BOAT discovers the stories behind the yachts owned by US Presidents, world leaders and heads of state, including one of the largest superyachts built to date.
Presidential yachts: Inside the superyachts owned by world leaders
One of the world’s largest superyachts, Savarona was launched in 1931 by German yard Blohm+Voss for American heiress Emily Roebling Cadwalader, and was sold to the Turkish government six years later to serve as the presidential yacht for Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. She was given a $35million refit in 1989 and has been used both for private cruises as well as for hosting various world leaders for official business on board.
Savarona was for a time offered on the market for superyacht charters around Istanbul, although she is no longer available. Key features on-board this 135 metre superyacht include a Turkish hammam bath that spans the entire 16 metre beam, a swimming pool, a gold-trimmed grand staircase, a private cinema and a library suite furnished with many of the personal artefacts belonging to Atatürk.
Image courtesy of Bugsy Gedlek
At just 32 metres LOA, USS Sequoia is the smallest presidential yacht on our list, but her history is no less storied. Designed by John Trumpy and launched in 1926 at the Mathis Yacht Building Company in Camden, New Jersey, she was used to intercept moonshine smugglers in the prohibition era.
She has hosted a series of US presidents, including John F. Kennedy, who celebrated his last birthday on board, and Richard Nixon, who took a cruise with more than a dozen baseball stars after the 1969 All Star Game. After being decommissioned in 1977, she has since been purchased by a private company and is currently undergoing restoration works in Maine at the French & Webb Inc refit shipyard.
Image courtesy of Ron Cogswell
Launched by J&G Thompson in 1896, USS Mayflower was one of the earliest presidential yachts, hosting five commanders in chief from Theodore Roosevelt to Calvin Coolidge over a 24-year period before Herbert Hoover had her decommissioned in 1929.
Measuring 83 metres LOA, her active years were filled with various adventures. She participated in the Spanish–American War, served as a government vessel to various Caribbean nations, and was even used for a 1905 peace conference that helped to bring about the end of the Russo-Japanese War. After exploring the arctic waters of Greenland and Labrador as a sealer, and serving in the Israeli Navy as well as in the US Coast Guard during World War II, USS Mayflower was broken up in 1955.
Image courtesy of PF-(bygone1) / Alamy Stock Photo
Delivered in 1980 to a design by Jon Bannenberg, this 85.9 metre motor yacht was once the plaything of US President Donald Trump. Upon purchasing the Benetti, Trump refitted her interiors extensively at a cost of $8.5 million. The full-beam owners suite featured a tortoise shell ceiling, a three metre wide bed and a secret exit, while the ensuite bathroom, finished in onyx, was completed with a sauna and 13-nozzel shower hand-carved into the shape of a scallop shell. Able to host up to 52 people, other interior highlights included everything from a patisserie and three-chair hair salon to a screening room with an 800-film library and a hospital with an operating theatre.
Used for cruising along the East Coast with his family, Donald Trump bought Trump Princess, he says, “because I was buying a great piece of art at a ridiculously low price”. She has since been renamed Kingdom 5KR.
Image courtesy of Raphael Montigeneaux
Measuring an impressive 133 metres in length, Al Mirqab is a floating palace owned by the former prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Al Mirqab was designed by Tim Heywood with interiors by Andrew Winch and was delivered in 2008 by the Peterswerft-Kusch shipyard. Frequently seen cruising the coasts of Greece, Al Mirqab carries a 60-strong crew and features onboard amenities including a private cinema, al fresco bars, an indoor swimming pool and deck jacuzzi as well as dedicated sunbathing areas and a helicopter landing pad on her decks.
The 28 metre commuterstyle motor yacht Honey Fitz was a home-from-home for the Kennedys and an important feature of the Camelot years of John F. Kennedy's presidency. The vessel that became the unofficial presidential yacht was built by Defoe in 1931 for financier Sewel Avery, who called her Lenore after his daughter - JFK, after taking the oath of office in January 1961, promptly renamed her Honey Fitz in honour of his maternal grandfather, John Francis Fitzgerald. It was on board this yacht that JFK celebrated his last birthday in 1963.
Honey Fitz was used to take visitors down the Potomac river to Mount Vernon for state dinners, and between May and September hosted the family as they cruised around Cape Cod. Statesmen and business leaders were frequent guests and British prime minister Harold Macmillan, as well as Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe and Peter Lawford, were also entertained aboard. Honey Fitz was inherited by successive presidents but eventually sold in the late 90's to William Kallop, who's grandfather had been at Princeton with JFK, for $5.9 million.
Image courtesy of Andy Murphy/Alamy Stock Photo
One of two US Presidential yachts that still survives to this day and the only one open to the public, USS Potomac was used by Franklin D. Roosevelt as his floating base from 1936-1945. Famous guests who FDR hosted aboard this 50 metre former US Coast Guard vessel included royals at sea King George VI of the United Kingdom and Crown Princess Märtha of Norway.
In the 80's she was briefly owned by Rock and Roll icon Elvis Presley, and in the 21st century, her escapades included being a set for the film actors Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. She now lies along the coast of Oakland, California, having been preserved as a National Historic Landmark. She is open for dockside tours and regularly cruises through San Francisco Bay.
Image courtesy of Rick Pisio RWP Photography/Alamy Stock Photo
At the end of World War II, USS Williamsburg took over from USS Potomac as the presidential yacht. Harry Truman was particularly fond — he took her to Key West for a vacation in 1951, and used her as a base for talks with British prime minister Winston Churchill and Mexican president Miguel Alemán. Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower was less enamoured and had her decommissioned after just one cruise aboard. The 74 metre presidential yacht was later converted into an oceanographic research vessel by the National Science Foundation, and plans were made to restore her further, but she met an unfortunate end when she sank in her moorings at La Spezia harbour in 2015, and was subsequently scrapped in 2016.
Image courtesy of Underwood Archives/Getty-Images
The navy-hulled Perini Navi sailing yacht Morning Glory has had a colourful past. Originally comissioned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1985, she was delivered in 1993 and eventually bought by the infamous former prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, in 1999. Under Berlusconi’s ownership, the 48.2 metre superyacht regularly frequented the Caribbean cruising destination of Antigua, where Berlusconi owned a holiday home, and spent her summers sailing through the Italian Riviera and around the south of France.
Currently for sale with Burgess for a cool $11,000,000, Morning Glory can host up to eight guests in four luxurious suites and features two spacious saloons on board - one with a marble fireplace forward and another with a formal dining area, drinks bar and games table.
Image courtesy of Burgess
BRP Ang Pangulo
Gifted to the Philippines as part of Japan’s post-war reparations, BRP Ang Pangulo was converted into a presidential yacht in the late 1950s and the 77 metre yacht is still in service today. Able to accommodate up to 44 guests and 81 crew members, famous faces believed to have spent time on board include dancers Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, and actress Brooke Shields.
Under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, the vessel was coverted into a hospital ship, and during the COVID-19 pandemic was used as a 28-bed isolation facility for frontline military workers.
Image courtesy of Historic Collection / Alamy Stock Photo