A warship dries out Constellation: The Civil War-era ship is nudged into dry dock the old-fashioned way -- with ropes and muscles.

December 30, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

There were no electronic sensors. No digital photographs from satellites. No high-tech gadgets of any kind to guide the way for the warship Constellation.

A century seemed to fade into the morning mist yesterday as 20 men and women tugged the sagging, creaking ship into Dry Dock 5 at Baltimore's Fort McHenry Shipyard.

They did it the old-fashioned way: pulling on heavy ropes and slowly walking along the dock.

"If people from 100 years ago had come here today, they would have recognized everything," said Louis F. Linden, executive director of the Constellation Foundation. "That's one of the interesting things about the artifact. There's a timeless quality about it."

Long before dawn, the crew gathered to watch as the dock was flooded with water. Shortly after 8 a.m., the dock's gate opened, and an inflatable dinghy nudged the Constellation from the wharf it was tied to in front of the entrance.

Shipwright G. Peter Boudreau, builder of the Pride of Baltimore II and chief of the Constellation restoration, climbed aboard. Jan Miles, captain of the Pride of Baltimore II, tossed ropes to the waiting crew and called out instructions: "Shout only in an emergency. Keep moving at a nice, slow, steady pace."

It took a half hour to gently haul in the 179-foot Civil War relic to its new berth between two sleek Navy warships.

Constellation staff members and laborers beamed as the ship floated on top of the blocks where it will be repaired the next 2 1/2 years.

The Constellation Foundation has raised $5.2 million of the $9 million needed to restore the 1854 sloop of war, an Inner Harbor tourist attraction damaged by neglect and improper alterations.

First, workers will build a roof to protect the fragile ship. By spring, they will begin replacing the rotting lower planking with a rigid glued laminate never tried on a ship this big. Gravity is expected to straighten the keel, now 27 inches higher in the middle than at the ends.

The new, lower hull and a new gun deck should be finished by early 1998. Then, the ship will be moved to another harbor location, where an upper hull, masts and rigging will be added before the ship returns to the Inner Harbor in 1999.

Only a couple of onlookers carrying cameras joined the crew to witness the drama of yesterday's short voyage.

But one of the line handlers, Drew Kauffman, a 29-year-old ship carpenter, described it as just as important as the 1.9-mile journey from the Inner Harbor that drew crowds of spectators last month. The ship had to be lined up in dead center to land perfectly on the pilings built to match its keel once the water drained from the dry-dock basin.

"The trickiest part is keeping it directly on center line," Kauffman said, glancing up at the bow. "Once this is over, there will be a big sigh of relief, and it's the beginning of the project."

By 9: 30 a.m., the Constellation was tied securely in place. But it took much more time -- until shortly after 4 p.m. -- for pumps to get the ship high and dry.

The pumping went slower than expected. But though much of the World War II-era equipment was outmoded and rusty, it could have been worse.

In the old days, Linden pointed out, there were no electric motors to drive the pumps."

Pub Date: 12/30/96

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