USS Constitution Sets Sail, Marblehead Harbor MA, July 1997

The following history was published in the Boston Globe:

  • 1794-1797 Under construction at Hartt’s Shipyard, Boston
  • 1798 Oct 21 Launched after 2 failed attempts when the ship refused to slide down the ramp
  • 1803-1806 Flagship, Mediterranean squadron, Tripolian War.
  • 1812 June 18. War declared against Great Britain Aug 19. Captures frigate Gueriere Dec 29. Captures frigate Java, and five smaller vessels
  • 1814 Feb-Apr: Captures Picton, and three smaller vessels April 13: Escapes into Marblehead from two larger frigates. Blockaded Boston for eight months.
  • 1815 Feb 20: Captures Cyane and Levant, its last fight of the war.
  • 1815-1821 Laid up at US Navy Yard, Boston. Repaired
  • 1821-1828 Flagship, Mediterranean squadron.
  • 1828-1830 Laid up in Boston. Condemned by naval commissioners. Saved by poem of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
  • 1855-1860 Laid up at the US Navy Yard, Portsmouth, NH, until reconditioned as a s school ship.
  • 1860-1871 School ship for midshipman at Annapolis, MD. and Newport, RI during Civil War
  • 1878-1879 Last cruise in foreign waters. Carried to Harve, France, US exhibits for Paris Exhibition.
  • 1879-1881 Training Ship. The ship’s last sail was from Newport, RI to New London, CT.
  • 1882-1897 Laid up at the US Navy Yard, Portsmouth, NH serving part f the time as a receiving ship.
  • 1897 Oct 21: Arrived at Navy Yard, Boston, for celebration of her 100th birthday
  • 1897-1900 Permanently on exhibition at the US Navy Yard, Boston.
  • 1900 Feb 14: Repairs authorized by Congress. Money to be donated.
  • 1905 Navy recommends using decaying hull for target. Popular sentiment aroused to prevent this.
  • 1906 Congress votes $100,000 for repairs and restoration.
  • 1909-1925 On exhibition at the US Navy Yard, Boston.
  • 1925-1927 Campaign for funds which included “Pennies Campaign” of school children.
  • 1931-1934 Coast-to-coast tug assisted cruise to thank the country for its restoration.
  • 1973-1976 Ship refurbished in time to lead Tall ship parade.
  • 1992 Sept 25: $12 million restoration begins.
  • 1995 Sept 26: Ship undocked and work begins on sails.
  • 1997 July 21: Sails for first time in 116 years of Marblehead harbor.

Sun July 20, Marblehead Harbor MA

I had the opportunity to sail with the Yankee Fleet out of Glouster bay. We went out Sunday night to visit the Constitution while it was anchored in Marblehead Harbor. The shoreline was crowded with people and the harbor was also filled with small boats and other charter boats trying to get a close view of Ironsides in the bay. The Coast Guard and Harbor Patrol were busy trying to keep all the boats back while also keeping a lane open for all the ships to sail around the Constitution.

We got many great views as we circled Ironsides several times. This was a perfect night to be out on the water and enjoying the spectacle.

Mon July 21, Marblehead Harbor MA

We left Monday morning at 8am to make our way down the coast to Marblehead. As we were leaving Glouster Harbor it was like reading those old sea faring novels, there was a race of boats trying to get out of the harbor, many were head to view the sailing but others were on there way out for the days fishing.

We pulled into Marblehead harbor and there were more boats and small craft then there had been the night before. There was every manor of floating craft in the harbor. There were sail boarders, surf riders, kayaks, row boats, motor boats, sailing yachts and cruise boats. This was in addition to all the tug boats and various security boats and jet skis that were in the water trying to keep people back.

Various activities were happening on board the ship. Every now and then we could catch the band playing a piece or the singer doing the Star Spangled Banner. The ships masts were manned with sailors on each platform, people on the main deck were in period costume. Several volleys of the cannon and rifles were fired at different times and a howitzer position on the point at Fort Sewall was fired.

Various dignitaries were brought on board, most of the locals recognized Senator Carey being brought on board. Walter Cronkite was also there and was to be allowed to take the helm while she was under sail.

The time came for the tug boats to get into position as they came along side and tied on to Ironsides. At the same time, more sailors climbed into the rigging and lined each of the yard arms, every one in their white uniforms.

As she was pulled forward, a cheer went up amongst the viewers and all the ships whistles were blown. Now came the real challenge to maneuver our way out of the harbor and keep pace. A fireboat lead the way (cleared the way!) ahead for the Constitution by spraying a wide veil of water streams. Some of the streams were colored red and blue, so that there was a red-white and blue water display proceeding this procession of boats.

It was estimated that there were 3,000 boats on the water. Two modern navy ships, a missile frigate and a destroyer met us midway out and acted as escort for this parade of ships. Most of the boats following were modern craft, but there were enough schooners, wooden sailboats and Chris Craft that the parade itself was quite interesting in its own right.

The Coast Guard then had to stop this procession as the Constitution was stopped and the sails raised. She has 6 of the 18 possible sails and all 6 were raised, 2 jibs, 3 topsails, and the spinnaker were all carefully lowered and then trimmed to catch the wind. These 6 sails, 35% of the total sail area, required 290 new blocks (pulleys) and over 8 miles of rope to be rigged.

As the Constitution was readied, the tug boats let go their lines and backed off as the Constitution pulled forward. She made about 4 knots in a 7mph wind and as she pulled out the Blue Angels made several flybys over the crowd.

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