Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Old Ironsides"

Docked in Boston Harbor is the oldest still-commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy, the U.S.S Constitution - "Old Ironsides". Thirty-some engagements and no losses. Part of the reason was it was very fast. If it couldn't outgun the opponent, it could outrun them.

Although built in the late 1700s (in response to the Barbary Coast pirate problem of that era) the ship saw its main service in the war of 1812. That means its battles were against the British.

The U.S. Sailors who are assigned to her wear the old uniforms of 1812 - mostly a ceremonial post, of course. But she is still awesome to see and to walk her decks, as I did last week.

At the top is a photo of her in 1997 - her first "voyage" in over 100 years - in Boston Harbor. You will note that even then she was not under full sail. It takes a certain specialized expertise to sail a ship of that size under full sail, which few modern sailors possess. Cool.

Below are some pictures I took of the ship last week. Her fore and aft top masts are missing (they are being replaced) but she is still pretty impressive.

Below: note on right, on blocks, one of her yardarms. Large.


  1. These old ships are a beautiful sight and amazing that this one still sails. HMS Victory in Portsmouth (our Portsmouth, I daresay you have a Portsmouth too) is a similar age and is still the flagship for the Commander in Chief, but I'm fairly sure she never sails.

  2. Aren't they beautiful? I love old ships. One of my hobbies is collecting pictures of old passenger liners of a bygone era. Of course, the ships we are talking about here are much older. Yes, we have several Portsmouths. Probably in each of the New England states. Portsmouth, New Hampshire comes to mind. And New Hampshire itself... oh, well. You people are the ones who gave these places their names long ago. And I guess our ancestors (yours and mine) were homesick at the time. :)

  3. bridge loan, thank you for stopping by. And thank you for the compliment.

  4. I went there as a kid as part of the 5th grade Boston trip. I don't remember much about it and wished as a kid I'd be more impressed like I am now.

    How cool would it to be to see it in full sail in the harbor...

    In Vermont we have the SS McClure that docks occasionally in Burlington. Currently it's in the St. Lawrence in Quebec City for that city's celebrations recently. If your interested in ships and maritime info, you might want to search on that.

    Did you happen to go to the New Bedford Whaling and Maritime NHS museum whilst in that region?

    The Salem Maritime NHS was very interesting, I visited there some time ago and got my own personal tour...

  5. Why I was just in Boston last weekend and got to watch as they fired the cannon at sunset from this lovely ship.

    My first visit to her years and years ago was with my beloved grandfather and I still remember how impressed I was as a mere pre-teen to walk the decks of such a historic ship. Of course, I love all things history but maybe that love started back then!

  6. I built a plastic model kit (Revell brand) of the Constitition when I was about twelve years old....
    The difficult bit was putting in all the rigging.

    H.M.S. Victory, as a. says is in Portsmouth, a little older than USS Constitution, Victory was launched in 1765, Constitution in 1797.
    However, Victory no longer floats, she has been in dry-dock since 1922. Still a beautiful sight thoough.
    Up in the north of England, in Hartlepool, is the oldest british naval vessel still afloat, HMS Trincomalee.
    Her sister ship, HMS Unicorn, floats a little further north in Dundee, Scotland.

    Recently, I visited the little town of Whitehaven, in Cumbria, which has the dubious distinction of having been attacked by John Paul Jones during the war of independence.
    The locals say the raiders who came ashore intending to devastate the town, mostly invaded the harbourside taverns, with a resultant inability to pillage.
    their ship departed after doing little real harm. The official American account is somewhat more warlike.

  7. Redbeard, interesting that you saw the ship in 5th grade. You would indeed appreciate the tour more today, I think. No on the New Bedford Whaling museum tour. Got a tour pamphlet on it but decided to pass for other things. I'm sure it would have been interesting. Didn't even know they had one in Salem. My time there was pretty much confined to witches and such. :)

    Hi Linda. I think it was Saturday I was in Boston. The days sort of run together. Friday maybe.

    After I tried unrolling Henry on one of her helm spokes, they offered to fire the cannon for me right then and there. And not the one on the water side either. But they wanted me to stand in a particular place in the parking lot as the cannon was fired, so I declined. :) So far that's three of us who have been aboard. There are probably more.

    Soubriquet, hello. Nice to have you stop by. Revell, huh? I did their hot rod cars. I did do one ship, can't remember the name, and also misglued the crap out of that webbed rigging stuff. I wonder if it might have been Old Ironsides, too? Hmmm.

    I don't believe you about the American raid. Too far fetched. I have never heard an American account one way or the other. John Paul Jones was French, of course. So.

    Really? I didn't know that happened, honest. And I have a biography of JPJ and his bone home reekard. One day I shall read it. :) Cumbria, huh? Must have been far enough out in the sticks where they felt they wouldn't be challenged. Cumbria or Cambria? There is a New Cambria is near Pittsburg. Wee Andra Carnegie et al.

