Issue: January 2009
From the Editor: JFK and Me

By Tim Sayles

So there I was, motoring along on the presidential yacht with John Kennedy. It was a lovely early-fall morning on the Bay, half a dozen of us, including John Kennedy, puttering out of Galesville, Md., on the "floating White House," Manitou, a sleek 62-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl built in 1936 by M. M. Davis and Sons in Solomons, Md. By the way, did I mention that John Kennedy was aboard?

Now that I have your attention, and perhaps the last shred of your patience, I’ll admit that this happened only a couple of months ago, so I speak not of our sainted 35th president. I speak of John M. Kennedy of Hollywood, Md.—no relation to JFK, but rather a longtime friend of Totch Hartge, who was master and commander of said presidential yacht on that particular morning.

The gregarious and cheerful Mr. Hartge, whose insurance company underwrites Manitou, had "pestered" his way onboard, as he puts it. That is, he had volunteered to skipper the rehabbed beauty from her temporary berth at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons to Annapolis, where she would be on display for the duration of the U.S. Sailboat Show. And he had invited us—the aforementioned Mr. Kennedy and his wife Cookie, as well as writer Pat Furgurson of the Annapolis Capital and me—to ride along on the Galesville-to-Annapolis leg of the trip.

I’m not easily starstruck, so the headiness of it rather sneaked up on me. I knew it would be fun, of course, and a great excuse to get out of the office on a gorgeous Indian summer morning. But I didn’t expect to be quite so bowled over by the experience, so pie-eyed at the thought of standing at the very helm where Jack Kennedy had stood, at the thought of steering the same sleek mahogany-over-oak hull that JFK had steered across Narragansett Bay in the summer of 1962—perhaps dodging lobster pots, as I was now dodging crab pots. I didn’t expect to be so dazzled by the gleaming butternut cabinetry belowdecks, where there’s a fireplace and bathtub (yes, I said bathtub) and where, back in the day, there was radio gear sophisticated enough to put JFK in touch with the Kremlin, if necessary. That last bit is hard to verify and may indeed be apocryphal, but just the fact that it’s possible makes this a damned special yacht.

Manitou now belongs to Laura Kilbourne of Toronto, granddaughter of the boat’s original owner—Chicago businessman James R. Lowe, who had her built specifically to compete in the annual Chicago–Mackinac race across Lake Michigan. And indeed Manitou won that race in 1938. Here’s the best part: She’s for sale. Only $1.3 million, last I heard. If you want to kick the tires, so to speak, you can find her at the southeast end of Annapolis’s City Dock, at the future site of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, to which she’s on indefinite loan. But don’t dilly-dally; I may beat you to it. Yes, I’m feeling really good about the lottery numbers I played yesterday. And if that doesn’t work out, I have a backup plan: selling autographed 8-by-10 glossies of the photograph above. That should bring in a bundle, because, after all, I’m the guy who sailed with John Kennedy.