USS Constitution

The world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat is no longer afloat after entering dry dock May 19 for a planned multi-year restoration. USS Constitution, eased into historic Dry Dock 1 at Charlestown Navy Yard Boston National Historical Park with the help and coordination of a large team of stakeholders including the ship’s crew, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Maintenance Detachment Boston, USS Constitution Museum, and the National Park Service.

USS Constitution enters Dry Dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard to commence a multi-year planned restoration period (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew R. Fairchild/Released)
USS Constitution enters Dry Dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard to commence a multi-year planned restoration period (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew R. Fairchild/Released)

«We couldn’t have asked for better weather or better support from the dedicated team of professionals who helped with the docking», said Commander Sean Kearns, USS Constitution’s 73rd commanding officer. «We are now positioned to carry out the restoration work which will return Constitution to the water preserving her for the next generation of Americans to enjoy and learn about our nation’s great naval heritage».

Since entering service in the U.S. Navy on October 21, 1797, USS Constitution, undefeated in combat, remains a commissioned U.S. Navy warship. However, since 1907, the ship has been on display opening her decks to the public. According to Naval History and Heritage Command Director Sam Cox, that mission is an important one.

«Her mission today is to preserve and promote U.S. Navy heritage by sharing the history of ‘Old Ironsides’ and the stories of the men and women who have faithfully served with distinction on the warship’s decks for 217 years. When a visitor sets foot on the deck of USS Constitution, he or she is making contact with the beginnings of the U.S. Navy, a navy that has kept the sea lanes free for more than 200 years. Keeping her ready to do so is incredibly important», said Cox.

«Constitution was the product of unique American ingenuity», Cox continued. «At a time when the U.S. Navy was outnumbered by the great European navies, Constitution was designed to outgun anything she couldn’t outrun, and outrun anything she couldn’t out-gun. Coupled with great captains and well-trained and disciplined Sailors, that is why she was undefeated».

According to Vice Admiral William Hilarides, the commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), which oversees the development, delivery and maintenance of the Navy’s ships, the 217-year-old Constitution is a stark reminder of the importance of sound ship design, construction and maintenance.

«The Navy’s strength comes from its Sailors who must be equipped with ships and tools that make it possible for them to successfully sail into harm’s way, and then return safely home to their families», said Hilarides. «When you look at what was cutting edge Naval technology in the late 18th century, you can see Constitution’s crews were equipped with the best tools in the world which enabled them to achieve such a remarkable record of success in combat. It’s a tradition of design, construction and maintenance excellence that continues in America’s shipyards today».

Still, Hilarides said, like any of the Navy’s other nearly 300 commissioned warships, USS Constitution must be maintained to carry out its vital mission.

Constitution enters Dry Dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Kinney/Released)
Constitution enters Dry Dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Kinney/Released)

This restoration will last more than two years and marks the first time Constitution will have been dry docked since 1992. The work of this restoration will include:

  • replacing lower hull planking and caulking;
  • removing the 1995 copper sheathing and replacing it with 3,400 sheets of new copper that will protect the ship’s hull below the waterline;
  • replacement of select deck beams;
  • on-going preservation and repair of the ship’s rigging, upper masts, and yards.

The estimated cost of the restoration is expected to be $12 million to $15 million and is part of the ongoing care and maintenance the ship receives. It will be a complex work package and among those completing it, is a cadre of craftsmen from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Maintenance Detachment Boston who have the delicate job of melding new tools and technology into an endeavor that often requires extensive, knowledge of 18th century shipbuilding techniques.

«We do work with modern tools but we still use some of the old methods; the hull planks are still pinned through the deck but we use hydraulics and pneumatics to pull them out», said Detachment Boston’s director, Richard Moore, who says the restoration will require specialized talents. «Back in the day if someone went down, they had someone to replace them. It’s not so easy nowadays to replace a person with someone who is up to speed and knows what they are doing».

Still he believes his team is up to the challenge and he knows they are excited to be a part of the historic restoration.

«They realize the undertaking they are on. I emphasize it all the time, that this is, in my words, ‘a big deal.’ They all know how important it is, they are all proud to work on this vessel, they take such great care and their workmanship is great. I am very proud to work here and so are they».

Beginning June 9, Constitution will reopen to the public and remain open throughout the restoration with tours scheduled:

  • Tuesday through Friday from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m.;
  • Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. (closed Mondays).

Visitors will see something remarkable – an active shipyard with craftspeople including, blacksmiths, wood workers and others, working to make sure USS Constitution remains ship shape for future generations.

This is Constitution's first time in dry dock since its 1992-1996 restoration (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew R. Fairchild/Released)
This is Constitution’s first time in dry dock since its 1992-1996 restoration (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew R. Fairchild/Released)

 

General Characteristics

Builder Colonel George Claghorn, Edmond Harrt’s Shipyard, Boston, Massachusetts
Date Deployed October 21, 1797
Unit Cost $302,718 (1797 dollars)
Propulsion 42,710 feet2/3,968 m2 of sail on three masts
Length 204 feet/62.16 m (billet head to taffrail)
175 feet/53.32 m at waterline
Mast height Foremast, 198 feet/60.33 m
Mainmast, 220 feet/67.03 m
Mizzenmast, 172.5 feet/52.56 m
Beam 43.5 feet/13.25 m
Displacement 2,200 tons
Speed 13+ knots/15 mph, 24 km/h
Crew 450 including 55 Marines and 30 boys (1797)
Armament 32 24-pounder/11-kg long guns
20 32-pounder/14.5-kg carronades
Two 24-pounder/11-kg bow chasers
Landing/Attack Craft One 36-feet/11-meter long boat
Two 30-feet/9-meter cutters, two 28-feet/8.5-meter whaleboats
One 28-feet/8.5-meter gig
One 22-feet/6.7-meter jolly boat
One 14-feet/4.3-meter punt
Anchors Two main bowers (5,300 lbs/2,404 kg)
One sheet anchor (5,400 lbs/2,449 kg)
One stream anchor (1,100 lbs/499 kg)
Two kedge anchors (400 to 700 lbs/ 181 to 318 kg)
Homeport Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts

 

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