Yacht Charters & Destinations » Saving the U.S.S Williamsburg

Saving the U.S.S Williamsburg

david seal 140 x 210

The Motor Yacht “Aras” was built in 1930 for the wood-pulp millionaire Hugh J. Chisholm. It’s surprising how many of the world’s wealthiest individuals purchased large Motor Yachts all those years ago.  The super yacht industry is not a new phenomenon, and Chisholm was the Abramovich of his age.

Chisholm enjoyed using the “Aras” for over a decade, but by 1941 war was raging in Europe and the US Navy acquired “Aras” and sent her to Brooklyn, New York, where she was fitted out as a gun boat and renamed the “Williamsburg”.

Upon completion she was repositioned to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the day after she arrived the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.

America had joined the war, and so had the U.S.S. “Williamsburg”.

Williamsburg GunBoat

(U.S.S. “Williamsburg” at the New York Navy yard, a few days after being fitted out as a gun boat.)

The many missions of the “Williamsburg” are well catalogued, from protecting supply vessels in Iceland to navigating through horrendous storms without radar to rendezvous with the U.S. Merchant Vessel “Medina”. 

Having served for most of the war in Northern Europe and the seas off Iceland it was decided that she would later be of more use in the Pacific where combat with the Japanese was intensifying. On 10th July 1945 she entered the Norfolk Navy yard to be converted to an amphibious force flagship. Just one month later, on August 15th, Japan surrendered to the Allied forces following the bombing of Nagasaki. Work on the U.S.S. “Williamsburg” was stopped.

The U.S.S. Williamsburg, about three weeks after becoming the Presidential Yacht

(The U.S.S. Williamsburg, about three weeks after becoming the Presidential Yacht)

By now the “Williamsburg” was a war veteran and still in very good working order. Her reputation, quality, and reliability were such that once again she underwent a refit, but this time to replace the “Potomac” as the Presidential Yacht for Harry S. Truman.

By all accounts Truman was an avid yachtsman, and spent as much time as he could on board the “Williamsburg”. He enjoyed vacations on board, invited prominent politicians of the day for conferences, and the yacht soon became known as the “floating White House”. It is reported that the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the creation of a state of Israel were all discussed on board the yacht during this significant period of history.

truman and churchill
(Truman greets Churchill on board the “Williamsburg”)

In 1952 Truman’s time at the White House came to an end, and he was replaced by the Republican Dwight Eisenhower in what was recorded as a landslide election.

It appears that Eisenhower did not share Truman’s love of yachting any more than he did his policies, and his first cruise on board the “Williamsburg” in 1953 proved to also be his last. He decommissioned the Presidential Yacht and returned her to the Navy, where she was struck from the list in 1962.

The years that followed certainly lack the glory and history that had enriched the yacht’s previous life. She was used as a marine research vessel, and worked for many years in the Indian Ocean and the Southeastern Pacific. Eventually, following a series of clumsy mishaps involving a sinking dry dock and grounding on a mud bank, the “Williamsburg” drifted into ignominy until she was sent to Italy in a failed attempt to refit her as a cruise ship.

williamsburg wreck

(Recent photo of the U.S.S. “Williamsburg” in La Spezia, Italy)

Today the U.S.S. “Williamsburg” lies abandoned and rusting outside a shipyard in La Spezia, on the north west coast of Italy.  Reports indicate that the former owner became bankrupt and the shipyard that was commissioned to refit her took possession of the vessel. In 1993 she was sent to La Spezia for scrapping, but an appeal to the Italian government gave her a stay of execution.

Many efforts have been made to find buyers for the “Williamsburg”. There is a U.S.S. Williamsburg Preservation Society in the United States, but beyond a small unused Facebook page they do not appear to have made any real proactive efforts to find a solution to the problem. In a similar manner a small U.S. based yacht brokerage was commissioned to sell the vessel for a while, but my research indicates that the brokerage has no significant presence in the yachting industry, not even so much as a current website.

Surveys indicate that the U.S.S. “Williamsburg” may have as little as three years left before the corrosion becomes so bad she can no longer be saved.

Motor Yacht "Aras"

(Motor Yacht Arras)

David Seal worked for the Ferretti Group in Italy for a decade, eventually becoming Factory Sales Manager for the Custom Line brand. After a short time managing a boutique yacht brokerage he is now a yacht broker with Camper & Nicholsons International. His successful use of videos in yacht marketing led him to becoming co-founder of the video production company MokaBox, that specialises in converting newsletters into video format. David's Yachts For Sale Blog can be found at yachtsforsaleblog.com  

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