Historic Ships of Baltimore

After a hearty lunch to replenish ourselves from a morning spent touring the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the next adventure my super amazing fiancée and I went on was to tour the historic ships of Baltimore! I suppose Baltimore probably has a large number of historic ships, being an historic port and all, but this specifically refers to four boats and one lighthouse scattered about the Inner Harbor, which you can tour all for one low low fee of like $20 (except for the lighthouse right now, which was closed when we were visiting).

The big draw today, as it should be every day, was the USS Torsk, which is a Tench-class submarine and bills itself as the last US submarine to sink an enemy ship in WWII. So pretty neat! I used to be a submarine officer, as I think we are all aware, and so I am a big fan of submarines, but my super amazing fiancée had never been on a submarine and wanted to see one to get a glimpse into that past life of mine. A WWII diesel boat is not a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine, but it’s still a submarine and an astonishing amount of the stuff looks pretty much the same.

I think I did a pretty good job as a tour guide. Being a submarine it was pretty cramped and there were other tourists coming through so I only had so much time to point at things and you’ll have to ask her how I did but she seems to have enjoyed herself. She is now ready to fire torpedoes from both the forward and aft torpedo rooms to decimate enemy shipping in furtherance of the war effort. Hooyah!!!

Besides the Torsk, we also visited the light ship they have along with the Coast Guard Cutter, but the other highlight of the Historic Ships was the USS Constellation. The biggest thing I learned on this trip was the Constellation’s participation in the Africa Squadron, chasing down slave-runners, so that is pretty neat! Good job Constellation. It is a large and impressive ship, with a great number of detailed display placards and a lot of interesting stuff to look at. Her claim to fame is that she is the last all-sail ship the Navy ever built, with all of the subsequent ones having at least auxiliary steam power. Of course, the biggest thing that should actually draw you to the Constellation is all the hilariously spicy drama over what the ship actually is. You see there was a Constellation that was one of the original six frigates on the US Navy, and for a while they thought that this Constellation might have been that ship. The confusion stems from the name obviously but also that for fun 19th-century accounting purposes they built this Constellation out of “maintenance” funds, using a polite fiction to scrap the older Constellation and then have this Constellation replace it though on the books it would be the “same” ship. They also reused some (very small) amount of timbers, either for accounting purposes or sentimental reasons. This is all laid out in a lively report titled “Fouled Anchors” which is linked to here under question #12. However there is a group of people who are invested in the idea that the Constellation in Baltimore Harbor is the same Constellation that was launched in 1797 and they will go to great lengths to try to explain how the 1797 ship was stretched out to become the 1855 ship instead of just admitting it is a new ship, which leads to extremely exasperated historians writing rebuttals on official if little-visited US Navy websites. Absolutely fantastic.

One other point that is neat to consider. The Constellation was launched in 1855 and represents a pinnacle of wooden sailing warship technology. One of the other ships you can visit as I mentioned is the Coast Guard Cutter Taney, itself launched in 1935, only 80 years after the Constellation. But it is powered by high- and low-pressure steam turbines and actually overlapped in service with the Constellation by 20 years, as the Constellation was technically only finally decommissioned in 1955 having served as a flagship during the WWII years, which is absolutely mind-blowing to me. And then only six years after the final decommissioning of the last all-sail warship the US Navy bought, they launched the world’s first nuclear-powered cargo ship, the NS Savannah!

The NS Savannah was the last ship we visited that day, though it isn’t a part of the Historic Ships of Baltimore. You can’t actually tour it right now either, except maybe once a year, though that all has been a little unclear to me. I had wanted to see the Savannah for a while, and every time I drove south on I-95 I was trying to look for it but never spotted it. It is parked across the pier from the SS John W. Brown. I must have seen it before because I’ve been on the John W. Brown before, but maybe I missed it? Hard to miss, it is a pretty big ship. Anyways if you’re brave enough to drive into the industrial zone that abuts all these piers, you can go onto the pier and admire it. My super amazing fiancée was kind enough to indulge me in this, and I think it was really neat. The Savannah represented a unique time in the world of nuclear power, which was “what if we made nuclear power look really cool?” and the result was that it was very uneconomical but man is that a pretty ship. My super amazing fiancée especially liked the giant atom symbol on the side. We walked the length of the ship and then finally packed back up in the car and drove home. A wonderful day in Baltimore!