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‘Old Ironsides’ restoration nearing completion

Cannons from the USS Constitution (top photo) are being stored on the dock as the ship is being refurbished.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The storied USS Constitution will drop back into Boston Harbor on July 23, marking a milestone in a restoration program that has kept the 18th century warship in drydock for two years, officials announced this week.

Riggers Jose Hernandez-Juviel (left) and Ryan Whitehead moved a stay for the top mast. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The last surviving member of the US Navy’s original class of six frigates, the Constitution will return to the waters at Charlestown Navy Yard with nearly 100 new white oak planks and more than 2,200 fresh copper sheets on its recaulked hull.

Though the ship won’t be fully outfitted for launch until September, the Navy said the end of the drydocking is an important step in the restoration process, which is required every 20 years to keep the historic vessel from falling victim to shipworms and other marine hazards.


The Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the Navy, operated from 1798 to 1854, earning the nickname Old Ironsides. It captured 33 vessels and is known for three victories against British ships during the War of 1812.

During the restoration process, the ship has remained open to visitors. From April 15 through July 10, people will be able to check out the Constitution’s top deck from Tuesday through Friday from 2:30 to 6 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Through April 14, the visiting hours are Thursday and Friday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Starting July 10 and continuing into September, deck access will be limited so workers can restore its masts and other parts of its rigging and complete the restoration project, estimated to cost between $12 million and $15 million.

The Navy yard will remain open, however, and there will still be opportunities to see presentations about the ship and to interact with the crew. The ship returns to the water July 23 at midnight.


Ship restorer Joshua Ratty duplicated a 1927 bow trailboard by using a carving duplicate device. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Margherita M. Desy, a historian with the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston, said the project has been an opportunity to see the Constitution in its full majesty.

By exposing the area that normally sits below the water line, conservators and visitors have been able to catch a glimpse of how the four-story vessel towered over the North End when it was under construction there centuries ago, Desy said.

A view of the keel of Constitution. Officials say that about 2,200 of the 3,400 copper sheets have been replaced. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“Every time the ship is taken out of the water and this extraordinary ship is revealed to us and our visitors . . . we once again marvel at the beauty of her design, the scale of the body of this very large warship,” Desy said. “It’s a privilege to have any opportunity to work on her and to work aboard her.”

The restoration has also given members of the public a chance to put a small mark on the ship. Many who visited the USS Constitution Museum wrote their names on sheets of copper that were later placed on the ship’s hull.

“It’s kind of fun that visitors to the museum over the past two years have literally been able to inscribe their names in history,” Desy said.

Andy Rosen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.

This story has been updated to include the schedule on which the Constitution will be open before April 15 and to include information about what time the ship will return to the water.