JFK yacht cruising in to help veterans

The Honey Fitz yacht once owned by John F. Kennedy, now owned by William Kallop, will be in Charleston over Memorial Day weekend to help raise money for two local charities.

John F. Kennedy's former presidential yacht, now owned by a Texas oilman, will be used to raise funds for an effort to house homeless veterans in North Charleston, when the boat is in Charleston on Memorial Day weekend.

The connection made between the famous yacht based in Florida and a little-known North Charleston organization is one of those events that illustrates how the Internet can quickly distribute information far and wide. A Post and Courier article about the group, Heroes Haven made its way to people in the Presidential Yacht Honey Fitz organization, which was looking for charities to partner with during an East Coast tour.

William Kallop, the founder of an oil-drilling company and a yacht aficionado, bought JFK's former presidential yacht, the Honey Fitz, at auction in 1998 for just under $6 million and recently finished having it restored.

The wooden yacht, built in 1931, was used by a number of presidents, and Kennedy named it the Honey Fitz to honor his grandfather.

The Palm Beach Post reported that the Honey Fitz will be used to raise money for charities in 14 cities during its tour up the coast. The boat also is offered for private charters that can cost $5,000 for four hours, the Florida newspaper reported.

In Charleston, the Honey Fitz is expected over Memorial Day weekend, with fund raising excursions planned for Heroes Haven and another local nonprofit, Carolina Children's Charity, which awards financial grants to Lowcountry children with birth defects or childhood diseases.

North Charleston City Councilman Ed Astle, a Navy veteran who is chairman of the Heroes Haven board, said he was contacted by Francis Pavlov, the Honey Fitz's director of charter sales, who had read a commentary article by Astle's fellow council member Ron Brinson, a member of the Heroes Haven advisory board.

“He offered us the yacht for fundraising and our only cost is the catering,” Astle said.

That's a big deal for Heroes Haven, because the group only has about $2,000 in the bank and has not yet received nonprofit certification from the Internal Revenue Service — meaning that donors can't take a tax deduction for their contributions.

Astle said they'll be able to offer charter cruise rides to about 120 people, half on the morning of May 25 for $100 a head, and half in the evening for $500 each. And that could give the group a real financial boost.

Heroes Haven's goal is to create a community of homes for formerly homeless veterans, modeled after a project completed in Pittsfield, Mass., by a group called Soldier On. It's a project that could cost $6 million or more, Astle estimates.

Unlike transitional housing, where homeless people can live temporarily, the Soldier On project put veterans in housing where they have an ownership stake and part of their rent goes toward buying the homes.

“We're going to be a community, a neighborhood, of people who have shared experiences,” Astle said. “We want (formerly homeless veterans) together, for that mutual support.”

North Charleston has pledged a $5,000 sponsorship toward the yacht fundraiser. Astle and Councilman Bob King are members of the Heroes Haven board, and Charleston School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn-Coats is the unpaid executive director of the group.

“It's a great opportunity to move forward with a project Ed has been involved in to provide housing, for ownership, for homeless veterans,” said Mayor Keith Summey, who proposed the $5,000 city contribution.

Pavlov declined to be interviewed but provided a photograph of the Honey Fitz and this statement: “The Presidential Yacht Honey Fitz organization are proud to support the Heroes Haven charity and their dedicated efforts in helping homeless American veterans and their families in Charleston. Please support our Veterans.”

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.