Old Ironsides Sets Sail

Tomorrow the USS Constitution — America’s oldest still-commissioned warship, and the world’s oldest commissioned ship that is still afloat — sets sail for only the second time in more than 130 years.

The Constitution will leave Boston Harbor tomorrow for a 10-minute deep water cruise under the power of the sails on its towering masts.  Its tour will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its famous battle against the British ship HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.  In that battle, the Guerriere‘s cannonballs bounced harmlessly off the Constitution‘s sturdy oak hull, causing a sailor to exclaim that the ship’s sides were “made of iron” — and giving the Constitution her great nickname, Old Ironsides.  The Guerriere eventually surrendered to the American ship, shocking the British press and giving American morale a much-needed boost.

Old Ironsides was launched in 1797, sailed the high seas during the Napoleonic period, fought the Barbary pirates, and defeated all four British ships it encountered during the War of 1812.  The ship continued to sail under the American flag until 1855, when it was taken out of active duty, undefeated.  Since 1881, the USS Constitution has sailed the ocean seas under its own power only once — in 1997, on the 200th anniversary of its launching.  Tomorrow, Old Ironsides sails again.

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