By Seth Daniel
Making its first ‘underway’ since spending 18-months in drydock being repaired, the USS Constitution set sail last Friday, Oct. 20, for Castle Island with a full crew and a lively contingent of dignitaries and honored guests – a sail that was in celebration of the old ship’s 220th birthday (which was officially on Oct. 21).
It was a beautiful, fall morning, and sailors and officers were loading their gear onto Old Ironsides as the sun splashed over the ship and the Navy Yard. Residents from Charlestown and visitors from near and far – some civilians and some military officials – began to assemble to celebrate the occasion of the ship’s 220th year afloat.
It was particularly special due to the fact that it was the first sail for USS Constitution since it was put back in the water last July after spending nearly two years under extensive repairs.
Commander Robert Gerosa and Lt. Commander Tim Anderson said they had been making preparations for the birthday excursion since the ship went back in the water last July, and more intensive plans were underway about a month and a half ago.
“It’s amazing to see the ship going out,” said Anderson. “The masts and riggings. You can’t walk around without thinking about the numerous engagements they fought in and she never lost…We still actually use this ship and keep it afloat. We take it out on the water with sailors and exercise it. The Navy never forgets our history and we don’t want to let the public forget…To do something like this with a 220-year-old ship keep it in everyone’s mind. It’s a show of strength to keep it going all these years. The only ship that rivals it is sitting in drydock in England and it’s not going to get back going.”
Commander Gerosa said it has taken a lot of work and skill to get the ship to this point.
“It has taken a lot of work to get to this point,” he said. “Just to take it down the channel today (Oct. 20) is a feat…and is a tribute to the workers that helped put it back together…This is 220 years of history. The Navy commemorated its birthday this month, too. This ship has served the country since the Navy was born. It is our link to the past and the entire fighting spirit of all those in the Navy.”
Anne Grimes Rand, director of the Constitution Museum, said the sail was an amazing celebration of the ship’s birthday, which the Museum also celebrated in a community festival on Saturday.
“We in Charlestown have the unique opportunity to celebrate the 220th birthday of the Constitution and that’s a special thing,” she said, while the ship cut through the waters of Boston Harbor. “It’s a privilege to see this historic symbol live on every day…It makes us proud to be an American and to be able to see the ship each day in the Navy Yard.”
The mission on Friday was pretty simple.
The ship set off around 10:30 a.m. bound for Castle Island, where it gave a 21-gun salute in honor of its birthday. That salute was returned with cannon fire from Castle Island.
While the Navy Jazz Band entertained sailors, officers and visitors with standard favorites, the skyline of downtown Boston shone beyond the rigging and masts.
Excited sailors got their gear in place and celebrated the birthday by climbing the rigging to the top of the masts. There they stood as the sea breeze rushed by them.
The ship was solid, cutting through the water with a steady and heavy presence – one that could only be born through 220 years of sailing acumen and the special live oak sides that gained its ‘Ironsides’ name.
The mission concluded with a 17-gun salute towards the Coast Guard station in the North End, the location where Old Ironsides was constructed and launched 220 years ago this month.
And even today, even last Friday, she continues to be steady as she goes.