Every now and again, someone comes up with an idea that catches the attention and fires the imagination, the Hermione boat is one such, a ghost from the past which is capturing the hearts and minds of the present…
In May 2015 I was lucky enough to be in La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime when l’Hermione ship set off on her long journey to America. She was following in the wake of a ship which sailed more than 235 years ago on the same journey but on that occasion it was a rather more serious matter. The original Hermione was carrying French General Lafayette and good news for General George Washington. The King of France, Louis XVI had agreed to support America in the War of Independence with men and arms.
L’Hermione took part in the action and France’s stance to support the enemy of their old foe the British, is seen as critical to America winning the war. All over America to this day there are streets and buildings named after Lafayette.
The sailing of today’s Hermione, an exact replica of the earlier ship’s sister La Concorde, captured by the British and whose plans reside in British archives was a much happier affair!
I had been invited to meet the crew, almost all volunteers, who were to steer her across the Atlantic. The day dawned, April 18 2015 started off misty and a little chilly as we made an early start from Rochefort to take the ferry to the beautiful little island of Aix, where we would be transferred to dinghies to get out to Hermione. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men, President Hollande decided to visit as well and for security reasons, we journalists were bumped off! C’est la vie… though to be fair, it’s not every day you can say a President threw you off a boat.
Nevertheless, as we took the ferry across the bay to Aix, Hermione loomed out of the mist near the legendary Fort Boyard. She looked like a ghost ship from the past and in a way that’s just what she is. Every detail has been meticulously studied in the creation of this incredible lady, from the casting of the cannons to the stitching of the sails. 18 years in the making, largely funded by ticket sales to watch her progress and a generous donation from the American public. L’Hermione is the most authentic 18th Century ship to have been built since… well, the 18th Century.
On a sunny April afternoon, I sat on a grassy knoll on the Ile d’Aix. The sun was shining, the blue sea sparkling, surrounded by excited well-wishers, l’Hermione fired her cannons and set off. She sailed up and down the Charente River, cheered and clapped by everyone who saw her. She finally returned to Fouras where we had gone to see her sail by. We watched mesmerised as fireworks went off all around her and cannons fired and she bid farewell as she went on her way… next stop Yorktown (June 2015) where the last major land battle of the American Revolution took place.
How to get there: La Rochelle Airport has great connections to several airports; La Rochelle train station is served by fast trains, from Paris the journey takes approx 3.5 hours and 7.5 hours from London (details: (uk.voyages-sncf.com)