While historians and the public often focus on the white and live oak hull structure of USS Constitution, one should not forget that the whole of the ship is constructed from wood and therefore subject to decay. Masts, yards, and fighting tops must be repaired and replaced on a regular basis.
Work on USS Constitution’s main mast (first outlined in the May 2023 article “USS Constitution’s Main Mast Rig Repairs”) has continued apace by the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Detachment Boston riggers and ship restorers. In March 2023, the last and biggest of the mast’s yards was removed. The main top mast, which will be replaced, the upper standing rigging, and the shrouds of the lower mast were all removed between April and early June 2023.
Weighing 10,000 pounds and 21 feet wide and 15 feet 4 inches deep, the main top is too big to fit inside the Detachment Boston’s shop in Building 24 in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Instead, the top is being worked on while stored under a large, rigid tent in front of the building. The rotten decking was removed, revealing the cross and trestle trees which are the main supporting structure for the top. The main top was manufactured by the Detachment Boston in 2001 and repaired in 2008-2010. The laminated white oak cross and trestle trees are in very good condition, shielded from snow and rain by the decked-over top. The Detachment Boston ship restorers will make minor repairs to the cross and trestle trees and install new top decking and railing.
The work on USS Constitution’s main mast fighting top, top mast, and rigging will continue for the rest of 2023 and into the early months of 2024.
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.
Questions or comments? Contact the USS Constitution Museum's Curatorial Department at email@example.com