May 18, 2016 marked the one year anniversary of USS Constitution entering Dry Dock 1 of the Charlestown Navy Yard for restoration. “Old Ironsides” was the first ship to enter this historic dry dock on June 24, 1833. The ship will remain in dry dock until the current restoration is completed in late summer 2017.
Months of preparatory work by the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorers and riggers came to fruition when the dry dock was flooded and the caisson removed on May 17, 2015 for Constitution‘s entry on May 18.
On the night of May 18, 2015, spectators and national and international media gathered in the Charlestown Navy Yard to witness Constitution‘s first dry docking of the 21st century. The USS Constitution Museum remained open throughout the night for the first time in its 40-year history. Photographer Greg M. Cooper captured the events over the two days to create these time-lapse videos. He continues to document the restoration with Constitution Cam, which takes a photograph of the ship in dry dock every 20 minutes and is shared online through the museum’s website.
USS Constitution‘s restoration is moving along smoothly and much has happened since May 2015. Here are highlights of work performed by the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorers and riggers over the past year:
Copper sheathing: Below the waterline, Constitution has always been covered in hundreds of copper sheets. The copper protects the lower hull from the Teredo Navalis, or ship worm, which is capable of destroying a wooden vessel. Much of the 3,200 copper sheets and “Irish” roofing felt installed in 1995 have been removed, exposing the lower hull planking for inspection and repairs to the caulking. Thirty-four hundred new copper sheets will be installed in 2017 at the end of the restoration. Visitors to the USS Constitution Museum are invited to become a part of history and sign their name to these sheets of copper. Since June 2015, approximately 225 sheets of copper have been signed!
Copper pins: Stephen Nichols, blacksmith for the NHHC Detachment Boston, hand made 468 copper pins that will be used to hold protective bronze plates to the forward edge of Constitution‘s cutwater.
Cutwater: Constitution‘s projecting cutwater on her bow had a great deal of rot in its structure. The cutwater was last replaced in its entirety in the 1927 restoration. Large sections of the cutwater will be removed in this restoration and replaced with both solid live oak and laminated white oak pieces.
Hull planking: Since May 2015, 80 hull planks have been replaced on Constitution. Laminated white oak is being used for planking above the waterline and solid white oak, from the trees cut at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Crane, Indiana, is used below the waterline.
Waterways: The gun deck waterways were replaced port and starboard from the bow to the bulkhead at the entrance of the Captain’s Cabin. In the photo below, NHHC Detachment Boston ship restorers Ian Robertson (foreground), Alex Briere (middle), and John Pelikan install a new laminated white oak section of the starboard gun deck waterway.
Stern: Several of Constitution‘s exterior and interior planks on the stern at the spar deck level were replaced with both laminated and solid white oak.
Rigging: During the winter months, the ship’s standing rigging was overhauled and inspected. Beginning in the spring of 2016, some rigging will be re-installed on Constitution, but the majority will not be put back on until 2017. In the photo below, NHHC riggers use a serving board to “serve,” or tightly wrap, lighter yarn around a section of Constitution‘s standing rigging. Serving is normally done to preserve, strengthen, and stiffen sections of standing rigging. Because all of Constitution‘s rigging is synthetic, serving is used primarily to strengthen and stiffen the line.
Stove: The camboose or galley stove was removed last June so that it could be stripped and repainted. On April 14, 2016, the stove, in pieces, was returned to Constitution‘s gun deck, where it was reassembled and is once again on display for visitors to the ship.
Fighting top: The mizzen fighting top was also removed in June, 2015. Repairs were made to the 11′ 4″ x 15′ 9″ platform and on May 5, 2016, it was re-installed. The shrouds will be re-rigged over the next several weeks.
Since the ship entered Dry Dock 1 right outside the USS Constitution Museum’s front doors in May 2015, nearly 500,000 visitors have walked through the museum’s galleries. USS Constitution saw just about 245,000 visitors during that same period, a remarkable feat as visiting hours are by necessity reduced to accommodate the extensive restoration work happening in and around the ship.
For information about visiting the USS Constitution Museum, visit www.usscm.org.
For information about visiting USS Constitution, visit www.navy.mil/local/constitution.
Check back often as we continue to document USS Constitution‘s second year of restoration and share insights into the long history of repairs and preservation that have kept “Old Ironsides” serving the U.S. Navy for four centuries.
The activity that is the subject of this blog article has been financed in part with Federal funds from the National Maritime Heritage Grant program, administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin, Chairman. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of the Interior, or the Massachusetts Historical Commission, nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Department of the Interior, or the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
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.