Why I'm here for Old Ironsides

Pictures of my Acela trip and Red Sox game are finally up at Flickr.

Today I'm planning to work my way backwards through the freedom trail. 

Why backwards?

Well, I've got a ton of things I want to see while I'm here, but my main prompt for wanting to go to Boston was the USS Constitution.

I had a chance to see the Constitution only briefly during a family cruise stop a few years ago. We had eight hours, total, in Boston, and spent the morning on a tour. Still, in my remaining time, I hiked over in the rare 100 degree heat, quickly toured the ship and museum, and walked back to catch the shuttle back to the cruise ship. It wasn't the leisurely visit I would have liked, but I wasn't sure when I would have another chance to see the ship.

When the chance came up to be totally self-indulgent about my travel plans, I knew I wanted a second chance to see the Constitution at my own pace.

I suppose at this point I'm due for an explanation. If you've heard of the USS Constitution, or know her as "Old Ironsides," fighter of the Barbary pirates, star of the War of 1812, and the oldest commissioned floating naval ship in the world, you might wonder how a borderline Gen X/Gen Y woman came to be so interested in a square-rigged sailing frigate.

A valid curiosity. To be honest, I'm not even so sure myself how the fascination came about. I do know that I watched "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," and was fascinated by this whole other wooden world, enough that I looked into it a little more, and found out that Patrick O'Brian had written 20 1/2 books about the characters in the movie.

Well, I'm someone who believes the movie is never better than the book, and I was intrigued by something that had achieved the level of acclaim O'Brian's books have, and yet flown under my literary radar. So I bought a used copy of the first book, and read it, and liked it enough to get a used copy of the second. And then the third. And somewhere around there I was hooked.

O'Brian does a lot of things well. His pacing is superb, and his description of another world, that of a British Royal Navy warship during the Napoleonic Wars, is flawless, if sometimes difficult for a landlubber to understand. But his truest, deepest strengths — those that kept me coming back, book after book — are his ability to maintain plots over the course of several books, and the unparalleled ability to develop his characters and stay true to them over the course of a very long series. I whipped through all 20 1/2 books, but I began to want more — I began to be very interested in the alien world O'Brian had introduced me to.

To read about the stooped ceilings, the rows of great guns, and the mass of rigging of a sailing warship is one thing. To walk the wooden decks, climb down the narrow stairs, and stoop yourself is quite another.

And this is why I was willing to to hike my sweaty self over to the Constitution during my brief stop in Boston. And why, less than a year later, I took a train trip from London to Portsmouth to see the HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned naval ship in the world (unlike the Constitution, the Victory is permanently dry-docked).

Over the course of this trip, I'm hoping to see multiple sailing ships, and visit sites that show our country's maritime past and present. That might seem to give this trip two very different themes, but actually, I can't think of any greener transport than ships that crisscrossed the world with nothing but wind and manpower.

No comments: