Our USS Potomac Cruise

You, too, can charter FDR’s Floating White House.


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Photo by David Brossard/flickr

In 2011, my husband and I chartered the USS Potomac out of Jack London Square for a birthday cruise on the bay. Right before the event, Hollywood came calling — for the boat. Skillful negotiations by the vessel’s director helped us keep our party date. The Potomac Association also kept the film crew to their word to repaint all the interiors back to their original colors, details of which were recorded in blueprints and photos and the memories of one of the officers who had spent time on the ship during the years when it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Floating White House.”

The morning of our cruise, we worried about the turbulent storms roiling the bay. But the captain knew the clouds would clear. Sure enough, by our noon launch time, we had blue skies filled with towering cumulus clouds and a cleansing wind. The cruise was on.

The Potomac will hold about 100 people, with a pretty room for a catered buffet adjacent to the small galley. Our guests could take their plates to the covered fantail to sit and eat, joining the illustrious ghosts of presidential guests of the 1940s. We set up the bar on the top deck with its spectacular views of the bay.

This all happened back when the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge was still in its early stages. We cruised under the work in progress and marveled at its scale next to the old bridge, opened in 1936 when the USS Potomac began its time as the presidential yacht. I have a lovely memory from that day of two of our friends who were expecting a baby. They were leaning against the rail, gazing at the scaffolding of the new span, their then-sizable baby bump another work in progress, monumental in its own way and due before the bridge.

Oakland is full of colorful stories, none more noble and notorious than that of the USS Potomac.

From 1936 until his death in 1945, President Roosevelt relaxed, fished, and entertained dignitaries, including European royalty, on board the USS Potomac. In 1941, the vessel was used as a decoy while Roosevelt held a secret meeting with Churchill to plan the Allied partnership during World War II.

After several auctions following FDR’s death, the Potomac was owned by the “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley, Caribbean cargo runners, marijuana smugglers, and finally, following an ignominious drug bust and sinking near Treasure Island, the Port of Oakland and the nonprofit Potomac Association. The Port of Oakland spearheaded a cooperative effort with organized labor, maritime corporations, and dedicated volunteers to complete a $5 million restoration of the ship. It is a National Historic Landmark, but 16-year volunteer docent Ed Bloom stressed that no tax dollars or grants support this treasure. Tours, cruises, and donations fund the USS Potomac’s maintenance.

And that film shoot the year of our cruise? Though the project was secret at the time, eventually we discovered that the film was The Master directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams treading the boards. Whatever you might have made of the movie (some called it brilliant, others called it a mess), the Potomac looked glorious.

What to Know

The USS Potomac, a Coast Guard certified vessel, is moored at 540 Water St., Oakland.

A minimum three-hour charter cruise starts at $6,000; each additional hour is $1,000. Dockside charters are available and start at $600 per hour with a two-hour minimum; each additional hour is $600. All charters must pay a $250 cleaning fee.

Nonprofits may qualify for a reduced rate.

For information on cruises, group, or dockside charters call 510-627-1667 or email dmschmid@usspotomac.org. Learn more at USSPotomac.org.

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