Old Ironsides sets sail on the World Wide Web

The USS Constitution or better known as Old Ironsides will sail the seas July 21 for the first time in 116 years and just three months shy of the 200th anniversary of her launch in Boston in October 1797. The storied vessel which in the 1790s first guarded American commerce in the Caribbean against the French will set sail off the coast of Marblehead Mass. in the Massachusetts Bay.

Three Navy World Wide Web sites and at least one commercial one provide detailed information on the Constitution and this historic and sentimental journey dubbed Operation Sail 200.The Office of the Chief of Naval Information has set up a topical Sail 200 Web site on the Navy home page (www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ships/misc/constitution/sail200b.html) which serves as a good home port for the start of a Web cruise with the Constitution which is based in Boston and crewed by active duty sailors and officers.

This page offers a concise thumbnail history of the three-masted frigate and plans for the sail which are well-illustrated with a digital photo of sailors working on the ship's deck during a recent test cruise when the Constitution unfurled her new sails while under tow.

The July 21 cruise will be the ship's first modern-day "free sail."

Click "Schedule of Events" on this page and up pops a detailed sailing schedule. Or click "USS Constitution fact sheet" for links to an online nautical chart of the sailing area off Marblehead. This chart resides on the ship's home page at www.navy.mil/homepages/constitution which offers an excellent photo of the ship during its test cruise plus other photos of the crew climbing and working on the rigging.

Click on either the "History" or "Tours" buttons done up in an old-fashioned type and you jump quickly to either a detailed history of the ship or information on ship tours when she is dockside in Boston. Under History you will learn why the Constitution was nicknamed Old Ironsides.

In the War of 1812 according to the site the Constitution defeated HMS Guerriere in a "ferocious battle " during which "the seamen astonished at how the British cannonballs were bouncing off the Constitution's hull cried out `Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!' "

This page also offers a link to the new Constitution home page hosted on a commercial site (www.oldironsides.com) which offers a well-crafted interactive history tour. Every Web visitor can serve as the Constitution's captain directing her through past voyages and battles. The site is well illustrated with historical documents and photos of the present crew dressed in historically correct uniforms.

During your online Constitution tour do not miss the myriad pages set up by legendinc.com the online site of Marblehead magazine which offers page after page of Constitution history including the fact that Paul Revere provided the copper fasteners used in the ship's construction.

Because Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. helped save the Constitution from the breakers with his 1830 poem "Old Ironsides " make sure you check it out (www.navy.mil/homepages/constitution/poem.htm) realizing that the three stanza poem that began "Aye tear her tattered ensign down!" resulted in the ship flying her new untattered ensign in the wind off Marblehead.

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