Kennedy’s Sea Desk

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY KEVIN PILLEY

Man­i­tou is a beau­ti­ful 62-foot yawl that’s a fix­ture of the Mediter­ranean clas­sic rac­ing scene. She once be­longed to former US Pres­i­dent JF Kennedy.

A reg­u­lar com­peti­tor in the Mediter­ranean’s clas­sic yacht rac­ing scene, Man­i­tou is a gor­geous 62-foot yawl. De­signed by Spark­man & Stephens and built in 1937, she’s sur­vived a colour­ful life and mul­ti­ple own­ers – in­clud­ing former US Pres­i­dent John F Kennedy.

Akeen sailor, ac­quir­ing Man­i­tou was one of the first things Kennedy did when elected as the 35th Pres­i­dent of the United States in 1961, hav­ing fallen in love with the 27-tonne, ma­hogany-hulled yacht. He first saw Man­i­tou at An­napo­lis while still a se­na­tor, ear­mark­ing her as a more stylish al­ter­na­tive to the ex­ist­ing pres­i­den­tial yacht – the 28m launch Honey Fitz. Built in 1931, that ves­sel was used by Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower as a shut­tle to the New­port Golf Club and was col­lo­qui­ally known as the ‘Float­ing Locker Room’.

Kennedy, though a golfer, had sail­ing in his blood and re­ceived his first boat as a 15th birthday present. This was the 26’ Wianno Se­nior Vic­tura (Latin for ‘to come alive’). She is now dis­played at Boston’s John F. Kennedy Pres­i­den­tial Library and Mu­seum. In a speech at the 1962 Amer­ica’s Cup, Kennedy fa­mously de­clared: “We have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the sea.”

Man­i­tou (‘the spirit of the wind’) was com­mis­sioned by James R. Lowe, a mem­ber of both the Chicago and New York yacht club. He asked Olin Stephens to de­sign a boat that could win the 289-mile Chicago-mack­inac Race across Lake Michi­gan. She was built at the MM Davis & Son yard in Solomons, Mary­land and launched in 1937.

Man­i­tou promptly won the 1938 Chicago-mack­inac Race in the cruis­ing divi­sion (on cor­rected time), and came a close sec­ond the next year be­fore win­ning it again in 1940 and 1941. Lowe sold her in 1955 and in 1968 she was bought by the Harry Lun­de­burg School of Sea­man­ship in Mary­land to be used as a train­ing ves­sel.

When Kennedy bought her engi­neers were in­structed to fit her out as a work­ing pres­i­den­tial of­fice,

in­cor­po­rat­ing the equip­ment he’d need to keep in touch with the White House while sail­ing. She was soon dubbed the ‘Float­ing White House’.

Kennedy only raced her once, off New­port, in a bet with a friend – Emil ‘Bus’ Moss­bacher – the fu­ture two-times Amer­ica’s Cup win­ner and later Chief-of-pro­to­col un­der Pres­i­dent Nixon. Moss­bacher’s boat was the 38-foot Weath­erly – but when things got tense around one of the marks the at­ten­dent Se­cret Ser­vice crews ended the race. It had be­come too ‘dan­ger­ous’. Kennedy, re­port­edly, was fairly miffed.

Dur­ing his time Kennedy not only used her as a pres­i­den­tial yacht, but also in­vited nu­mer­ous stars and star­lets aboard as guests. The bath­tub in the aft cabin, lo­cated un­der the cabin sole, is said to have been host to some of these, in­clud­ing Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

Kennedy was a doo­dler – par­tic­u­larly of boats. Dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis he filled his White House notepads with sketches of boats. On the last night of his life, Novem­ber 21, 1963, at the Rice Ho­tel in Houston, he drew a sloop un­der full sail. Cham­ber­maids found it af­ter he left for Dal­las.

