In 1929, early in my father’s tenure as Secretary of the Navy, his attention was called to the plan for the USS Constitution , just completing major overhaul. As an experienced yachtsman, he became intrigued by the idea of getting her under way, under sail. When he raised the question with Admiral C.F. Hughes, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Admiral replied: “Mr. Secretary, if you want to man her adequately, you will have to decommission a squadron of destroyers. Beyond that, I don’t know who we could get to take command and train the crew.” Later, my father interviewed a couple of square-rigger captains, hoping that one might sign on as sailing master, under a Navy captain. But the reply was clear: “Not on your life, Mr. Adams. Sailing a ship like the Constitution is a lost art.” That ended that!
After he retired as Secretary, my father continued to keep in touch with the Constitution ’s captain, Commander Louis J. Gulliver, a great source of sea stories. One of the best yarns concerned the old frigate’s resistance to being towed by the USS Grebe (AM-43), which served both as a tender and towing ship over the years. Once, in a strong head wind, the Constitution ’s bluff bow and big rig, even with sails furled, created so much windage that the Grebe found herself making sternway. Later, with a following wind and sea, the Grebe found herself being overtaken by the Constitution , sails still furled, clipping along at a snappy 14 knots! The Grebe had no choice but to cast off the towline, fall in astern, and try to keep up. I am confident that, with proper planning, such excitement can be avoided during this summer’s operations.