Over the past few weeks work has begun on USS Constitution‘s cutwater, which is the projecting curve from the ship’s bow. The cutwater is formed by assembling several pieces of large timbers and its purpose is to open the column of water as the ship sails along. This is one of the first major projects of the 2015-2017 restoration.
Constitution‘s decorative elements, including the carved trailboards, were the first to be removed. This exposed the structure of the cutwater. Behind the trailboards are the iron straps that lend support to the bowsprit’s bobstays (the black ropes visible in the upper left of the above photo). Also revealed were portions of the cutwater that had rotted since the 1964 partial rebuild.
The cutwater sketch below is based on a 1927 restoration plan. In that restoration the cutwater was completely replaced with live oak. In the past 88 years, pieces of the cutwater have been selectively restored. The cutwater plan, as now drawn, shows the ten interconnected sections and how they are assembled. In the current restoration, the ship restorers found that a good portion of the 1927 live oak structure is still in good condition. Detachment Boston staff will fully assess the cutwater to decide how many pieces need to be replaced.
The photos below show Constitution‘s cutwater through different rebuilds and restorations from the late 19th into the mid-20th century.
When the 2015-2017 restoration is concluded, Constitution‘s cutwater, with new white oak pieces, will look exactly like it did in this 2010 photo.
Margherita M. Desy
Historian, Naval History & Heritage Command
Margherita M. Desy is the Historian for USS Constitution at Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston.
Manager of Curatorial Affairs, USS Constitution Museum
Kate Monea is the Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the USS Constitution Museum.