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 pulling Montgomery Ward out of an enormous depression years' slump, Avery began clashing with the government as early as 1935, over Roosevelt's New Deal NRA wage and price provisions. Serious disagreements continued for years, including seizures of Ward plants; probably the most famous of these (in 1944) was Avery's refusal to leave the Ward building so that he had to be physically carried out (he was 70 years old at the time) by two Army soldiers. Avery's biggest outrage, however, came when the government expropriated his boat, ostensibly for use as a wartime vessel; but most people, including Avery, looked on the seizure as one more attempt by Roosevelt to "get at" the impenetrable Avery.
UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
According to their records, the boat was purchased on August 15, 1942, from Mr. Avery. Given the "name" CG-92004 she was reconditioned at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Maryland, and declared ready for duty January 9, 1943. She was assigned to Coastal Picket duty at Rockaway Point and Fire Island that year, to patrol picket duty at Rockaway Point that December, and was used the last half of 1944 as a training ship for submarine crews in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, until resuming her patrol picket duty at Rockaway Point in May, 1945.
On June 23, 1945, she was assigned to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., where she became a tender for the USS Potomac. Her permanent transfer to the Navy became effective November 28, 1945.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
Retaining the yacht's original name, Truman mainly used her as a tender for the Williamsburg, the lavish 244' yacht he preferred to use for entertaining visiting statesmen, for his trips to Florida and the Caribbean, and for casual poker sessions on the Potomac. The Lenore II frequently carried the Secret Servicemen 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 of President Truman and Charlie Ross on the aft deck of the boat during a boat race between the Naval Academy and Cornell in May, 1948. The captain of the President's fleet, a Capt. MacDonald, is still living, but refuses to release any information about his service until after his death.
The current owner says a friend of his in Washington told him Truman at one point issued an urgent order for larger and sturdier chairs aboard the yacht after an evening's party where apparently Winston Churchill fell right through one of the chairs. No confirmation on this story was obtained, however.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
After one cruise on the Williamsburg, Ike 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. Refurbishing and overhauling the yacht at a cost of approximately $200,000.00, she was used sparingly by the First Family in Washington. However, after the President's last bout with his heart while in office, doctors urged him to give up his yearly vacations at the Air Force Academy in Colorado because of the altitude. So vacations were transferred to Newport aboard the Barbara Anne in the summers of 1957, 1958, and 1960, and the press humorously referred to the yacht as a "floating locker room" since Ike used her to transport himself across Narragansett Bay for his daily round of golf at the Newport Golf Club, 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. Syle, Ike 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-standing friend of John F. Kennedy), Kennedy had some of his happiest moments aboard the Honey Fitz (renamed for his maternal grandfather). A life-long lover of the sea, Kennedy would slip away from the White House for a few quiet hours on the yacht in the Potomac. He spent Easter and Christmas holidays on her in Palm Beach, Florida, as well as taking days off in September and October aboard her at Hammersmith Farm. The cover of Powers' book in paperback version was one of the President's favorite photographs, taken on the aft deck of the yacht. Commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Walter C. Syle of the Naval Administration since the Eisenhower administration, the Honey Fitz was redecorated by Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy herself, who installed a color television for the first time aboard the vessel, primarily for the enjoyment of her young children.
The vessel was primarily used for the family and close friends, though some dignitaries did visit from time to time (Powers particularly remembered Harold MacMillan on board once), and numerous photographs were taken on the yacht. The boat is also on record as being used to transfer guests down the Potomac to Mount Vernon for a particularly impressive State dinner one evening during JFK's administration. From President Kennedy's birthday (May 29) until approximately mid-September the yacht was kept at the Cape and used every weekend. One particularly happy occasion was the surprise birthday party Jackie threw for her husband in 1963, with most of the family on board. Kennedy loved to spend time alone with his children on the yacht.
The bullshot was the favorite drink aboard, bracing against even the strongest winds. One of the original Kennedy life preservers and two of the flags from the boat are in the Kennedy Library. A favorite story of Dave Powers: In their early campaigning days (Powers was with Kennedy from 1946 on), they used to take the ferry across from Boston to Nantucket, and Kennedy even loved those ferry rides. But one winter's day in Palm Beach as they cruised along on the Honey Fitz, lounging on the aft deck, Kennedy turned suddenly to Powers and said, "This sure beats the Nantucket ride, doesn't it?"
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
When Johnson entered the White House, one of the first things he looked towards was 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 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 for 30 was: Mexican Chalupas, broiled chicken livers wrapped in bacon, bite-size pizza, cocktail cherry tomatoes stuffed with chicken salad, potato chips, Fritos 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 Nixon came to office, the Honey Fitz, was a well-known entity. Though he renamed her the Patricia after his wife, the press and indeed almost everyone, continued to think of the yacht as the Honey Fitz. It came as no surprise when Nixon decided a larger vessel would be more to his liking and put the Patricia up for sale in April of 1970. At first the bidding was closed, but restrictions for buying were so stringent (she could never be used for commercial purposes, she could not be sold to a foreign country, etc.) that no one even ventured forth with an offer. Later that year, she was placed on sale without restrictions for open bidding. Before her sale, however, she was used by the Administration for Cabinet officers' use, cruises for hospitalized Vietnam veterans, and in conjunction with Mrs. Nixon's sponsorship of "Children in the Parks" program.
On December 4, 1970, the yacht Presidents was commissioned in Greenwich, Connecticut. An avid lover of the sea himself and a great fan of the Kennedys, Mr. Keating found in one of the closets the original artist's rendition (for decorating purposes) of the interior of the boat. Keating's own architect contacted the Kennedy architect and the two of them went about restoring the boat as exactly as possible to the furnishings as they were during the Kennedy administration (the wallpaper in the bathroom was supposedly a particular favorite of Jackie Kennedy). Each photo of the individual Presidents that hang in the main salon were sent to Keating by the Presidents themselves or the families of deceased Presidents, and he is as particularly proud of them as he is of the many photos taken on the boat during the Kennedy administration that Ted Kennedy personally sent him. The yacht today does retain the original (and very sophisticated) radar that was used during all the Presidents' terms.
Today, the yacht is used by private groups for entertaining. There have been several weddings on board, the first being that of Mr. Keating's daughter. July 4, 1975, the yacht was chartered by the Hospitality Industry Foundation of New York, who threw a party for the French. Present were 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 happened at his own restaurant, the Showboat Inn in Greenwich. Standing at the bar one evening, he was approached by a group of young boys. One introduced himself as Joe Kennedy.
Bobby's eldest, who was sailing up to the Cape himself and happened to put in at Greenwich for the night. Seeing the Presidents at dock brought back many fond childhood memories and he asked Keating if he might go on board for awhile just to look again. Keating was naturally overjoyed to take him, and proudly today displays the pictures of the two of them together on board.