USS Constitution, America’s Ship of State, successfully undocked the night of July 23, 2017. Under a partially cloudy sky and then the glow of an orange-tinged sunset, the filling of Dry Dock 1 began at 4:05 p.m. The process of re-floating “Old Ironsides” after the 26-month dry docking was underway.

USS Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard’s Dry Dock 1 in the early stages of the filling of the dock. [Photo by Michael Blanchard]
Four of the valves are open in the caisson, admitting thousands of gallons of water from Boston Harbor. Dry Dock 1 can hold up to 4.8 millions of gallons of water today. [Photo by Michael Blanchard]

The time-lapse video below provides several perspectives on USS Constitution, the filling of Dry Dock 1, and the removal of the ship from the dock.

 

 

As the later afternoon wore on and into the early evening, the water in the dock continued to rise. Preparations for the undocking continued by the staffs of the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston, the crew of USS Constitution, and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

 

As the sun began to set in the Charlestown Navy Yard, the various personnel involved in the docking waited for their signals to man their stations either on the ship or shoreside. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Around 7:30 p.m., the height of the water in Dry Dock 1 had equalized with the height of the water in Boston Harbor. From this time onward, the water in both the Harbor and the dock would continue to rise with the incoming highest tide of the summer. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

A select group of people boarded the ship for the undocking, including: USS Constitution Commanding Officer CDR Robert Gerosa, USS Constitution crew members, NHHC Detachment Boston staff, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard staff, several former “Old Ironsides” commanding officers, and Director of the Naval History & Heritage Command RADM Samuel Cox, USN (Ret.).

 

At 9:00 p.m. the personnel brow (gangway) was removed from USS Constitution’s starboard waist. [Courtesy USS Constitution Museum]
Throughout the afternoon and well into the late night, hundreds of spectators visited the Charlestown Navy Yard to watch the undocking and to visit the USS Constitution Museum, which remained open until midnight for visitors.

Hundreds of spectators visited the Charlestown Navy Yard and the USS Constitution Museum to witness the undocking. [Photo by Michael Blanchard]

This fish-eye lens view from the third floor of the USS Constitution Museum shows the visitors and Constitution just before the caisson was removed from the dry dock. [Courtesy National Park Service. Photo by Matt Teuten]
The caisson, which is held in place with a combination of ballast water and the pressure of Boston Harbor, began to be de-ballasted around 9:30 p.m. As the tide continued to flood the dock, Constitution lifted off her keel blocks around 9:50 p.m. “Old Ironsides” was afloat!

 

All supports underneath and alongside the ship were removed, thereby ensuring that Constitution‘s out haul from the dock would be unobstructed. At 10:45 p.m. the emptied and floating caisson was completely removed from the entrance of the dry dock. A little after 11:00 p.m., the NHHC Detachment Boston’s beaver boat picked up the out-haul line that was attached to Constitution‘s stern bridle and began the slow tugging of the ship from the dock.

The Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston’s beaver boat, a small but extremely powerful tug, pulled Constitution from Dry Dock 1. Here you can see Constitution’s stern just crossing the sill (threshold) of the dock as she exits into Boston Harbor. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/James Almeida]
USS Constitution’s bow is seen just crossing the sill (threshold) of Dry Dock 1. Her exit from the dock is nearly complete. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/James Almeida]

Below is another time-lapse video by Greg M. Cooper Photography of the flooding and undocking sequence from the head of Dry Dock 1.

 

 

Congratulations to the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston, the officers and crew of USS Constitution, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for successfully undocking “Old Ironsides” at the end of her first 21st century dry docking!

– M. M. Desy

 

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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.

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USS Constitution Museum
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