The pride of Boston Harbor and right into the age of Supercarriers and guided missile cruisers, the U.S.S. Constitution is still the U.S. Navy’s flagship. And she was guided overnight into the 418-foot Charlestown Navy Yard drydock, the second oldest in the nation, for a two-year restoration and repair, all aimed at lifting her back to her original condition in the glory days of the War of 1812.
A ship’s historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command says they will be relying on old records, journals from the era and a very good 1812 model from the Peabody Essex Museum, made by Constitution sailors of that era.
The three-masted frigate that vanquished four British warships during that 1812 war is far from fragile – her 21-inch oaken hull is what earned her that nickname Old Ironsides – but her drydocking will entail some delicate operations, such as being certain she rests straight and securely on underwater blocks. There will be divers in the 30 feet of water to help insure that.
The drydocking operation involved a tug boat and about 150 dockside civilian workers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It was conducted at extreme high tide beginning at 10:20 p.m. Monday and was expected to take until about 2 a.m. There were some local spectators who’d come out, a couple with American flags, who viewed this as a patriotic event they didn't want to miss – even if it took all night. Meanwhile, they could seek shelter – and knowledge – inside the Constitution Museum, a massive granite building right alongside the drydock. The museum was going to be open all night.
The whole process is costing about 13 million dollars, according to Naval public information representatives. But the nation’s most famous ship – the oldest commissioned warship in the nation – will be more seaworthy and secure and will have 3400 feet of new copper sheeting on her hull, one sheet signed by shipyard visitors.
She’ll be in drydock until September, 2017- but the top deck will still be open to visitors. And the museum has such fun items as an axe used to chop down trees for the original construction.