  8. more pretty pictures... :)

    I used to love watching the tall ships pull into Newcastle.

  9. Hi Caroline. See how easy it is to comment on picture posts?: "My. What pretty pictures!" I think I will do it much more often instead of boring people with words.

    And how easy it is to respond to such wonderful comments, too: "Why, thank you for the compliment, Caroline. *blush* t'weren't nothin'."

    But then you had to mention Newcastle. And the only think an American knows about Newcastle is that it is apparently stupid to carry coal there. Or is it "coals"?

    Why is that, anyway? Is there such an excess of coal (or coals) in Newcastle? Such that only a moron would carry more there?

    I see panic in your eyes. Not to worry: that question is only rhetorical. You don't have to answer. Peace, my child. Those things are in the realm of Soubriquet or A. Or sometimes Sage. They are schooled and wizened in such things. So just sit back and put your feet up and suck down something with vodka in it while one of them folks answers instead.

    So how are things going at that famous-but-here-nameless athletic shoe headquarters where you are scamming them out of a paycheck? Are you learning to work like an American yet? Or have you still some foolish English work ethic left? Again, not to worry. A couple more years in the home of the brave will cure you completely. Thanks again for stopping by.

    PS-I only make my comment responses so long for the purpose of dropping my blog's terrible bounce rate, due to entrecard. You understand. Thanks.

  10. Wizened?!!! Thank you so very much kind sir. Bloody colonial. Does it have a different meaning in your part of the world? That is the last, the final, time I ever do you a favour, with or without a "u".

  11. And Cambria is an old name for Wales from Cymru, but the Celts did live in Cumbria too.

  12. A. to say this?

    A-1: I am sorry I used the word "wizened" in my remark to Caroline. I was thinking it meant "wise." I should have looked it up. You are hardly wizened. Please forgive me. Sage? Please forgive me too. Soubriquet is probably no wizened either. Only wise.

    A-2: But Andrew Carnegie was a Scot. So....

    Dear Soubriquet: I believe you totally. Please disregard my silly grasping comment about Cumbria/Cambria and Wee Andra. Thanks.

  13. Wizened indeed!

    JPJ was Scottish, had in earlier days (before he became a slaveship's mate) sailed out of Whitehaven. He pursued his piracy about the coast of Britain from from safe ports in France... The raid in Whitehaven was in 1778, a year later he had the Bonhomme Richard sunk under him off Flamborough head in Yorkshire. Here's his account.

    "The 22d introduced fair weather tho' the three kingdoms as far as the eye could reach were covered with snow. I now resolved once more to attempt Whitehaven but the wind became so light that the ship could not in proper time approach so near as I had intended: at midnight I left the ship with two boats and thirty one volunteers. When we reached the outer pier the day began to dawn. I would not however abandon my enterprize but dispatched one boat under Mr Hall & Lt. Wallingford with the necessary combustibles to set fire to the shipping on the north side of the harbour while I went with the other party to attempt the south side.- I was successful in scaling the walls and spiking up all the cannon on the first fort finding that the centinels were shut up in the guard house we secured them without their being hurt: having placed centinels I took with me one man only (Mr Green) and spiked all the cannon in the southern fort distant from the other a quarter of a mile.
    On my return from this business I naturally expected to see the fire of the ships on the north side as well as to find my own party with everything in readiness to set fire to the shipping in the south, instead of this I found the boat under Mr. Hill & Mr. Wallingford returned and the party in some confusion their light having burnt out at the instant it became necessary.- On the strangest fatality my own party were in the same situation, the candles being all burnt out:- The day too came on apace, yet I would by no means retreat while any hopes of success remained. Having again placed centinels a light was obtained from an house at a distance from the town and fire was kindled in the steerage of a large ship which was surrounded by at least an hundred & fifty others chiefly from two to four hundred tons burthen and laying side by side aground unsurrounded by the water. There was besides from seventy to an hundred large ships in the north arm of the harbour aground clear of the water and divided from the rest only by a stone pier of a ship's height. I should have kindled fires in other places if the time had permitted as it did not our care was to prevent the one kindled from being easily extinguished:- after some search a barrel of Tar was found and pour'd into the flames which now ascended from all the hatchways. The inhabitants began to appear in thousands and individuals ran hastily towards us. I stood between them and the ship on fire with a pistol in my hand and ordered them to retire which they did with precipitation. The flames had already caught the rigging and began to ascend the main-mast- the sun was a full hour above the horizon and as sleep no longer ruled the world it was time to retire- we re-embarked without opposition, having released a number of prisoners as our boats could not carry them- after all my people had embarked I stood upon the pier for a considerable time yet no one advanced- I saw all the eminences around the town covered with amazed inhabitants.
    When we had rowed a considerable distance from the shore the English began to run in vast numbers to their forts; their disappointment may easily be imagined when they found at least thirty cannon (the instruments of their vengeance) rendered useless; at length however they began to fire, having as I apprehend either brought down ships guns or used one or [?=of] cannon which lay on beach at the foot of the wall dismounted and which had not been spiked; they fired with no direction and the shot falling short of the boats instead of doing us any damage afforded some diversion, which my people could not help shewing by discharging their pistols &c in return of the salute. Had it been possible to have landed a few hours sooner my success would have been complete; not a single ship of more than two hundred could have escaped and the whole world would not have been able to save the town. What was done however is sufficient to shew that not all their boasted navy can protect their own coasts, and that the scenes of distress which they have occasioned in America may soon be brought home to their own doors. One of my people was missing and must I fear have fallen into the hands of the enemy after our departure. I was pleased that in this business we neither killed nor wounded- I brought off three prisoners as a sample. We then stood over for the Scotch shore and I landed at noon on St. Mary's Isle with one boat and a very small party, the motives which induced me to land there are explained in the within copy of a letter which I have written to the Countess of Selkirk.
    On the morning of the 24th I was again off Carrickfergus..."

