MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass. -- Thirty years ago, young Bill Clinton felt touched by destiny as he elbowed his way to the front row and shook hands with his hero, President John F. Kennedy, at a ceremony in the Rose Garden.
Yesterday, on a gorgeous day here on this island where the Kennedy name still rings with glory, President Clinton and his family went yachting with Mr. Kennedy's widow, his youngest brother and his daughter.
"Hello, welcome to Massachusetts," said an enthusiastic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as he greeted the president aboard the 70-foot yacht, the Relemar.
"Glad to be here," replied Mr. Clinton.
The boat is owned by Maurice Tempelsman, a diamond trader and longtime companion of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Mrs. Onassis, wearing slacks and a red-and-white top, along with her trademark sunglasses and scarf, avoided photographers and about 100 gawkers by waiting below decks.
Airport officials said she had flown from the island when Mr. Clinton and the traveling press corps arrived here Thursday, but it turned out that she was simply waiting to see the president in private.
Mr. Clinton has described previously how meeting Mr. Kennedy when he was 16 was one of the most profound experiences of his life -- and one that made him resolve to go into public life.
But this week, Mr. Clinton's aides said that the president and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wanted to discuss with Mrs. Onassis something more personal and private -- how to protect their daughter, Chelsea, from the glare and unnatural atmosphere of the White House.
Caroline Kennedy, who lived in the White House as a little girl when her father was president, was also on the cruise, along with her husband, Edwin Schlossberg; Mr. Kennedy's wife, Victoria Reggie; Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan; and his wife, Ann.
Mrs. Onassis greeted the Clintons on a second deck, barely visible from the dock, but then joined the entire party on the top deck for a bon voyage drink before departing on the cruise.
As hundreds of islanders and vacationers watched, the party pulled out from the harbor at Menemsha at 12:20 p.m., with reporters and photographers following, accompanied by White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, in a 48-foot boat that was allowed to get close to the Relemar on a couple of occasions to take pictures.
The yacht cruised out of Martha's Vineyard sound into Buzzard's Bay, motoring along a string of islands with exotic sounding names: Cutty Hunk, Nashawena and then off Pasque Island, where they dropped anchor in an isolated cove for three hours to eat lunch.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the boat returned to the dock. Mr. Tempelsman seemed to struggle a bit lining the boat up in its slip, and when he finally did, he received a round of applause from those assembled on the dock as well as the boating party, the president included.
Mr. Kennedy was seen laughing heartily and gesturing broadly about Mr. Tempelsman's parking job.
Although Mr. Clinton has been followed everywhere he goes in his five days on this island by respectful, even adoring crowds, he had to share this crowd.
And the 64-year-old Mrs. Onassis didn't disappoint, showing up at the end of the cruise and somehow looking charming and sophisticated, wearing a baseball cap and her hair in a ponytail.
Asked how he liked the cruise, Mr. Clinton appeared cheerful and gracious -- as he has all week.
"Wonderful," the president replied. "It was beautiful."