Navy reservists, city students work together to re-rig Constellation

The Baltimore Sun
Navy reservists, students re-rig historic tall ship Constellation

After spending about 45 minutes working to raise the Constellation's 1-ton spanker boom, students in Amanda Hayek's advanced placement world history class walked over to her and joked, "Is this punishment for not doing our homework?"

About 20 students from Digital Harbor High School and The Crossroads School, a middle school operated by the Living Classrooms Foundation, worked alongside almost 30 Navy reservists Tuesday morning to re-rig the historic ship in the Inner Harbor.

"These students, they're in the harbor area all the time, but they don't really know the significance of the things around them," said Hayek, who teaches at Digital Harbor. "This gives them a sense of ownership to say, 'I did that on this ship.'"

Historic Ships in Baltimore, the group that maintains the Constellation, is in the process of restoring the vessel's rigging and spars, which were taken down last October, said executive director Chris Rowsom. The group of students and reservists accomplished in a few hours what would have taken Rowsom's team a week, he said. The ship, which was in dry dock at Curtis Bay for five months undergoing $2 million worth of repairs, returned to the Inner Harbor in March.

Living Classrooms, which uses the Constellation for educational purposes, was awarded a $89,596 federal grant to preserve the ship.

"Many hands make light work and everyone here pitched in," Rowsom said, noting that the group hopes to have the restoration finished by New Year's Eve. "It was great having the kids and Navy working side by side."

The Constellation, dating to 1854, saw action directly before the Civil War, when it captured ships on the coast of Africa engaged in the illegal slave trade, ultimately liberating about 4,000 Africans, Rowsom said.

It also served as a training ship for the U.S. Naval Academy — nicknamed the "Cradle of Admirals" — in the late 1800s and was the relief flagship of the Atlantic Fleet during World War II.

"There's many generations of Navy history here," said De'Vante Barnes, a Navy reservist who attended the event. "To be a part of its restoration — not everyone gets that chance."

The reservists' participation in the event is one of multiple volunteer projects they're doing as part of their centennial celebration, said Anthony LeFrenier, the command senior chief for the Navy Operational Support Center Baltimore.

Last week, the reservists worked to restore the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens alongside students from three other schools, and in September, they plan to work on cleaning up Middle Branch Park.

"These community events give students a chance to see them doing something other than military things," said Janet Caslow, the manager of Baltimore National Heritage Area Port Fest.

Najee Rollins, an assistant with Living Classrooms, said the experience was good for students who aren't used to being on ships with men and women in the Navy.

"They're doing something new here," he said. "Whenever that happens, you never know what kind of seed it plants for future careers."

All students left with a certificate from the Navy thanking them for their help, and the ship's cannon fired a goodbye.

After the group finished raising both the spanker boom and the gaff, Rowsom rang the ship's bell and men raised the Constellation's American flag for the first time since October.

As it went up, the Navy reservists and the students stood at attention and saluted.

trichman@baltsun.com

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