It is written by sailors that all objects of beauty are called “she”. Especially sailing ships. And the USS Constitution is no exception.
USS Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. Named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States of America, she is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat. Launched in 1797, Constitution was one of six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed. Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be the young Navy’s capital ships, and so Constitution and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed and built than standard frigates of the period. Built in Boston, Massachusetts, at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard, her first duties with the newly formed United States Navy were to provide protection for American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France and to defeat the Barbary pirates in the First Barbary War.
Constitution is most famous for her actions during the War of 1812 against Great Britain, when she captured numerous merchant ships and defeated five British warships: HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane and Levant. The battle with Guerriere earned her the nickname of “Old Ironsides” and public adoration that has repeatedly saved her from scrapping. She continued to actively serve the nation as flagship in the Mediterranean and African squadrons, and circled the world in the 1840s. During the American Civil War she served as a training ship for the United States Naval Academy and carried artwork and industrial displays to the Paris Exposition of 1878. Retired from active service in 1881, she served as a receiving ship until designated a museum ship in 1907. In 1931 she started a three-year, 90-port tour of the nation, and in 1997 she finally sailed again under her own power for her 200th birthday. On August 19, 2012, she sailed again under her own power in Boston Harbor to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her defeat of the Guerriere.
Constitution’s stated mission today is to promote understanding of the Navy’s role in war and peace through educational outreach, historic demonstration, and active participation in public events. As a fully commissioned US Navy ship, her crew of 60 officers and sailors participate in ceremonies, educational programs, and special events while keeping the ship open to visitors year round and providing free tours. The officers and crew are all active-duty US Navy personnel and the assignment is considered special duty in the Navy. Traditionally, command of the vessel is assigned to a Navy Commander. She is berthed at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, at one end of Boston’s Freedom Trail.
She was berthed at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard. Now she is at sea once more. Celebrating her victory over a British ship 200 years ago.
At 215 years old, the USS Constitution is the U.S. Navy’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. But it’s not too old to take a quick sail.
For 17 minutes on Sunday, the ship cruised west across Boston Harbor, reaching a maximum speed of 3.1 knots. It was its first sail under its own power since turning 200 in 1997.
The short trip — a distance of 1,100 yards — was to commemorate the Constitution’s victory over a British warship of a similar size in a fierce battle during the War of 1812. The victory earned the ship its nickname, “Old Ironsides.”
Chief Petty Officer Frank Neely, a Constitution spokesman and crew member, said he was among the 285 lucky people who were aboard on Sunday. It was a warn day with a few clouds, but still perfect for the sail, he said.
“This was really terrific,” Neely said. “It couldn’t have been more memorable.”
The trip marked the day two centuries ago when the Constitution defeated the British frigate HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812. The Guerriere proved no match for the Constitution, which was heavier and longer. The vessels blasted away at each other at close range, even colliding at one point, during the 35-minute battle.
“I cannot think of a better way to honor those who fought in the war as well as celebrate Constitution’s successes during the War of 1812 than for the ship to be under sail,” Constitution Cmdr. Matt Bonner said in a statement.
Following the sail, tugs took the vessel to Fort Independence on nearby Castle Island where a huge crowd had gathered, and the Constitution fired a 21-gun salute, Neely said.
The ship, which was first launched in 1797, is stationed in Charlestown, and periodically is tugged into the harbor for historical display. Its primary mission today is to provide teach people about its history. Each year, about 500,000 people tour the ship, Neely said.
She looks wonderful for a 215 year old lady. Her guns are still workable and she is the oldest commissioned vessel in the world. Wouldn’t you want to be one of the lucky people aboard this wonderful ship?