Repaired warship ready for the water Constellation to float in Patapsco while restoration is completed

August 21, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The 1854 warship Constellation is set to go back in the water today, with food and festivities marking the end of 19 months in dry dock at Fort McHenry Shipyard.

Sporting a tight new hull and a dapper new black, white and green paint job, the Civil War relic is expected to float off its blocks at 9: 15 a.m., three hours after pumps start moving Patapsco River water into the graving dock.

It will float nearby while reconstruction is completed and will return to the Inner Harbor next summer.

"She is structurally sound. She is watertight," said Gail Shawe, chairwoman of the Constellation Foundation, which has overseen the restoration and raised $6.5 million of the $9 million needed to finish it.

The shipyard, off Wallace Street in Locust Point, will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with food, booths, a slide presentation and special guests.

"I would encourage people to come down early," Shawe said. "It's the only time they'll be able to see the bottom of the ship," at least for what the foundation hopes will be many years.

At noon, about an hour after the dock's gates are opened, Gov. TTC Parris N. Glendening will arrive for formal launch ceremonies. The ship will then be towed into the river.

At a nearby state pier, workers will spend the next year completing the gun deck, reconstructing the "spar" deck, and installing new masts and rigging. A return to the Inner Harbor is expected in July 1999.

"Although the work is not finished, in many ways she is saved," Shawe said of the ship. "If, God forbid, we ran out of money, she could float for a long time."

The Constellation -- which fought the slave trade off West Africa from 1859 to 1861, and patrolled the Mediterranean Sea during the Civil War -- is being restored to its 1860s appearance.

When finished, it will seem lower in the water than many remember. That's because its bulwarks -- the sides that protect the upper deck -- will be shorter. They had been raised in recent decades in an attempt to make the ship look more like the 1797 frigate Constellation, built in Fells Point.

Most naval historians agree the frigate was scrapped in 1853. The present ship is a sloop of war built in Virginia to replace it. It was the last Navy warship built without an engine.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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