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USS Potomac (AG-25) on 13 April 1936.
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Class: POTOMAC (AG-25)
Design: USCG, 165'
Displacement (tons): 370 light, 416 full
Dimensions (feet): 165.0' oa, 160.0' pp x 25.3' e x 8.4' mx
Original Armament: 1-3"/23 (authorized but not carried)
Later armaments: --
Speed (kts.): 13
Propulsion (HP): 1,340
Machinery: Winton diesels, 2 screws
||8 Nov 35
||5 Mar 34
||30 Jun 34
||2 Mar 36
||17 May 41
||7 May 31
||1 Jan 32
||17 May 41
||8 Nov 45
||25 Feb 46
||23 Nov 45
||17 Jul 46
||20 Jan 42
||8 Apr 44
||20 Jan 42
No FY (transferred). Between 1931 and 1934 the Coast Guard built eighteen new 165-foot cutters to a design that maximized operational characteristics within limited size parameters. These cutters were initially active in enforcing Prohibition, particularly in tracking offshore "mother" ships that supplied smaller, faster rumrunners, and then had long careers with all serving in World War II and 6 surviving into the 1960s.
On 9 Nov 35 the Navy issued a press release stating that the Coast Guard Cutter ELECTRA was to be turned over to the Navy for use by the President. The ship had just gone to the Norfolk Navy Yard for structural changes, including the addition of a cabin on the main deck aft for Presidential quarters with four more large cabins on the deck below. The release stated that the main purpose of the substitution of ELECTRA for SEQUOIA was to give a greater degree of security to the President, as the cutter was of steel construction while SEQUOIA was built of wood and was of necessity a greater fire hazard. ELECTRA could also carry more passengers, allowing the President to travel in her with his normal quota of secret service men. The crew of SEQUOIA was to man ELECTRA. ELECTRA was classified AG-25 on 21 Nov 35, renamed POTOMAC on 30 Jan 36, and commissioned as the Presidential yacht on 2 Mar 36.
The new cabin aft weighed some 39 tons, and it was eventually discovered that this had raised the center of gravity of the 400-ton ship to such an extent that she was prone to roll dangerously and was at risk of capsizing. Both the President and the Navy condemned her in early 1941. The Navy recommended that another ship be substituted and in March considered converting a new 250 to 300-foot long escort ship that was then being studied by the General Board. The President disapproved replacing POTOMAC due to the international situation but issued written instructions that she was not to be operated in open waters. Despite this she participated in a historic deception operation when, after departing with the President on a publicly-announced Cape Cod fishing trip, POTOMAC transferred FDR to the cruiser AUGUSTA in Vineyard Sound early in the morning of 5 Aug 41. When POTOMAC sailed north through the Cape Cod canal a crew member wearing the President's signature cape and waving the famous cigarette holder imitated the chief executive while FDR sailed in AUGUSTA to meet Winston Churchill in Argentia Bay, Newfoundland, and sign the Atlantic Charter. POTOMAC herself proceeded to Blue Hill Bay, Maine, where she re-embarked the President on 14 Aug 41.
In June 1945 the Navy informed President Truman that POTOMAC would need a general overhaul if she were to continue in service and recommended substitution of another vessel. Upon Truman's approval, the Navy selected WILLIAMSBURG (PG-56), which entered the Norfolk Navy Yard on 10 July for conversion to the Presidential yacht. WILLIAMSBURG, soon reclassified AGC-369, relieved POTOMAC on 8 Nov 45. On 23 Nov 45 POTOMAC was turned over to the Office of Naval Research for ultimate disposition.
POTOMAC was sold to the State of Maryland in 1946 and served as flagship of its Tidewater Fisheries Commission enforcement fleet and as a yacht for the governor. Sold by Maryland in April 1960, she operated briefly in the Caribbean and then began to change ownership frequently and to deteriorate from lack of maintenance. One of her owners (in 1964) was Elvis Presley, who donated her to the St Jude's Hospital which auctioned her off. Implicated in a drug trafficking operation, she was seized by U.S. Customs in September 1980 and impounded at Treasure Island. There her hull was pierced by broken pilings and she sank. The wreck was raised by the Navy and sold at auction in April 1981 to the Port of Oakland, which wanted to preserve the historic ship. Restoration work began in May 1982, and the vessel was opened to the public at Oakland in the summer of 1995. She conducts short tours for the public in San Francisco Bay and is also offered for private charter.
CALYPSO was acquired from the Coast Guard in May 1941 to replace CUYAHOGA (AG-26, q.v.) as tender and escort for the Presidential yachts. She was manned by CUYAHOGA's crew. Between 22 Jul 41 and 23 Aug 41 CALYPSO accompanied POTOMAC on a cruise from Washington to Norfolk and along the eastern coast as far north as Nova Scotia, a voyage that included the clandestine transfer of the President to the cruiser AUGUSTA in early August to meet with British Prime Minister Churchill in Newfoundland. Following U.S. entry into the war, CALYPSO was decommissioned, returned to the Coast Guard, and recommissioned by them on 20 Jan 42. She was placed in storage at Cape May, New Jersey, after being decommissioned in 1947.
||Ex USCGC ELECTRA (WPC-187). Comm. by USCG 25 Oct 34, decomm. and to USN 12 Nov 35, used as Presidential yacht, delivered to USCG 23 Nov 45 and permanantly transferred 1 Feb 46, decom. by CG 23 May 46, sold by MC to State of Maryland 1946, retained name. Now (2009) a museum and cruise ship at Oakland, Calif.
||ex CALYPSO (WPC-104). Comm. by USCG 16 Jan 32, decomm 17 May 41, to Navy as escort for POTOMAC, recomm. by USCG 20 Jan 42, decomm. 18 Jul 47, sold 2 Nov 55. Still in service 1995, much modified, with the Circle Tour Line of New York City as CIRCLE LINE XI with four sisters.
Compiled: 07 Sep 2009
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2009