Williamsburg, the only former U.S. Presidential yacht that has yet to be restored, may attract renewed interest. It’s thanks to being newly listed by Camper & Nicholsons for refit. It’s also due to a collaboration with a design studio that has produced period-specific restoration drawings.
David Seal is the listing broker with Camper & Nicholsons. He says he learned about the 243-foot (74-meter) Williamsburg wasting away in La Spezia, Italy via a Facebook post several months ago. “It really surprised me that such an important part of American history was lying there and rusting,” he tells us. That convinced him to reach out to Navalmare, the shipyard owning Williamsburg, for a visit. Seal then blogged about the history and the limited marketing efforts. The response to his post was “massive,” he says. Seal then spoke further with Navalmare and learned it was keen to sell Williamsburg and see her restored. That led to Camper & Nicholsons’ formal involvement, which is still quite new.
If you’re not familiar with Williamsburg’s history, there’s quite a story. The steel-hulled Williamsburg was launched in 1930 by Bath Iron Works in Maine as Aras. Hugh Chisholm, a paper and railroad magnate from Maine, was the owner of the 36-foot-beam (11-meter-beam) beauty. He and his family cruised aboard every summer until World War II. Aras was acquired by the U.S. Navy in April 1941, converted into a gunboat. She was rechristened Williamsburg and used primarily in Iceland. When the war ended, Williamsburg was converted back into a yacht. She headed to Washington, D.C. in November 1945 as a replacement for the Presidential yacht Potomac.Williamsburg served both Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Truman used her frequently, but Eisenhower preferred farm life. He had her decommissioned in 1953.
Various changes of hands, and misfortunes, occurred in the ensuring years. (To learn the detailed history, read our original Williamsburg article from 2012.) In 1985, a group of Americans formed the USS Williamsburg Preservation Society as a conduit of information, to find a buyer to restore her. Finally, in 1992, a company called the USS Williamsburg Corporation bought her. It planned a $65-million restoration, to turn Williamsburg into a boutique charter yacht. In 1994, Williamsburg cruised to Valdettaro Shipyard in La Spezia for the work to begin. Kim Nielsen, a U.S. Navy historian who was aboard Williamsburg for that transfer trip, says the yard owner suddenly disappeared, with the money. The Italian courts seized the yard, and Wiliamsburg, selling her to Navalmare, across the bay.
Navalmare has been looking after Williamsburg for the past 20 years. The photo above was taken in 2012. Navalmare remained keen to restore her with a buyer through all of that time. Sadly, as much as interested parties emerged, none committed. Seal says Navalmare also came close to selling Williamsburg just before the global recession hit. Despite the enormous amount of rust, Navalmare keeps her upright, pumping water from her hull regularly.
Seal is convinced that someone passionate about American history will step forward. Camper & Nicholsons is offering Williamsburg for refit based on drawings done by Studio Faggioni, based in La Spezia. Studio Faggioni is particularly adept at yacht restorations. It had a hand in the refits of the classic schooners Orion and Mariette, for example, and the famed commuter Marlin, which originally belonged to John F. Kennedy. Interesting enough, Studio Faggioni created preliminary drawings for the restoration of Williamsburg back in 2009.
The drawings from Studio Faggioni that Camper & Nicholsons is using for the refit proposal are “more true to the original yacht,” Seal says. Studio Faggioni has both exterior and interior renderings. As the illustrations here show, they are indeed faithful to the period in which Williamsburg was built. There are rooms like the Presidential Suite (below) and a grand cinema. Of course, Seal says, the eventual buyers of the yacht can outfit Williamsburg however they wish.
Camper & Nicholsons believes a refit could be completed as early as 2017. (Despite the rust and water intrusion, as of 2012, Nielsen knew that Williamsburg’s hull was still structurally sound in places.) The refit proposal it’s offering includes 12 staterooms and 16 crew cabins. Seal says smaller-profile, 2,700-hp Caterpillar engines can replace the original engines.
As to rebuild cost, over the years, rumors have held it would take about $100 million to restore Williamsburg. Seal dismisses this figure: “That’s completely bananas.” Rebuilding the hull and superstructure to be fully sound, installing the new engines, and creating a luxury-yacht interior should be closer to $55 million, he avers.
Camper & Nicholsons has a detailed refit summary available upon request. To obtain a copy, please fill out our contact form.