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July 15, 2010

A 200-year-old sailing lesson

Friendship helps train Navy crew for USS Constitution

(Continued)

Anyone who went aloft wore a harness attached to safety lines — lest a misstep should send someone to the deck as much as 100 feet below. But the safety lines are there only once you reach the top.

During the climb into the rigging, a sailor is untethered to anything but an adrenaline-fueled sureness and confidence.

(The original sailors had no harnesses but could be sure of foot, as in any weather they went shoeless.)

All this is in anticipation of the Constitution's biggest year since its 1997 birthday. In 2012, the Navy will remember the storied vessel's victories over the British navy's Java and Guerriere in the War of 1812. These and other exploits lifted her to legend and 200 years of preservation.

Currently, the Navy plans to sail the Constitution in Boston Harbor, under her own power, to mark the bicentennial. ("Old Ironsides," as the ship is nicknamed, is currently undergoing a restoration.)

The modern Friendship was built by the National Park Service from a contemporary crewman's model — now at the Peabody Essex Museum. Yet, the replica is fully modernized with engines concealed below decks and the latest navigational gear.

Colleen Bruce of the Park Service, who has shepherded the Friendship from its beginnings, lamented that the original captain, Jim Fox, has been too ill to participate in the training.

"Things wouldn't be where they are without him," she said.

Current Capt. Jeremy Bumagin of Marblehead has spent years on tall ships and sails Friendship about 12 times a year. He's developed real respect for his early American predecessors, mostly men in their 20s, who sailed as far as Sumatra and St. Petersburg powered only by wind.

It's right the Friendship should help the Constitution crew, Bumagin added. "We were the very kind of boat the Constitution was built to protect."

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