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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Constitutionally Speaking

Misleading title, I'm actually speaking of the , not the US Constitution, because I spent my morning wandering the wooden decks, and admiring the wonderful handywork of 208 years of history.

When I first joined the Navy in 1983, and was attending Seaman Apprenticeship School I was given a "dummy" set of orders to the Constitution, unfortunately I also had a set to the . The New Jersey's official orders showed up, so I didn't get to do my two years as a tour guide and mast climber on the Constitution.

So today was my first time to see the ship, and it was incredible. The guided tour lasts for about 30 minutes, and takes you on the spar deck (topside), the gun deck, and the berthing area.

In a way I'm glad I didn't get stationed on the ship, as you can see from this photo of the gun deck, the overheads aren't very high. In fact, I was ducking through the whole tour. I'm pretty sure had I been stationed onboard for two years I'd have ended up with a concussion at least once.

Looking at the 2.5 ton guns, it's amazing to think that there was a crew of 9-14 per gun on this small deck. They loaded, aimed, fired, and repeated every 90 seconds!

The "powder monkey" for each of the guns was a small boy, 8-16 years old, who ran from the gun deck to the powder storage between each shot to get 8 pounds of powder. So, for anyone who thinks their parents were mean, at least they didn't enlist you at 8 to go off to war, and the parents collected the paychecks!

Just think, after spending a few hours in battle, with over 250 people crammed on the gun deck, you could head below to your rack, depending on your seniority, you might be in a cramped middle hammock, or move to the outer edge of the berth as your senority and importance grew.

While this picture doesn't do it justice, there would be nearly 150 hammocks in the area of the photo. Behind my camera angle would be another 100 Navy hammocks, and then the 55 Marines hammocks. The Marines on the ship were berthed between the officers and enlisted to prevent any problems.

Some interesting things about the ship, the name "Old Ironsides" came from the battle against the HMS Guerriere. When the British shot seemed to bounce off the sides of the ship a crewman yelled "Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!", which the Captain had entered in the deck log.

The sides aren't iron in fact, they are made of "live oak" from the swamps of Georgia and South Carolina, along with other types of oak from the North East. Because the swamp oak is five times more dense than other wood, the ships sides were much sturdier than those of her opponents.

To keep up the ship the maintains a large oak forest at the Crane, Indiana Naval Weapons Station. When areas of the ship require new wood, they harvest an appropriately sized tree for the job.

That's it for tonights history lesson. Next weekend I'll hit another historic site and post a few things about that.


Blogger Lone Pony said...

Thanks for the pictures CP. GREAT history lesson. Enjoyed it very much. Can hardly wait for next weekend.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Still trying to figure out where I'm going next weekend, I've got the travel guides in my room trying to decide.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I gotta stop by more often - I did the Ironsides tour aa few years back - Awesome ship!

The reason that cannonballs bounced off the sides wwass due largely to the doublehull construction. It has a doublehull with vertical members spaced at intervals.

When we visited they a=had just reoplaced the mast,. Interessting trivia about that is everytime they replace the mast, a coin is placed under it. When they pulled the maast they found a cache of coins dating back to the time it was built.

Also, you forgot to mention the barber's chair on the top deck - the one attached to the mast?

It did double duty as a chair in which to perform amputations after battles.

And "Old Ironsides" is still actively commissioned, and, if I'm not miostaken, the oldest active-duty ship in the world.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Natsthename said...

Mark sent me over.

I love going in to Charlestown and The Freedom Trail when the weather is lovely.

Every time we go near Old Ironsides, I feel very patriotic!

7:52 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

A true classic, like that other US tall ship, the USCGC Eagle.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Mark, you are correct, it is the oldest actively commissioned warship in the world. The old mast is still on the pier there, as an example of the size of them, pretty cool to see.

Natalie, thanks for stopping. I'll probably hit more of the freedom trail this weekend when I go back into town. Saturday was a little too hot for my comfort to be wandering all over the place. (low 90's lot of humidity).

Tim, the Eagle is also very cool. There is also a third, the Constellation in Philly. I wish I had made it to see that one when I was there years ago.

5:23 PM  

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