USS CONSTITUTION, the oldest commissioned and in-service ship in the U.S. Navy, will set another rich historical marker this July 21 when she cruises under sail for the first time in 116 years.
Veteran newscaster Walter Cronkite is the official commentator of the cruise that will take the newly restored and refitted 200-year-old ship from Boston's outer harbor to a point off the coast of Marblehead.
The ship's 60 officers and crew, supplemented by about 35 Naval reservist and 35 civilians of the U.S. Navy Historical Center detachment in Boston, will take the ship on its five-mile hour-long voyage.
CONSTITUTION will use six sails - flying jib, jib, fore topsail, main topsail, mizzen topsail, and spanker during the cruise. This will compromise roughly 35% of the total possible sail area, or about 12,225 square feet. The ship's total sail area for 36 sails would be 42,710.
Along with the new sails which are constructed of "Oceanus", a synthetic material closely resembling canvas, the ship had to be rerigged. Some eight miles of new running rigging- which is used to handle the sails- was installed, along with about 27 miles of standing rigging which supports the masts. Two hundred and twenty nine blocks or pulleys were also installed.
The cost of the sails and the related equipment had a cost of about $500,000, raised by the "Old Ironsides"
Pennies Campaign, a nationwide fund raising drive led by Commander Robert L. Gillen, USN (Ret), the ship's 59th Commanding Officer, and facilitated by the USS CONSTITUTION Museum. This recent campaign had historical precedence in 1925 when the first "Penny Campaign" was begun among school children nationwide to pay for the ship's four year restoration from 1927-1931. The school children raised $154,000 of the $980,000 restoration
In March of 1996 the ship's most recent restoration- which cost $12 million not including the cost of sails- ended having started July 1992. With this major overhaul the ship has been restored to its most historically accurate configuration. CONSTITUTION was launched on October 21, 1797, just a short stone's throw from its present location, and first put to sea in 1798. She was constructed of timbers felled from Maine to Georgia, armed with cannon cast in Rhode Island, held together by copper fasteners made by Paul Revere and, as such, is truly a national ship!
These Facts were compiled by the USS CONSTITUTION Museum.
More Constitution History
The United States Ship CONSTITUTION
Built in Boston to defend the young American nation, USS CONSTITUTION is nearly as old as the document for which George Washington and Congress named her. Both the document and the ship have proven to be resilient symbols of America's strength, courage, and liberty.
Made of timbers felled from Maine to Georgia and armed with cannons cast in Rhode Island and copper fastenings provided by Paul Revere, the vessel is truly a national ship. Launched in Boston on October 21, 1797, she first put to sea in 1798. Having remained a part of the U.S. Navy since that day, CONSTITUTION is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.
Her first mission, during the late 1790's, was to guard American commerce in the Caribbean against French depredations. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent her to the Mediterranean to protect American ships and seamen from attack by the Barbary pirates. With Captain Edward Preble in command, CONSTITUTION and other ships of the squadron bombarded Tripoli. Thanks to such determination, a treaty of peace was signed in June 1805 between the United States and Tripoli aboard CONSTITUTION.
After returning to the United States, CONSTITUTION was named flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron. In 1810, her new captain, Isaac Hull, took her to sea. Two years later she met and defeated HMS GUERRIERE, the first in a grand succession of victories in the War of 1812. It was during this ferocious battle that the seamen, astonished at how the British cannonballs were bouncing off the Constitution's hull, cried out - "Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!" Hence, her nickname, "Old Ironsides."
When her war service ended in 1815, the battle -scarred CONSTITUTION was laid up for almost six years for extensive repairs, whereupon she went on two cruises to the Mediterranean. In 1830, she was reported unseaworthy and condemned to be broken up.
A poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., entitled "Old Ironsides," aroused such popular feeling that money was appropriated for rebuilding her in 1833. In 1844, under the command of Captain "Mad Jack" Percival, she began an epic around-the-world cruise and became the first American warship to circumnavigate the globe. During the Civil War she was brought to Newport, Rhode Island to serve as a training ship for Naval Academy midshipmen.
In 1882, she was removed from active service and shortly thereafter retired to Portsmouth, New Hampshire Naval Shipyard. In recognition of her centennial, CONSTITUTION was brought back to Boston in 1897. Refitted for display and opened to the public in 1905, she became a national monument.
CONSTITUTION was recommissioned in 1931 for a coast-to-coast tour of
ninety American cities lasting until 1934 when she was returned to her
place of honor in the Boston Harbor at Charlestown Navy Yard. She rests
here today as an enduring symbol of the document for which she is named
and of America's determination to defend the republic she so long protected.