Join us on July 23, as we celebrate “Old Ironsides’” much-anticipated return to the water! On that night, Dry Dock 1 will be filled and USS Constitution will float into Boston Harbor after a two year restoration. We invite you to participate in FREE family-friendly activities throughout the Navy Yard and in the USS Constitution Museum to celebrate this historic event!
Can’t make it in person? Get a front row seat to all the action with Facebook Live video streams at 4:00, 6:00, 9:50, and 10:50 pm ET. Or, check out ConstitutionCam for real-time images of the event posted every 5 minutes.
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We are in the final days of USS Constitution‘s first 21st century dry docking. On Sunday, July 23, 2017, at approximately 11:10 p.m., “Old Ironsides” will begin her slow and stately return to Boston Harbor. Before the big event, we thought it appropriate to take one last look at Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard’s Dry Dock 1 and review some of the undocking preparations taking place.
USS Constitution‘s keel, now clad in new copper sheathing, is a sight that we won’t see for another twenty years. The keel turned 222 years old in May, 2017.
Staff and equipment from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, have been on site at the Charlestown Navy Yard for the week prior to Constitution‘s undocking. The Portsmouth Yard provides the docking master who is in charge of the ship while it’s in dry dock. Also from Portsmouth are the hard-hat divers who will be submerged in the dock with cameras to watch the undocking from below. They will notify the docking master when the ship lifts off its keel blocks.
Necessary equipment, including extra high-powered pumps and light towers, have also been brought in for the undocking. The pumps are connected to the de-watering hoses and conduits of Dry Dock 1 and will be used to remove water from the dry dock. Numerous light towers will be positioned around the dry dock to illuminate the night scene as Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorers and riggers, the crew of USS Constitution, and the staff of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard work to safely undock the ship.
In the photograph below, the re-built starboard quarter gallery is visible, along with one of the neon yellow handcarts that are stationed along both sides of Constitution. Each cart is filled with one neon orange line that will be used by line handlers during the undocking. The lines will keep “Old Ironsides” in the correct position as she is refloated and towed out into Boston Harbor.
USS Constitution will be towed out of Dry Dock 1 stern first with the help of a towing bridle, which is attached to her transom on either side of the stern eagle. The orange float at the bottom of the dry dock is linked to the ends of the bridle and will allow the bridle to rise to the surface of the water as the dock floods. The orange line attached to the float will be carried to the tug, where the bridle will be attached to the tug’s out haul line. Once in place, this system of lines will gently pull the ship out of the dry dock.
Once Constitution crosses the sill/threshold of Dry Dock 1, at approximately 11:30 p.m. on July 23rd, and is fully removed from the dock, mooring lines will be shifted so she can be breasted over to Pier 1 East in the Charlestown Navy Yard. This location is usually the berth of USS Cassin Young, the World War II Fletcher-class destroyer that is displayed and interpreted by the National Park Service.
As part of the preparations for undocking Constitution, Cassin Young was moved on the morning of July 17, 2017, to Pier 1 West (just the other side of the pier). The WWII destroyer will be open for visitation in the Charlestown Navy Yard for the rest of the summer at this temporary location.
The 1901 Charlestown Navy Yard-built caisson was also moved in preparation for “Old Ironsides'” undocking. The caisson had been moored just outside of Dry Dock 1 since the installation of the new caisson in April, 2015. After Cassin Young was tied up at Pier 1 West on July 17, the 1901 caisson was tugged over to the WWII destroyer and rafted to the ship’s starboard side. Both Cassin Young and the 1901 caisson will remain in their temporary locations until mid-September, when Constitution will return to her usual berth at Pier 1 West and re-opened to the public.
As USS Constitution‘s 2015-2017 dry docking winds down, the staff of the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston took a moment on July 20th, just three days before the undocking, to have their photograph taken with their ship – “Old Ironsides.” Several of the Detachment’s staff began their careers with Constitution when she was last dry docked during the 1992-1996 restoration. While many things about the ship and the Detachment have changed in over 20 years, the elements that haven’t changed are the craftsmanship, dedication, and talent that each Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston staff member brings to the task at hand.
Congratulations to the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston on a job well done!
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.