One of the world's oldest commissioned warships has entered dry dock for a planned multiyear restoration, the U.S. Navy reports.
On May 19, USS Constitution eased into 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.
"We couldn't have asked for better weather or better support from the dedicated team of professionals who helped with the docking," said Cmdr. Sean Kearns, USS Constitution's 73rd commanding officer. "We're 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 Oct. 21, 1797, 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 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, Constitution must be maintained to carry out its vital mission.
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 and ongoing 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 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."
Still he believes his team is up to the challenge and he knows they're excited to be a part of the historic restoration.
"They realize the undertaking they're on. I emphasize it all the time, that this is, in my words, 'a big deal.' They all know how important it is, they're all proud to work on this vessel, they take such great care and their workmanship is great. I'm 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 scheduled tours.