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`Old Ironsides’ too fragile to leave harbor

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The Navy isn't interested in another battle at sea for the USS Constitution. "Old Ironsides" is simply too fragile.

The battleship weathered the War of 1812 and faced down pirates, but the Navy decided Tuesday that it is too delicate to travel outside the city's harbor.Admiral Jay Johnson, the Navy's top officer, said the ship will be kept near its berth. The decision scuttled plans to sail the ship to cities in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island as part of celebrations there.

"As much as we would all like to see Old Ironsides under sail on the high seas, I have a responsibility to protect the ship," Johnson said. "I simply cannot justify the risk of unexpected weather harming this national treasure."

Last year, after undergoing a $12 million renovation, the ship celebrated its bicentennial by sailing under its own power for the first time in 116 years. The ship that got its nickname because British cannonballs were said to bounce off it has been docked in Boston Harbor for much of its existence.

The hoopla surrounding the trip to a nearby town generated invitations for the three-masted frigate to sail farther to other cities. The ship's present commander also said he hoped to sail her past the Statue of Liberty in 2000.

But five of the ship's former commanders voiced opposition to such plans in April. The next month, the Navy tested the ship's traveling abilities and Johnson found the risks of a sudden storm were too great to allow Old Ironsides to stray too far from Boston Harbor, even though the ship is in good repair.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy applauded the decision.

"Old Ironsides has been saved once again," he said.