USS Constitution sets sail in Boston Harbor
For only the second time in 130 years, the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship in the world, sailed under her own power, marking the 200th anniversary of her famous battle with the HMS Guerriere where the ship earned her nickname, "Old Ironsides."
"I cannot think of a better way to honor those who fought in the war as well as celebrate Constitution's successes during the War of 1812 than for the ship to be under sail," said Cmdr. Matt Bonner, Constitution's 72nd commanding officer. "The event also ties our past and present by having the ship not only crewed by the outstanding young men and women who make up her crew, but also the 150 chief petty officer [CPO] selectees who join us for their Heritage Week."
More than 150 CPO selectees and CPO mentor chiefs assisted Constitution's crew in setting sails. CPO selectees participated in Constitution's annual CPO Heritage Weeks, a weeklong training cycle divided by two weeks that teaches selectees time-honored maritime evolutions, such as gun drills, line handling and setting sails. The training is also designed to instill pride in naval heritage in the Navy's senior enlisted leadership.
"I'm a boatswain's mate," said Chief (Select) Boatswain's Mate (SW) Michael Zgoda, assigned to USS Ingraham (FFG 61). "This is the foundation of my rate. Being able to learn from a variety of genuine chiefs and their different perspectives on leadership is overwhelming and important to the chief petty officer transition. I'm extremely honored to be a part of the group that can say they sailed the USS Constitution."
The ship got underway at 9:57 a.m. with tugs attached to her sides and 285 people on board, including special guests, such as the 58th, 59th, 62nd and 65th former commanding officers of Constitution; Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, Commander, Submarine Group Two; Rear Adm. Ted Branch, Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic; Vice Adm. William French, Commander, Navy Installations Command; retired Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner Jr., Medal of Honor recipient; and Dr. Phil Budden, Britain's Consul General to New England.
At 10:27 a.m., Budden and Bonner tossed a wreath into the ocean to honor and remember Constitution's battle with the HMS Guerriere.
When the ship arrived at President Roads, a body of water of Boston Harbor, the crew then set three sails from Constitution's main, mizzen and fore masts, and at 12:25 p.m., she detached from her tugs and sailed west under her own power for 17 minutes. She sailed at a maximum speed of 3.1 knots, at an average of two knots, and at a distance of 1,100 yards.
It was the "Age of Fighting Sail" that we usually romanticize but was a truly horrific way to fight a war. The saying "the decks ran red with blood" was not far off the mark following a battle at sea in those days. It took a special kind of courage to stand toe to toe and exchange broadsides with another ship while Marines in the top mast fired muskets at the crew servicing the guns and trying to keep the ship afloat.
A salute to the ship and crew -- USS Constitution - past, present, and future.