MARBLEHEAD, MASS., July 21, 1997 — The United States Navy's three-masted frigate USS Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides," set sail for the first time in more than a century today as Operation Sail 200 inaugurated the ship's 200th birthday celebration.
The world's oldest commissioned warship afloat sailed under her own power off the coast of Massachusetts with the same six-sail configuration that she normally used in battle. She sailed in formation with two modern U.S. Navy warships. There was also a fly-over by the famed Blue Angels.
Operation Sail 200 highlights the direct correlation of today's U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team, the importance of "forward presence," advanced technology, core values, and the dedication and professionalism of our Sailors and Marines with the rich maritime history of the United States.
USS Constitution, maintained as a national monument at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Mass., recently completed a four-year overhaul to restore her to original hull strength.
In-depth structural tests and evaluations of the ship and a lengthy training program for the crew have prepared the ship for this historic voyage in Massachusetts Bay — the first since 1881.
School-aged children from all 50 states contributed their pennies to buy the sails that will be used during the July sail. The "Old Ironsides Pennies Campaign" led the nationwide effort that was coordinated by the USS Constitution Museum, a private, non-profit educational institution dedicated to preserving the heritage of the historic frigate.
USS Constitution was towed from Boston to Marblehead, Mass., 17 miles north of Boston Sunday to stage the ship near the sail operation area in Massachusetts Bay. During the War of 1812, Marblehead provided USS Constitution a safe haven from two British warships. She was last moored in Marblehead in 1931.
This morning, the ship was towed to an area of Massachusetts Bay where, at
noon, tow lines were released and the sails were set for Operation Sail 200.
The guided missile destroyer USS Ramage (DDG 61), the guided missile frigate USS Halyburton (FFG 40), and the Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Team's F/A-18 Hornets rendered honors to USS Constitution.