Successful Constellation voyage First phase: Having made it to dry dock, repairs of this pride of Baltimore can begin.

November 30, 1996

FINGERS WERE crossed and prayers whispered as tugs pushed the 142-year-old wooden warship Constellation a mile and a half to dry dock a week ago. The little voyage took an hour and 48 minutes, to make sure no mishap occurred aboard the fragile vessel that suffers from rot -- far better than the four hours that had been predicted. While the ship did take on water, high-speed auxiliary pumps didn't have to be used. It was an auspicious beginning for a project that means much to Baltimore.

When there was little else to see at the Inner Harbor there was the Constellation. The tall ship with its high masts set the tone for any visit by tourists hoping to catch wind of Baltimore's seafaring past or townies who wanted to be reminded of the city's history. Unfortunately, the Constellation's popularity did not translate into dollars for its upkeep. Years ago the rotted masts were removed. Renovation aimed at making it resemble its predecessor built in 1797 made matters worse. But that won't happen again. Finally, the Constellation is being appreciated for what it was and shall be.

It will take nearly three years to restore the Navy's last all-sail warship. Built in 1854, Baltimore's Constellation intercepted slave ships bound for the United States between 1859 and 1861 and later served in the Civil War. At the Fort McHenry Shipyard, the Constellation will get a new, watertight hull and spar deck, new masts and rigging, and refurbishment to make it more original in appearance. The $9 million project is being supervised by G. Peter Boudreau, who directed construction of the Pride of Baltimore II after the original Pride, a replica of an 1810 clipper ship, sank in a 1986 storm.

But finding money to complete this job still remains a problem. The Constellation Foundation has been promised $3 million from the city, $1 million from the state and another $1.2 million from various corporations and foundations. The General Assembly may kick in another $2 million for this asset to Maryland tourism. But that leaves nearly $2 million to be raised. More foundation and corporate help will be sought. But every Marylander who has seen and wants future generations to see the Constellation should contribute as well.

Pub Date: 11/30/96

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