Project Management Institute

All Hands on Deck

A 220-Year-Old U.S. Battleship Is Back in the Water after Sailing through a Gauntlet of Risks

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BY NOVID PARSI

The USS Constitution hasn't been in battle since the War of 1812.

Yet the world's oldest commissioned warship has still seen some action in recent years. Over time, weather, seawater and other elements had damaged and deteriorated the ship from mast to hull. So the U.S. Navy launched a six-year, US$12 million restoration and preservation project to ensure the historic vessel could continue to accommodate and educate the 500,000 tourists it attracts each year.

The 220-year-old ship docked at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, USA required work ranging from rigging and mast repairs to rebuilding the hull with 100 new white oak planks covered with 2,200 new sheets of copper. With precise requirements in the mix to ensure historical authenticity, the project team began planning the restoration in 2011 and sourcing materials in 2012—three years before restoration work began. Throughout execution, it kept major risks at bay. For example, the outdoor project site was vulnerable to weather-related delays, such as snow during the coldest months. And the team didn't allow a lack of thorough documentation from previous major restorations to lead to restoration missteps.

By planning for unknowns, the project was completed on time and US$3 million below the original estimate—and the ship returned to water in July 2017.

“We planned for worst-case scenarios, and we made sure we had enough materials for those scenarios,” says Richard C. Moore, director, Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston, Boston, Massachusetts. “We had to ensure the integrity of the ship for the foreseeable future.”

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“We had to ensure the integrity of the ship for the foreseeable future.”

—Richard C. Moore, Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARGHERITA M. DESY/NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND DETACHMENT BOSTON

Dock Solid

Before any ship repairs could begin, the dry dock that would hold the ship during the project had to be rebuilt. A new caisson that would keep out seawater also had to be installed. These tasks were included in the ship renovation plan and budget—and had to be completed by May 2015 to ensure ship repair would begin on time, says Robert Murphy, production manager, Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston.

“The dry dock had been in disrepair since the 1990s,” he says.

But after the project team installed the dock's caisson in early 2015, testing revealed a couple of small leaks. So the team made alterations, such as installing a rubber seal where the caisson meets the dock. Then the team completed tests to confirm that the repaired dock could hold the ship.

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Shipshape

2011: Project planning begins.

2012: The team secures rare white oak for replacement hull planks.

2014: The team hires 33 temporary ship workers.

2015: USS Constitution moves into dry dock.

2016: Installation of hull's copper sheeting begins.

July 2017: Repairs completed; ship returns to water.

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Good Wood

Replacing the hull's rare white oak planks required advance planning. “White oak is very hard to find,” Mr. Murphy says. So his team began sourcing the wood three years before the USS Constitution would be taken out of the water in 2015.

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PHOTOS COURTESY MARGHERITA M. DESY/NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND DETACHMENT BOSTON

The team found the amount of oak they needed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, USA. Mr. Murphy traveled there to identify 40 trees that would be cut down and stored until 2015, when they would be cut into 100 40-foot (12-meter) planks.

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TOP PHOTO BY GREG M. COOPER / USS CONSTITUTION MUSEUM BOTTOM PHOTO COURTESY U.S. NAVY

“By building flexibility into the schedule, we were able to push off the interior tasks until we went back into the water.”

—Richard C. Moore

Forecasting Risk

Team members who had participated in the ship's last renovation project about 20 years earlier offered a warning: Plan for bad weather—anything from heavy snow to torrential rain. “Some days we didn't know what weather we'd find,” Mr. Moore says.

To ensure storms wouldn't create delays, the team installed chutes to make it easier to remove snow from the deck, wrapped the scaffolds with tarp and covered the scaffolds with a heavy plastic roof in certain areas. Taking these precautions allowed restoration work to continue even during the coldest months, Mr. Moore says.

Restoring Glory

Keeping the USS Constitution afloat has required many restoration projects over the years.

1832-1835: Ship undergoes significant repairs.

1857-1860: Repaired and converted to training vessel

1906-1907: Restoration

1927-1931: Restoration

1973-1976: Restoration

1992-1996: Restoration

2007-2010: Restored to resemble 1812 appearance

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Boston Navy Yard workers during the 1927-1931 restoration

Required work included rebuilding the hull with 100 new white oak planks covered with 2,200 new sheets of copper.

TALENT SPOTLIGHT

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Richard C. Moore, director, Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Experience: 30 years

Other notable projects:
U.S. Navy steam-to-electric system conversion for the LSD41 class of ships. First designs were completed in 2007. Mr. Moore led the design team.

U.S. Navy fleet defensive missile system additions, completed in 1997. Mr. Moore served as program manager

Career lesson learned: “Document everything you do and how you do it—with photographic, video and written evidence—to be a good steward for the people who'll follow you.”

Time Lapse

The U.S. Navy changed the plan to cut costs: It moved up the date when the USS Constitution was to be returned to water by 15 months. To meet that date, the project team divided the restoration activities into two phases. The team prioritized external work, such as removing and replacing the copper sheets and oak planks, which meant that such tasks had to be completed while the ship was in dry dock. Interior tasks, such as replacing internal beams, would be completed after the ship returned to Boston Harbor.

“By building flexibility into the schedule, we were able to push off the interior tasks until we went back into the water,” Mr. Moore says.

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PHOTOS COURTESY MARGHERITA M. DESY/NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND DETACHMENT BOSTON

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Battle-Tested

The USS Constitution was part of three U.S. wars in the two decades following its construction in 1797:

The Quasi-War (1798-1800) This undeclared naval war against France ended after the French Revolution helped ease tensions with the U.S.

Barbary War (1803-1805) The U.S. fought back against pirates in the Barbary Coast who had seized U.S. merchant ships.

War of 1812 (1812-1815) The U.S. conflict against British, Canadian and Native American troops was considered the country's second war of independence.

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Reporting for Duty

The project team took an all-hands-on-deck approach to managing resources—and cutting costs. Using sailors stationed at the Navy Yard to complete some of the copper work helped pad project savings, allowing external contractors to focus on replacement of wooden hull planks and other resource-intensive tasks.

Using fewer external contractors also cut down on the need for full-time ship restorers to train those workers, who replaced planks and performed other manual tasks. “Our permanent employees were like teachers to external contractors,” Mr. Murphy says. Avoiding a reliance on external contractors also reduced the impact when those workers left to seek permanent employment elsewhere—one of the many risks the team anticipated.

“A lot of planning went into this project years before the restoration work started,” Mr. Moore says. “And it all paid off.” PM

“Our permanent employees were like teachers to external contractors.”

—Robert Murphy, Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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