The building of a replica 18th Century sailing ship in France is an incredible project which began in 1997 and is coming to fruition in 2015 – but its roots go back more than two centuries to it’s namesake Hermione, a boat that played an important role in the history of America and France…
In 1780, a French nobleman, the 22 year old Marquis de La Fayette, sailed on the Hermione – a frigate built in the Rochefort Arsenal a few months earlier – to help the American rebels in their fight for independence.
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette (6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834) was commissioned into the army at the age of 13. Lafayette’s introduction to America’s struggle came during a lunch he had with the Duke of Gloucester, brother of the King of England, George III, during an officer’s lunch in Metz, France in 1775. Inspired by America’s fight for freedom, Lafayette sailed to America in 1777 against the wishes of the King of France and volunteered to fight with General Washington in the American Civil War. Wounded, he returned to France in 1778 and convinced the French king to aid Washington with reinforcements. He returned to America on March 19th 1780, a 38 day journey from France, and fought alongside the Americans on the Hermione for over eighteen months. Many Americans see him as a hero of the American War of Independence and each year this is acknowledged by a special 4th July ceremony at the grave of Lafayette in Paris.
The replica ship of Hermione is 65 metres long, has three masts with over 1,500 square metres of sails and a hull built of oak. She is based on design documents discovered in British archives, of her sister ship La Concorde, which was captured by the British.
It was decided to rebuild the ship for many reasons including to recognise the ties between the US and France, the maritime heritage of France, and more locally, the importance once held by the Arsenal of Rochefort. The project has been funded via donations and the effort of hundreds of volunteers.
Hermione has been built using old methods, in fact she is the most authentically built ship created in the last 150 years. The new ship is also known as the ‘La frégate de la liberté’ or ‘freedom frigate’.
It is an astounding achievement; the ship is made from about 4,000 oak trees felled in forests around France. The gun carriages for the iron cannon barrels were cast in a foundry in Angoulême and transported by barge down the River Charente. Most difficult of all has been the requirement to comply with health and safety rules – something that never bothered the ship builders of the 18th Century.
After 18 years of hard work, and having passed sea trials in 2014 Hermione is ready to set sail for the United States, an awesome journey of 13,000 km which is expected to take about 27 days. Hermione will depart from La Rochelle on 18th April 2015.
The programme for the sailing of Hermione from La Rochelle
From 4-6 April, Hermione will be open to the public for visits and a celebration will be held with a grand banquet, music, nautical parade and an illumination of the boat (Details on website below).
The epic and historic journey will start from the mouth of the River Charente, in Port des Barques, where Lafayette boarded in March, 1780 and will sail with a crew of 70, around 15 professional sailors amongst them.
Details for viewing this historic journey are:
Fouras 16:15, Port des Barques 17:00, entrance in the estuary of Charente, Port Neuf 17:30, Soubise 17:45 and return from 18:00 to 20:30 close to Ile d’Aix for mooring.
At 21:00 there will be a Sound and light show from 8 different places – a unique show in France.
The journey will commence on April 18, the ship will sailed from the mouth of the River Charente, in Port des Barques, where Lafayette boarded on March 19th, 1780.
The transatlantic crossing is expected to take 27 days in total, before making landfall at:
• Norfolk, Yorktown, Mont Vernon, Alexandria – 5 to 12th June
• Annapolis – 16th and 17th June • Baltimore, 19th to 21st June
• Philadelphia, 25th to 28th June (with Tall Ships America)
• New York 1st to 4th July and Greenoort – 6th and 7th July (with Tall – Ships America)
• Newport – 8th and 9th July
• Boston – 11 and 12th July
• Castine – 14 and 15th July
• Lunenburg – Canada – 18th July
• Saint-Pierre and Miquelon – 23rd July
• Return to France end of August in Brest – 10th to 17th of August
• Island of Aix and return to Rochefort with celebrations in Charente Maritime – end of August 2015.
Read about another incredible project in France: the building of a medieval Castle – Chateau Guedelon