The USS Constitution on Tuesday entered into dry dock at the Charlestown Navy Yard Boston National Historical Park for a planned multi-year, multi-million dollar restoration.
USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, entering service for the U.S. Navy on October 21, 1797. Since 1907, however, the ship has been on public display as a way to preserve U.S. naval history.
“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” says Naval History and Heritage Command Director Sam Cox. “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.”
The restoration, expected to cost between $12 million to $15 million, will last more than two years and marks the first time Constitution has been out of water since 1992.
The scope of work 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; and on-going preservation and repair of the ship’s rigging, upper masts, and yards.
“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 Det. 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’re doing.”
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.”
While in dry dock, the ship will still remain open to public.
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All photos courtesy U.S. Navy