Old Ironsides comes through sail in Boston Harbor in good shape

Old Ironsides proved her brawn once again as she sailed under her own power Sunday, for just the second time in 131 years.

“Structurally speaking, the ship held up fine,” said spokesman Frank Neely. “She’s a very tough girl.”

The USS Constitution set sail for the first time since 1997 to mark the 200th anniversary of its victory over the HMS Guerriere, a Royal Navy frigate, during the battle of the War of 1812 that earned the ship her “Old Ironsides” nickname, officials said in a statement.

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The ship was tugged just before 10 a.m. with 285 people on board. Once Old Ironsides reached President Roads in the Boston Harbor, crews set three sails and detached the ship from the tugboats, officials said. The ship sailed under her own power for 17 minutes at a maximum speed of 3.1 knots.

The Constitution was then tugged past Castle Island, where thousands of spectators witnessed a 21-gun salute. The ship returned to the pier just after 2 p.m. and reopened to the public for tours at 4 p.m., officials said.

Neely said the ship will go into dry dock in 2015, which means it will be placed on stilts out of the water so that crews can do restoration work. He said the ship’s captain at the time will determine if crews will conduct public tours while the ship is on land.

He said he is unsure when Old Ironsides will set sail again, but is glad the weekend event went smoothly.

“There were no problems,” he said. “All in all, it was a very successful sail.”

More than 150 chief petty officers (CPO) selectees and CPO mentor chiefs assisted the Constitution’s crew in setting sails, officials said. The selectees learned about gun drills, line handling, and setting sails while celebrating the CPO Heritage Weeks.

“Being able to learn from a variety of genuine chiefs and their different perspectives on leadership is overwhelming and important to the chief petty officer transition,” Chief (Select) Boatswain’s Mate (SW) Michael Zgoda , assigned to USS Ingraham (FFG 61) said in the statement. “I’m extremely honored to be a part of the group that can say they sailed the USS Constitution.”

Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class (SW) Conrad Hunt was also grateful for the chance to participate in such a rare event.

“As the ship’s sail master, I felt a combination of pride and relief that the hundreds of man hours of training and planning over the past year all came together, and we were able to accomplish this goal,” Hunt said in the statement. “I’m really proud that I can say I was a part of this historic occasion.”

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class (AW/SW) Jason Keith is the longest serving crew member currently assigned to Constitution. He reported to the ship April 13, 2009 and will depart on the last day of August, officials said.

“For me, this underway is representative of an incredible amount of work and dedication by not only the crew, but Maintenance and Repair Facility, Naval History and Heritage Command, and all of the partners coming together to make this happen,” Keith said in the statement. “I’ve given tours to thousands of people, shined brass for hundreds of hours, and I’ve climbed the rigging to set and furl these sails over and over again. But sailing USS Constitution on Aug. 19, 2012 is one of the greatest honors I’ve had in my naval career, and I’m truly proud to be a part of this history.”

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