USS Constitution Takes One Last Trip Around Boston Harbor Before 3-Year Restoration

Old Ironsides took one last trip around Boston Harbor on Friday before heading to dry docks for a major, multi-year restoration project. The USS Constitution fired its cannons while punk band Dropkick Murphys and a Boston Pops quintet entertained hundreds of special guests and dignitaries onboard.

The Washington Post reports that the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat, was pushed along by a tugboat, its sails already taken down as it prepares to enter dry-dock for the repairs, which the Navy says could take about three years.

The three-mast warship, which earned its nickname after winning battles during the War of 1812 against Great Britain, gave a traditional 21-gun salute to Fort Independence on Castle Island, one of the oldest fortified sites in the country. It didn’t stop there. It also gave a 17-gun salute at the Coast Guard’s Boston base. The base’s active-duty Navy crew laid a wreath in the harbor to honor the armed forces branch, which turned 239-years-old this week during the salute.

Built in Boston and launched in October 1797, the USS Constitution was among the first warships of the new nation. It was commissioned by the US Navy following the Revolutionary War in order to protect American merchant ships off the northern coast of Africa. For the most part, the USS Constitution still will be open for public tours until it officially enters dry dock in March 2015.

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The repair will entail a variety of projects, from replacing worn riggings to re-coppering the ship’s full hull. They plan to replace old plants on the gun and berth decks, and will make general repairs to the stern, bow, and captain’s cabin. The cost of such extensive repairs are not cheap. Dave Werner, spokesman for the Naval History and Heritage Command, which is overseeing the project, said the ship repairs will cost about $12 million to $15 million and be paid for by the US Navy.

Boston, the news publication, reports that the last time the Constitution was dry docked for major repairs was 1995, in preparation for its bicentennial. Some repairs were done while the ship was still in the harbor from about 2007 to 2010.

For those wanting to see the USS Constitution in person, it is expected to be back in the water by 2017. By spring or summer 2018, it should return to its familiar spot at the Navy Yard pier, where it has been a major tourist destination, with more than 500,000 visitors a year.