Cumberland man cruises on nation’s oldest active battleship

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – It was the cruise of a lifetime. As 24-Hour News 8 previewed in June, a Cumberland man was one of 150 winners in the nation to cruise on the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides.

It is the nation’s oldest active battleship. Old Ironsides was commissioned by George Washington and was the hero of the U.S. Navy during the war of 1812.

Clayton Thomas was one of 4,000 people to enter a lottery to be on the boat’s last cruise before it hits dry dock for four years.

“As a Navy man, what an experience it was,” Thomas said, remembering his 4th of July cruise on Old Ironsides. “There were two Boston fire boats, one was in the front of us. one was in the rear of us during the whole sail.”

“There’s actually four levels of the ship. And each floor you get to, it gets smaller and smaller,” he said describing what it was like to be on the ship.  “The second floor of the ship is where all of the cannons were assembled. So, I’m sure that was the level where most of the crew was manning.”

The cruise included a 21 gun salute. Two flags Thomas brought with him were flown on the ship. He is donating one and the other he will keep.

Thomas said he partially fulfilled his dream to take the helm.

“Just stood up there and had my picture taken. But, that was the best I could do,” Thomas says.

Best he could do, because the boat was towed, it didn’t sail. Hurricane Arthur was in the area, dumping rain on the ship just as it got back to port, so precautions had to be taken.

Thomas said the storm didn’t ruin the experience, though.

“Anyone that has the opportunity to do like I did and not be honored and proud, something’s wrong with them.,” he said with a smile.

Old Ironsides will now move into dry dock and won’t sail again until 2018. The white oak that will be used to repair the ship comes from 150-year-old oak trees in a forest owned by the Navy at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in southern Indiana.

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