JFK’s yacht getting makeover

RIVIERA BEACH — The Honey Fitz, a former presidential yacht, has called many ports home, but this elegant boat, constructed in 1931 and later adored by President John F. Kennedy, is sitting on dry land as craftsmen try to return it to its former glory.

Over 30 metal supports are holding the ship in place, while James Moores and his crew try to realign the hull and replace much of the underside of the 93-foot yacht, which served five American presidents.

“This boat has been cut up so much over the years, it’s like: ‘What was this boat like?’” Moores said. The yacht is undergoing repairs at his Riviera Beach shop. “It’s a beautiful boat, though.”

In a June 1932 article in Yachting magazine — written before the boat became a presidential vessel or was renamed Honey Fitz — the Lenore II was labeled a “characteristically American” vehicle, because of its ability to travel for extended distances and reach 24 mph.

“She is the busy man’s yacht, able to lop off the miles in short order — a fast cruiser in which to go places in hours snatched at week-ends and on short vacations,” reads the article by Reginald Crowly.

The Lenore II was commissioned by Sewell Avery, a wealthy businessman, but when World War II broke out the ship was commandeered by the United States and equipped with larger engines, gun turrets and rocket launchers.

After the war, President Harry Truman and subsequent presidents used the ship as a transport vessel until Richard Nixon decided it was an extravagance in April 1970 and put it up for sale.

But it was Kennedy who made the boat famous, renaming it after his grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, known to many as “Honey Fitz.”

Kennedy and his family would spend time basking on the boat’s deck, enjoying their time atop the yacht that was considered too small to hold members of the Secret Service, according to documents from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

William Kallop, a businessman who keeps the boat docked in Florida, now owns the boat.

Kallop originally commissioned Moores and his team to fix a section of the boat’s hull, but the project has since expanded into a large-scale restoration effort.

Before they began to restore the yacht’s underside, it was “all lumpy and it was disfigured,” Moores said.

The vessel, which sold at auction in 1998 for $5.9 million, is undergoing serious repairs.

Much of the aft side of the yacht remains exposed, revealing the metal pipes and wires. They realigned the hull, twisting it about 15 degrees, Moores said.

Workers are trying to strike a balance between restoring the ship to its specifications when it was a presidential vessel and ensuring its long-term durability.

The crew is using strategies — such as laminating the wood panels so they fit tightly together — that had not been developed at the time of the yacht’s construction, Moores said.

But the modern technology won’t be noticeable to the naked eye, he said.

“If I didn’t tell you that, you wouldn’t know that,” he said.

Moores, who contacted presidential libraries in his quest to learn everything he could about the history of the boat, was able to obtain the original blueprints from Bowling Green State University.

“These boats are disappearing at such a rapid rate and once they’re gone, they’re not going to come back,” Moores said.

“We’re losing our maritime history.”

Moores, who said he has worked on over 100 restoration projects, called this project “the pinnacle point” in his career.