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Classic Boat: The complete story of John F Kennedy’s yacht MANITOU

CANNES, FRA – MANITOU was built at the MM Davis & Son yard in Solomons, Maryland, in 1937. She was conceived by James Lowe of Grand Rapids, who was so determined to win the Chicago Mac Race (from Chicago to Mackinac Island, across Lake Michigan) that he commissioned the young naval architect Olin Stephens to design her specifically. She is one of Olin Stephen’s famous inboard yawls, a lineage that started with DORADE in 1930, many examples of which are still loved and raced to this day. The yacht is now owned by a syndicate of keen Med racers. What he [Mr Lowe] wanted was a performance cruising yacht that would race well under heavy and light conditions. So Stephens designed a 62ft (18.9m) cutter-rigged Bermudan yawl with 44ft (13.4m) in the water, a 13ft 9in (4.2m) beam and a four-ton keel. She had teak planking on deck and mahogany on oak for her hull. MANITOU was launched in 1937 and promptly won the 1938 Chicago Mac Race in the cruising division (on corrected time), beating all previous records. She came a close second the next year and came back to win it again in 1940 and 1941. After these successes Mr Lowe sold her, and in 1955 she was donated to the US Coast Guard [or did the author mean the Naval Academy? –TFE] to be used as a training vessel. It was while she was at Annapolis that MANITOU was first spotted by a young Senator Kennedy. She obviously made an impression on him because, when he was elected, the presidential yacht at the time was the 92ft (28m) power yacht HONEY FITZ (named after his own grandfather) and, as was customary, a fighting ship ready for naval action. Being a keen sailor, however, and now the president, Kennedy sent naval aide Captain Tazewell Shepard Jr, to search out a suitable sailing yacht that could accommodate the equipment needed for him to keep in touch with the White House, and even the Kremlin. –The esteemed Guy Venables writing in Classic Boat Magazine issue 294. Read the delightful photo essay here.

JFK at MANITOU's helm circa 1962. White House photo by Robert Knudsen.


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