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  1. Life & Culture

A short history of US presidents on boats

Boats are factoring into the 2020 election. Are they an omen?

While reporting a story on President Donald Trump’s supporters on the water, we compiled more presidential boating history than could fit. Here’s a quick sail through an incomplete maritime history of our nation’s leaders.

Related: Does Donald Trump own the ocean?

First presidential boat? First president. George Washington crossed the Delaware.

A re-enactor waves to spectators as he portrays Gen. George Washington, during the 53rd annual Christmas day crossing of the Delaware River.
A re-enactor waves to spectators as he portrays Gen. George Washington, during the 53rd annual Christmas day crossing of the Delaware River. [ JOSPEH KACMAREK | AP ]

Abraham Lincoln was a boat guy. He was also the only president to hold a patent — a patent for a way to get flat boats over rapids and difficult spots on the river.

Ulysses S. Grant took a world tour by boat after becoming president.

In the summer of 1893, President Grover Cleveland had surgery to remove a tumor aboard a yacht. He wanted to hide his cancer from the public to avoid a financial panic.

Warren Harding was president elect when he attempted to land a boat on Florida’s Pelican Island. The bird warden, sworn to protect the wildlife from hunters, stuck a rifle in his face, according to historian Douglas Brinkley’s book, The Wilderness Warrior.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, then the democratic nominee for president, at the wheel of the yawl, Myth 11, in 1932.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, then the democratic nominee for president, at the wheel of the yawl, Myth 11, in 1932. [ AP ]

Herbert Hoover was the first president to use the Sequoia, a presidential yacht that was like Air Force One on the water. Richard Nixon reportedly loved sailing it on the Potomac, but Jimmy Carter thought the boat was too expensive to maintain at $800,000 annually and had it sold at auction.

Franklin Roosevelt made his first major appearance after the Democratic convention at the helm of a boat, partly to hide his polio. And he loved to fish.

President John F. Kennedy sits in the stern of the presidential yacht Honey Fitz, on July 14, 1963 during a cruise on Nantucket Sound with his family and guests.
President John F. Kennedy sits in the stern of the presidential yacht Honey Fitz, on July 14, 1963 during a cruise on Nantucket Sound with his family and guests. [ JOHN ROUS | ASSOCIATED PRESS ]

John F. Kennedy grew up sailing around Hyannis Port, commanded PT boats in the Pacific in World War II and spent his final birthday with Hollywood stars aboard another presidential yacht, the Honey Fitz.

George H.W. Bush ran his motorboat, Fidelity, aground on a Maine beach in 2010.

President George H.W. Bush and White House staff assistant Michael Dannenhauer are seen sharing a beverage in 1991 in Kennebunkport, Maine on Bush's boat Fidelity.
President George H.W. Bush and White House staff assistant Michael Dannenhauer are seen sharing a beverage in 1991 in Kennebunkport, Maine on Bush's boat Fidelity. [ STEPHAN SAVOR | AP ]

Trump, no doubt, had the hugest boat of any president.

Despite reportedly not caring for boats or the sun, he bought a 280-foot yacht originally commissioned for a Saudi arms dealer for $30 million in 1987. Calling it the “ultimate toy,” he named her Trump Princess. It had a helipad and a pool surrounded by bulletproof glass.

Facing financial difficulties with his casinos in 1991, he sold the Trump Princess for a loss, but later commissioned plans for what would have been the world’s largest superyacht. It was not completed.

FILE - In this July 4, 1998, file photo, Donald Trump waves to reporters with his then-wife, Ivana, as they board their luxury yacht The Trump Princess in New York City.
FILE - In this July 4, 1998, file photo, Donald Trump waves to reporters with his then-wife, Ivana, as they board their luxury yacht The Trump Princess in New York City. [ MARTY LEDERHANDLER | AP ]

In campaigns, boats have been a bad omen for Democratic presidential contenders. John Kerry had the “swift boat” controversy over his military service. Gary Hart’s infamous cruise aboard the Monkey Business with Donna Rice scuttled his career. Al Gore took a four-day campaign tour down the Mississippi on a riverboat in 2000, cranking the Rolling Stones' Brown Sugar.

But the only flotilla to sail for a candidate before the massive Trump boat parades this year appears to be the Nixon boat parade featuring John Wayne off the California coast in 1972. Nixon won.

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