Staycations: Destination USS Potomac

July 24, 2009 7:06:41 PM PDT
Did you know you can sail on San Francisco Bay aboard a piece of presidential history?

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Journalists dubbed it the floating White House. The USS Potomac was the yacht President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used both to entertain heads of state and to also relax.

Today the USS Potomac entertains both tourists and locals.

"There's no other place like it in the United States where you can get on something like this on a boat that has this sort of history to it," says Matthew Poole of Localgetaways.com.

It is a floating museum in Oakland honoring the legacy of the nation's 32nd president -- a president who lead this country out of the Great Depression and also created the Social Security system.

"I think that he was a wonderful president and I had warm feelings for what he did for the country," says Elizabeth Rojas, a tourist from Austin, Texas.

"It's like going back in time seeing the conditions under which people would have ridden on the ship at this time," says visitor Margaret Fazio of Livermore. "It's a really lovely ship."

Yet some may be surprised at the Potomac's simplicity. The wicker furniture in the fan tale could best be described as functional. Yet Roosevelt considered it his favorite part of the ship.

Visitors will find just a single twin bed in the presidential state room. It is said that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt did not share her husband's enthusiasm for yachting.

Don't expect to see anything fancy in the dining room either, it looks like what you might expect to see in the Navy. It is also where he gave one of his famous fireside chats.

Today the boat is available for tours and private parties. Travelers sail down the Oakland Estuary and into San Francisco Bay. They enjoy views they could only get on the water.

"It's been a lot of fun," says visitor Marie Moore of San Jose. "It's been a beautiful day."

Today the Potomac calls Jack London Square its home. But the years after Roosevelt's death in 1945 have not been kind to the Potomac. The yacht was decommissioned and then went through a number of owners.

Elvis Presley saved the Potomac by buying and then donating her to actor Danny Thomas to who founded St. Jude's Research Hospital. In 1980, the Coast Guard said the ship was taken over by drug runners before being seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The Port of Oakland bought the ship at auction and union labor volunteered to restore it. Today the Potomac Association runs it.

"The numbers of decisions, the plans, the strategies that were planned on board this ship speak to a whole generation and it was an amazing time," says Marti Burchell, executive director of the Potomac Association.

Roosevelt sailed on the Potomac before sneaking off the ship to meet secretly with Winston Churchill. The two forged the Atlantic Charter that lead to the allied victory over the Nazis in World War II.

"And now it's available for public tours, both dockside and you can take that trip on the around Angel Island," says Poole.

"The cost to go on this trip is probably very comparable to what you pay in gas if you were to drive out of the Bay Area," says visitor Richard Hurtz of Livermore.

Dockside tours are just $10 for adults and $8 for seniors. Kids under 12 are free. Cruises start at $45.

For more information, visit www.usspotomac.org.

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