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Aboard The USS Constitution

Known as "Old Ironsides," the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and according to Cmdr. Lewin Wright, it was the "biggest show in town on the water."

On the 4th of July, the commanding officer took the ship for what is called a Turnaround Cruise. "We have an armada of shipping following us around when we do this," Wright tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Monday morning.

Accompanying the ship's active crew on the cruise were the winners of a national lottery held during the year via the ship's official Web site. Twelve immigrants also took their oath of citizenship onboard during a special naturalization ceremony.

The ship and guests traveled approximately 3 miles into Boston Harbor to Castle Island, a historic fort once commanded by Paul Revere. At noon, it fired a 21-gun salute at noon, and then made its way back to its homeport, Charlestown Navy Yard in Charlestown, Mass.

"Taking her around the harbor is quite an experience," says Wright.

Although the ship was first put to sea in 1798, Cmdr. Wright says it is still an active U.S. Navy warship. "It's a great honor to be the captain of this ship," he says.

Smith got the chance to watch a cannon blast as part of the traditional raising of the flags. He also received a tour from Cmdr. Wright.

Today, active duty U.S. Navy sailors dressed in 1812 uniforms provide free, guided tours of the main and gun decks.

The ship is nicknamed "Old Ironsides" because it was said that cannonballs bounced off her oak sides in battle during the War of 1812.

Here are some quick facts about the USS Constitution:

  • Launched in Boston on October 21, 1797, the USS Constitution was first put to sea in 1798.
  • Reason built: President George Washington authorized the construction of six frigates - the first ships of the U.S. Navy in 1794, including the Constitution. These ships were commissioned to fight North African privateers who were preying on U.S. merchant ships.
  • Built at Hartt's Yard in Boston. Cost: $302,718.84 dollars in 1797.
  • Undefeated in battle. Her most famous battles were fought in the War of 1812 against the British Ships HMS Guerriere, HMS Java, HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.
  • Homeport: Boston National Historical Park at the Charlestown Navy Yard
  • Displacement is 2,200 tons (as much as 2,400 during her fighting days, depending on the number of cannons and provisions on board.
  • 204 feet overall; 175 feet at waterline
  • Mainmast height: 220ft
  • Sail area 42,710 square feet
  • Speed 13+ knots under full sail (about 15 miles per hour)
  • Armament: 32, 24 pounder Long Guns; crew 6-14; range 1200 yards; weight 5,600 pounds; 20, 32 pounder Carronades; crew 4-9; range 400 yards; weight 2,200 pounds; 2, 24 pounder Bow Chasers; range 1,000 yards
  • Crew in 1812: 450 including 55 marines and 30 boys
  • Crew today: 55 active duty men and women
  • Length of Running rigging: 8 miles

For more information, visit:
  • USS Constitution - Official Navy Web site
  • USS Constitution Museum
  • Naval Historical Center
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