Charles Keefer's Blog

History Lesson

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The Honey Fitz docked in Palm Beach.

The Honey Fitz docked in Palm Beach.

If you ride a bike over the Flagler Memorial Bridge towards Palm Beach, you can look north and spot a floating chunk of history about 100 yards up the Intracoastal Waterway.

John F. Kennedy’s presidential yacht, the “Honey Fitz” is tied up at the first dock north of the bridge. You can’t see it from a car unless the bridge goes up and you get out. So much for sight-seeing in cars.

The 92-foot vessel was built for the colorful Sewell Avery, board chairman and sometimes president of Montgomery Ward from 1931 to 1955, by the Defoe Boat Works of Bay City, Michigan, in 1931. He named it the “Lenore” after his second daughter who died at age 4.

Avery was a major foe of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal – major to the point that he defied government orders to allow unionization efforts at Montgomery Ward during World War II. In 1944, the government responded by siezing Montgomery Ward and sending in the National Guard to physically carry the 70-year-old from his office.

He lost the “Lenore” in 1942 when the government siezed the vessel and commissioned it as a Coast Guard picket “CG-92004.” Avery and others condsidered it a personal slam by Roosevelt.

President Harry Truman renamed her the “Lenore II” and she became the President’s yacht. He used her for poker games on the Potomac and as a tender to the “Williamsburg,” the 244-footer he preferred when entertaining visiting statesmen. It is said that Truman ordered new and heftier chairs for the “Lenore II” after Winston Churchill fell through one.

Dwight Eisenhower retired the “Williamsburg” because it was “too rich for my blood” and renamed the “Lenore II” the “Barbara Anne” after one of his grand-daughters.

Kennedy renamed the ship the “Honey Fitz” after his maternal grandfather and Jacqueline Kennedy had the first color television installed for her children.

Lyndon Johnson used her for parties but refused to rename her. “I would no more have considered changing the name of the Honey Fitz …” he said, “than I would have thought about changing the name of the Washington Monument.”

Richard Nixon renamed her the “Patricia” after his wife and everyone ignored him. Nixon then sold her in 1970 to Joe Keating, who renamed her “Presidents” and restored her as exactly as possible to what she looked like during the Kennedy presidency and used her as a charter.

According to a 2004 story by Dave Rogers on, the “Honey Fitz” is now owned by oil man William Kallops and underwent a $5.9 million restoration in 2002 at the P&H Construction Yard in Mobile, Alabama.

That is 78 years of nautical and presidential history you can see from a bike, but not from a car no matter how far gas prices have fallen.

The Presidential Seal on the Honey Fitz.

The Presidential Seal on the Honey Fitz.

Date Miles Total Remaining Percent
Feb. 25 12.07 476.00 2524.00 15.86

Written by Charles Keefer

February 25, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Blog

6 Responses

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  1. I want a tour of this puppy for a story on the galley. Wonder who the galley chef is?
    If someone from the yacht reads this, please contact me @


    February 25, 2009 at 8:29 pm

  2. Thanks for the very interesting history lesson. I had never heard all that pre-Kennedy history. JIM

    Jim Reeder

    February 25, 2009 at 11:17 pm

  3. In 1975 I was a crew member aboard “Presidents'” which was the name of the Honey Fitz during her ownership by Joe Keating. She was a pleasure to work aboard and we ran charters that summer out of Greenwich, Ct. and New York City.

    Glad to see she is alive and well!

    Chris Wolfe

    October 3, 2009 at 9:31 am

  4. Hi Chris. Thanks for checking in.

    It must have been fun working on a piece of history.

    Charles Keefer

    October 5, 2009 at 9:21 pm

  5. Hey it is no longer there! Does anyone know where it’s gone too? I’ve been doing the sight Seeing Tours and it vanished just before the Ft. Lauderdale Boat show. We figured it wa just going there to show off a bit, but it still hasn’t returned. Anyone know? …


    December 30, 2009 at 12:55 pm

  6. Glad to see that the “Honey Fritz” has been restored ! That’s a historical monumont.It should be taken around the US, so everyone could at least see it. Maybe not allowed on deck,just docked so folks could appreciate it’s history.Grand Haven,Michigan has a nice place to dock,and Chicago’s Navy Pier. I help restore a 1923 Defoe in 1986. It’s listed as the third oldest boat still on the Great Lakes.So I can appreciate wooden boats.

    Ron W.

    January 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

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