It’s a sight not often seen in the Baltimore Harbor: The USS Constellation, headed down the Patapsco River to Sparrows Point.
Sure, the Constellation is an iconic Inner Harbor landmark, but the 1854 Navy sailing warship stays predictably at its dock on Baltimore’s Pier 1, where a new Constellation education center just recently opened.
That is, until Tuesday. The Civil War ship left its berth destined for drydock, to undergo significant work to stop water leaks. On a foggy morning, the Constellation left with some tugboat help courtesy of the Vane Brothers Company and Smith Marine Towing. The historic sloop-of-war was guided down the river and into Tradepoint Atlantic, the huge global logistics center that revitalized the Bethlehem Steel property at Sparrows Point.
While the Constellation is in drydock at Tradepoint Atlantic, shipwrights will lead efforts to “restore the watertight integrity of Constellation’s remaining original white oak hull planking,” according to Living Classrooms Foundation, who runs the Historic Ships in Baltimore program.
As Historic Ships manages the restoration, they will bring in trainees from Project SERVE, a Living Classrooms Foundation program that gives pre-released inmates and returning citizens job training. Project SERVE members will learn historic ship caulking and also experience maritime operations at the dry dock.
The USS Constellation is a National Historic Landmark, best known for being the Navy’s last sail-only warship, used to fight the slave trade in the Civil War. The ship was built using a small amount of material salvaged from the frigate Constellation, which itself was built in Baltimore in 1797.
The USS Constellation we know today was brought in and out of service multiple times between the Civil War all the way up to World War II. It was used as a stationary training ship before eventually becoming a historic relic. The vessel first arrived in Baltimore as a historic site in 1968, but needed an extensive restoration which was completed in 1999. The last time it was in drydock was 2015-2016, when $2 million worth of repairs were done to address rotting in the hull planks.
The Constellation‘s 2022 hull repairs are expected to be finished in time for the ship to return to its berth by the end of the year.
-Meg Walburn Viviano