A Visit To Old Ironsides

U.S.S. Constitution

U.S.S. Constitution

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

The weather has been glorious here in Boston and it has given me the impetus to get out and explore. I decided to beat the tourist crowds this past weekend before they descend on Boston for the summer season and visit a top tourist attraction. A friend and I both love tall ships. We met in Charlestown on Saturday to visit the U.S.S. Constitution. I had not been on board the Constitution since I was seven, and I was eager to visit it again. I had the good fortune of seeing it out for a float last year, but now I wanted to see it up close.

We are both fans of the movie, Master and Commander, and she has read a good number of the novels that the movie was based on. She knew a lot more about warships and their configurations than I did and was able to ask intelligent questions to the crew members. I loved being on board such an old ship, envisioning what life might have been like, and am very thankful that I would not have to live the life of a sailor in the early 1800’s.

A view as you board the U.S.S. Constitution

A view as you board the U.S.S. Constitution

A view of the main deck, called the Spar Deck

A view of the main deck, called the Spar Deck

A cannon with its name in front

A cannon with its name in front

A view of the Gun Deck

A view of the Gun Deck

Cannonballs

Cannonballs

We were very lucky in that they opened the captain’s quarters for us and we were able to see them up close. They were huge in comparison to the tiny space allotted to the crew for their hammocks.

Captain's sleeping quarters

Captain’s sleeping quarters

Sleeping quarters for the majority of the men, gives an idea of how tight the quarters were below deck for the 500 or so who would have slept there

Sleeping quarters for the majority of the men, gives an idea of how tight the quarters were below deck for the 500 or so who would have slept there

Here are some interesting facts I learned while on the U.S.S. Constitution:

  • It was constructed in 1797, and was set to be scrapped in 1830 until a poem by  Oliver Wendell Holmes (appropriately titled “Old Ironsides”) saved it.
  • The mainmast is 220 feet tall, and only 1 foot shorter than the Bunker Hill Monument.
  • The sail on the mainmast is as large as a regulation basketball court.
  • The majority of the 500 member crew slept in hammocks in four-hour shifts.
  • The long guns weighed 5,600 pounds, and a 24-pound shot could be hurled for nearly a mile. A team of 9-14 men was needed to operate the guns. According to the crewmember we spoke with, the sole responsibility of the men who worked the guns, was to ensure that their gun be in good working condition. Most of the guns are named, and for the ones that are not named, it is because they do not know the original name and do not want to rename them and cause bad luck.
  • When the guns were being fired, they would use the bilge pumps to bring water up to the gun deck and have an inch of water on the gun deck to prevent sparks causing any fires.
  • There is a “scuttlebutt” container on the gun deck. It’s where the grog was kept, and where all the good gossip was shared.
The "scuttlebutt"- a place to gather, get a drink and share the best gossip.

The “scuttlebutt”- a place to gather, get a drink and share the best gossip.

I really enjoyed visiting “Old Ironsides” again. If you are ever in Boston, it is worth a jaunt to Charlestown for a visit. Have you ever visited the U.S.S. Constitution? What did you think?

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