Guests who weren't aware of the USS Sequoia's presidential history quickly learned when they were invited aboard last weekend for the Capital Area Boat Owners Association reception.
They learned that The Sequoia Presidential Yacht is a fully restored, 104-foot, 1925 Trumpy-designed yacht that has served more than nine Presidents. And that Congress designated the Sequoia a National Historic Landmark, making it one of the most important pieces of Americana in private hands.
Guests also learned that The Sequoia was the scene of some of America's most historic events:
* The Sequoia was used during the Harding administration to enforce Prohibition;
* Herbert Hoover promoted his use of the Sequoia during the Depression in a misguided effort to elevate the spirit of a starving public;
* FDR and Eisenhower planned D-day;
* Truman decided to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and later conducted the world's first nuclear arms control summit;
* Eisenhower entertained Korean War veterans;
* LBJ lobbied for civil rights legislation, and planned Vietnam War strategy;
* Nixon negotiated the first arms control treaty with the Soviet Union, and later decided to resign;
* Gerald Ford conducted cabinet meetings on board;
* Ronald Reagan met all of the nation's 50 Governors at the Sequoia's gangplank;
* And George Bush negotiated with the Chinese Premier.
GARY SILVERSMITH, who serves as vice president of the association, is the owner of the presidential yacht and arranged for the party.
He greeted guests at the end of the reception and mentioned that President John F. Kennedy had celebrated his last (46th) birthday party on the yacht — the reception was held on November 22, the 40th anniversary of Kennedy's death.
Silversmith purchased the Sequoia three years ago when the shipyard where it has resided was going to sell it to a Japanese firm.
"It was a good investment and I wanted to save it," said Silversmith. "I thought it should stay in this country."
Silversmith, who is an attorney, said that he spends about a third of his time running the yacht.
"It's a lot of work, but very enjoyable," he said. "Where else would you have a chance to drink mimosas with [Mikhail] Gorbachev while he explains why the Cold War ended?"
GORBACHEV IS JUST one of the many dignitaries to board the boat since Silversmith took ownership.
Another time, there was an event with Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator Chris Dodd, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other dignitaries.
"Cheney said that the only reason he came was because he wanted to be back on the Sequoia; that made me feel good," said Silversmith.
He also feels good about the association's efforts.
"I think that Washington's waterfront is vastly underutilized. It's important to have a group like this that represents people who are active on the waterfront. It's all due to the efforts of Rob Hartwell, who founded the organization, and [executive director] LaDonna Curzon who is the lifeblood and made it happen."
APPROXIMATELY 50 MEMBERS and guests attended the reception. The weather was perfect and there was plenty of time to enjoy some food and drink. Also enough time to network with other boat owners and talk about common concerns and goals.
Lorraine and Richard Lloyd were there; Lorraine is the vice-president of sales for the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association (ACVA) and is coordinating the annual Boat Parade of Lights in Alexandria which will be held on Saturday, Dec. 6. (See, page 20.)
"As boaters, my husband and I are very excited to see this initiative [the forming of the association] being taken on behalf of the boating community, both for business and leisure boaters," she said. "The Potomac River is an underutilized asset of our region and we look forward to the enhancements this prestigious organization can bring to the river and our waterfront communities."
CURZON THOUGHT THAT the event went well. "I'm very pleased with it; there was a good turnout, about 75 people, including some potential members. The weather was perfect. I think the Sequoia is a good draw," Curzon said.
Curzon has been the executive director since the association was formed last year.
Their goals are simple:
They hope to negotiate fuel, supply and marina discounts for members.
They want to call on the Coast Guard to fix buoys, bridges and remove hazards.
Another goal is to bring environmental, hydrilla harvesting and dredging needs to the attention of federal, state and local authorities.
Members will fight for clear, fair and consolidated regulations overseeing boating needs, including safety, enforcement, fishing, ABC licensing and commercial activities.
They will work for quality waterfront development and redevelopment that will enhance boating and protect water quality and environmental and historical attributes.
And, finally, they want to build an association with social and professional networking events to unite all Potomac River boaters.
HARTWELL, WHO SERVES as treasurer of the association, grew up on the Potomac River and feels very strongly about all of the above goals.
His mother, Elizabeth Hartwell, was the local environmentalist who led the crusade to preserve the Mason Neck peninsula in the 1960's. For almost 20 years, she spearheaded opposition to numerous proposals, plans and requests for building, dredging, excavating and other construction in the Mason Neck area.
Those efforts led to the establishment of the more than five thousand acres including, Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Mason Neck State Park and Pohick Bay Regional Park.
Hartwell helped start the association because he wanted to carry on his mother's tradition of defending the environment.
"Somebody had asked me if there was an association for local boat owners and I realized that there wasn't. I felt there was a need," said Hartwell, who is co-owner of the 75-foot R&R Motor Yacht. Hartwell said, "We count bald eagles every time we re-position our boat."
IT'S INEXCUSABLE how unfriendly the Potomac River is, Hartwell said. "You look at places like Norfolk, New York and San Antonio and see how they've balanced boating and commercial interests."
He blames some of this on the fact that the river got so foul and polluted that people got away from using it.
Once they passed the Clean Water Act of 1972 and hydrilla was accidentally introduced, the river started to see a turn-around, to the extent that now recreational boating, fishing and swimming are safe again.
Hartwell feels that there's still a long way to go. The amount of debris in the river is unacceptable and needs to be cleaned up on a more regular basis.
"We need to bring it [the Potomac River] back," he said.