OAKLAND -- The USS Potomac, a National Historic Landmark docked at Jack London Square for the past 15 years, has lost half of its operating income during the past two years and could be in danger of closing, the executive director said this week.

Since it opened to the public in 1995, more than 250,000 people have toured and sailed aboard the 165-foot ship that was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidential yacht until his death in 1945. In addition to cruises on the bay, thousands of school children have come aboard for educational programs.

"Literally hundreds of thousands of people have been on our ship, and we are hoping that they will remember the wonderful experience they had on board when they know we need help," said Executive Director Marti Burchell.

The Port of Oakland donates the berth and maintenance yard to the USS Potomac Association and until two years ago also kicked in about half of the annual $120,000 that goes to maintenance, insurance and other necessities, said Burchell.

"The port still does well by us within the parameters of what they can," Burchell said. "We anticipated that we would be able to make up the lost revenue with receipts from normal operations and charitable contributions," she said.

That didn't happen.

"The result is that we have almost completely exhausted our rainy day reserves (about $250,000)" she said.

That money, she said, will be gone at the end of April, and so far a massive fundraising drive has only brought in about $14,000.


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"We have several options available to us, but if one or two of those options don't come into play, there will be the danger of having to close our doors," Burchell said.

Burchell said she and a part-time shipkeeper are the only paid staff and may have to convert to at least part-time volunteers if money isn't raised.

"We are pursuing a lot of different things," she said. "Our volunteers have already expressed an interest to step up and run the organization on a volunteer basis, and I'm working with them to create a business plan for that."

What's more, the association sent a letter via e-mail to 2,700 past supporters and the ship's 112 volunteers, asking each person to pass the letter to his or her own network.

One of those volunteers is 63-year-old Walnut Creek resident Virginia Rapp who has given her time to the ship for three years. "I love the people, and I love the atmosphere. Everybody just rolls up their sleeves and does what needs to get done. I love the educational part, taking fifth-graders out on the water after they study this era in history is great," Rapp said.

Tom Howard, 60, of Danville, has been volunteering there for six years.

"The historical importance of the vessel, the camaraderie between the crew and the docents, the history and knowledge, there is no other venue that I know of on the San Francisco Bay that offers what this organization does."