A Look at USS Constitution’s 2015-2017 Dry Docking and Restoration

By Margherita M. Desy, Historian, Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston

USS Constitution, America’s Ship of State, entered the Charlestown Navy Yard’s Dry Dock 1 the night of May 18, 2015 for a 26-month dry docking and restoration period.  Over the course of the past two years the ship restorers and riggers of the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston and teams of USS Constitution crew accomplished several important projects that will preserve and extend the life of “Old Ironsides”, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.

The ship will be undocked the night of July 23rd.  As preparations are underway to refloat Constitution at the close of her first 21st century dry docking, here is a look back at some of the work that was accomplished.

For more information on each project, please click on the photograph; you will be redirected to the original blog post that provides in-depth details of the work.

USS Constitution entered Dry Dock 1 in the Charlestown Navy Yard the night of May 18, 2015, for the start of a 26-month restoration. Dry Dock 1 is the second oldest operational naval dry dock in the U.S. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/James Almeida]

Prior to Constitution’s docking, a new caisson (“floating gate”) was built at Steel America, Norfolk, VA, for Dry Dock 1. The caisson was delivered to the Charlestown Navy Yard on a barge in February, 2015, where it was launched into Boston Harbor before being installed on Dry Dock 1. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

Sea water from Boston Harbor surged into Dry Dock 1 on May 17, 2015 through the valves of the newly built and installed steel caisson. Dry Dock 1 can hold approximately 4.8 million gallons of water today. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/James Almeida]

USS Constitution’s 222-year-old original keel, as photographed on February 1, 2016. The keel is made of four enormous pieces of white oak that were cut in Trenton, NJ. The last time the keel was revealed was in the 1992-1996 dry docking and restoration and won’t be seen again until the next docking – about twenty years from now. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), Crane, IN, has 150 white oaks designated for use on USS Constitution. Here, Marty O’Neal, Tri-State Timber cutter, backs off as a large white oak tree, for Constitution’s 2015-2017 restoration, falls. [Courtesy U.S. Navy. Photo by Bill Couch]

Twenty-five white oak trees cut at NAVFAC, Crane, IN, were delivered to the Charlestown Navy Yard in June, 2015, for USS Constitution’s restoration. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

Ship restorers and riggers from the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston at work in the steam house in the Charlestown Navy Yard. A white oak plank is steamed for hours before it is flexible enough to be bent into the shape needed to fit on the ship. The Detachment Boston staff has three minutes to the bend the hot, steaming plank into shape. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

One hundred hull planks were replaced on USS Constitution in the 2015-2017 restoration. Both laminated and solid white oak planks are used today. The planks above the waterline are laminated white oak and planks below the waterline are solid white oak. This laminated white oak plank had been steamed and bent into the approximate curve of the bow, before being fitted onto the ship. Note the live oak frames behind the new plank and the older white oak planks below that will also be replaced. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment ship restorer Kevin Mansfield uses a caulking iron and mallet to drive oakum between the new starboard bow planks. The combination of the swelling of the caulking and the wooden hull planks when the ship returns to the water makes Constitution’s lower hull water tight. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorers installing new copper sheathing on Constitution’s port bow. For the 2015-2017 restoration, 2200 new copper sheets were nailed to the ship’s lower hull, to protect it from wood-boring ship worms. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

USS Constitution’s cutwater at the bow was partially rebuilt in the 2015-2017 restoration. Two large inner pieces of live oak and two very large pieces of laminated white oak make up the new cutwater sections. Large iron straps were then fitted into the new wood and through-bolted to help hold the massive cutwater together. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston blacksmith Stephen Nichols heats up a copper pin with a torch, prior to shaping a new head on the pin in the hydraulic press. Stephen made 468, four inch copper pins to hold the bronze protective castings to the forward edge of Constitution’s cutwater on the bow. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorer Joshua Ratty uses a GEMINI™ Universal Carving Duplicator to replicate a portion of USS Constitution’s starboard bow trailboard. These trailboards replaced the ones carved in 1930 for “Old Ironsides’” 1927-1931 restoration. [Courtesy USS Constitution Museum/Kate Monea]

Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorer Joshua Ratty is seen removing a rotten section of the fashion piece on USS Constitution’s starboard quarter gallery, summer, 2016. A fashion piece is the aftermost timber of a vessel, which terminates the width of the vessel and forms the shape of the stern. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

USS Constitution’s mizzen fighting top was removed from the ship on June 18, 2015, for refurbishment and rebuilding. Although the smallest of the three fighting tops on the ship, the mizzen top is still a substantial structure at 5200 pounds and is 11’ 4” deep by 15’ 9” wide. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/Margherita M. Desy]

USS Constitution’s first 21st century dry docking is nearing completion and the ship will be undocked the night of July 23, 2017. In these final days in dry dock, the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston ship restorers and riggers are performing finishing touches around the ship. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston/James Almeida]

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