
Retaining the yacht's original name, President Truman used the boat primarily as a tender for the Williamsburg, the 244' yacht he preferred to use for entertaining visiting statesmen, for his trips to Florida and the Caribbean, and for casual poker games on the Potomac. The Lenore II frequently carried the Secret Service staff who accompanied the President on these cruises.
In a memorandum from an Admiral Dennison, there is mention that Truman used the Lenore II in the Presidential Cup Regatta in August 1949 and photos show President Truman and Charlie Ross on the aft deck of the boat during a boat race between the Naval Academy and Cornell University in May 1948. The captain of the President's fleet was Capt. MacDonald.
According to a former owner of the boat, President Truman issued an urgent order for larger and sturdier chairs aboard the yacht following an evening party in which Winston Churchill fell through one of the chairs. No confirmation of this story, however, has been obtained.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
After one cruise on the Williamsburg, President Eisenhower decided the yacht was "too rich for my blood" and retired the vessel as a "symbol of needless luxury."
He chose instead the Lenore II, which he renamed the BARBARA ANNE after one of his granddaughters. Refurbished and overhauled at a cost of approximately $200,000, the yacht was used sparingly by the First Family in Washington. Eventually, the President's physicians urged him to forego his yearly vacations at the Air Force Academy in Colorado because of the altitude. As a result, the First Family vacationed in Newport aboard the Barbara Anne in the summers of 1957, 1958, and 1960; the press humorously referred to the yacht as a "floating locker room" since President Eisenhower used her to be transported across Narragansett Bay for his daily round of golf at the Newport Golf Club, often showering on the boat on his way home.
The First Family last used the yacht on the Potomac on Labor Day weekend 1960, though in a letter to Cmdr. Slye, the President expressed his regret that he had not had time to use her more frequently.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
According to Dave Powers (former head of NAIA, author of Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, and a long-time close associate of John F. Kennedy), President Kennedy had some of his happiest moments aboard the "Honey Fitz" (renamed for his maternal grandfather). A life-long lover of the sea, the President liked to slip away from the White House for a few quiet hours on the yacht in the Potomac. He also spent Easter and Christmas on the boat (in Palm Beach, FL) and in September and October took time aboard her at Hammersmith Farm (Newport, RI). Commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Walter C. Slye and later by Lt. Cmdr. Delbert F. Barbee (both of the Naval Administrative Unit), the Honey Fitz was redecorated by Jacqueline Kennedy, who installed a color television for the first time aboard the vessel, primarily for the enjoyment of her young children.
The vessel was used primarily for family and close friends, though dignitaries visited from time to time (Dave Powers recollected Harold MacMillan on board once) and numerous photographs were taken on the yacht. (The cover of Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye [paperback edition] featured President Kennedy on the aft deck of the yacht, one of his favorite photographs.) Documentation confirms that the boat was also used to transfer guests down the Potomac River to Mount Vernon for one of President Kennedy's State dinners. From the President's birthday (May 29) until approximately mid-September, the yacht was kept at Cape Cod and used every weekend. One particularly happy occasion was the surprise birthday party Jacqueline Kennedy threw for her husband in 1963, with most of the family on board. President Kennedy loved to spend time alone with his children on the yacht.
The bullshot was the favorite drink aboard the Honey Fitz. One of the original Kennedy life preservers and two of the boat's flags are currently housed in the Kennedy Library. According to Dave Powers (who began working with John F. Kennedy in 1946), he and President Kennedy often took the ferry from Boston to Nantucket, a ride that the President apparently enjoyed. However, one winter's day in Palm Beach as they lounged on the aft deck of the Honey Fitz, the President turned suddenly to Powers and said, "This sure beats the Nantucket ride, doesn't it?"
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
When President Johnson entered the White House, he was quite mindful of the yacht. "I eventually developed my own programs and policies, but I never lost sight of the fact that I was the trustee and custodian of the Kennedy administration. Although it was my prerogative to do so, I would no more have considered changing the name of the Honey Fitz - the name Jack Kennedy had given one of the Presidential yachts - than I would have thought of changing the name of the Washington Monument." (From The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969 by Lyndon Baines Johnson).
The yacht was used during the Johnson Administration (along with two others) for cocktail parties (maximum 35 guests), buffet dinners (maximum 25 guests), semi-formal dinners for 12, and formal dinners for 8. A typical menu for one buffet party of 30 included: Mexican chalupas; broiled chicken livers wrapped in bacon; bite-sized pizza; cocktail cherry tomatoes stuffed with chicken salad; potato chips, Fritos, and, popcorn; lobster/shrimp creole; steamed white rice; sautéed fresh zucchini; fresh tomato/avocado salad with poppy seed dressing; hot rolls with butter and jelly; vanilla ice cream with creme de menthe served with cookies; coffee, tea, and milk; mixed nuts; chocolate mints; white mints; cigars and cigarettes; and after-dinner liqueurs.
Two particular parties on record are those of Chief Justice McShane on Monday, September 26, 1966 and of Secretary of State Dean Rusk on Monday, August 19, 1968 (a buffet dinner he and Mrs. Rusk gave for some members of the Diplomatic Corps and their wives).
RICHARD M. NIXON
By the time President Nixon came to office, the Honey Fitz was a well-known boat. Though he renamed her the Patricia after his wife, the press and many others continued to think of the yacht as the Honey Fitz. It came as no surprise when President Nixon decided a larger vessel would be more to his liking and put the Patricia up for sale in April 1970. At first the bidding was closed, but restrictions for buying were so stringent (she could never be used for commercial purposes or be sold to a foreign country, etc.) that no one made an offer. Later that year, the boat was placed on sale without restrictions for open bidding. Before her sale, however, she was used by Cabinet officers, for cruises for hospitalized Vietnam veterans, and in support of Mrs. Nixon's sponsorship of "Children in the Parks" program.
On December 4, 1970 the yacht "Presidents" was commissioned in Greenwich, CT. The boat was owned by Joseph Keating, an avid lover of the sea and a great admirer of the Kennedys; in one of the boat's closets Keating had found the original artist's rendition (for decorating purposes) of the boat's interior. Keating's architect contacted the original Kennedy architect and together they restored the boat as a replica from the Kennedy Administration period (down to the bathroom wallpaper, onstensibly a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy). The presidential photographs that hung in the main salon were furnished to Keating by the Presidents or their families, as were the Kennedy Administration photographs given to him by Edward M. Kennedy. The yacht still retains the original (and very sophisticated) radar that was used during all of the Presidents' terms.
Today, the yacht is used by private groups for entertaining. There have been several weddings on board, including that of Mr. Keating's daughter. On July 4, 1975 the yacht was chartered by the Hospitality Industry Foundation of New York, which threw a party for French dignitaries. Present were the French Consul-General and Mme. Gerard Gaussen, Angier Biddle Duke, and La Comtesse Guy de Brantes, among others. Catering the affair of Mumm's Champagne, poached salmon, ham mousse, strawberries, and zabaglione were the O'Neal's (of The Ginger Man and O'Neal's Balloon) and Stuart Levin of Top of the Park.
But one of Keating's fondest memories originates from his own restaurant, the Showboat Inn, in Greenwich, CT. Standing at the bar one evening, he was approached by a group of young boys. One introduced himself as Joe Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's eldest son, who was sailing to the Cape and docked at Greenwich for the night. Seeing the Presidents at dock brought back many fond childhood memories and Kennedy asked Keating if he might go on board for awhile just to look again. Keating was overjoyed to take him; today, the boat proudly features photographs of the two of them on board.