Welcome Aboard the USS Potomac

By Wendy VanHatten

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to take a ride on a Presidential yacht? It’s not often one gets the chance to do that.

When travel becomes available, head to Oakland, California. That’s where the USS Potomac, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Floating White House” is located.

Originally built as the Coast Guard cutter Electra, this 165 foot vessel weighed 376 gross tons and cruised at a speed of 10 to 13 knots, or around 12 miles an hour. Two years later she was renamed and converted to the Presidential Yacht USS Potomac by FDR. As a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and FDR’s love of the sea, it’s easy to pick out the traditional Naval touches throughout the ship.

This ship knows history… Known as the Floating White House, FDR could get away from the real White House for both Presidential business and family business. Dealing with the heavy issues of that time, from the Great Depression to an increasingly dark international situation, this allowed him to meet with cabinet members, foreign dignitaries, and advisors in a more relaxed atmosphere. Royal visitors from Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and England met him on board.

He often left Washington for a weekend fishing cruise, heading down the Potomac River into Chesapeake Bay and to a great hidden cove. As a coastal vessel, the USS Potomac stayed close to the harbor, not venturing into the Atlantic. He did, however, take trips to the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Maine, Florida, the Gulf, and up the Hudson River to Hyde Park.

In August of 1941, FDR headed for another fishing trip and a supposed visit to Martha’s Vineyard. From there he was secretly transferred to the heavy cruiser, USS Augusta, which took him to the historic Atlantic Conference in Newfoundland. There, he and Winston Churchill forged the Atlantic Charter, whose principles formed the basis for the allied partnership in World War II and the establishment of the United Nations.

The USS Potomac was decommissioned after his death in 1945. From another stint with the Coast Guard, then as a ferry between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, then a possible attraction at the Seattle World’s Fair, and finally into the hand of Elvis Presley. Yep…Elvis owned her. He donated her to Saint Jude’s, which wasn’t a long partnership. In 1980 she was seized as a drug running front by the DEA in San Francisco and moved to Treasure Island, where she sank.

Raised two weeks later, the Port of Oakland bought her for $15,000. After spending $5 Million to restore her, this famous piece of American history is now a National Historic Landmark.

Check her out and take a tour…take a ride. You can say you were on a Presidential yacht. Check out the history up close and personal. See FDR’s elevator. Yes, there’s an elevator on the ship to accommodate his wheelchair. Spend some time in the Visitor Center to learn more history and see photos of the restoration process. If you aren’t up for a cruise in the Bay, there are dockside tours as well.

If You Go: The USS Potomac is located at 540 Water Street in Oakland, CA. Website is www.usspotomac.org.


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