By Paul M. Sparrow, Director
with Reagan Brown, intern
80 years ago, on July 29th 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Campobello Island for the next to last time. It was a short visit, just two days, and it was only the second time he had returned since he came down with polio there in 1921. He had sailed up the coast of Maine with three of his sons, James, John and Franklin Jr. aboard a 56 foot schooner the Sewanna. This would be the last cruise FDR would take as the skipper of a small sailing ship, and as he cruised lazily off the coast, he was followed by the USS Hopkins, a Navy Destroyer, the Presidential Yacht the Potomac and the Liberty, a 114 foot sailboat filled with reporters and photographers.
Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada is one of those amazingly beautiful places where the wealthy elite of the 19th century went to escape the summer heat in an era before air-conditioning. Located just across the Lubec Narrows from the northernmost point on the coast of Maine, it is a sailor’s paradise. And Franklin Roosevelt navigated the riptides, narrow channels and rocky coastline of the Bay of Fundy, Passamaquoddy Bay and the Quoddy Narrows with a skill that impressed even the most jaded old Canadian salt.
James Roosevelt built a 15 room “cottage” there in 1885 and the family summered there almost every year. Franklin visited the island 31 times, and it was here that he first showed the symptoms of polio that would define the rest of his life. But more importantly it was here that he honed his skills as a sailor, and a skipper, and learned many of the leadership skills that would serve him so well in the White House. Robert Cross in his brilliant book ‘Sailor in the White House” describes it this way:
“Roosevelt carried his sailor instincts unto the White House, the halls of Congress were fraught with hidden dangers and pitfalls, just as were the waters along New England’s treacherous coastline. He always was willing to alter his plans or make compromises in order to reach his goal, whether that goal was to reach landfall or to get a piece of important legislation through Congress, Franklin Roosevelt was a consummate sailor-politician. “