USS Constitution Enters Dry-Dock: British Warship Becomes Oldest Afloat In The World


The Napoleonic-era frigate Trincomalee will be the oldest warship on the water in the world for the next three years while the American Constitution completes a period in dry-dock for restoration.

Launched in 1817, Leda-class HMS Trincomalee is 20 years the USS Constitution’s junior and was ordered to serve in the Napoleonic wars – but was immediately put into reserve upon completion as the war had already finished. Later recommissioned she served in the same seas as the Constitution, working with the North American and American Pacific stations under British command.

No longer sailing, the Trincomalee now acts as a museum ship in Hartlepool, England. Unlike many other warships of her time, she was laid down in the British shipyards in Bombay, India, and was consequently made of a tropical hardwood – teak – instead of oak, as was more common in Europe and North America. Being a rot resistant material, the Trincomalee’s teak hull has left her in very good condition 200 years after she was laid down.

White-oak and douglas-fir built Constitution, which is worked much harder as an actively commissioned U.S. warship requires significantly more maintenance. It will now spend the next three years in dry-dock for $15 million worth of essential conservation and repair at Charlestown Naval yard. Constitution entered dry-dock in May, but with work now under way she has been taken out of the water and opened to visitors.

Trincomalee made history yesterday by firing her 18lb long gun stern chaser – the first time such a gun has been used in this configuration in 150 years, reports the Hartlepool Mail. The stern chaser gun, fired out of a sash window in the captain’s cabin was used to scare off pursuing craft, and in this case had a range of a mile.

While these two venerable frigates jostle over the title for “elder lady of the sea”, the award for oldest commissioned warship in the world lies firmly with British first-rate ship of the line HMS Victory, launched in 1765. A veteran of the Napoleonic wars, Victory was Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Cape Trafalgar and remains today the flagship of the Royal Navy First Sea Lord – presently Admiral Sir George Zambellas.

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