    Here the local report:
    On Thursday morning, about two o'clock, 20 men, together with Captain, landed on
    the battlement near the head of the Old Quay, from a boat belonging to the said
    vessel, (which proves to be the Ranger American privateer, from Nantz, then
    standing off and on about two miles from this Harbour) whilst another boat came into
    the Harbour, and landed ten men at the Old Quay slip, when they proceeded to Nich.
    Allison's, a public house, on the Old Quay; they made very free with the liquors, &c.
    and would not permit any of the family, to stir out; after which a party went on board
    the Thompson; Capt. Johnston, a coal loaden vessel, lying opposite to Allison's, took the boys out of bed, and set her on fire: They offered money to the boys to
    induce them to go with them, but on their refusing they put them under guard on the Quay, without any other covering than their shirts; having handkerchiefs tied
    over their mouths to prevent their crying out, at the same time the privateer's people
    threatening to shoot them if they made any noise or resistance. Immediately after the
    alarm was effectually given, the fire engines were brought to the Quay, and by the
    vigorous exertions of people of all ranks, the fire on board the Thompson was
    speedily extinguished, without damaging any other vessel; thus were the malicious
    attempts of those daring Incendiaries frustrated. -- Lighted matches, made of
    canvass dipped in brimstone, had been thrown on board several other vessels, but
    had gone out without having the intended effect.
    The privateer's people were all armed with pistols and cutlasses, and retired to their boats about four o'clock (taking with them two boys, one from the Thompson,
    and the other from the Saltham.) They had, on their first landing, spiked up several of
    the cannon, in order to secure their retreat. A number of people flocking to the forts,
    some shot were fired at the boats, but without doing any execution. After the boats reached the privateer, she stood over the Scotch side, and as large columns of
    smoke have been seen on the Scotch shore this afternoon, it is feared she has done
    some mischief there"

  14. I need vodka too.
    Or beer will do.

  15. Soubriquet. Sigh. I can't believe you really have this much time on your hands. I already apologized for the wizened remark.

    Come over to the pub and get your drink. You DO need a few. Studly Redbeard is pouring. The smooth boys have been executed. Max is back.

    And I promise to read your comment thoroughly.

    Right after I read JPJ's bio.


    PS-I checked out some more old ships. See tomorrow's post. A beauty she is. Even if she isn't wet on her bottom any more. :)

  16. Soubriquet, I have just finished reading both accounts. I have never heard of this little excursion. Here I must say that I have never been much of a fan of John Paul Jones (don't remember what his real name was, even) because, in reading history, he always seemed like more of an opportunist looking for personal aggrandizement than a true friend of America or her cause. But this is ever so interesting - enough, I think, for me to actually read is bio now (which I received as a gift a couple years ago, but never read.)

    What a buffoon, eh? And I DID really think he was French. Maybe the name of his ship threw me off.

    I seem to recall that during the revolution, the Americans had next to nothing of a navy (of course), and were probably granting letters of marque to anyone who owned a ship, regardless of their character, but to think that one of them actually staged his own little "invasion" of GB is rather laughable, don't you think?

    Thanks for taking the time. It is ever so interesting. I love reading things like that.

  17. Dangnabit!
    I've blown my cover....
    Some time ago I created Pointyheeler to infiltrate The Sisterhood of the Pointy Heel, ( which is an organisation at odds with Sir Soubriquet and The Knights of the Besmirched Countenance...
    Curses, foiled again!

  18. Well, it was hardly a good disguise. Very unlike you to leave loose ends like that. Much like JPJ would have done, in fact... :)

    David, is it not? Perhaps we should just stick to that. You are not that good at deception. Heh.

  19. Besides, do you REALLY think I could read that and not know it was you? Puh-leeze. :)



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