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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorers remove the decorative trim from the cutwater on Constitution‘s port bow in July 2015. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Port side of the cutwater showing wedges used to help remove decorative trim. Rotted sections of the cutwater are visible above. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Cutwater sketch for the 2015-2017 restoration, reworked from a 1927 restoration plan. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
The photos below show Constitution‘s cutwater through different rebuilds and restorations from the late 19th into the mid-20th century.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Constitution is hauled on the ways  ca. 1875 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Note the exposed cutwater structure and her live oak framing in her hull. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Constitution‘s cutwater was completely rebuilt with live oak ca. 1929 in the Boston Navy Yard. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Constitution was briefly hauled for work below the waterline, including replacing selective copper sheathing and pieces of the cutwater in 1964 in the Boston Navy Yard’s Dry Dock 1. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Constitution‘s cutwater with trailboards and billethead in place in 2010. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

– M. M. Desy & K. Monea

The Author(s)

USS Constitution Museum