CHARLESTOWN, Mass. -- USS Constitution departed her berth from Charlestown, Mass. Aug. 19, to set sail for the first time since 1997, during an underway demonstration commemorating Guerriere Day.
The underway honored the 200th anniversary of Constitution's decisive victory over the HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812, marking the first time a United States frigate defeated a Royal Navy frigate at or nearly equal size. It's also the battle in which Constitution earned her famous 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.
"As the ship's sail master, I felt a combination of pride and relief that the hundreds of man hours of training and planning over the past year all came together, and we were able to accomplish this goal," said Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (SW) Conrad Hunt. "I'm really proud that I can say I was a part of this historic occasion."
After tugs reattached to Constitution's sides, the ship headed to Fort Independence on Castle Island, where thousands of spectators waited to watch Constitution fire a 21-gun salute toward the fort at 1:14 p.m. Fort Independence is a state park that served as a defense post for Boston Harbor at one time.
Finally, the ship returned to her pier at 2:05 p.m. and everyone departed once the brow was safely set and the ship was clean. Constitution re-opened to the public for tours of the ship's history at 4 p.m.
"For me, this underway is representative of an incredible amount of work and dedication by not only the crew, but Maintenance and Repair Facility, Naval History and Heritage Command, and all of the partners coming together to make this happen," said Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class (AW/SW) Jason Keith, who is the longest serving crew member currently assigned to Constitution. Keith reported to the ship April 13, 2009 and will depart Aug. 31. "I've given tours to thousands of people, shined brass for hundreds of hours, and I've climbed the rigging to set and furl these sails over and over again. But sailing USS Constitution on Aug. 19, 2012 is one of the greatest honors I've had in my naval career, and I'm truly proud to be a part of this history."
The last time Constitution sailed under her own power was July 21, 1997 to honor the ship's 200th birthday. It was the first time the ship sailed in 116 years.
"When we sailed the ship, it became clear it was a different experience you can't have in port," said Lance Beebe, a crew member aboard Constitution's 1997 sail. "The ship comes alive, and you truly understand what she is all about. This new crew [2012 Sailors] just joined a group of crew members [1997 Sailors] that also got to experience Constitution under sail, and they became a significant part of her history as a result."
Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors per year. She defended the sea lanes against threat from 1797 to 1855, much like the mission of today's Navy. America's Navy: Keeping the sea free for more than 200 years.
Constitution's mission today is to offer community outreach and education about the ship's history.