The owners of the USS Sequoia, the former presidential yacht that arrived in Belfast for a major stem-to-stern restoration nearly four years ago, are looking for a new home for the ship by the end of fall.
The goal is to find a more suitable location to protect the USS Sequoia from harsh weather and unpredictable tides, said Michael Cantor, the managing partner of the D.C.-based private equity firm Equator Capital Group, which owns the ship.
“The nor’easter last November, it blew all the shrink wrap off, and [the waves] came up kind of close,” Cantor said.
Currently, the ship is located in a city-owned parking lot adjacent to the Belfast Harbor Walk.
The USS Sequoia was first launched in October 1925 and was purchased five years later by the administration of President Herbert Hoover. The ship served eight U.S. presidents, as well as a number of other government officials throughout its tenure. It was eventually sold at auction to private owners by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
Where the ship will be moved to hasn’t been decided yet, Cantor said.
The owners are looking at properties throughout the coast, and the goal is to keep the move short enough that the ship could be moved over land, Cantor said.
“We’ve been looking at alternative sites where we can build, buy or lease an appropriate structure to house the restoration,” Cantor said. “And, hopefully, the new site will be in the Belfast area.”
Cantor also wants to add a viewing area where people interested in the restoration process can learn about the ship’s history and see the work, he said.
The original agreement to allow the restorations on city property included a stipulation that any structure built around the ship would need to be torn down once the process was completed, Cantor said. But with potential concerns from storm conditions, the owners would like to use or build a structure that’s much more sturdy and potentially add additional concrete supports beneath the ship, he said.
This is the latest in a series of delays in besetting the renovation of the Sequoia, which has sat wrapped in white plastic in a city-owned parking lot by the waterfront for years.
When the yacht was brought to Belfast in October 2019, hundreds gathered to watch the so-called Floating White House be barged into the Belfast harbor to begin restorations at French & Webb, a local custom boat building company. But the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays both in the procuring of needed materials and beginning the actual restoration work.
During that time, French & Webb boatbuilders have done prep work behind the scenes, including creating a three-dimensional model of the ship, as well as sourcing rare wood.
Parts of the hull’s exterior that are visible around the boat wrap show cracked and chipped paint, and piles of wooden planks sit alongside the ship.
The right materials have finally all been sourced now, Cantor said. The wood used for the planking is old growth longleaf yellow pine, which was sourced from trees knocked down during hurricanes Irma and Michael. For the frame, boatbuilders obtained white oak that came from properties owned by, or in some way connected to, the presidents who used the ship during its more than 40 years of service.
Once the Sequoia is moved, the next step will be assembling a team of dedicated craftsmen to undertake the painstaking plank-by-plank restoration, which Cantor estimates will take 70,000 hours to complete. The restorations will still be headed by Todd French of French & Webb at the new location, Cantor said.
The firm plans to get the ship back in the water and return it to the nation’s capital, where Cantor hopes it will serve as an educational hub for presidential history.