July 9, 1997 in Nation/World

Old Ironsides Proves It Still Reigns Supreme 200-Year-Old Wooden Warship Returns To Sea

Associated Press

The USS Constitution, with recently restored sails, was towed out of her museum home Tuesday and into the waters where she once reigned supreme.

“The ship is alive,” said Boatswain’s Mate First Class John Hutchinson, one of a hand-picked Navy crew, who was in charge of the forward mast.

At high noon, amid light wind, Old Ironsides moved briefly on her own power as she was tested for a 200th birthday sail July 21 that will fully depend on her own power for the first time in 116 years.

The 44-gun frigate completed the trial without a hitch, and although tethered to a tug, was clearly operating under her own strength, renewed by a four-year, $12 million restoration.

“She is one of the remaining icons in the history of this country,” said Charles M. Deans, director of the Naval Historical Center for the Constitution, who oversaw the design of two of the new sails.

Old Ironsides - a name derived from sailors who said they saw her tough oak hide deflect cannonballs during sea battles - has been regularly restored over the years, and is now backed up by modern technology - including an electrical system.

The Constitution, which had its heyday in the War of 1812, never lost in 30 fights at sea.

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