Man­i­tou ended up aban­doned in An­napo­lis be­tween the 1970s and the noughties, un­til 2010, when a con­sor­tium made up of New Zealand, Amer­i­can and Swedish own­ers bought her and had her re­stored in a Mary­land boat­yard be­fore ship­ping her to the Mediter­ranean.

The orig­i­nal but­ter­nut in­te­ri­ors have been re­tained, her en­gine changed to a 120hp Yan­mar and the in­fa­mous sunken bath in stern cabin – as well as the orig­i­nal fire­place – re­main in place.

Now owned by UK busi­ness­man Hamish Eas­ton, Man­i­tou is still very much alive and well. “Like any liv­ing en­tity,” he says, “fresh blood is al­ways re­quired. Own­er­ship of Man­i­tou is re­ally a ded­i­cated caretaker role. She’s 81 and – if looked af­ter – will live to 200.”


Over the last two rac­ing sea­sons in the Med, Man­i­tou has been skip­pered by New Zealan­der Guy Robinson.

Born in Waipuku­rau, Robinson grew up on a farm in Hawkes Bay and started sail­ing when his fa­ther bought a farm near Kerik­eri in the Bay of Is­lands.

A man of many tal­ents, he’s had a var­ied ca­reer. Over years he’s worked in in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing, house de­mo­li­tion, fenc­ing and farm­ing, and has been a post­man, far­rier, bread ven­dor, steve­dore and a house builder. At 6’4” he has also played semipro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball in Europe.

“I came to skip­per Man­i­tou through the friend­ship with Phil Jor­dan, born a Kiwi and one of the orig­i­nal own­ers of the boat. It was he who ac­tu­ally found the boat on the east coast of the States and then man­aged her ren­o­va­tion at Zah­niser’s yard in Solomons, Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.”

Man­i­tou has been based in Cannes for eight years and sail­ing her, he says, is a glo­ri­ous ex­pe­ri­ence. “Apart from the ob­vi­ous his­tory, I de­rive great plea­sure from the fact she’s a S&S. I don’t think Olin Stephens ever drew an ugly boat and sail­ing a S&S is al­ways a thrill.”

The yacht made her Mediter­ranean rac­ing de­but at the Les

Ré­gates Royales de Cannes in 2011. Four years later, she won the Vin­tage tro­phy in the Pan­erai Clas­sic Yachts Chal­lenge. She com­petes an­nu­ally at the Cannes Royal Re­gatta in September.

This re­gatta was con­ceived in 1929 by the In­ter­na­tional Yacht Club de Cannes (founded in 1859) to pay trib­ute to King Chris­tian X of Den­mark and, af­ter floun­der­ing for a few ears, was re­vived in 1978. The Cote d’azur hosts 200 clas­sic boats rac­ing around the Bay of Cannes and Iles de Lérins. The Trophee Pan­erai is the most cov­eted prize.

Sail­ing Man­i­tou, says Robinson, is tricky, largely be­cause there are no self-tail­ing winches. “Find­ing up to 14 suit­ably ex­pe­ri­enced crew is al­ways dif­fi­cult. Some yachts are en­tirely crewed by ‘pro­fes­sional crew’ – oth­ers are 50/50. On Man­i­tou we liked ‘friends-of-friends’ or one de­gree of sepa­ra­tion.

“Most crew can make one or two re­gat­tas a year but there are four Pan­erai and one Rolex events. There have been up to seven­teen re­gat­tas in the Mediter­ranean dur­ing the sea­son – it’s dif­fi­cult to do them all. There’s al­ways a lot in­ter­est – but not al­ways the com­mit­ment. ” BNZ

BE­LOW A thing of beauty un­der sail.

RIGHT Man­i­tou re­ceived a full restora­tion at Zah­niser’s boat­yard in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

LEFT The ir­re­press­ible Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe is said to have used the yacht’s sunken bath tub.

ABOVE Kennedy was a born sailor, but only got to race Man­i­tou once. And even then the race was cut short by the body­guards.

TOP Sail­ing Man­i­tou can be tricky be­cause there are no self-tail­ing winches.

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