Belfast’s French & Webb embarks on major restoration of nation’s presidential yacht ‘Sequoia’
Tue, 10/22/2019 - 12:00pm
Todd French, project manager for U.S. Sequoia’s restoration stands in front of the historic presidential yacht as it prepares for almost 4 years berthed on Belfast’s Waterfront. (Photo by Sarah Thompson)
(Photo by Sarah Thompson)
Belfast City Council member Eric Sanders addresses the crowd. (Photo by Sarah Thompson)
BELFAST — Hundreds gathered at Belfast’s Public Landing, Monday, Oct. 21, to witness the offloading of a vessel that puts Belfast on the map, provides jobs for many local marine trade artisans, and creates another reason for tourists to visit Penobscot Bay.
That’s when the former presidential yacht Sequoia, a piece of American history that many call “the floating White House,” arrived for a stern-to-bow restoration.
The yacht, settled in aboard a barge, was met by an appreciative crowd that included a high school band, all filling the waterfront with a festive sentiment.
After a six-year legal battle, including a dark period when a family of raccoons occupied the stately 104-foot yacht, the USS Sequoia will be fully restored by French & Webb, a company of boat builders and boat restoration experts located on the Belfast waterfront.
French & Webb project manager Todd French and his crew hadn’t yet seen the full scope of the U.S.S. Sequoia’s deterioration by the time the yacht pulled into Belfast Harbor; however, French anticipated the restoration to address structure and systems, from bow to stern. Everything.
“There were raccoons living on this boat,” he said. “It was kind of broken.”
In fact, the steel cradles that carried Sequoia to shore were actually supporting the 104-foot vessel, he said.
“But, the history is still up top,” he said. The features of the cabin and the original paneling are among French & Webb’s primary focus.
For the next 10 months, French will assess the 94-year-old vessel, which was the longest serving presidential yacht (50 years) and served every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover through Gerald Ford. With that survey, he will begin planning the engineering and hire the various artisans of the marine trade best able to make the National Historic Landmark shine again.
By the end of next summer, a crew of 35-40 will be in place to start working, according to French.
French declined to talk about the restoration price tag. As he once said during an event in San Diego to promote a different French & Webb restoration of a 1916 sailboat, “If you have to ask....”
“[Money] is not part of the discussion,” said French. “It’s an American treasure that we are just going to try to restore....It’s about so much history here.”
French & Webb received Belfast City Council permission to berth Sequoia on public property (Heritage Park) next to F & W’s boathouse and build a structure around the vessel to shelter the restoration and contractors.
For some Belfast residents, the berthing of a presidential yacht on their waterfront meant closing up shop for the afternoon to witness the arrival. For many more, the Sequoia’s arrival is an honor bestowed upon the town of doers, of hard workers, according to Council Member Eric Sanders.
Previously, Sequoia’s owner, Michael Cantor visited Belfast, according to Sanders. Cantor took a walk around town and said, “This is the place.”
Sanders said that Belfast wasn’t the only city under consideration.
“We will not let the Sequoia down,” he said. “What a glorious gift to our past history and [ship]builders that we were selected to be the sight where this historic rebuild will take place.”