BOSTON—At 215 years old, the USS Constitution is the U.S. Navy’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. But it’s not too old to take a quick sail.
For 17 minutes on Sunday, the ship cruised west across Boston Harbor, reaching a maximum speed of 3.1 knots. It was its first sail under its own power since turning 200 in 1997.
The short trip—a distance of 1,100 yards—was to commemorate the Constitution’s victory over a British warship of a similar size in a fierce battle during the War of 1812. The victory earned the ship its nickname, “Old Ironsides.”
Chief Petty Officer Frank Neely, a Constitution spokesman and crew member, said he was among the 285 lucky people who were aboard on Sunday. It was a warn day with a few clouds, but still perfect for the sail, he said.
“This was really terrific,” Neely said. “It couldn’t have been more memorable.”
The trip marked the day two centuries ago when the Constitution defeated the British frigate HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.
As thousands of onlookers cheered from Castle Island in South Boston, the USS Constitution sailed under its own power Sunday for just the second time in 131 years, marking the 200th anniversary of the battle that earned it the nickname Old Ironsides. “It’s a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity, sailing on her own power,” said Bob Poundcq, 48, of Quincy, referring to the last time the USS Constitution sailed on its own in 1997 for Marblehead’s 200th anniversary.
Patriotic music sounded from Fort Independence as the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat came into view. “Once again, Boston well shows her history,” said Ken Smith, 47, of Cambridge.
“We’re hoping she goes rogue and goes off on her own,” joked his wife, Anne Marie, 47.
The Constitution was towed past the crowd to a point between Castle Island and Deer Island. About 200 sailors then unfurled four of its sails before it was released from its tugboat tethers and sailed toward open water for about 10 minutes.
Then, it slowly made its way back toward Castle Island, aided by a tugboat. After it approached and fired its cannons, the crowd cheered and boats honked their horns as they bobbed in the harbor a safe distance away.
Meanwhile, the Post Office has issued a commemorative stamp.
More links at the top of the comments section, including several videos, none of which actually show the ship under sail. duh.