Navy’s ‘Old Ironsides’ to sail again

BOSTON — The U.S. Navy’s oldest commissioned warship will sail under its own power for just the second time in more than a century to commemorate the battle that won it the nickname “Old Ironsides.”

The USS Constitution, which was first launched in 1797, will be tugged from its berth in Boston Harbor on Sunday to the main deepwater pathway into the harbor. It will then set out to open seas for a 10-minute cruise.

The short trip marks the day two centuries ago when the Constitution bested the British frigate HMS Guerriere in a fierce battle during the War of 1812. It follows a three-year restoration project and is the first time the Constitution has been to sea on its own since its 200th birthday in 1997.

Before that, it hadn’t sailed under its own power since 1881. The Constitution is periodically tugged into the harbor for historical display.

Chief Petty Officer Frank Neely, a Constitution spokesman and crew member, said the crew wants to honor and preserve the Constitution with Sunday’s sail.

“This ship is a national icon to us. … She’s very special to us. We think she’s very special to the United States,” he said.

The Constitution was under the command of Capt. Issac Hull when it engaged the Guerriere off Nova Scotia on Aug. 19, 1812. The young war was not going well for America, which had surrendered Detroit to the British with basically no resistance a week earlier.

But 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. The Constitution’s 24-pound cannonballs felled the Guerriere’s mast, while the British vessels’ 18-pound cannonballs had trouble penetrating the Constitution’s two-foot thick live oak hull, said Matthew Brenckle, a historian at the USS Constitution Museum.

Brenckle said a sailor’s memoirs recorded how one cannonball seemed to slightly penetrate the ship, before dropping into the sea. The sailor then called out the quote that would give the Constitution its nickname, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron! See where the shot fell out!”

It wasn’t the first naval win in what would be a divisive, expensive war, but it set off celebrations around the country, Brenckle said.

“Strategically, it really did nothing to change the course of the war,” he said. “But the morale boost that that provided for the American cause, I think was quite important.”

During Sunday’s sail, the Constitution’s crew of about 65, accompanied by 150 sailors selected to be part of event, will unfurl four of its 36 sails, Neely said. The tugs will stand by as a precaution when the Constitution sails on its own. And the trip can’t happen unless the weather conditions are right.

The ship won’t move in winds less than five mph and anything over about 15 mph would put too much stress on the vessel, Neely said. But the forecast looks favorable.

The lengthy work in preparation for Sunday’s sail was largely on the Constitution’s aesthetics, though the masts were restored, Neely said. The crew also underwent extensive training on how to handle a vessel that’s unlike any other in the U.S. Navy.

“A lot of hours of work went into this one day right here,” Neely said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I broke a couple of tears after this.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

2021 survey results from the State Broadband Survey for Snohomish County. (Washington State Department of Commerce)
$16M grant to speed up broadband to north Snohomish County

In Darrington and elsewhere, rural residents have struggled to work remotely during the pandemic. A new project aims to help.

Christa Meyer, residential physical therapist in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, plays Wordle daily. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
What in the world is Wordle? It’s an online game C-R-A-Z-E

Solving the daily five-letter brain teaser in six tries is the latest social media obsession.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Everett in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Woman’s foot burned in south Everett apartment fire

Everyone escaped the fire that scorched a third-floor unit Monday night.

Police: Everett man left family member with life-threatening injuries

An Everett man, 23, was in jail on $100,000 bail after being accused of confronting women and attacking a relative.

Michelle Roth is a registered nurse in the Providence Emergency Department on Sunday, January 23, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Nurses face burnout as hospital staffing shortage continues

‘It feels like there has been a mass exodus in the last two to three months.’

Branden McKinnon (Family photo)
Lawsuit blames mother’s unsecured gun for Marysville boy’s death

Branden McKinnon, 12, got hold of a gun belonging to his mother, a Department of Corrections lieutenant. His father is suing.

A chair lift sits idle on Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
A blizzard of Stevens Pass complaints hits the AG’s office

The ski resort’s new manager says he’s working to address frustrations about lines and closures.

A SWAT team responds during an 8-hour standoff between police and a man brandishing a knife at a home in south Edmonds on Sunday night. (Edmonds Police Department)
9-hour Edmonds standoff with knife-wielding man ends in arrest

The man reportedly threatened to kill his family. Police spent hours trying to get him to come outside.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
‘White saviorhood’: Mukilteo schools end ‘Mockingbird’ requirement

The book is not banned in the school district. The last book brought before the school board was by Maya Angelou.

Most Read